With the events that have come to pass, it is only fitting that I should say a few words about my beloved brother. He was taken from us at the age of 96, but in that time he left a legacy that has truly touched many lives. He was a son, a brother, a husband, and a father. Now that he has left this world, I bear the burden of recounting his life because I am now the oldest person that has ever known him. Of course, since there are no people that can refute my claims, I will tell this story in the way I see fit.
My brother Charlie wasn’t always the upright gentleman that people remember his as. Don't be fooled by the fancy suits, cars, or the mansion he lived in. There was once a time when he was well below the upper hand. Few would guess that he was once considered to be a complete and utter moron, but wealth certainly makes people forget a man's shortcomings. For many years my brother didn’t know how to read or write, but that didn’t mean he wasn't intelligent. His intellect was the reason why he was able to rise to prominence. He was a smart man that did what all smart men do; he married into money.
Before he became filthy rich, he had one of the few careers that an illiterate man could obtain; He was a gravedigger. As I remember, he didn't seem to mind it. In some ways, I think he even liked it. He once said, "As a grave digger, I have two things in my favor. The first is, my work never runs out. Second, I have the privilege of being the first person to piss on the graves of all the people I didn't like."
I always found it difficult to argue with that logic. Even still, it’s fair to say that the family wanted better for him. The only things I’ve ever tried to convince of, was to get a basic education and to find a better job. The town digger didn't make much back in those days, but it was just enough keep food in his stomach, beer in his hand, and coal burning in his tarpaper shack. To that, he seemed perfectly content.
Charlie's career path wasn't entirely his fault because his dislike towards schooling wasn't exactly his fault either. If it had not been for that one fateful day in Ms. Grengalathonmonsteenson’s classroom, Charlie probably would have made it to the eighth grade just like the rest of us. I wasn't even born the day it happened, but from what I've been told, the events that took place were astonishing.
As the story goes, Charlie had been chatting away with Claire Smith while Ms. Grengalathonmonsteenson was trying to give the day’s lesson. Despite being told several times to stop, my ornery brother continued to disobey. She eventually had enough with his blatant sense of impunity and proceeded to drag him to the superintendent by his left ear lobe. Keep in mind that the world I was born in is far different than the one it has become, and such a thing was not uncommon. It just so happened that Charlie was suffering from a terrible ear infection that spring and the excessive pain from her grip was far more than what he could bear. Charlie then broke free, jumped out of the third story window, hit the ground running, and never bothered to come back. I can’t put my feet into my brother’s shoes, but I am willing to bet that the whole ordeal must have been extremely painful and traumatic for him. According to my father, he wore out four belts trying to change his son’s opinions.
For many years I was afraid that Charlie would end up exactly like Old Man Johnson. Old Man Johnson used to be the town digger until his death at the age of 62. It was really an unfortunate story of a life. Johnson died without friends, family, or a single penny to his name. I still remember the social dilemma that arose during his funeral. The question was on everybody's mind, but no one dared to bring it up, out of respect for the man. In many ways, it was a fairly entertaining question: Who digs the grave for the gravedigger? We had no clue. As far as we all knew, no one wanted the job. Does it take an act of God? Does it take a mere act of kindness? Or does it just take a roustabout?
It was the preacher that finally addressed the issue at the very last moment of the funeral service. When he said, "Brothers and sisters, let us lay our brother to rest." There was long pause before he proudly asked, "Now who will be so blessed and honored to do this man a service?" Everyone in congregation exchanged awkward glances with each other, but no one volunteered. After a good minute of waiting, the preacher casually said, "There's fifty cents in it for you."
Then suddenly, Charlie raised his hand and said aloud, "Well shit, I'll do it. Fifty cents is fifty cents." And that’s how Charlie became a gravedigger at the age of sixteen. Unfortunately, I don’t think anyone ever told him that Old Man Johnson was making 82 cents before he died.
It was a hard fifty cents to earn. This was before the mechanical backhoe had been invented, so all 320 cubic feet of dirt had to be removed by hand. The work was hard and dirty, but it didn't seem to effect Charlie. In many ways, I think he was just glad to have purpose in life. At least, I never heard him complain.
There was another unwanted side effect that came with being a gravedigger besides having a deficient income. As soon as someone takes up the trade of handling the bereaved, they in effect become unclean. It’s a strange opinion that people harbor, but I understand where that idealolgy comes from. I’ve visited my brother while he was digging and it’s a sobering fact of death to see what lies six feet under.
One such situation involves a hole being dug next to someone that has died only months ago, like a wife joining her deceased husband. When it’s all said and dug, there are only inches of soil that separate the two. So at the bottom of a new grave there is a thick layer of dark worm infested soil that forms as the corpse next to it decomposes. My brother once demonstrated this fact to me by striking his shovel against the black soil, and all I could hear was the dull thump of the casket next to him. The most disgusting story that he’s ever told me of was when he was digging such a hole after a long period of heavy rainfall. The water had filled the void of the coffin next to him so when he had gotten down to the proper depth, the casket washed into the empty hole and spilled all of its gruesome contents.
Yes, I completely understand why my brother was considered unclean. I mean, who would want to hang around someone that has been up to their knees in pure rot? I do however think that the nicknames he’d earned for it were unjustified. I won’t go into detail of what some of those names were, but I do think there is a world of difference between someone that prepares a bed for the dead and someone that takes the dead to bed.
They used to say theses insults directly to his face when he first started his career, but they no longer did after he had been at it for three years. With all that hard work, his shoulders got wider, his hands became tough, his neck got thick, his arms became bigger than tree trunks, and veins began to bulge in places where I didn't even know veins existed. His new physical dominance over them all was only demonstrated once, but it was all the proof they needed to never get on his bad side.
That public display happened in the town dance hall on a night when all the eligible bachelors and bachelorettes were all moving their feet to a local band. It was a lively night that turned wild when my brother arrived. As I remember, I was having a few dances with some people I was interested in, and Charlie was busy talking to Claire Smith over in the corner. I didn't hear what he was saying to her, but from what I've been told, his comments were lewd, suggestive, and unbecoming of a gentleman. Claire's brother, Jonas, was there as well and had been notified that his sister was glowing redder than a rose. In an effort to defend his sister's honor, Jonas boldly confronted my brother.
Unfortunately, he went about it in all the wrong ways. He may have stood a chance if he had at least five other accomplices. Perhaps if he would have simply had a talk with Charlie, things would have turned out differently, but the past is the past and there’s no use pondering the possible outcomes. Jonas being the confident little prick that he was, blindsided my brother with a hit to the back of the head. In my opinion, Jonas would have done more damage to a brick wall. In one swift motion, my brother turned around and sent his fist crashing across Jonas's face. He then fell flat on his back didn't get up.
Claire's screaming caught everyone's attention to the fight, if I dare call it that, and a few rushed over to help Jonas back to his feet, but they soon discovered that he’d been knocked out cold. Next thing I knew, there were three men climbing on my brother like a tree. I was about to run over to help diffuse the problem, but by that time, Charlie already had all three of them thrown on the floor with none of them daring to get back up. There isn't much more to tell about that night, other than Jonas was never able to talk without a slur in his voice after that.
For the record, my brother was not the kind of man that went looking for trouble. Which is why he never saw that woman coming into his life. Few would guess that such a union would ever happen between two unlikely people, but somehow against all odds, strange things can happen. Strange things like love.
That woman was Charlotte Marie and she caused quite a stir even before she moved into our little town. In the beginning, we’d only heard rumors of the young widow woman that was to make her home here. It was said that she was the sole heiress to a huge oil fortune left to her by her late husband. Of course these were merely regarded as entertaining fairytales spread by the old men that flocked around coffee cups like pigeons. On a side note, one should always hold fanciful yarns spun by old men to the highest scrutiny.
Amazingly enough, this rumor turned out to be true. An entire block of homes south of Main Street had been purchased at a price that was well above market value. What astounded us all, and made a few older folks upset, was the fact the homes and businesses on that block were immediately torn down. What went in their place was something that caused a great deal of talking amongst us. Slowly, board by board, brick by brick, and nail by nail, a massive elegant mansion arose from the ground. I must say that not a single expense was spared. It towered three stories into the sky and made the rest of our modest town look like a decrepit village. Most of the folks around here had never seen such an extravagant symbol of wealth beyond what was printed in magazines, so this massive structure was both envied and revered.
I for one liked the manor. It was a welcome sight within the mundane, like a jewel held captive within the rock. Deep in my mind, I knew that this place was only a hint of the beauty that was to come and such a sight only made the townsfolk overreact to her eventual arrival. They had good reasons too. This was a person of prominence and status. Such a person would most certainly have a hand in the inner workings of our lives both economically and politically. It was only right that a welcoming committee was organized.
We were quite proud of what we had to offer for the arrival of Ms. Marie. The school band and church choir had been practicing their lively tunes for months in advance. Jim Miller spent all night sweating in his shop just to bake cake for everyone. My mother was among the countless housewives that toiled away to make the perfect suits and dresses for their children. All the streets had been swept clean and all the homes were required by city ordinance to have a fresh coat of paint. The expectations for her reaction were high, so it’s only fitting that her actual reaction left us disappointed.
I remember that sunny day when the train came rolling into town blowing smoke as black as the night. The crowd began to cheer as the cars slowly came to a stop. The conductor stuck up the band with his baton and the preacher readied his devout members. Jim Miller stood by his creations with his hands proudly resting on his lapels. The car door slid open. Men young and old gawked at the figure that appeared before them. There stood a beautiful woman dressed in a lavish blue dress that was tailored exactly to her perfect curves. Her skin was milky white and showed no wrinkles or imperfections of any sort. Her shiny jet black hair stretched down just past her shoulders with a billowy texture. Under her soft fabric hat, was a face that no one expected. Her crimson lips were held solemnly and her brown eyes were squinty under a furrowed brow. As the choir began to sing, her cheeks became red and a small vein began to pop on her forehead.
As she stepped onto the platform, our mayor noticed the heavy luggage that caused her to bend slightly sideways at the hip. I've said it before and I'll say it again; the world I grew up in was far different than the one it has become. In those days, it was considered unladylike for a proper woman to walk in public carrying anything more than a purse and a smile, especially if there were perfectly capable men around.
The mayor stepped forward and greeted her on behalf of all of us. She did not say thank you. She didn’t say anything at all. All she did was roll her eyes and turn up her nose. The mayor then did what was expected of him. He put his hands on the luggage to carry it for her. What happened next is something that caused great shock to us all. I'm not entirely sure how a thin and somewhat dainty looking buxom beauty was able to grab the portly man by the collar and throw him to the ground.
The choir gasped in the middle of their song. Some band members dropped their instruments on the ground. Jim Miller coughed and hacked on his own cake. The mayor slowly tried to push himself off the ground. Charlotte Marie then put the heel of her shoe into the man’s back and pushed down. He fell back on his stomach, gritted his teeth, and let out a painful moan. For the first time, she spoke with a growl, “I will not be fooled by your peoples’ niceties, sir.”
She then took a wide step over our fallen mayor and soon found herself greeted by countless agape mouths with quiet whispers being exchanged. "What the hell are you all looking at?" she asked with a loud annoyed tone. Everyone was trying to process the anomaly that was witnessed and not a response was given. As she approached the crowd, she yelled, "Get out of my way!" The people at her front raced in all directions, leaving a gap for her to pass through. When I read Exodus, I imagined that the Lord parted the Red Sea in the same way Charlotte was able to split that crowd.
We all watched silently as our newest resident strutted away from the station and straight to her home. When she was out of ear shot, the crowd began to talk about what they just saw with a unanimous tone of shock and disgust. I did not make a sound. I noticed something odd about Charlotte and it wasn’t her violent disposition in and of itself. I noticed her actions were strikingly similar to someone very close to me. In many ways, it was like I just saw the female version of my brother.
I’m not sure how long I stood dwelling on the thought, but I know it was long enough for the crowd to gather around and gawk at some of Charlotte’s trinkets that where being unloaded from the train. Had it been anyone else besides Ms. Marie, I would have stood in the circle around the new contraption that was known as the automobile; after all, none of us had ever seen one before.
With time, the urge to tell my brother about what I had seen was enough to get my feet moving. I knew the feeling in my gut was probably a pipe dream constructed from my own delusion, but none the less, the idea of spreading gossip was always a favorite of mine. I then walked into the town livery, mounted my horse, and rode off down main street. I galloped across the bridge, past the mill, and over the hill to the bone orchard. I then trotted among the headstones until I spotted a hill of freshly dug dirt.
I soon found my brother digging the grave for the late Ms. Grengalathonmonsteenson. Forgive me for going off on a tangent, but the death of Ms. Grengalathonmonsteenson was one that put a smile on my brother's face the day he heard the news. I must also add that her death was untimely. Sometimes death comes in the most unsuspected ways. For Ms. Grengalathonmonsteenson it came as an unfortunate and deadly encounter with a ham sandwich whilst trying to say her last name.
As I ran up to him throwing out a scoop of dirt, I excitedly said, "Charlie! Charlie! You'd never guess what just happened!"
He paused after putting his shovel in the dirt again. He turned his face to look at me and said, "You're going through another one of those phases."
I froze in place and exclaimed, "Oh don't you bring that up! It only happened once!"
He laughed a little and replied, "That isn't how I recall it. As I remember, it happened at least two times."
"You weren't even around in those times when it did happen!"
"'Times?' So it did happen more than once."
What he was referring to was something that I am too embarrassed of admitting to. I simply shook the thought from my head and changed that the subject, "You know that rich widow that came to town today?"
He stepped out of the hole, threw his shovel to the side, and asked, "Yeah, what about her?"
I then told him about everything that I saw down at the station, but he didn't seem interested in my story. Rather, he was extremely happy with the work he was doing as shown by the smile on his face.
As he hoisted the woman's casket into the air, I peered into the hole and noticed that it could not have been more than three feet deep. "Charlie, aren’t you supposed to dig these six feet down?"
He giggled and responded, "Yes I am. But this broad only deserves three." With a state of mind that had no compassion, he lifted the casket over his head and forcefully threw it into the hole. He then looked back at me and asked, "Was that all you had on your mind?"
"Well, no. I've been thinking."
"The woman, Charlotte Marie, is a widow with a lot of money."
"Well, you're a single man, and she's a single woman."
"I'm not interested."
"You haven't even seen her Charlie. She's gorgeous. I'm not sure why, but something in my gut tells me you two would spark a flame."
He raised an eyebrow at me and said, "Are you even serious? I'm just a grave digger. Besides, my heart belongs to another."
"And whom might that be?"
"You do realize that Claire Smith is engaged to Jack Mortson?"
"Yes I do."
He picked up his shovel again and began to fill in the grave. It was then I noticed that the casket was facing upside down. "Charlie! Don't you have the decency to know how disrespectful it is to bury someone like that?"
"Yes, I know. I also know where she's going and I don't want her to stick around any longer to ask for directions."
I quickly disregarded my own question and continued to press him, "Charlie, would you please listen to me?"
"I'm all ears."
"Well, you know how we all want better for you?"
"I'm not going back to school."
"That's not what I'm getting at."
"Then what is it?"
"All I'm saying is, there's beautiful woman in town, and it wouldn't hurt nothing if you simply introduced yourself."
A hint of annoyance began to show in his voice, "I already told you, I'm not interested in this new broad. If I'm going to marry anyone, it's going to be Claire."
"But Charlie, she's never even liked you much."
"I'm going to change all that."
"I don't know when or how, but I will."
By this time, he had finished covering the hole with dirt. He then turned away from me, unzipped his pants, and began to relieve himself on the fresh dirt. I wanted to say something, but I already knew that my words were no good. I did however point out a short coming for his sake, "Charlie, I can still see some of the casket over there." I pointed to a spot on the dirt mound where a small stretch of wood was visible. He took notice of this and simply kicked a small amount of dirt over it. "Good enough for government work." he mumbled.
As he walked away with his shovel resting over his shoulders, I called out to him, “I think a cat would have done a better job.”
Oddly enough, it was not long after our conversation in the graveyard that one major obstacle for him was removed. When it was known that Charlotte was interested in keeping a man as company, a line of eligible young bachelors quickly lined up at her door. Normally, if a lady would have done such a thing as she had at the station, her chances of finding a man would have diminished, but Charlotte was no ordinary woman. Her wealth and beauty afforded her the ability to act outside of social norms with absolute impunity. As I recall, she did some rather strange things.
On more than one occasion, a massive fire could be seen burning on her property in a special wrought iron pit. Now gatherings around fires have been a long staple in human history, but there was never anyone to accompany her. Even more bizarre was the fact she would tirelessly dance around the flames until the break of dawn and chant words that were certainly not of the English language. If I had to guess, I would say it was a derivative of Slavic or some other closely related Indo-European language. Either way, it did not sit well with some of the older and more xenophobic residents.
Of course no one will forget the oddity that was witnessed at the feed mill that one day. The preacher tried to assure us that it was an act of God, but his words fell on deaf ears. We soon learned that there may have been something more sinister to Charlotte than what we first believed. As the story goes, Daniel Remps invited Charlotte to take a tour of his business as part of an investment deal he was trying to sell to her. Daniel Remps was an upright businessman, at least I certainly don't remember hearing anything defamatory to his character. The only complaint I ever heard regarding him was the fact there was a constant rodent problem suffered by everyone that lived near the mill.
As Daniel walked Ms. Marie through the inter-workings of his facility, a rat burst from the shadows and caressed her shoes. Unlike most people, she was not scared. She instead stepped on the rat's tail and halted it. I can't read minds, but I'm certain Daniel could only feel embarrassed and ashamed to see his potential investor being lost to the foul creature at her feet. What happened next not only stunned him, but also sent the town into a veritable panic. She bent over and picked the squealing creature. Daniel could only look in shock as she began to twist and squeeze the poor little animal in her hands. The rat cried and shrieked to point where Daniel later admitted feeling pity on it. Then somewhere in the mill, another rat began squealing just as loud as the first. It was then joined by another, and another. Soon the deafening sound of distressed vermin echoed throughout the entire town.
People walking the streets stopped what they were doing and began running towards the mill to investigate the hellish noise. Little did they know, swarms of rats were crawling out of every hole and every dark corner. The mass then fled from the building and ran down the streets in a huge black wave. The once curious people soon found themselves running in the opposite direction. A few tucked themselves away in their respective homes while a great many resorted to climbing the street lights for protection. Their fear turned out to be unfounded for the rats merely ran past them and headed straight for the river. Be it known that rats are excellent swimmers, but these creatures had no desire to. They simply raced into the water and let themselves sink.
Events such as these should have discouraged an otherwise fearful group of young men from courting Charlotte, but it had not. And it certainly didn't stop Jack Mortson. Yes, Jack Mortson began to court Charlotte after calling off his engagement with Claire Smith. Claire was rightfully heartbroken over the matter, but my brother only smiled when he heard the news.
Although no one dared to say it, we all knew Jack was not courting Charlotte for romance. His real desire was to simply gain access to her wealth. Out of all the suiters that tried, Jack seemed to be the one she took somewhat of a fancy to. I say somewhat because no one ever saw Ms. Marie smile while she was around Jack. Come to think of it, the girl hardly ever smiled in those early days. I suppose she had a good reason to if she even suspected what Jack would do to her.
I once spoke with Jack's parents about Charlotte and they did not have kind words to say about her. As things usually go, the bachelor introduced her to his parents and they all had a conversation around a dinner table.
From what I've been told, the meeting was an absolute disaster. It all started when dinner began. Mrs. Mortson out curiosity asked Charlotte how her husband died. To which she replied, "Which one?" The way she said was far too casual to ignore and it caused confusion among the entire Mortson family.
"How many times have you been married?" Mrs. Mortson asked with concern for her son.
The entire family burst into laughter over her seemingly humorous comment, all except for her. Her facial expression did not change from being serious. In fact, it had a hint of annoyance to it. The laughter and giggles quickly died down upon noticing this. There was an awkward silence that persisted for some time as the group ate and tried to brush off the oddity. Mrs. Mortson's maternal instincts became alarmed and a mutual distrust between her and Charlotte ensued. "How is that even possible dear? You can't be older than twenty-five?"
Coldly, she answered, "I'm 3876 years old."
At this point, the family was not sure whether or not they should laugh at the words spoken by their guest. All of them were secretly debating in their minds if Charlotte was actually being serious. If she was speaking in a way that was meant to deter anyone from asking about her past, Mrs. Mortson certainly disregarded it entirely, "Tell us Charlotte, have you ever had any children?"
Ms. Marie suddenly stopped eating and gave a cold stare to Mrs. Mortson, "I've been cursed with sterility, thank you very much."
"Then what business do you have with my son? How are you going to carry on the family name?"
"With all undeserved respect Mrs. Mortson, I'm only interested in your son because he looks like the kind of man that can engage my femininity until the break of dawn."
The food on Jack's fork dropped back down onto his plate as he shakily tried not to smile. The rest of the family only gasped that she would bring up such a topic, especially around the dinner table. Mrs. Mortson defiantly crossed her arms and asked, "Well, can you at least cook a decent meal?"
Undeterred by the mother's opinion of her, she retorted, "I can cook much better than the hash I'm eating now, if that's what you're asking?"
Mrs. Mortson suddenly leapt up from the table and stormed off into the parlor where she waited for the rest of the family to join her, and they did after silently finishing their supper. The conversations in the parlor went about as well as they did in the kitchen, if not worse. There was a great deal of uneasy discourse between the rest of Jack's siblings and Charlotte. They all told anecdotes to help lighten the mood, but none of it seemed to entertain Charlotte, who’s eyes wandered around the room like a child in school.
When all possible stories of interest had been exhausted from the family, Ms. Marie asked, "Mr. Mortson, where is your other child?"
Mr. Mortson asked suspiciously, "What do you mean 'other child'?"
Charlotte then pointed at the family portrait hanging over the fireplace, "I count four children in that picture, where is the girl?" The rest of the family bowed their heads while Mr. Mortson stared at the little girl in a pink dress that had an uncanny resemblance to his wife.
He sighed and said, "That's our little Anna. Sadly, the good Lord decided to take her home by way of scarlet fever two years ago." The entire family was silent for a time as they all reminisced the loss of one they held dearly. Mrs. Mortson buried her face in her hands while her husband wrapped his arm around her shoulder.
Charlotte continued to stare at the little girl until she solemnly said, "Just as well. She was an ugly little child."
After a cat fight that left Mrs. Mortson crying and bleeding on the parlor floor, it should come as no surprise that the Mortsons did not bother to attend their own son's wedding eight months later.
That wedding between Jack and Charlotte was quite a sight to see. I don't think I've ever seen that little chapel so packed with people. My brother was of course trying to unsuccessfully console the grieving Claire Smith. Every time he tried to put his big arms around her, she laid the word of God upside of his head in disgust. Their little dispute was not the main focus of the ceremony, rather, all eyes were fixated on the smiling Jack Mortson and the unenthused Charlotte Marie.
The preacher began with his usual dry wedding speech and Charlotte soon lost her patience as he rambled on, "Would you please hurry the hell up?" she suddenly snapped at him. The preacher, though shaken, obliged to her request. After the "I do's" were said and the congregation applauded, the two walked down the aisle with Jack being tugged slightly along.
All seemed to be said and done, but as it turned out, we had to attend a funeral the next day.
The story is tragic. Just as everyone thought the two newlyweds were to engage in marital bliss, the sheriff was called to the mansion. Jack said it was an accident and his story was rightfully believable.
Upon carrying his new bride up the grand staircase, his foot became entangled with the train of her dress and he lost his balance. He then stumbled against the balcony and lost his hold of poor Charlotte. She then fell three stories and snapped her pretty little neck on the floor. We all gave our condolences to Jack, but we later regretted it.
As it turned out, at the end of Charlotte's funeral the next day, Jack walked to the front of the congregation and proudly announced his re-engagement to Claire Smith, and the two were to be married the next day. There were of course gasps of shock and disgust that rippled amongst us. We didn't even need an investigation to tell us that her death was not an accident. While we whispered our thoughts to each other, Charlie suddenly stood with hands in air and yelled, "God damn it, I give up!" He then stormed out of the church and let the heavy double doors slam behind him.
I was one of the few that attended Jack's other wedding and I'm sure glad I did. What happened was something so unbelievable and astonishing that I don't think I will ever forget it. As Claire and Jack were exchanging vows, their came a loud crack at the rear of the chapel. I whipped my head around and saw the very muddy figure of Charlotte Marie standing in the doorway.
Her chest heaved in and out and her eyes looked crazed. Claire shot glances back and forth between Charlotte and her husband to be. Jack was frozen in place with his bride's hands in his and a look of pure terror was spread across his face.
Charlotte then let out an ear splitting shriek, "Jack!" She began walking up the aisle in her soiled funeral attire while leaving a trail of muddy footsteps behind. "JACK! What have you done, you bastard!" Jack suddenly turned to run. Charlotte then sprinted the rest of the way up the aisle and caught up with her husband. She grabbed his tie, threw him to the floor, and dragged him down the aisle with it. All while Jack thrashed, screamed, and begged for mercy.
We followed them outside where we found her pinning him down in the street. We watched as her head of matted and disheveled hair drew close to him. She then started screeching a discordant language in his ear that no one has ever been able to identify. She finally jumped up and pulled Jack up to his feet.
He simply stared at the enraged woman for a short time. Like him, we weren’t exactly sure what to make of all it. Then the most unusual thing happened. Jack began to cradle his head in his arms. He yelled, cursed, and stamped his feet in what looked like pure agony.
I then looked at Charlotte and saw a small grin stretch across her face, which only grew as Jack stumbled his way to the curb. He dropped to his knees and bashed his own head into the cast iron street lamp. We all stood in shock as he repeated the motion over and over again.
He was crying out, "Make it stop! Make it stop!" as the sound of cracking bone filled our ears. Then with one final blow, he fell lifelessly onto the sidewalk.
As Charlotte walked away cackling, Claire dropped her knees beside her dead groom. Despite all the misdealing I suspected of Jack, I couldn't help but feel sorry for the poor girl. First her love left her for another woman, got married, killed his wife, reunited with her, and then died at the hands of a woman that somehow rose from the grave to exact revenge. As she blubbered over the spreading pool of blood, my brother knelt next to her. He then put his hand on her shoulder and began to speak softly to her, "Claire, I'm not a poetic man, and I don't know what I can say to make the pain go away, but I'll try. I'm sorry that I have to bury this man you loved so dearly, I truly am. I know it hurts, but you have to be strong."
One of Claire's hands reached up and rested on his. He continued on, "Jack was also my friend, he was a friend to us all. His time came long before it was due, but that's just the reality of life. Someday you will move on from this and will be a stronger person because of it."
I began to feel pride in what my brother was saying and his words began to tingle deep in my soul. He was genuine, kind, and compassionate. He went on, "That someday could be today. After I bury this man, your heart will begin to mend, I'm sure of it. And when I'm done, well, since you're already wearing the dress, perhaps you and I could get married? I mean, later on, I'll fuck you so hard that you'll forget all about him."
Feeling horribly embarrassed, I reached down and grabbed my brother by the ear lobe. He winced and protested as I tugged him upwards. "Well Charlie, I suppose it's about time for you to start digging a hole." I then dragged him away from the scene with scores of onlookers glaring at us both.
I suppose I can't be too hateful of my brother for being so persistent, but I'm rightful to say that he over did it at times. Even though he was not able to marry Claire that day, not that she would have anyway, he was still happy with the outcome. A man he despised was dead, Claire was available again, and he had some extra pay coming his way for it. It was money he was able to put to good use at the bar.
Of course, he didn't have to spend a dime that night. Originally, Jack had leased the entire building for the night and his new found wealth allowed him to provide free drinks for anyone that attended. Because of the events earlier that day, his celebration became more of a wake. Claire was not in attendance that night, but the town was not about to let a celebration go to waste. When I say the town, I mean everyone showed up, even folks that weren't invited.
It was a good time. The band played, the people danced, and gallons upon gallons of liquor was consumed. My brother sure was enjoying himself. He didn't say it aloud, but everyone knew why.
I was chatting with a few of my friends when the sound of a door being slammed open caught everyone’s attention. There was unanimous gasp when we saw Charlotte Marie standing in the doorway. I don't think anyone had thought of it before, but we were all drinking her money away.
Every heart beat fast and not an easy breath was taken as she sauntered over to an empty table and sat down. It took a while before the crowd began to start talking again, but there was still a bit of uneasiness in the air.
I took a long look at Charlotte. She was looking very radiant in a scarlet dress that complemented her figure very well. Then I looked at Charlie sitting at the bar, throwing another one back. I began to think of whether or not it could possibly be. Could these two really be attracted to each other?
I knew there was only one way to find out for sure. I gathered my courage and meandered my way over to her. "Excuse me Ms. Charlotte, may I sit here with you?"
She gave me a stern look and asked, “That depends, what do you want?”
I smiled and replied, “Well, I just want to talk to you. I’ve wanted to talk to you ever since you stepped off the train, but I’ve never had the chance to.”
“Really? Is that all you want?”
“Of course. A lady of your status and disposition is worth talking to.”
“I think there are more interesting people in this room worthy of my time.”
“And none of them are bothering to sit with you.”
She thought about what I said and a smirk stretched at the corner of her lips. “You’ve got some wit to ‘ya so I suppose you can.”
I took a seat across from her and folded my hands into my lap. “What do you want to talk about?” she asked.
I took a deep uneasy breath and said, “I want to talk about what happened today, if it doesn’t offend you?”
She nodded at me with squinty eyes, “I saw you there. You know what happened.”
“Forgive me for asking, but has this happened before?”
“Only a couple dozen times.”
“Are you still upset about it all?”
“I got over it by lunch time. I really didn’t care for Jack anyway. He was just the means to temporarily end an ongoing problem.”
I became confused and she took notice of it, “Ms. Marie, and end to what?”
She rested her head on her hands explained, “Despite what you may think of me, I’m a person just like you. I want the same things everyone else does. I want a loving husband. I’ll never be able to have children of my own, but I want them too. I might have all the money anyone could ever need, but it’s not what I really need in my life. Jack was just another failure I can add to the list.
"You seem to be taking it well."
"I've had more experience than what I care to admit."
"I think I know what you mean. At least I understand what my brother is going through."
"Who's your brother?"
I then turned around and pointed in his direction, "He's the burley fellow at the end of the bar. His name is Charles, but we all call him Charlie."
She rested her narrow chin on her hand and studied him for a moment, then said with a coo in her voice, "He's a handsome fellow isn't he?"
I smiled back at her, "Well, digging graves for a living does wonders for the body."
She didn't respond, instead, she continued to gaze at my brother with starry eyes.
"Ms. Charlotte?" I asked with no response. "Ms. Charlotte?" Still nothing, "Ms. Charlotte?"
Suddenly, his concentration broke from my brother and went back to me. "Is he seeing anybody right now?"
My grin grew a little wider, "Why, no. But it's complicated."
"In what way?"
"Well, I don't mean to keep reminding you of today, but you know Claire Smith?"
"What about the little whore?"
"Well, my brother thinks he's in love with her, but she doesn't feel the same way."
"Why is that?"
"Well, I think it's because she thinks she's too good for him."
She smirked, "That's a shame."
I kept the conversation going by telling her my brother's life story about how he wasn't able to read or write, and how he ended up living the life he did. She was all ears to what I had to say and even went as far as to ask, "What kind of person is he?"
"He can be really ornery." I said honestly.
"Hmm, sounds like my kind of man. Do you think he would be in the mood for talking to a woman like me?"
I was about to burst with happiness by this point, my idea of finding my brother a love interest was coming to flourishen right before my eyes. "Well, Ms. Marie," I said, softly, "He has mentioned you before.
"And what did he have to say?"
"Are you sure you want to hear it, it's not for the faint of heart."
I looked left and right like what I was about to tell her was an absolute secret. I then scooted myself next to her and whispered, "He told me that if he had the chance, he would make you feel like a woman."
"In what ways?" she asked before biting down on her finger.
I leaned in close and whispered into her ear. I am not going to repeat what I said, but the words that left my mouth were some of the dirtiest things I had ever said. It was all a lie, but for the sake of my brother, I didn’t hold anything back from my lewd imagination. The depravities that I spoke of made her blush and glow redder that forged iron. Good Lord, my mother would have slapped me senseless had she known of the carnal knowledge I possessed out of wedlock. When I finally exhausted all that I could think of, I leaned back to study her reaction.
She took a deep breath and asked, "He really said that he would do all that?"
"And. So. Much. More. It's up to you to make it happen."
She immediately shot up from the table. She meandered her way through the crowd and approached my brother from behind. As my brother was about to take another drink, her lips came close to his ear and began moving. I'm not sure what she said as her hand caressed his chest and her crotch pressed against his side, but it was enough to make my brother blush. The scene began to get the attention of all the people close by. She finished her whisper with a smile and studied his reaction.
My brother set his drink down, turned his head to face her, and said something close to her lips. She giggled as her hands came down and rested on his. She lifted his arm and gently tugged on it. My brother stood up and let the beautiful young woman pull him across the room and out of the bar.
After witnessing the previous events of that day, I should have been worried about my brother's safety, but I wasn't in the slightest. At least I wasn't until he wasn't able to be seen for two whole days. I began to have racing thoughts that I might have sent my brother to his doom. I became so worried that I eventually walked to the mansion to ask Charlotte if she had done the worst to Charlie.
I'm not sure how long I stood that morning in front of the mansion trying to gather the courage to enter. It seemed like hours, and it probably was. Just as I was about to walk up the driveway, the front door opened.
My brother emerged wearing only a pair of pants and a pair of unlaced shoes. Charlotte then stepped out wearing the same dress from two days before, only it was heavily wrinkled just like her hair. She grabbed my brother's hand and pulled him back around to face her. She then wrapped her arms around his neck and hopped onto him, letting her legs straddle his waist. They kissed each other passionately several times with smiles stretching across both of their faces.
A sudden wave of relief washed over me. I felt proud of myself knowing that I had set up something good for my brother, although I never imagined that it would have turned out that good for him.
She then let herself down and gave him a playful slap on the rear, signally him to get going. He did as he was told and walked backwards away from her while waving his hand goodbye. She as well waived him goodbye with a big toothy grin just before closing the door behind her.
The first thing I noticed as he approached me was the red lipstick smeared all over his face. He had look on him that made me grin, it was the kind of look a man gets when a good woman has relieved him of all his loneliness and frustrations. "Well, something tells me I was right about you and Charlotte." I said as he met with me.
He put his hands on my shoulders and gave me a gentle shake, "I haven’t felt this good in years."
"A good woman will do that to you."
"No, she's more than just that. She's a wonder."
He then brought his right hand under my nose and said excitedly, "Here, smell my hand!"
I immediately retracted myself away from him upon catching the scent, "Yep, that's a woman alright. So, you're not engaged now are you?"
"No, a woman that fine you've got to court for a while."
"Well, I'm glad you're thinking the right way. I take it you've scheduled a formal date with her?"
"Well, no, I didn't."
"What are you doing out here then? Go back in there and ask her."
He whipped back around sprinted to the door, he banged on the knocker until it opened. Charlotte emerged holding his shirt. As she lifted it up to him, my brother dipped his head down and nibbled on her neck. He then lifted her up and pressed her body against the door frame. Their lips locked ravenously onto one another's and their limbs became entangled with each other. I even turned away feeling like it was something I should leave private.
A few minutes passed and my brother came back with a bounce in his step, "Well, did you ask her?"
"Sure did, we have a date set for tonight down by the river." he said with splendor.
"Good for you. Get some flowers and try to think of something poetic to say about her beauty."
"Yeah, I can get some flowers from the graveyard."
"No you fool, get a dozen fresh roses."
"I thought it was all about the sentiment?"
"Sentiment has its limits my dear brother, didn't you say she was a fine woman?"
"A fine woman deserves fine flowers. Now 'git."
I shoved him away and watched as he hurried down the street. Just as he started putting his shirt back on, I finally noticed the deep red scratch marks in his back. What the hell did I get my brother into, I thought?
What happened after that night is something that I will always remember as being probably the happiest time in my brother's life. He of course kept his job as a gravedigger, but he began to act with a certain level of class that we the Locod family became proud of.
For one, his language cleaned up quite a bit. The once crass gravedigger started speaking with eloquent euphemisms. We all wondered where such behavior came from, and for many months it was a total mystery. What was even more surprising was the fact he was starting to read. Albeit his skills were basic, but there was a great deal of promise behind it.
I'll admit I was somewhat of shadow behind him. It wasn't because I wanted to snoop in on him either. It was because he asked me to. He wanted me to tell him how to improve on any short comings he might have, even though he really didn't need my help. On one such occasion, I was eavesdropping on him in the park, which is where I learned how he got his new reading skills.
There the two sat close together on a park bench. Charlotte had her chin resting on his shoulder, and he had an open book resting in his lap. "Alright Charles," she said, "Try reading the next line."
"Th-th-th-the s-s-sn-sn-snow fla-fla-flak wa-was c-c-cold."
"Snowflake Charles, snowflake. Remember what an "e" does to a vowel?"
"The snowflake was cold."
She patted him on the back and said, "Very good." She took the book from his hands and shut it. She then replaced it with a notebook. "Now if you're able to write it out, I've got a surprise for you." she said with a wink. My brother concentrated hard and started scribing letters on the paper while sounding out the words. He gave the notebook back to Charlotte. She studied it while Charlie looked at her with expecting eyes. She looked at him, at the notebook, then back at him. She hummed and hawed looking at it for a while then said, "Eh, close enough. Your place or mine?"
I later asked my brother why he wanted to read all of the sudden. He told me with a smile, "I want to learn how to write Charlotte poetry." I must say that I was starting to feel nothing but pride for my brother. For the first time in his life, he was working on bettering himself. Which should come as no surprise. A good woman can make a man do things he never thought he could.
I wasn't the only one to see of my brother's changes. The townsfolk started to take notice and with time, they actually gave him the time of the day. They were weary of Charlotte's presence after what transpired with Jack Mortson, but little by little, their trust began to mend day by day. I wish I could say the same for my mother. She absolutely hated the idea of her son courting what she called "a witch". She hated it so much that she even told Charlotte that she was not welcome in her home. I thought her opinion of Charlotte was brash, but she had good reasons for it. Ms. Marie didn't seem to mind our mother's disapproval either, just as long as she had her Charles.
For a time, there was a sort of velvet war between our mother and Ms. Marie. Charlie once made the comment to Charlotte that his mother was the best cook he'd ever known. She didn't take offense to his words per se, but she did take offense that there was woman that could better please Charlie in any kind of category. Looking back on it, Charlie was playing them both during the little debacle. I know this because Charlie once told our mother that Charlotte was a better cook than her. He had it all planned so carefully too. Our mother would bring hot breakfast out to the graveyard every morning, and Charlotte would bring him lunch in the afternoon.
Times were good indeed. Within three years, my brother had become a proper gentleman. Not only could he now read, he could also write the poetry he always wanted to give to his lover. He became cultured as well. A sure as the sun rises every morning, the two could be seen walking to the theater every Friday for the local play. The once dirty coverall wearing giant wore a custom tailored suit, a fancy walking stick in the crook of one arm, and the arm of his beloved in the other. For once, the local men found themselves tipping their hats to the couple, but the two seldom acknowledged them. Their minds were far too focused on their future to care.
Speaking of their future, Charlie eventually confided with me that he and Charlotte we thinking of adopting a child together, since she was sterile. The idea of my brother becoming a father was sobering. It told me that he'd outgrown his old self. It told me that his mind was set on a permanent future with Ms. Marie. It wasn't long until they both made the formal announcement. My father was indifferent to the matter entirely, but my mother fainted on the spot.
They set the date for August 24, 1922, which was only a few months away. In the meantime, Charlotte planned her special day and had her groom assisted in the ways he could. One thing that I thought was really clever was how she made Charlie handwrite a unique invitation to every guest to improve his skills. All 346 of them.
And indeed, all 346 people packed the chapel that day. The only real space left open was the area at the front, and the center aisle. Everywhere else was crowded shoulder to shoulder.
First Charlie came walking dressed in the best suit I'd ever seen him wear. And next to him was our crying mother sporting a long black veil over her face. When they had reached the end, our mother gave Charlie a hug and a kiss like most mothers do. However; her hug went on for the entire duration of Pachelbel's Canon in D. It was until I got out of my seat and pried her away did the embrace stop.
Oh my was it pure heaven when the piano started playing that old familiar tune. We all stood and turned around to see our father escorting Charlotte up the aisle. She was such a beautiful thing. That white dress really brought out the color of her hair and made those brown eyes sparkle. They reached the alter and Charlotte bid farewell to our father with a kiss on the cheek.
The rest of the ceremony was such a wonderful thing. Her skin had become rose red as she stared up into the eyes of her lover with a full smile. Charlie was doing much the same as he cradled the hands of his bride in his own, with tears of joy streaking down his cheeks.
The vows were exchanged, and they had a long kiss. The guests applauded the new union before heading out front to collect their bags of rice. As the couple emerged, the white granules clouded over them. Charlie stepped out ahead to the awaiting car to presumably get the door for his wife.
I took the time to lean from out of the crowd and say to Charlotte, "Congratulations Mrs. Locod." But as I looked back at the car, my jaw dropped. The crowd gasped then went silent. From the back seat, my brother had removed a rifle and had it aimed at his wife. The look on her face showed only the painful heartbreak of the man she grew to trust and love over three years. Everything, shattered, in only a few heartbeats. Then came the thunderous roar of the rifle and the red blossom that formed on Charlotte's chest before falling to her knees.
I pulled at my scalp and stomped my feet. I could not believe that this was happening. My mother had fainted into my father's arms. The crowd dispersed in fear. I heard the preacher mumble, "Jesus Horatio Christ, not this bullshit again." My brother picked up his dead wife and set her into the car. I screamed at my brother, "Why Charlie? Why did you do this?" He only gave me a quick tear-filled glance before getting in, and driving to the graveyard.
The few of us that remained in the area paced around trying to put the puzzle together. None of it made any sense to us. He had her wealth and love. Why would he even consider doing such a thing? I then saw the sheriff leaned up against the south wall of the church. I walked over to him and asked, "Are you going to arrest my brother?" He shot me a stern look and replied, "No. Something tells me Charlotte will see to this for me."
He said exactly what we were all afraid of. We didn't want Charlie to suffer the same mysterious fate as Jack Mortson. As the name from long ago rolled around in my mind, the pieces started to fall into place. I knew exactly why my brother had done such a hellish deed.
I ran around the area until I found her. "Claire!" I yelled to the woman just ahead of me. She stopped, turned around, and flashed me a smile. God damn it that smile enraged me to no end. It only confirmed what I already knew. I felt my heart pounding in my chest and the burning of my skin. When I was within reach, I slapped her across the face. I slapped her so hard that she had flashbacks to when she was taking ballet lessons, considering how she twirled on the way to the ground.
She quickly got back up and I slapped her again. As she lied on the ground, I shouted, "I know what you did, you whore!" She gave me a look of confusion, "Don't play dumb with me, we all know what you did."
"And that is?"
"You and your whore mouth convinced my brother to kill his wife."
I took a step back from her, "Get back on your feet." She did exactly that and brushed the debris that caught onto her dress. When she finished, I slapped her again. "Listen here Claire, it's your fault for not taking an interest in my brother in the first place. It's your fault you couldn't keep Jack from leaving you. It's your fault for not having the good sense to give the man a second chance."
"I don't care about the past."
"You ought to be ashamed of yourself for ruining something you've never been able to have. I highly doubt that you will ever have it."
"I did the town a favor."
"Didn't you see what Charlie and Charlotte did to each other? They made themselves civil! My God, the two somehow tamed each other!"
"I know what I want, and I know how to get it."
"And I'm sure that's money. You don't care about my brother. Hell, I hope he someday knocks you into next week!"
I kicked some dirt into Claire’s face before I stormed off back home. After witnessing such an emotionally heartbreaking event that day, I needed to get some rest. I drank heavily for the next three days. I was mourning the loss of three people.
The first was the man I thought my brother had become. It seemed all my hopes and dreams for what my brother could be, had come true. His future and the man I thought he was vanished.
The second was the man himself. As much as I loved him for becoming a better person, I have to admit that I loved him just the same for who he already was. The crass gravedigger that made life just a little more colorful. That man, if the past repeated itself, was doomed in two days.
Lastly, I grieved for Charlotte. I did not know it before losing her, but I too had fallen in love with her. My love was not romance or of the flesh, it was a pure kind of love that is only shared between siblings. I had counted her as my own sister and she was well deserving of the honor. She had done what I had failed in the past. She taught my brother reading, writing, and arithmetic. But in the end, it would all be for not. When she arose from the grave, I knew she would not feel the same about me or my brother. She may live on, but she would never count me as family.
When that third day came, I stayed by my brother's side. I wanted to wish him goodbye, but there was a feeling deep inside that told me I could convince Charlotte to forgive Charlie. The third day ended without any sign of her. I anxiously waited on the fourth day only to have the same result. Then came the fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth. It all seemed so bizarre to me, and it did to my brother. Finally he uttered, "Well, it looked like the plan worked."
I gave him a confused look, "What plan?"
He looked me right in the eyes and said, "I buried her face-down."
As to be expected, the coming events were highly expectable. My brother got married to that whore, Claire. Within a month, he had impregnated her. Nine months later she gave birth to a son named Charles Lee Locod Jr. I suppose times were good. At least they were for a while.
Then they started fighting. I lived only a block away from their mansion and I could hear the doors slamming and the baby crying in the middle of the night. I'm not sure what the major dispute was at first, I'm still not sure what it was. I do know this though, Charlie never gave up being a gravedigger despite the wealth. This afforded Claire the opportunity to do as she pleased while her husband dug.
Her activities mostly included traveling to young bachelor's homes and staying for a few hours. Of course it didn't take Charlie long to catch wind of this. He found out about the countless affairs and the dispute soon turned violent.
I've said it before, and I'll say it one last time, the world I was born into was far different than the one it has become. I think the best sight I’ve ever saw was Claire catching the train to New York, with one eye bruised and swollen shut. Shortly after her leave, I went to go find my brother to console him. I found him sitting on the front porch of the manor with a cigar in his hand. He rocked away in his chair and stared blankly out into the street. "Charlie," I asked, "how are you feeling today?"
"I don't know the polite words for it."
"How about something to cheer you up?"
"How about you take a little trip around the world? You know? To get your mind off of it?"
"That sounds expensive."
"What are you talking about? You have the money!"
He glared at me, "It's not about the money. All the money in the world can't bring back what I've lost and what I've lost made me happy."
"Do I dare ask you any further?"
"I'll say this. I wish I could have known what the good times were while I was living in them."
As the years went by, my brother did not change the way he felt about life. I think the last time I truly saw him smile was when he was married to Charlotte, if only briefly. He did his best to keep his mind occupied right up until his last day. He read books, whittled figures, and wrote poetry. The poetry was heartbreaking. He never wrote of how the sun shined or how good life was. No, his words only centered on a mysterious dark-haired woman from years past. It was a woman that taught him how to express himself in more ways than talking. It was a woman that slowly crept into his heart until the two beat as one. Then she was gone, and a piece was missing.
It wasn’t until Charlie had reached the ripe old age of 96 did his wife return to his side. I won't comment too much about her return. All I know is there was screaming that echoed down the streets, "Charles! Charles! What have you done?" Allegedly, the last anyone ever saw of my brother was him being dragged by his grey hair and into the streets. The young lady dipped down and kissed the man one last time before wondering off to no one knows where. As I've been told, it was the first time anyone had seen him smile in years.