On Cemetery Hill
by LindaAnn LoSchiavo
Poems are from the Elgin Award nominee “A Route Obscure and Lonely” speculative poetry by LindaAnn LoSchiavo [Wapshott Press; 62 pgs].
The truth was I didn’t really need a book that night. My
Christmas shopping was finished. Earlier I had built a cozy fire
and I could have stayed home, trimming the tree, baking
gingerbread cookies, maybe phoning far-away friends or answering
A brittle box of holly trimmed notepaper had been
cloistered away, pitched in with some outdoor lighting. The year
Jim died, I didn’t want to decorate our front windows, then I
failed to revive our custom. Funny how one long-held tradition
or belief can evaporate altogether.
When I decided to give away the lights, old gifts I had
meant to wrap resurfaced along with the stationery. I had
enjoyed sending festive missives at the end of the year along
with photos —— but when did that urge die? When had I become a
person who no longer cherished life so much?
As if to prove something, I selected a crisp envelope and
one sheet and started off with a cheerful greeting to Miranda.
When did I see her last, my former schoolmate? Had it
really been thirty years ago? Maybe I didn’t get far and this
is where a wandering began.
Light snow was falling, filling the windowsill, decorating
certain angles of the trees while avoiding other branches, like
people who knew how to keep apart. On the mantle was a sturdy
snow globe, purchased in the Alps, a solitary snowman in the
center. When I shook it, the swirl drifted up, obscuring the
miniature scene in a glamorous blindness.
The weather urged me to stay put. Instead, for reasons I
can’t explain, I put on my insulated boots and my cashmere
muffler and headed on foot to the bookshop by Cemetery Hill.
Though the signpost sounds ominous, there is no longer a
graveyard near the hill. Older residents remember there was once
and wicked things happened during a full moon or the equinox.
But there are also numerous taverns in that part of town.
Loiterers might say anything after a few drinks, especially to
the gullible. There are teasers who like to toy with a listener,
repeating formidable yarns, crypts that opened, drawers of ash
becoming whole, circular footprints in the snow, a ghostly
touch, narratives of regret. Some thrive on goosebumps.
When Jim and I were deciding on a property, the real estate
agent seemed nervous telling us about Cemetery Hill. Jim winked.
“If it’s haunted here, Lissie, we’d better find out how it
affects the zoning ordinance.” And we laughed. Anytime I
overhear a whispered story, I think of that afternoon. Buying
our first house, we were hopeful and happy. I never had
After navigating the icy steps, I searched to see what
phase the moon was in. Heavy clouds swiftly crossed the sky,
chasing the night. Luminarias dotted the way up a few driveways,
coffined electric candles blessing the way out, their yellow
glow challenging the gloom. An upward draft blew the snow’s
secrets towards the rooftops, away from the sharp defining edges
of the traffic lights.
Foolishly, I took no umbrella and the white stuff made
itself at home on me as I trudged along, trying to spot any
treacherous patches and avoid a spill. Blanched bones of
streetlight made an odd geometry across the walkways, unevenly
shoveled earlier today.
Though the bookstore was deserted at this hour, music was
playing. It sounded a little like that holiday CD Miranda had
sent me, right after the funeral. Some Christian boy choir,
with angelic voices, tried to feed emptying hearts with anemic
Gregorian chants. We had less and less in common, Miranda and I,
but her kindness was the glue that kept our friendship from
Cold flakes dusted my shoulders and hair. When I brushed
them off, moisture hit the book jackets and I tried to dry them
with my scarf. A paste of rock salt and dead snow that had
clung to my tall boots was melting as I prowled the aisles,
leaving a trail as murky as redemption denied. Red poinsettias
along the cashier’s counter were insufficient to dispel the
despair. What was I after, I wondered? Maybe a midnight sale
table is just a distraction from the loneliness that can grip a
soul at yuletide.
I exited as empty as I entered. The door closed behind me
with effort, sighing in exasperation. Heavy clouds had
thickened into a clotted substance overhead. Perhaps the
residents had turned off the luminarias at bedtime. Or maybe
these slight votive candles were overcome by the humid haze.
Then I saw him.
At least the figure seemed to be male, confidently striding
along in a navy nylon track suit with a hood carefully tied to
obscure the face. A sexton’s cottage and generous churchyard
were on my left. I could have moved closer to the wrought iron
railing to let the stranger pass. But an impish impulse arose,
guiding me to commandeer the sidewalk and stand my ground, so
he would have to defer and pass around.
Everything happened quickly. As a car passed, the
headlights collided with his silhouette, revealing that he was
transparent. Next moment, the faceless creature merged with me.
My right leg froze, mid-gait. My muscles could no longer move.
This had been a bitter winter but my shearling coat had
shielded me from the elements. Only if I stayed out too long did
my face and fingertips feel frosty. Tonight, locked in an eerie
embrace, I felt a deep cold penetrating me. It was useless to
try to break free. Whoever this was, he had me.
A dog barked, probably resenting the iciness, and I
wondered if the individual walking the pooch was aware of me,
caught off balance on one leg, like an ungainly woman turned to
stone. But the dog owner didn’t seem to notice anything. Had I
become invisible and immobile?
Just then a few bars of church music reached me. Trying to
touch the pavement with my right foot, I attempted to anchor
myself to a section the boy choir had sung. Instead the overture
from “Die Fledermaus” materialized, the last performance I had
enjoyed with my husband. “The Blue Danube” flowed through my
system like an irresistible heart humming. Suddenly, a force
lifted me, drifting with me around an imaginary ballroom,
weaving and dipping to the strains of an unworldly orchestra. I
surrendered to it, let myself be swept along. I felt as excited
as Rosalinde, getting ready for a masked ball at Prince
As quickly as this possession took hold, it departed. My
boots gently made contact with the sidewalk. I turned around to
see a transparent figure strolling away, then a vanishing.
Early morning light greeted me, shaking off my
extraordinary adventure. Extremely hungry, I decided to head to
the bakery, always so crowded on Fridays, especially before a
holiday. Their cranberry muffins sold out before lunchtime. I’d
get a few dozen and treat my neighbors. But when I got there,
it was in darkness. Another peculiarity was that the colorful
evergreen wreaths were gone. Were they going out of business? I
bought muffins at the supermarket and quickly headed home.
Then I realized why it was easy to walk briskly: the snow had
been completely cleared away.
Another surprise was that my mailbox was full, jammed with
Christmas cards, bills, and circulars. The postman certainly
deserved his annual tip. There was a postcard from Miranda.
“Call me, Lissie!” she demanded with big letters in red ink.
“We’re worried about you, Lissie!”
Just then a neighbor’s child ran up my steps and rapped on
the outside door. “My mother wanted to return your cookie
trays,” she said. “I rang your bell but no one’s been home. Do
you need them?” I assured her that there was no hurry and sent
her home with two warm muffins.
As I shed my coat, I tried to make sense of my feelings.
But words do not live entirely inside language and neither does