There was a glass fan over the front door. A light shone through this glass fan, colored blue, red, yellow, and touched the old man’s face. It seemed not to bother him.

“I wondered, free dirt? Never struck me you’d have much left over. When you dig a hole and put the coffin in and refill the hole, you haven’t much dirt left, have you? I should think…”

The old man leaned forward. It was so unexpected that the stranger pulled his foot off the bottom step.

“You want some?” said the old man.

“Why, no, no, I was just curious. Signs like that make you curious.”

“Set down,” said the old man.

“Thanks.” The young man sat uneasily on the steps. “You know how it is, you walk around and never think how it is to own a graveyard.”

“And?” said the old man.

“I mean, like how much time it takes to dig graves.”

The old man leaned back in his chair. “On a cool day: two hours. Hot day, four. Very hot day, six. Very cold day, not cold so it freezes, but real cold, a man can dig a grave in one hour so he can head in for hot chocolate, brandy in the chocolate. Then again, you get a good man on a hot day, he’s no better than a bad man in the cold. Might take eight hours to open up, but here’s easy-digging soil here. All loam, no rocks.”

“I’m curious about winter.”

“In blizzards we got a icebox mausoleum to stash the dead, undelivered mail, until spring and a whole month of shovels and spades.”

“Seeding and planting time, eh?” The stranger laughed.

“You might say that.”

“Don’t you dig in winter anyhow? For special funerals? Special dead?”

“Some yards got a hose-shovel contraption. Pump hot water through the blade; shape a grave quick, like placer mining, even with the ground an ice-pond. We don’t cotton to that. Use picks and shovels.”

The young man hesitated. “Does it bother you?”

“You mean, I get scared ever?”

“Well … yes.”

The old man at last took out and stuffed his pipe with tobacco, tamped it with a callused thumb, lit it, let out a small stream of smoke.

“No,” he said at last.

The young man’s shoulders sank. “Disappointed?” said the old man. “I thought maybe once .

“Oh, when you’re young, maybe. One time …”

“Then there was a time!” The young man shifted up a step. The old man glanced at him sharply, then resumed smoking. “One time.” He stared at the marbled hills and the dark trees. “My grandpa owned this yard. I was born here. A gravedigger’ 5 son learns to ignore things.”

The old man took a number of deep puffs and said:

“I was just eighteen, folks off on vacation, me left to tend things, alone, mow the lawn, dig holes and such. Alone, four graves to dig in October and a cold came hard off the lake, frost on the graves, tombstones like snow, ground froze solid.

“One night I walked out. No moon. Hard grass underfoot, could see my breath, hands in my pockets, walking, listening.”

The old man exhaled frail ghosts from his thin nostrils. “Then I heard this sound, deep under. I froze. It was a voice, screaming. Someone woke up buried, heard me walk by, cried out. I just stood. They screamed and screamed. Earth banged. On a cold night, ground’s like porcelain, rings, you see?

“Well-“ The old man shut his eyes to remember. “I stood like the wind off the lake stopped my blood. A joke? I searched around and thought, Imagination! No, it was underfoot, sharp, clear. A woman’s voice. I knew all the gravestones.” The old man’s eyelids trembled. “Could recite them alphabetical, year, month, day. Name any year, and I’ll tell. How about 1899? Jake Smith departed. And 1923? Betty Dallman lost. And 1933? P. H. Moran! Name a month. August? August last year, buried Henrietta Wells. August 1918? Grandma Hanlon, whole family! Influenza! Name a day, August fourth? Smith, Burke, Shelby carried off. Williamson? He’s on that hill, pink marble. Douglas? By the creek …”

“The story,” the young man urged.

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Categories: Bradbury, Ray