Audra forgot to lock her laptop that morning. We had been dating for about four years, and living together for three. I was happy, had been happy, and I truly thought everything was fine. She left for her Saturday run in the park, and I stayed behind, content to play video games on my lazy weekend morning. When I went to the kitchen, my cat, which had been sleeping on the laptop keyboard, got up and meowed at me. I noticed then that the screen was unlocked. I pushed the cat out of the way, and sat down, thinking I would ensure the cat hadn’t made a mess of anything. Then I noticed an instant message window. “I love you too!”
That was strange. She would say that to me, but I had not used my computer that morning. I didn’t recognize the name, either. Maybe it was her mother? A cousin? As I scrolled through the chat history, my world fell apart. Audra had been cheating, secretly dating a coworker, a married coworker, for over three months. Sometimes they met at work, in the parking garage, but they always saw each other on Saturdays, when she went for a run. They laughed together, at me, in their instant messages, at how easy it was for her to slip away.
I stood, in shock. I felt like someone close to me had died. In a sense, it was a death: the death of our relationship. I had to get out of that house. Suddenly, I felt her everywhere. No, I felt him, smelled his lousy cologne, saw his tie in her car two weekends ago, that she said must have been mine even though I knew it wasn’t, saw the red mark on her neck that she claimed was from her messenger back, saw the bruise on her pale thigh and the line in her chat message “you were too rough last time. you left a mark. he cant find out.” Moaning, or screaming, or crying, I staggered to my car, and I drove.
I may never know how I ended up in that cemetery. I remember driving out of the city, past the suburbs, through desolate country back roads, turning again and again, onto roads that hardly deserved the term. I saw the cemetery gates by the light of the dying sun, the high metal fence glinting through dense hedge like a hidden jewel. I had stopped at a disused railroad crossing in some place that may have once been a town, but had since become overgrown by vines and weeds as to nearly merge with the scrubby forest it inhabited. I parked the car in the dense weeds by the roadside, got out and walked to the gate. Thick vines had woven through the metal bars, but the gate opened readily enough when I pushed.
The cemetery was beautiful, those last red rays of sunlight splashing upon the mausoleums and statues and stones in a watercolor wash. Row upon row of tombstones spread before me. For all the overgrowth outside, the grounds were well-kept, ornamental shrubbery sculpted and lawn trimmed. In that moment, I forgot about Audra, about her infidelity, about my pain. I was in a place of beauty, and I enjoyed it. I walked down the central pathway, stepping over buckled cobblestones pushed up by hundred year old oaks. I knew a bit about architecture, from my college years. Here was a many-columned mausoleum in the Greek Revival style, and there was Egyptian Revival, with its wings and sphinxes. The stones bore the names from a hundred other cemeteries: Smith, Hardy, Robertson.
As I continued down the path, the stones and mausoleums became less grand, more crude, and their dates grew older. Instead of 1920s and 1900s, there were 1880s and 1860s. There was a stone marked 1843, its top half crumbled away, and its inscription worn away. The statues were smoothed and hunched, covered in moss. I noticed another mausoleum, this time a stack of rude brick, set with the massive metal door that appeared to be mostly rust. Its only marking was the date: 1775. I thought this was passing strange, as I did not think this part of the country to be settled that long ago, but entranced as I was by the scenery, I dismissed the thought with a shrug.
The many paths of the cemetery converged ahead of me, against a tall hillside bluff at the back of the place. The sun had truly set and night was upon me, yet I was still able to see in that dim dusk light. I reached the end of the path and gasped. Before me, set into the raw rock of the bluff was a statue of a woman, a beautiful woman, her stone arms slightly reaching out as if to console or comfort. The pain came back at once, crippling, suffocating. In my grief I collapsed there in the path, wracking sobs echoing against the still stones. It began to rain as I wept, softly. After some time, I stood, wiped my face, and looked at the statue.
“No, it can’t be.” I walked closer to the statue, straining my eyes in the dim light.
“Audra?” The statue’s face was clearly hers. I noticed then how still the cemetery was, and how dark. I turned and looked behind me, up the path. It was black as pitch. A low, sliding sound came from behind me. I turned. The statue was clearly looking at me. It was looking at me with Audra’s face. Audra’s lips turned up slightly, knowingly.
I ran. I ran mindlessly through the dark, hands outstretched, without thought. My shins met the top of a crumbled gravestone with a blinding crunch. Momentum carried me forward and over the low stone, and down I fell, face first into the mud at the bottom of an open grave. I lay in the muck with the fetid earth pushing into my nostrils. The rain tapped softly on my back. I could see nothing in that pit, but I could hear the grating slide of stone against stone.
Her cold hard fingers found my legs first, grasping them in a short, sharp shock. I screamed and kicked, flipping onto my back. I kicked again with all my might. She lunged forward and seized me in an impossibly strong embrace. Her harsh stone lips pressed against mine. Her tongue forced my jaws open, grinding sharp against my teeth. Sand, or dust, trickled down my throat, gagging me. I thrashed for a last breath of air, but she held firm. After a time, I relaxed, and let go. The rain pooled in my open eyes, and I was still.
It was dawn when I climbed from that grave. The statue was gone. I did not look for her, as I knew she was back in her shrine, watching over her domain. The pain was gone. She had taken it away, and filled me with stone. I closed the cemetery gate with a smile. I knew what I had to do.
I needed to pay Audra a visit.