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She crouched down, her knees brushing the long blades of grass before resting with a soft thud on the ground below. Her thin finger caressed the stone before her. Roughly-bitten fingernails contrasted with the smooth, hard grey stone.

She traced over the letters carved onto the surface, lingering over the most recent date. She let out a ragged sob as she moved sideways, relieving pressure from her knees, sitting down fully on the flat, well-manicured lawn. Her eyes glistened with tears that threatened to fall from her heavily lidded eyes.

Someone cleared their throat softly behind her. "How did you know him?" whispered the warm voice.

"We were friends," she gulped, feeling her throat tighten. "Good friends."

"How did he die?" the voice asked softly.

The woman sat, tracing the letters and numbers over and over on the tombstone. She leaned forward and lightly kissed the shiny stone above his name. "It was horrible. I saw everything," she said finally in a whisper.

She sat back again, staring at the stone. Tears broke over her eyelids and streamed down her face, leaving shiny lines amidst her dirty and prematurely lined skin.

She looked to the right at the tombstone next to her current object of attention.

Putting her palms against the grass, she pulled herself into a crawl, ambling over to the other gravestone. She disregarded the grass stains blooming on the knees of her cotton pants. Once she got to the grave, she plopped herself on the ground to face the stone.

Her face fell to her hands as a torrent of new tears poured through the spaces between her fingers and onto her thin cotton pants below. The blue cloth turned dark where her tears soaked into the fabric.

"How did you know her?" the voice asked again.

She wrung her hands together, the skin still wet with tears. "We were," she gulped, "sisters." She placed the palms of her hands over the woman's name.

"What happened to her?" the voice asked.

"She died." She rubbed at her eyes with the palms of her hands before returning her gaze to the stone. She sat for a long time staring at the words etched there.

She spotted another stone in the row beyond. This one was cracked and crumbled. She got up and stepped lightly to her new destination, stooping low to sit back on the ground. Her fingers followed the outlines of these letters too, although they were barely legible from the erosion and decay of so many years.

A high-pitched beep sounded twice behind her, but she chose to ignore it, keeping her eyes defiantly on the stone, refusing to turn her head.

"We must go now," the voice said in its regular, measured tone.

"No," she said firmly, her body growing rigid.

"Laura, we must. It's almost mealtime."

"But…" the woman stammered, "but I knew him!" She gazed at the crumbling stone.

"If we stay, you'll miss mealtime. You know what happens then. You'll get your television privileges revoked," the voice said, calm again. "You don't want that to happen, do you?"

"No," she said in a low voice.

"Then let's go." An arm clad in stiff, white linen grasped Laura's bicep and helped gently pull her up from the ground. The owner of the voice led her across the yard, though Laura saw many more graves of those she'd insisted she'd known along the way.

As the side door of the van slid shut and she took her seat, Laura perked up at once. "I hope we're getting tater tots today!"

Created: Feb 21, 2012


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