The graveyard is empty. Well, there are the dead bodies underneath Abigail’s feet, of course, but they don’t creep into her mind. If anything, knowing Nana is beneath her feet wipes her mind squeaky clean, just like how Nana used to wipe down the store windows until they sparkled in the sunlight. But the important part to Abigail is that no other person sits across from her. No one is yelling at her to get off the headstones; no one shaking their head at her basket full of pastries, all with enough butter to put even Madame LaCombe’s cakes to shame. Abigail can let her feet dangle, lean into the fresh summer winds. A crisp breeze in summer is the only thing that keeps her going, if she’s being honest.
She runs her fingertips across the scars beneath her fishnet tights. They are her chainmail.
Abigail wonders, not for the first time, why her parents moved from the biggest city in the state just to run a general store in a town of fifty people. She can hear her mother, Caroline, jabbering on and on about the “atmosphere” and the “peace”, but she can also hear Doctor Harvey’s panicked phone calls when the power went out and Nana’s wheezing got triggered by a thunderstorm rolling in. The pitter-patter of the rain echoed through town as Nana waited four hours for an ambulance. She passed within three.
Abigail was fourteen years old. She stopped going to school after that,— not like this town had a high school. It was more that Caroline couldn’t teach her anymore and didn’t want to teach her anymore. Twenty-year-old Abigail, who sits on top of her grandmother’s gravestone, lights a cigarette. She rolls it in her fingers. The little ball of orange at the end reminds her of a hamster she used to have as a kid. It died the same year Nana did. She looks down at her ratty 80’s band shirt, her ripped dark-wash jean shorts, black boots that go up to her knees, and wonders if there was any chance she was going to turn up normal. Everyone said being depressed and emo was typical for a fourteen year old, but here Abigail is now: nineteen years old with no idea what the hell she’s going to do with her life except maybe teaching herself the bass chords to every Sleeping with Sirens song. She should go to college, find a job, not sulk in her room, she knows. She likes to ignore the advice, wallowing in ever deepening depression that her parents don’t notice.
She takes in a big gulp of smoke. She coughs.
“Nana, what do you think?” Abigail asks, putting out her cigarette. She doesn’t plan to live long enough to get lung cancer, but it burns too much right now. “Am I a worthless failure?”
Abigail gets off of the headstone. She is opening the graveyard fence when she feels a hard chill pass through her body. She snaps her head back to see her Nana, frizzy hair, floral dress, and the smell of homegrown Chinese chives exuding from her.
The old woman smiles. She walks up to Abigail, and Abigail thinks she might burst out into sobs if she weren’t in shock.
This Nana takes a lock of Abigail’s purple hair, frayed and rough from the bleach, and tucks it behind Abigail’s ear. Her fingers are soft, like Nana’s old silk scarf that is stuffed in some cardboard box in the attic. Her face is paler than the moonlight, wrinkles running like river channels down the sides. Her crows feet make Abigail want to smile like she is six, canoeing in the lake up by Ms. Robin’s house with her best friends. All those best friends went away to college or moved before then. Abigail is the youngest person in town by at least fifteen years.
This Nana, like her real one, always seems to know when Abigail is sad. She presses a kiss onto Abigail’s forehead and whispers, “Bu yao shang xin. Don’t be sad.”
Her lips are crisp, like the summer breeze.
She disappears like it too.
And it is just Abigail Li, alone in the graveyard. Sometimes she wants to kill herself.
Tonight, she doesn’t.
Ashley Bao is a high school sophomore and a Chinese-Canadian-American writer. She has a poem forthcoming in Liminality.