The Caretaker

By Naomi Hersh Clackum, 1981

          Yessir! Ol’ Wally had been the caretaker at Fairview Cemetery for twenty years. Then one day he just up and disappeared without a trace. Some say he got a good scare workin’ ’round all them dead folks and just took a freight outta town one night, never t’be seen again. At least that’s what they say. Now,  I never knew him m’self, but Ben Cooper over at the Post Office, he worked with Wally down at the feed mill fer ten years. Ben said Wally never gave nobody a bit o’ trouble, but he did have one habit that’d be the death of ‘im. He loved his wine.

            One day the boss found ol’ Wally stretched out on one of them conveyor belts dead t’the world. Dead drunk that is, with a bottle o’ Cooter’s wine layin’ across his stomach. He picked ol’ Wally up by his pants an’ just about threw ‘im clean through the door! He told Wally if he ever showed his face there ag’in, he’d break both his skinny legs fer ‘im. Ben said after that he didn’t hear much from Wally anymore.

            Well, one day Wally showed up back in town ag’in. Seems like he got himself a job workin’ right in this here cemetery. He was drunk all the time by then. I guess I would be too if I had t’sit aroun’ this place by m’self all night long. I don’t care what anyone says, it’s dam spooky at night, ‘specially when the fog rolls in.

            “Hey! You kids get outta there!” Damn fool young ‘uns just ain’t got no sense. Sheriff found ‘em out here one night fillin’ up some fresh dug graves. Took poor ol’ Wally all day t’dig, just t’have them kids fill ‘em up ag’in. Can ya beat that? They just don’t have nuthin’ better t’do.

            Now, what was I sayin’ b’fore? Oh yeah, well anyhow, Wally really knew how t’put it away. He’d go t’town on Friday afternoons after he was paid an’ stock up on that wine by the case. Must’ve bought enough t’last till the next Friday. Then he’d come back here t’that little shack. He lived there, ya know. Even made up a real fancy sign fer ‘imself: WALTER P. ABERNATHY, CARETAKER. Had a whole collection o’ bottles in there, too.

            So, me an’ some of the boys, we rode by here one night an’ saw ‘im sittin’ right out there on that big tombstone, just guzzlin’ away. We’d gone over t’that drive-in on the far side of town an’ on the way back we decided t’stop an’ see what the ol’ wino was up to. So Jerry an’ Frank an’ me, we snuck aroun’ the back o’ that old shack where we’d seen Wally. Sure enough, there he was, passed right out in one o’ them empty graves. If we didn’t know better, we’d a thought he was dead. I mean real dead. He was so peaceful lookin’ layin’ in there with that bottle tucked under his arm. It was all we could do t’drag ‘im out an’ carry ‘im back t’that shack o’ his.

            As time went on, I’d see Wally ev’ry now an’ ag’in, takin’ care of things aroun’ here an’ diggin’ new graves whenever they was needed. No one could say exactly when he disappeared, but it weren’t too long after them damn kids got picked up ag’in by the Sheriff fer their fool pranks.

            I’ll tell ya somethin’, if ya don’t think I’ve gone plum crazy. I’ve seen ‘im right here! Not like I’m lookin’ at you, but I’ve seen ‘im.

            It was after we’d had a bad storm come through, blowin’ an’ tearin’ up everything in sight. Now they don’t pay me enuf t’stay here all night, but with all the work I had cleanin’ up, I didn’t have no choice. It was kinda late on a Friday night now that I come t’think about it. I was over by that big elm pickin’ up some limbs off them gravestones when somethin’ caught my eye.

            Sittin’ there big as life was ol’ Wally himself. The only trouble was I could see right straight through ‘im! Scared the shit outta me let me tell ya! There he was, sittin’ on that big tombstone, same as he used to, an’ in his hand was a big ol’ bottle o’ Cooter’s! I guess I don’t have t’tell ya, I took off as fast as these legs could carry me!

            Well sir, ever since that night I leave here b’fore the sun goes down. I told Ben what I saw but ya know, some folks just won’t b’lieve somethin’ they don’t want to.

            I’ll tell ya somethin’ else too. It’d be pitiful if it weren’t s’damn funny. Can ya picture poor ol’ Wally, drunk as a skunk, passed out in another one o’ them holes? An’ them damn fool kids, just a shovelin’ like crazy…

The End

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