Noise noise noise noise noise.
A million million voices try to talk one on top of the other. It sounds like music. It sounds like the worst jazz you have ever heard.
The effect of all the voices is to make you feel screamed at, but no one is screaming. They are speaking with only a note of urgency. They are not shouting, but they know they should be heard. That you should hear them and that they must say their piece.
This is just when you first go through the gates. This is nothing yet.
The gates, by the way, are tall and iron and topped with diamond-shaped spikes. They are there for a very specific purpose: because the boys of the town will try to sneak in and put mirrors on the graves. The gates will not stop the boys from trying, but they will stop all but the most resourceful boys from getting into the graveyard. In the time before the gates, that everyone remembers but no one was alive for, there were shards of mirrors all over the graves like magpie confetti. No one remembers why, but the boys know that this is what they are supposed to do. The gates are especially needed at holidays.
After you have recovered from the shock of all the voices – because it will be a shock, even though I’ve told you about it now – you can start walking into the graveyard. If you step too close to someone’s grave, there will be a hush. This will be tempting. But you should be careful, because the longer you linger by any one grave, the harder it will be to go back into the fray. Once, a girl who was not prepared ran into the graveyard at night time. She was overwhelmed by the voices, and she sat down on a grave to rest in the peace. They found her the next morning, lying on the rectangle of grass as if it were a down mattress. They were never able to wake her. This is another of the stories – the ones that everyone will tell you.
If you listen carefully, you’ll start to pick individual voices from the noise. You should listen to them. It will be hard. It won’t be hard to catch the thread, to latch onto a voice and follow it. But it will be hard to stop yourself from shaking it off once you do catch it. They don’t scream, the voices, but they do not flinch from the truth.
These are the graves of the strangers. None of them exist anymore. If they do exist, in an outnumbered molecule of someone’s blood, someone is not telling. I doubt that anyone will ever tell.
You will make your recommendation to the town council by the third of November. We didn’t know these people. Their traditions were not ours, and they are gone now. The land could be put to good use.
word by Charlotte Joyce Kidd
“This story could be about anyone.
My own familial and ancestral background is Jewish, and it’s a group that has been dodging annihilation throughout history.
Religious, racial and ethnic persecution happens and has happened everywhere, and too often results in genocide.
I also wonder about the living’s obligation to the dead in regards to burial wishes and traditions, especially in cases where the desired ritual of the deceased seems obsolete or culturally irrelevant. I was a voracious reader of Egyptian mythology and history growing up, and I questioned the ethics of excavations and exhibitions as much as I revelled in seeing them. Although it was anthropologically exciting and potentially important to dig up a Pharaoh’s grave, what if he had been right to believe that he needed a pyramid of clay figurines to survive in the afterlife? Had we just destroyed his vision of paradise? We can dismiss the desires of the dead as quaint, erroneous, or even morally wrong, but we don’t get the opportunity to argue; we can only choose to refuse or honour them.
In this piece, I tried to create an image of a society that may no longer believe in traditional burial, that has no connection to the buried, that exists on land that has no meaning to them but is historically deeply significant, that perhaps is even responsible for the elimination of a certain group, and finds itself struggling with the presence of a vanished people.”
colour by Julien Coquentin
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