For the Afterlife

She wanted a crypt like the temple of Dendur, an enormous monolith unshakeable as their marriage. He favored the granite sarcophagus gaily decorated with Victorian swirls and oak leaf cornices. She wanted poplars tall and straight—leafy and shameless as Italian trees of summer, if sadly deciduous. He preferred cypresses, their constancy through the seasons: shrubs—yew or arbovite—modest, low to the ground. She fancied a stone table with seats for friends to come dine al fresco. He said a few high-back benches would do. She said as long as they’re comfortable, without Hallmark card prayers or one-size-fits-all labels like “Father” and “Mother.” When they settled on the white granite love seat carved from a single block, its elegantly supportive back to the forest, they were told it was impossible to order now that the factories making them in China and India were closed. Everything in the world was closed. Yet they strolled, faces masked, every day, in these grounds, secure in their solitude, among the decorated dead, the veterans from Gettysburg, the Somme, Normandy and Saigon and all the wars against measles, flu, whooping cough and plague, whole families wiped out by one contagion or another resting now in the rolling hills and burial mounds, under marble markers by now mostly effaced, amid medals and flags stabbed into the earth to celebrate their valor, here among the ancient oaks and stalwart pines, clustered in stately groves joined each to each by pebbled paths and avenues—daily they walked, stopped and even sat, feeling strangely welcome and terribly alive.

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