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Laugh, cry and blush with James Morrison as he recalls the trials, tribulations, and tragedies growing up on Cemetery Street.
“In a world of presumptuous people, irony is alive and well,” concludes James Morrison, the narrator of this touching coming of age novel. A view Shannie Ortolan - James’s longtime friend, sometimes lover, and full-time obsession - wouldn’t argue. From their first encounter as teenagers until Shannie’s death, experience the twists, turns and enthralling characters that populate Cemetery Street.
On the cusp of the new millennium, James fulfills a promise. Reenacting a childhood ritual, he places a mud pie upon a grave. This simple act triggers powerful memories.
Meet the people that shaped James’s life. Shannie, who among other things, introduces him to the sport of dodging freight trains. Count, the cemetery caretaker’s son, helps James navigate the minefields of adolescence until destiny is met in Desert Storm. Russell, an aging blind African-American, guards a horrifying secret behind a cloud of cigar smoke. Diane, Shannie’s mother, a college professor dispels the notion of tweed jackets and elbow patches. Steve Lucas, a mortician’s son, who despite bizarre obsessions, stands by James during his most challenging times.
Laugh, cry, and blush as James recounts events of a late twentieth century American life.
Chapter 1 On the Cusp
“Get up!” she cried. “Run!” she smiled over her shoulder. The earth shook beneath our feet. “Faster! Faster!” Her voice swirled in the wind. “Feel it?” she shrieked, her hair dancing behind her. “Feels great. Just great!” Her laugh pierced the freight’s roar. Swimming through the train’s blast, she reminded me of a salmon - always heading upstream.
Moments earlier, she danced across a warped balance beam forty feet above the river. “If I lose my balance, even for a second - a second - I could die!” Ignoring our pleas, her forehead etched with concentration, she continued. “For what? Like there has to be a what! Would you say I died in vain, died for the thrill?” Her arms flailed. “Yes,” she answered. “Died of stupidity! Died for nothing, what a way to die! I like that. There isn’t pressure in nothing.”
Me, I’ve always felt pressure - even in nothing, even today. So I watch, I’ve always watched! Even today - I watch a snowflake slide down the front of her headstone and crash to the ground. I watch countless others stick atop her headstone. When I grow tired of watching, I run my hand over the smooth granite wiping away heaven’s frozen tears.
A slight breeze rustled the trees, their bare limbs swaying to the sound of her voice. I turned praying she would be sitting on the sandstone bench like she was thirteen years ago - Indian style, her wild mane speckled with snow flakes. I imagine her gaze staring across the dozing river, past the distant rushing traffic, into eternity. My gaze was met by a dusting of snow atop the bench. Disappointment consumed me. “People who do nothing but watch, feel nothing but disappointment,” she once scolded.
Today would have been her twenty-seventh birthday. Ten days ago was the first anniversary of her death. Two days from now the world will be standing on the cusp of a new millennium - without her. It will be so empty, it will be dawn without the sun.
“Happy Birthday Bug,” I whispered. “I have a surprise. It’s your favorite.” Careful not to spill a drop, I poured the steaming coffee on the ground in front of her stone. “How did you guess?” I watched the snow evaporate. “Yes, you’re right. Of course, I remembered. How could I forget? ” I tell her.
“If eyes are the gateway to the soul,” she wrote prior to her accident. “Our memories are its gatekeepers.” Like a dutiful gatekeeper, I guard our memories. “Out of memory comes ritual,” she said, hiding in the breeze. “Out of ritual - meaning, out of meaning - warmth, out of warmth - love, out of love...”
“Us,” I whispered to the wind. “Beyond anyone, I remember you!”
“I didn’t forget,” I stroked the polished granite’s face. “It’s your recipe,” I confided as I placed the pie pan atop the coffee soaked soil. I retreated to the bench and cast my gaze over the sleepy river and past the rushing traffic, listening for echoes of her laughter on the wind.