"What's the world for you if you can't make it up the way you want."

-Jazz, Toni Morrison

Just Goes to Show You

Just Goes to Show You

We hated our fifth grade teacher. Her name was Mrs. Bellefleur, a French name but her accent sounded German. She had dirty blonde hair and witchy features and ran her classroom like a drill sergeant with a system of checks to record infractions and dole out punishment. Talking in class? That’s a check! Passing a note? That’s a check! The offender’s name would be written in chalk on the far-left side of the board with the first check of the week. Three checks was a detention and a note home. Five checks and you got “swats.” They were allowed to beat us at Freedom Christian Academy. 

At the end of the week all records were expunged, and we were given a clean slate. My best friend Mark’s name was so consistently written in the first spot on that list that it never completely erased. Some people never got any checks, and others lived in constant dread of reaching one of the punishable milestones. It was highly stressful and made it difficult to concentrate on our studies. Fifth grade was, I think, the beginning of our mistrust of authority.

In ninth grade we had Mrs. Bellefleur again, this time for math. In a small, private school like ours, unregulated by any state or federal authority, it’s not uncommon for teachers to move among the grade levels, sometimes even subject matter, so, while not thrilled, we weren’t too surprised to have her again. 

But something had changed. Mrs. Bellefleur was a different person, not so harsh a disciplinarian. She certainly could have been—as high school freshman our behavior had only gotten worse. Instead, she treated us as if we were adults, almost like it was college course and she was the professor. We responded largely in kind.

Then one day she stopped coming to work. Rumors abounded until it was finally announced to us by the principal himself that Mrs. Bellefleur had cancer and was undergoing treatment. She would not be back for the rest of the year, and we were asked to remember her in our prayers. Very soon after that we were asked to pray for her family. Mrs. Bellefleur was dead. 

The services were held in the main chapel. Mark and I attended to pay our old nemesis final respects. She had turned out to be not so bad after all. We found out she would be buried at Westminster Memorial, a place we been to many times before. It was quite a lovely cemetery—as most are—and we liked to walk around and read the headstones. 

So, a few months after her death, we headed out after school on our bikes and went to find Mrs. Bellefleur’s grave. It was a beautiful spring day between storms with the clean, cool wind gusting and driving the clouds overhead, making it difficult to pedal up Beach Blvd. 

There was a little office near a flower shop and mortuary at the entrance. We walked inside where it was awfully quiet, and a man gave us the coordinates to the grave. 

“Could you imagine working in a place like that?” Mark asked me outside as we got back on our bikes.

“Creepy.” I said. “Do you know where we’re going?”

“I think so. Let’s go to the building first.”

We liked to go into the mausoleums on site and walk among the bodies we knew had been placed in the walls. Each one had a little flower holder at its edge though most were empty. Some held plastic flowers that looked as if they had been there for decades. There never seemed to be anyone in there.

“Isn’t is weird that one day we’re going to end up in a place like this?” I asked Mark.

“Yeah, I don’t like to think about it,” he shivered.

I looked around as we walked slowly through the marble tombs. “I don’t know,” I said reflectively. “It kind of makes me feel good. It’s comforting in a way.”

We came to one of the little chapels inside the building. We sometimes used these settings to entertain each other with imitations of our teachers and some of the drooling evangelists who came to our school to preach and deliver their fire-and-brimstone messages. This time we just took a seat next to each other in the front pew and talked.

“It’s weird when people die. The first question people always ask is, ‘How old were they?’ Like, why is that always the first question? I told my mom about Mrs. Bellefleur, and she goes, ‘How old was she?’ isn’t that weird?”

I thought about this for a while. “Maybe it’s because you’re not supposed to die until you get to a certain age,” I finally offered. “So if you say, ‘She was seventy-eight,’ they’re, like, ‘ok,’ but if you say forty-eight, they think it’s too soon.”

Mark pondered this then said, “And then if somebody dies suddenly, like a car crash or heart attack or something, people always act shocked or sad at first and then go, ‘Well, it just goes to show you…’ and they never finish the sentence. What does it go to show you?

I wanted to solve these problems for Mark, but he was asking some tough questions. Neither one of us had yet had anyone very close to us die, so these were fairly abstract ideas at the time. “Let’s go find Bellefleur,” I suggested.

We got back on our bikes and rode through the little streets of the cemetery. There were great oak trees and weeping willows, and they swayed and danced in the wind. The sound of their leaves was like a distant rainfall. There were only a few cars parked here and there and no one was walking about. It was strange how empty this place always was. We stopped at a koi pond and watched them for a little while from a little foot bridge before moving on.

“Would you rather die by burning to death or drowning?” Mark asked as we rode along.

“Hmmm, probably drowning,” I said. “What about starving to death or dying of thirst?” I offered back.

“Thirst,” Mark responded quickly. “I can’t stand being hungry. Besides, it would go a lot faster.” He looked to his left and right and said, “I think we’re getting close.”

It was at the edge of the cemetery where ivy had overtaken the perimeter wall where we set our bikes down along the little rounded curb and walked among the headstones. We read them as we went. 

“These must be the newer ones,” I said. “Look, this one is last year.” We gazed down on what appeared to be a married couple buried side by side. “He died almost twenty years before her.”

“I wonder what she did in all those years.”

We continued on through the dappled shade of the trees. Up ahead we saw the rectangular shape in the sod of what appeared to be a fairly recent burial site. The grass was brown at the edges. Mark pointed. “I’ll bet that’s it.” 

We both became silent as we approached and stood before the grave. We read the headstone silently to ourselves:

SEP. 7, 1943—JAN. 1, 1982 
“Weeping may endure for a night 
but joy comes in the morning.”

There were some flowers lying nearby that had been blown askew by the wind. Mark knelt down and rearranged them carefully as I swept the dirt and leaves from the headstone. We stayed there for quite some time, kneeling before Mrs. Bellefleur’s grave. 

We didn’t say a word until we were back on our bikes and had nearly made it to the entrance of the cemetery. Mark finally broke the silence.

“I didn’t know her name was Adelinda,” he said.

Ken Elliot is a high school English teacher and author of the children’s book The Wish. His short story is included in the January issue of Gemini Magazine and another is due to appear in an upcoming edition of CC&D Magazine.

Cover photo by Ben Rosett on Unsplash

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