Mark Tate
Flash Fiction Winner
Up the steep hill, I turned right at Sullivan Road and continued past the orchard and entered the cemetery that looked over the Santa Rosa plain. Clouds sailed across the sky and I could see up the Dry Creek Valley or down to Valley Ford. Standing near the grave that read Saphomia Stout, Beloved Wife and Mother, 1830-1871, I bowed my head and murmured to her, placing a piece of soft sandstone at the foot of her grave near one of the head-sized rocks that encircled her plot. Within the oval ring of stones were the smooth stones, small shells, and bits of driftwood I had left on the previous visits as had become my ritual. When my wife was buried, my sisters and I planted some gladiolas in two handmade baskets half-submerged in the earth, a little garden fashioned on the hill.

Near her grave, in a very small plot enclosed by an iron fence, was the grave of our two-year old daughter gone fifteen years. The thin wood marker was split and her name had faded from the weathered wood. A valley oak not more than two feet high had sprouted at the corner of the iron fence. Unable to bring myself to pull the oak from the grave, I walked toward the dirt road that turned around the orchard and headed home. Fog edged through the trees above and down the road before me making the signs on the town buildings unreadable.

First published: August 2005
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