St. Louis Cemetery No. 1
Lenore Weiss

Charles went to the graveyard to do his homework. "There's nothing strange about it," he told his friend Etienne who was about to flunk algebra. “Nobody gonna mind if you come along, especially no one there.” The dead were quiet, didn’t ask questions or want him to run an errand down the street, the single place where he could think away from the cries of his baby sister and the domino game on the corner that drew a crowd at all hours. All Charles had to do was walk past a row of pink crepe myrtle trees and find a spot sitting on one of those marble vaults in the St. Louis Cemetery where he went every afternoon without consent from his mother who was too busy with the new baby to care.

“That’s creepy,” said Etienne. “There’s something seriously wrong with your head.”

“Nothing wrong with my head. You just scared,” said Charles, who liked sitting on the marble head stones, sweet potato vines lifting their leaves almost translucent like green salamanders. “Admit it.”

Charles’ father was buried in a cemetery. His mother had said she’d take him to visit his plot, but wasn’t counting on that happening any time soon. She always said that she was gonna do stuff that she didn’t do, too busy working shifts at the hospital to have any real time. Now with the baby, there was even less of that. But just as Charles had finished his algebra homework, he saw Etienne, who’d followed him. He got a happy look on his face. “Etienne, you said you weren’t gonna come!”

“All those men riding horses and stone angels. This is a real creep show. Can’t understand why you keep coming back.”

Charles had tried to explain to him many times--the warmth of the marble against his skin, a feeling of being anchored to a past. “There’s the first black mayor of New Orleans,” said Charles, pointing to the headstone of Ernest Nathan Morial. And on the other side,” he said, “is Homer Plessy.”

“Who’s he?” asked Etienne, his shirt still damp from a quick downpour on the walk over.

“Don’t you know?”

“Now if I knew, why would I ask?” he said, forcing his lower lip into a scowl. “Tell me that.”

Charles tried to remember what he had read in one of his history books. “He brought a case to the courts.” Charles paused, trying to sound smart. “The separate but equal one.”

“And he right here?”

“That’s right. Buried right here.” Case closed.

“So what did that separate equal thing do?"

"It set a another white president."

Etienne thought about that. "Good that the man’s dead so he can’t help us anymore.” They both laughed, boys who lived a block from each other in the seventh district and who’d grown up in each other’s houses. “Forget about dead people,” said Etienne. “Got to pass this algebra test or my mother’s gonna whip my ass. And then I’ll be dead for real.”

“I’ll come and visit,” said Charles.

“You'd do that for me?”

“For a friend? When she locks you in the house?”

First published: August 2018
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