Scene: Stone bench in a cemetery on an overcast winter afternoon. A male GOTH, mid- to late-20s, sits hunched over while his thumb glides rhythmically over his phone screen. There are two Starbucks cups placed at either side of him. After a few seconds of silence, an OLD MAN, mid-70s, hobbles slowly to the bench with a walking stick and sits next to him. The GOTH glances briefly and blankly at him before looking back at his phone. More silence.
Old Man: Are you …
Goth: Sorry what?
Old Man: Sorry … didn’t mean to bother.
Goth: No … no. It’s fine. I’ve been zoning out.
Old Man: Are you … um …
Old Man: … in … mourning?
Goth: Oh, um, no. No, not really.
Old Man: Ah.
Old Man: Are you, if I can put it another way, mourning … generally?
Goth: Mourning generally?
Old Man: Yes.
Goth: I don’t understand.
Old Man: I suppose, what I’m trying to say is, is that I might have asked a silly question.
Goth: Have you?
Old Man: Maybe even a stupid question.
Goth: Well I don—
Old Man: Of course they always say there’s no such thing as a stupid question.
Goth: I’ve heard that, yeah.
Old Man: There are, though, stupid sayings.
Goth: I guess.
Old Man: And that is one of them. [Pause.] Because that was a stupid question.
Goth: I wouldn’t say that.
Old Man: No you wouldn’t, nice boy like you, but the odds are in stupidity’s favor here.
Goth: How so?
Old Man: Easy. This is one of the oldest graveyards within a 50 or so mile radius.
Old Man: It’s very well known on various … websites, you could call them, for its aesthetic allure. There are, I’d hazard, no burials that took place here after, I don’t know, the 1950s. You know what was going on in the 1950s? A whole lot of nothing.
Goth: I wouldn’t know, really.
Old Man: Take my word for it. But, to get back to my point, I think it would be a safe assumption for me to say that you might not have immediate or even distant relatives buried in this graveyard.
Goth: Well … you’re right.
Old Man: Ah ha! So then it would also be a safe assumption for me to say that you are a general mourner. Now by that I mean you mourn no one person buried here, but you in your own way mourn all those buried in all manners throughout the world. [Pause.] And, if I can be bolder here, all those as yet unburied.
Goth: I never really thought about it.
Old Man: I won’t assume much more than that.
Goth: Some people are offended by that.
Old Man: By what?
Goth: By my having … dark interests.
Old Man: Who could possibly take offense to that? In this day and age? Where the levels of quirk and idiosyncrasy in personal hobbies have never been higher?
Goth: Just … people.
Old Man: “Just people.” People on that shiny rectangle there?
Old Man: They barely qualify. What do they know? What is even the matter with “dark” interests? Is it not of value to drift up and down these rows of old headstones? Checking the dates, ages of death, the clever designs, and haunting elegies? Is it not a reflection of our inevitable destinies and of the fortune of having a proper and peaceful resting place? [Pause.] What you need is to forget the silent judges, and be with likeminded people. [Pause.] No maybe that’s not the word I want. Simila— … no. Well, you know what I mean. People like you. People who mourn the buried and as yet unburied as you do right now.
Goth: Well, as a matter of fact, that’s what I was hoping to do today.
Old Man: Oh?
Goth: I was hoping to meet this girl. But that was supposed to be almost an hour ago and …
Old Man: Stood up?
Goth: Seems like it. The perils of online dating, I guess.
Old Man: Oh you met her on … what’s it called …
Goth: No … um, I met her on c0v3n.
Old Man: Coven?
Goth: No, c0v3n. Lowercase c, with a zero in place of the o and a three in place of the e.
Old Man: I see.
Goth: Here, let me show you. [Moves closer, holding phone screen so the OLD MAN can see.] So the app will randomly generate a user of your gender preference, like usual, but also practice preference. Like, are you into witches, wizards, high priestesses, vampires, glampires, enchantresses, druids, esoteric magicians? That kind of thing.
Old Man: What’s your preference?
Goth: I’m a splatterpunk looking for a rivethead.
Old Man: I see.
Goth: And so if you are interested you press the star pentagram, which casts a “charm spell.”
Old Man: That’s … Wiccan? Which is good?
Goth: With this interface it is. So if you’re not interested you press the goat head pentagram on the right, which casts a “death hex,” and you never see them again.
Old Man: And who was supposed to me today’s lucky lady?
Goth: Right here.
Old Man: Meredith … Jeanine.
Goth: Jeanine Meredith actually.
Old Man: Oh, well the grey streak really brings out the eyes. Did you tell her that?
Old Man: Kid you’ve got a lot to learn. [Pause.] But don’t let it get you down. You’ll get into the swing of things. At least you got coffee for her.
Goth: What, oh no, this one is mine; this one was here when I got here.
Old Man: This might be fortune giving you a nudge.
Goth: Yeah. [Pause.] Yeah. [Pause.] So, I take it you’re in mourning? Actual mourning, I mean.
Old Man: Well, my grandfather and grandmother over back that way.
Goth: I’m sorry.
Old Man: Don’t be. I barely remember them at all. I was a boy when both of them keeled over. In fact my grandfather’s walking stick—this thing here—is the first thing I ever inherited.
Goth: Ah cool.
Old Man: Shit lot of good it does me now. Crotchety bastard was a foot and a half shorter than I am. [Pause.] But … you could say that I am in mourning.
Goth: How so?
Old Man: I, too, was stood up by a … similarly minded woman.
Old Man: Well, it’s slightly more complicated than that. You see, I’m not as unfamiliar with “dark” interests as it may appear. In fact, you could say I had quite a few growing up. Like you I was gloom-minded, dressed like an undertaker nearly every day. Dyed my hair with shoe polish. Of course back then there was no newfangled internet as you might guess. Phones were connected to wires and were operated with rotary dials. I bet you or someone you know has one for the aesthetic appeal.
Goth: Well not—
Old Man: Well you’re goddamn right; those things are beauts. But we didn’t have things like c0v3n. We had maybe personal ads. But those were dicey. Every now and then you’d hear about a “Blind Date Killer” or a “Backpage Bandit.” Terrible stuff. Luckily I was the only boy with dark interests in town, which made dating the only girl with dark interests in town much easier. Dina Allen was her name. Maybe not by conventional—even darkly interested—standards a pretty girl, but boy did she have the look and the sense of a sorceress. I don’t know that we ever dated seriously. But we had a routine. Poe at school, Baudelaire at home. Roger Corman at the drive-in, Mario Bava in the city. We requested Screamin’ Jay Hawkins on the radio every chance we got and danced to it in my rec room whenever it played. And of course frequent sojourns to this very cemetery.
Old Man: But we were savvy about it and avoided Mischief Night and Halloween when all the other idiots suddenly remembered it existed. We’d go on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve. We’d watch the fireworks on the Fourth. And for the two Valentine’s Days I knew her, we’d pick our favorite epitaphs and put them in cards, and exchange them on this very bench.
Goth: Wow. [Pause.] So what happened?
Old Man: Well, that’s a bit more complicated, as I said, but … one summer, I’d say between junior and senior year this was, we’d go to the cemetery quite a lot. I think it’s because we both had jobs nearby. She was at the pool snack bar, I was over there.
Goth: At Chipotle?
Old Man: It used to be my father’s dental practice. Anyway, one night we came here doing our usual thing. Nothing racy, mind you. Yes, sometimes we’d kiss, sometimes while lying on slabs. But mostly we’d just be together. Avoiding our mutually drearier situations including but not limited to being the only people with dark interests in town. Now you see that mausoleum all the way at the edge there, the one with the opened gate?
Old Man: One of the oldest plots in this place, for the first rector of this church. It was our favorite place in here. We’d sit and make up stories about the rector. That he was this powerful warlock and that he would cause women and children to disappear in service to his satanic desires.
Old Man: Yeah, so stupid in retrospect. One night we had some of her dad’s bourbon, each taking some strong swigs out of it and she started running all over the place. I happily and dizzyingly chased after her. I found her swinging on the loose gate of the rector’s tomb reciting parts of Le Spleen de Paris. She was amazing like that. I told her to get down but she went inside. I followed her in. She was sitting on the slab smiling more giggling and giddy than I’d ever seen her. She came back down, said something not really comprehensible then so a lot less so now, and gave me a burning bourbon-scented kiss on the lips. Then she ran out. I saw her duck around back of the mausoleum. I thought I was chasing her around it but when I stopped she was neither in front of me nor behind me. She was nowhere. I called out to her. Nothing. I ran into the woods just behind the tomb but only vomited. I went home and vomited some more. Never saw her again.
Goth: Did you tell anyone?
Old Man: Of course I did! I may have had dark interests but I was no blackguard. I called her home and asked where she was. Her parents said they were about to ask me the same question. So they called the cops and I gave a painstakingly pathetic rendition of that night for the police report. But with so little other evidence to go on they just treated it like a runaway.
Goth: Were there suspicions?
Old Man: Of me? No. Ridicule, though … plenty of ridicule. [Pause.] I don’t want to say the town broke me, but … after a while some regular items in my wardrobe became less regular. Traded in the black suits for cardigans and denim. I washed most of the shoe polish out of my hair. My first car was an Oldsmobile 98, not a hearse. My favorite book is A Fan’s Notes—go figure. [Pause.] But I stuck around. Got a degree in library science, and I’d come back here every so often. Hoping she’d come back and we’d carry on as always but mostly to mourn what’s probably lost forever. I don’t know what else I can do. I tried keeping her memory alive in the local lore forums but the moderators are fucking draconian. [Pause.] One thing I never got rid of, though, was this. [Goes into his coat pocket and takes out a small pin.] It’s pin with a skeleton on it. She gave it to me one Halloween.
Goth: That’s really awesome.
Old Man: Got kind of rusty over time.
Goth: It’s still pretty cool.
Old Man: I see no reason not to give it to you.
Goth: I … I don’t thin—
Old Man: No, I insist. It doesn’t seem right to hold onto this.
Goth: I … Are you sure?
Old Man: At least I know you’d appreciate it. [Hands over the pin.]
Goth: Thank you, sir.
Old Man: Don’t mention it. [Pause.] You should probably work on your charm offensive, though. And maybe consider coffee before the tombstone stroll.
Goth: [laughing, fixing the pin on his jacket lapel] Yeah, thanks again. It looks nice!
Old Man: So it does. Glad to pass it on. [Pause.] Is there even coffee in that other cup?
Goth: Good question. Let me— [Opens the lid of the cup, winces, places it under the bench.] Oh good God no.