Today's Reading

Doe chuckled and gave him a weighty look. "Well . . . there are just three of us actually living here . . . but we're surrounded by very interesting neighbors, if you get my meaning."

Increasingly uncomfortable with the slant of the conversation, Joanna tilted it in a more corporeal direction, drawing a handkerchief from her pocketbook to scour at a scuff of dirt on Daisy's knee. "Charlie, Daisy, please say hello to Mrs. Janssen. This is her yard, and she has been nice enough to let you play on her swing."

One voice was muted and one rang out: "Hello, Mrs. Janssen."

"Hello, little monkeys. You can call me Doe. Everyone does."

"Do you have any children?"

Daisy (she of the bold approach) was hoping to find a friend, Joanna knew. The move to Bethlehem had been exciting at first, but school didn't start for another month, and the kids were getting tired of each other. Their only other playmate over the past weeks had been Harriet, the maid. Dear old Harriet. If she was tired of pretending to look high and low for them as she dusted and polished, she hadn't let on.

"Our little girl is all grown-up and moved away." As Doe gazed at the swing, a shadow drifted across her face. "Her daddy rigged that up, oh . . . I guess it must have been about fifty years ago. But our grandson Daniel replaced the ropes this year." Her expression brightened. "I think that old swing is happy to feel the weight of some real children for a change, and not just that sweet little redheaded fellow who is nothing but air."

Charlie and Daisy were speechless, staring at the woman with expressions that swung from suspicion to wonder.

A little warning signal flashed in the back of Joanna's mind: Bats in the belfry. "I'm sure Mrs. Janssen—Doe—is joking," she said evenly, hoping the woman would take the hint and stop sowing nightmares.

But Doe continued with breezy aplomb. "Oh, but I'm not. We have all sorts of souls wandering around here. There is a band of Union soldiers, for instance. And I do mean band. Drum . . . bugle . . . banjo. They can make quite a racket." She paused for a beat, looking over at a section across the way. "It's lovely, though, when the young fellow from Easton plays his harmonica. Oh Shenandoah. . . I long to hear you..." Her voice piped out in warbling vibrato.

Now Daisy was rapt, begging for more. "Who else do you see? Are there any more children?" The macabre implications didn't even register, so giddy was she at the prospect of meeting some new friends. Charlie, however, couldn't hide the cloud of anxiety that drifted across his face. He made a sudden scan of the surrounding headstones, and his hand snaked into his mother's as he pressed against her hip.

"What's this over here?" Joanna was on her feet in a preemptive strike, taking the children in hand to a neighboring headstone, where a small ceramic dachshund stood sentry. As distractions went it was somewhat uninspiring, but at this point Joanna was doing what she could—and was beginning to regret her earlier impulse.

St. Gregory's Cemetery sat high above the Lehigh River, overlooking the voluptuous river valley and beyond to the broad heft of South Mountain. Joanna had been there before, but only under sad circumstances and in a large procession of people. Since moving to Bethlehem, however, she had a new appreciation for its verdant beauty. Each time she walked to town, she passed the gates: despite the irony, there was a quality about the graveyard that was somehow inviting. She couldn't help being drawn to the serenity of what her aunt Martha always referred to as the "marble orchard." And so today, as she and the children were returning from a trip to the five-and-dime, she had decided it couldn't hurt to go in and let them roam. Now she wasn't so sure.

"We do find the occasional memento." Doe had followed them, shifting to a less spectral subject. "There are the usual love letters, rabbit's feet, lockets, and such. A pocket watch here and there. One time there was a plastic snowman, and once, an old musket. Not loaded." She was squinting to remember. "And there was a stethoscope. That was from poor old Doc Maxwell. He couldn't be convinced his wife had died. He'd walk around town looking high and low, until he remembered she was here. Then he'd lie on the grass and listen through his stethoscope for signs of life through the dirt." She shook her head. "His daughter didn't know what to do about it. It was a blessing when he joined Millie here." Remembering Joanna's question, she considered the dachshund for a moment. "This one's new, dear. We'll leave it for now. Every dog has his day, as they say. Which reminds me . . ." Leaning forward, she inveigled the children with a dramatic stage whisper: "If you want to really see
something, come with me."
...

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