Deborah Yoder is a Junior English major with a minor in Peace and Conflict Studies. She enjoys reading submissions made to the magazine and was the Fiction and Nonfiction genre editor for Bridge's Fall 2021 issue. Deborah also works at the library on campus where she likes to spend most of her time.
Rest in Peace
by Deborah Yoder
“I just think she should have chosen to go out and see the world before she settled down,” Ryan said as he switched lanes.
“She didn’t have to though, she knew what she wanted,” Rebecca replied. “The point of the play was that she knew that nothing she would ever see was going to change her decision.”
The headlights of the car illuminated the lonely road in front of them. At this time of night few cars were out on the highway, although the occasional truck wasn’t rare.
“But she didn’t know that for sure,” Ryan insisted. “It just seems kind of small minded to me.”
“It just seems kind of small minded to me,” Rebecca parroted back.
“What did you say?” Ryan said.
Rebecca pursed her lips and stayed silent.
“I just think,” Ryan began. “That if I had the opportunity to explore the world before settling down, I would take it. I would want to do something with my life, experience great things, or at least have something to show for living.”
“And you’re not doing anything with your life right now?” Rebecca questioned, the sound of hurt in her voice.
“You know what I mean.” Ryan looked over at her.
“No Ryan, I don’t know what you mean,” Rebecca crossed her arms and stared out the passenger window. Ryan glanced back at her a couple times, lips tightening into a thin line.
“What’s wrong now?” Ryan said. “I’m just expressing my opinion. Am I not allowed to do that?”
“You’re allowed to express your opinion,” Rebecca continued to stare at the dark landscape passing by. “But this isn’t about your opinion, Ryan.”
“Oh, enlighten me then, what is it about?”
“Well let’s see, yesterday it was about me not wanting to try that new restaurant downtown.” Rebecca began counting on her fingers. “The day before that I wasn’t paying enough attention to world news. And today it’s about the play I picked being small minded. What will it be tomorrow?”
“What do those other things have to do with what we’re talking about?” Ryan narrowed his eyes.
“You tell me, Ryan,” Rebecca said, exasperated. “You’re always talking about how you want to explore the world and do something with your life. It’s like you’re afraid of dying before doing anything ‘worthwhile’.”
“What’s wrong with wanting something more?” Ryan gripped the steering wheel, eyes intent on the road ahead.
“What’s wrong with it? Nothing.” Rebecca finally looked at him. “It’s just that every time you talk about wanting something more you never include me in your vision.”
The car was silent for a spell.
“It’s like you think I’m holding you back or something.” Rebecca looked down at her hands.
“Becca…” Ryan trailed off.
Before Ryan could finish his sentence Rebecca looked up and screamed. The headlights of a truck barreled towards them, illuminating the couple in the car. Ryan swerved trying to miss the truck, but it hit the left side of their car. The car spun out of control and off the road.
“Rebecca, Rebecca..” called Lily’s soft voice. “Becca, dear, please wake up.”
Rebecca felt heavy, like her body was filled with sand. She couldn’t move, and her eyelids felt like they were fused together.
The steady sound of a monitor filled the silence.
“Oh George, is she ever going to wake up?” Rebecca felt a soft hand grab her own.
“To survive a crash like that is a miracle, Lily,” George said. “Now we just have to pray the miracle’s not over yet.”
“Poor Rebecca,” Lily sobbed. “Ryan…. he was completely-”
Lily’s grip on Rebecca’s hand tightened as droplets of water hit her arm. Rebecca’s heart constricted and something stuck in her throat. What had happened to Ryan? Where was Ryan? She wanted to sit up and shake Lily so that she could demand the answers she needed, but her body wouldn’t obey her. She heard footsteps make their way towards her.
“Shhh Lily,” George whispered. “It’s ok.”
“Even if she wakes up now,” Lily sobbed. “Ryan’s dead, h-”
Rebecca couldn’t hear anything they said clearly anymore. Lily and George’s words were swimming underwater in order to reach her. The last coherent phrase Rebecca had heard kept playing over and over in her mind, louder each time.
A flood of emotion rocked Rebecca to the core, but her body never moved. She wanted to scream, or shout, but her voice couldn’t break through. She wanted to cry, but her eyes stayed closed and dry. Her stupid, stubborn body was immovable.
Sound finally burst through, and a pair of hands warmed hers.
“There are people who still love you, Becca,” Lily whispered.
“George, something is happening,” Lily said, “get the nurse!”
The sound of running footsteps.
Suddenly the room seemed full of people.
*Beep Beep Beep*
Whispered voices surrounded Rebecca, and Lily’s hands fell away.
*Beep Beep Beep*
Rebecca felt lighter and lighter. Her eyelids fluttered.
*Beep Beep Beeee-*
She blinked her eyes open and was blinded by a flashing light.
Rebecca hadn’t been back to Merrytown since the funeral. That day she had left the town with all its memories and the people she knew. She had become completely untethered from the norms of life and its expectations.
With her newfound freedom she chose to explore the world, just like Ryan had always wanted to do. After all, there was nothing left to tie her to this place, or any place at all really. Rebecca had visited everywhere that Ryan had spoken of in their years together, and some places that she had never heard of along the way. Yet here she was again, wandering the streets of Merrytown, remembering her life before the accident.
It was the seasonal cusp between Autumn and Winter. Some would consider this the ugliest part of both seasons. All the pretty colors of Autumn had faded, and there was the cold of Winter with no promise of snow. As usual during this time of year, Merrytown was relatively quiet. Rebecca was one of few pedestrians on the sidewalk.
There were some unfamiliar businesses beside the older ones she remembered. A bright colored nail salon had opened up beside The Breadbasket. She had fond memories of sitting in the bakery with her friends, sipping on a hot chocolate or enjoying a freshly baked cookie.
She stood in front of the window looking in. It still had the same wooden table and chairs from before. The glass casing to display treats ran along the back of the shop, and Rebecca could almost taste the warm, flaky flesh of their butter croissants. The memory of that taste, and the brown and beige colors of the walls and furniture were so familiar Rebecca felt like she had traveled back in time.
The soft chime of the bell above the door signaled someone’s entry to the bakery as Rebecca sat down with her hot chocolate. She had chosen the table in front of the glass window so she could people watch. The seat gave her the best vantage point for watching both pedestrians and people inside the bakery. Usually she came here with friends, but today she was alone. Until someone sat down across from her, that is.
“Excuse me,” a warm pair of chocolate brown eyes said. “Is this seat taken?”
“No,” Rebecca froze as she stared at the man across from her. “Not at all.”
“My name’s Ryan,” the man said as he reached out his hand.
“I’m Rebecca,” she gently shook his hand. It was larger than her own, and warm.
“I know,” Ryan smiled lightly showing a row of white teeth. “I’ve noticed you come here quite often.”
Rebecca just stared at him, flustered for a second.
“Not in a creepy way,” Ryan scratched the back of his head. “I promise I come here a lot too, and I remember seeing you around.”
“But that wouldn’t explain how you know my name,” Rebecca raised her eyebrows at him. Handsome stranger or not, he seemed a little sketchy.
“Well, they tend to call out your name when your order is ready,” Ryan said his eyes twinkling, and as if to prove his point the cashier yelled out ‘Order for Ryan’.
Ryan got up from the table to collect his order and Rebecca blushed a little, ashamed for having suspected he was some sort of stalker. She took a sip of her drink to distract herself.
“I actually have to go now,” Ryan said as he raised a takeout bag. “Just came to pick some things up.”
“Oh ok,” Rebecca said as she looked up at him. “I guess I’ll see you around?” She certainly hoped she would be seeing more of him. How had she not noticed him before now?
“Here,” Ryan placed a napkin down on the table. “If you don’t see me around why don’t you give me a call some time?”
Rebecca looked down at the napkin, it had the name ‘Ryan Moore’ written below a cell number. Before she could answer the chime at the door went off as Ryan walked out. Rebecca stared out the window after him and took another sip of her hot chocolate. The warmth from her drink pooled in her chest. Yes, that was why she felt a pocket of heat near her heart, because it couldn’t have anything to do with Ryan. Right?
Rebecca smiled softly at the memory. It still caused an ache in her chest when she thought of him, but time had steadily made that ache grow smaller. As she stared through the bakery window she heard a familiar voice behind her.
“I don’t know, George, the florist said carnations were a sign of friendship.” Lily spoke, in a somewhat different voice than Rebecca had remembered but one that was still distinctly hers.
Rebecca wanted to call out, to reach out, but couldn’t. She felt frozen in place, so she listened silently instead as the couple drew closer.
“Flowers are flowers, it’s the thought that counts.” George said. Rebecca turned her head to watch the couple walk past.
“But they have specific meanings, George,” Lily insisted. Her hair was dyed blonde, but her roots were the same light brown color Rebecca remembered. Slowly and silently, she began to trail behind them.
“We can get them whatever flowers you want babe,” George took hold of Lily’s hand as they kept walking.
“Carnations then.” Lilly stopped and smiled sadly at George before looking around. “It’s been 5 years since the accident, almost to the day.”
“I know, Lilly,” George pulled her closer to his side. “I know.”
Rebecca turned and walked away, not wanting to intrude upon their private moment. If she had heard correctly then Lily would be visiting the cemetery later today, a place Rebecca was planning to visit as well. But not quite yet. There was another place she wanted to see first.
Although most of the town had changed since Rebecca had been here last, this street seemed to have stayed the same. The houses clustered together as if they were conserving heat. Bare trees littered front yards displaying their skeletal frames. There were still no children, but perhaps they had just been sequestered inside for the day.
Most people must have stayed inside today. The one man who happened to pass Rebecca was bundled up from head to toe and shivered as he walked by her. She couldn’t make out his face behind his cap and scarf, but his hunched figure looked familiar. Perhaps he was John Abernathy, Rebecca’s elderly neighbor from when she had lived on this street. His wife Jane had died from cancer a couple months after Rebecca and Ryan had moved next door, in early Autumn. He had stayed in his house for weeks after her death, and Rebecca had grown worried about his condition.
“Mr. Abernathy!” Rebecca called as she knocked on the front door of her neighbor’s house. She hadn’t seen him in weeks and was beginning to think he might have died as well. It was probably better to discover him now than to let his body rot and smell up the house.
“Mr. Abernathy,” Rebecca knocked again, hoping to get an answer. “Mr. Abernathy!” perhaps he really was dead.
“Quit your yapping,” came a disgruntled voice from inside. She heard the sound of a lock turning and the door clicked as it opened to reveal a disheveled old man.
Mr. Abernathy’s face had spots of grey where his beard was beginning to grow, and his hair was hanging over his eyes and around his ears. He reached up and swiped his hair to the side to reveal two milky brown eyes that stared up at Rebecca under a couple of scrunched grey caterpillars.
“Why’re you knocking on my door, missy?” he said.
“Umm…” Rebecca was hesitant to explain her reasoning, but she couldn’t just turn around and go home now. “Could I borrow, a cup of sugar?”
“You’re here to borrow sugar?” he asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Yes Mr. Abernathy, a cup of sugar please,” Rebecca said.
“Well alrighty then,” Mr. Abernathy disappeared from the door before appearing a moment later with a Tupperware container. “Here you are, just return the container when you’re done.”
“Thank you sir,” Rebecca grabbed the container and quickly turned to leave.
Rebecca had continued to knock on Mr. Abernathy’s door every day for the next month. First it was to return the Tupperware, but then she began to borrow more stuff. A lawnmower here, some flour or other baking ingredient there. Soon Mr. Abernathy began opening the door before Rebecca even knocked. His face would be less patchy, and his hair would slowly begin to look neater as time went on. Eventually he would insist Rebecca call him ‘John’.
“No more of this Mr. Abernathy nonsense ya’ hear?” he said. “You can call me John now.”
“Ok Mr.-” Rebecca paused. “I mean, John.”
“That’s more like it, we’re neighbors aren’t we?” John laughed.
“Yeah, we’re neighbors,” Rebecca smiled.
That had happened just a couple months before the accident. Rebecca liked to think that John was still alive and perhaps she’d passed by him during her walk down the street.
Rebecca came to a stop in front of what used to be her home. Not much had changed since she had last seen it. The pathway from the sidewalk led up to a small white porch, and the driveway to the left led back to a dilapidated garage. The grey color of the cozy two-story house would have blended in with the dreary weather except for its red roof that made it stand out against the bleakness.
The only thing that had truly changed with time was the size of the maple tree on the right side of the yard. Its branches were currently bare, but Rebecca could still remember the brilliant red and fiery orange of its leaves during Autumn.
“I think I’m going to cut down this tree,” Ryan stood with his hands on his hips staring up at the maple tree in their yard.
“No! Don’t do that!” Rebecca said getting up from where she sat on the porch.
“We should cut it down now, before it gets too much bigger,” Ryan continued as if Rebecca hadn’t said anything.
“But look at the red and orange color of its leaves,” Rebecca insisted. “It’s so pretty!”
“Think of all the time we’ll save from not having to rake up the leaves,” Ryan insisted, ever the practical one.
“Our yard will be so empty if you cut it down though,” Rebecca went to stand beside the tree and wrapped her arms around its trunk. “I’m not letting you cut it down.”
“Well, if you like it that much, then I guess we can keep it around,” Ryan reached out and drew her close to him. They stared up at the maple tree together.
Rebecca stood in the yard alone, looking up at the bare branches of the maple tree. They stretched up to the sky, a thousand dark arms reaching up as if to ask the weather to send some snow. Something to cover their shame, and their loneliness.
The sign read Merrytown Cemetery in blocky metal letters above Rebecca’s head as she walked through the entryway. Clouds were swarming above in dark grey clusters, pregnant with a waiting storm. Winds brushed past her and brought with them a swirl of dead leaves. It was a funny thing to see the re-animation of something long dead, especially in a cemetery.
Rebecca made her way along the curved paths looking at the graves as she passed. There were many simple headstones, with the classic curved tops and blockish quality about them, but there were also more elaborate honors made to the dead. Some were carved into shapes of crosses, other’s obelisks, some stood on elevated bases, and some had intricate shapes carved along their tops.
A couple with a Great Dane was walking towards her. Their arms were linked as they leaned on each other, the woman holding a leash loosely in her hand. As they drew nearer to Rebecca the dog’s ears perked up and it turned towards her.
It barked at her. The couple kept walking, but the dog stopped.
He faced Rebecca and kept barking, eventually letting out a growl. The couple pulled on the leash. Rebecca stayed still and stared down at the dog.
“Here, Bernie,” the woman called, “come here boy!”
Bernie refused to budge, but the couple kept pulling on his leash and calling his name.
“I don’t know why he’s acting up today,” the man said.
“We’ve got to take him to a trainer,” the woman kept tugging on the leash.
Eventually the man walked over to Bernie and pulled him away by the collar. The man continued to drag Bernie away until they had exited the cemetery. She could hear the couple grumbling about getting a trainer until they were out of ear shot. Rebecca continued on her way.
It wasn’t unusual for animals to feel uneasy around her, and she had gotten used to it over these past five years. The stench of death surrounding her disturbed them, but people never seemed to notice it.
Finally, she stopped in front of two graves side by side, each had a bouquet of pink Carnations placed in front of them. These gravestones were like the simple blocky ones that Rebecca had passed earlier. Nothing special in appearance, yet these were the graves Rebecca was looking for. It was the names chiseled into the grey blocks that had brought her here after five years away.
The first one read Ryan C. Moore: loving husband and friend.
The second one read Rebecca K. Moore: loving wife and friend.
“Hi Ryan,” Rebecca began. “It’s been a while hasn’t it?”
Rebecca knelt to the ground in front of his grave and brushed a few leaves away.
“I’ve been all over the world now,” she continued. “I went to Paris for you, and Beijing. I climbed to the top of Mount Everest and saw penguins in Antarctica. I’ve been to the depths of the ocean and the heart of the Amazon. Places you never even dreamed of.”
The grey clouds above parted and a beam of light shone onto the spot Rebecca was kneeling. Any passersby would have seen the shadowy outline of a face and thought the brief halo of light was playing a trick on them.
“But you know what the funny thing is, Ryan?” Rebecca sighed. “After all that I’ve seen, I wouldn’t exchange our little spot of the world for any of it.”
A white snowflake drifted down from the dark sky above and melted into Ryan’s headstone.