Chapter 3 — Abigail

      It sure gladdened my heart to have visitors here for a while, but then they had to go and I was lonesome again.  Me and my dogs watched them drive off in their truck.  They were up here pokin’ around in the hayloft, waiting out the storm and just talking.  A couple of times they were looking right at me.  I smiled back at them and smoothed out my dress, but they didn’t see anything.

      I liked that Zane.  He was the cuter one, kind of skinny, with hazel eyes and brown messy hair.  I know momma would have frowned and said his clothes don’t fit very well, but I thought it was just charming.  When he climbed back down the ladder and went outside to look at my grave, I could tell he was thinkin’ about me.  I could see by his face that he was wondering how I died, what my life was like, how I looked.  If he’d just gone around the back of the stone, there’s a ceramic plate attached with a picture of me looking pretty in my Communion dress, but he didn’t see.  I wanted to get his attention so bad.  I wanted to talk or say something or do anything.  But I can’t.  I ain’t really here.  I’m just a dry grey skeleton in a box, with a blue and white checked dress on, and my bone hands folded over a porcelain doll I got when I was seven.  I’m twelve now.  I been twelve for a long time.  Twelve is really too old to play with dolls anymore but daddy put my doll in the box with me anyways.

      I ain’t seen momma and daddy since they moved away from the farm.  They used to come out back and visit me all the time but I don’t even know where they’re at now.  I got my dogs to keep me company at least.  There’s always four sittin’ on my left side, and four sittin’ on my right side.  Duffy, Wolfie, Clara, and Bluebell—they’re all American Foxhounds—and Pickles, who’s an Irish Setter, and two funny little mutts, whose names I don’t really know since they weren’t my family’s dogs.  I call them Walter and Hershey but they don’t really answer to anything.  They just wait and watch.  Watching for their masters to come back, I guess.  And then there’s Freckles.  Freckles is the best one.  He’s a big Bluetick Coonhound with black spots all over himself.  He lets me hug him around the neck when I get lonely, and he barks whenever he sees a rabbit.

      This here hayloft was where me and my sister spent a lot of time when I was alive.  One day we had a play funeral for one of my dolls and left her buried under a loose board, bundled up in a cardboard shoebox lined with tissue paper, and covered with dry flowers from the fields.  When Zane was here I was hopin’ he’d lift that board and be surprised to find the doll all these years later, but he didn’t. 

      Now me and the dogs just sit high in the barn and watch the years pass and the seasons change.  That’s pretty much all we can do.  We don’t need to sleep.  We watch through the night and the day, we watch through spring, summer, fall and winter.  I’ve seen acres of tall grass ripplin’ like ocean waves, black under a sunset just as red as a ripe tomato.  I’ve seen the bare trees sparkle like a fairyland in the sun after a winter storm lays on a coat of ice.  I watched the barn turn from glossy red to weathered grey.  I’ve seen forty Fourth of July celebrations as distant fireworks that burst low on the horizon from cities way off in all directions.  I’ve seen sprouts grow up into saplings, then into full grown oaks, then get blown over by high winds, and die, and rot, and turn back into soil.  It probably sounds boring to you, but there’s a lot to see if you just be still and watch.  Watch and listen.

      I loved listening to the boys.  I try to keep up on the way people talk, whenever someone comes to visit, and now I can add “my bad” to the list of new words I know.  “My bad, Freckles.  My bad.”  Freckles just shot me a knowing look with those big, droopy eyes. 

      The visit made me happy for a while, but after Zane and Brock drove off and I couldn’t see them anymore, I started to feel lonesome again.  And the lonesomer I got, the madder I got, too.  Why are they out there, having fun, doing what they want, and I can’t do anything at all?  Not fair.  I hugged Freckles tighter.  He don’t mind.

      I didn’t have too long to be mad, though, because something was happening.  That fire lady and her helpers come over pretty soon, a couple of hours after Zane and Brock left and things had dried out a little.  I knew this would happen one day, ever since I saw the “Coming Soon” and “Hackett Associates” signs go up by the road.  They drove in a bulldozer and cleared away all the brush and trees around the barn.  Freckles barked at them, but they didn’t hear nothin’.  Then they poured some gasoline all over the wood and the hay inside.  The lady lit the end of a rolled up newspaper and threw that on the gasoline and FWOOSH!  Everything went up in flames.

      I sat on the edge of the hayloft, just like I always do, with my feet dangling over and my dogs on either side.  The tongues of fire leapt up all around but I didn’t feel anything.  The horse stalls burned up, and the horse show ribbons, and the possum skeleton, and the ladder, and the hay, and the hidden doll, and even the wooden floor of the hayloft burned up.  The walls burned up, and finally the roof burned up.  We watched, and listened.

      I wished those workers would have at least moved my grave after everything was gone.  Would have been nice if they found my parents and put us together again.  They didn’t do that, though.  I know they saw the stone because they seemed surprised to find it there, and then they talked about what to do with it for a while.  Sounded like a new neighborhood with a hundred houses was going to be built here.  I heard them arguin’ about regulations and politics and permits and costs.  They joked about ghosts and Indian burial grounds.  Finally, they just pushed the gravestone over and piled dirt and ash on top with a bulldozer.  Made me so mad, I wished I could scare the heck out of whoever comes along and builds their house on top of me.  I can’t, though.  Like I said, I’m not really here.