BY ASH LOHMEN
One cold wet morning after Halloween when I was not yet even five, my father took me out to play on the levy, but I grew bored and wanted to trek through the St. Louis Cemetery at a time when I could be sure that the gremlins and ghosts were spent and sleeping from the previous night’s revelry.
I found myself traipsing along the pathways of my favorite graveyard. I lost myself in the details of the ornate stonework, enjoying the beauty of my own little personal city within a city. I visited the graves of my relatives, the graves of Voodoo priestesses, and the graves of political tyrants all while staying within the eyesight of my father. I let the dawn’s frosty fingers raise goose-flesh on my pale, skinny arms. I inhaled the familiar smell of the air because it made me feel like I was safe and at home. I untied the little flight jacket I had gotten from an army surplus store from around my waist and pulled it tight around me as I sniffed the air, cheeks rosy and nose runny from the cold. The smell of the place was not the smell of death or of winter but instead the smell of the city outside of the cemetery, the smell of smog, and garbage, and oak. The smell of New Orleans. I loved that smell despite its pungency. I remember being so happy then—a creature that stayed out too late one Halloween night and got lost in the morning light.
When I was seven I remember running past the decaying Spanish architecture with my cousins, playing hide and seek outside great above ground-tombs that were surrounded by trim jaundiced grass. We hid behind stone angels and saints, smashing wilted flowers left gingerly on the steps of mausoleums. It was a dead world of grey and green and it flew by in a rush like the rest of my childhood. Too fast and fleeting.
When my grandfather died, open casket, Italian funeral; we all placed our pictures in the crook of his arm, his hands sewn together in permanent repose. That day there was a somber mood among the gravestones, but the Roman Catholic ceremony was long and arduous and by the end of it there was enough pent up energy to warrant a round of chase among the tombs of our own personal necropolis. I remember bloodthirsty mosquitoes buzzing in the air that night as the sun set, and a quarter moon as pale as a shard of bleached bone rose in the darkening sky.
When I left the city I was born in, I went back to the cemetery and walked through the tombs with my family, placing a flower here and there for another lost relative. I was old enough to know that when it flooded, the corpses that were buried beneath the earth would float up and ride the dirty street waves like bloated riverboats. I remembered that my grandfather was poor and had been buried beneath the earth.
The last time I was in St. Louis Cemetery I was bored and wandering around New Orleans with a group of old high school friends in my early twenties, no money, passing a flask of dime store whiskey around, me looking at a stone angel in the distance and watching my vision blur into doubles. I remember at that moment looking down and seeing an old grave I used to hide behind as a child in my games of hide and seek. As I approached it I wondered what that child would think of me at that moment, that snot-nosed kid in the flight jacked with wide eyes and rosy cheeks, and me, drunk and yelling, unshaven, smoking a cigar like the man I thought I had become.
I wondered if he would run away.
Ash Lomen is a writer of short fiction from Southern Louisiana. He is the author of the collection “Swallowed By The Horizon” and co-wrote the horror novella “Blow Up the Outside World” with Jordan Krall. He has had other verse and prose published in Bizarro anthologies both online and off. He lives with a pig, a dog, and a cat.