A potter’s field held unwanted bodies. Some Puritans did not mark their graves, viewing their dead as blessed to have transcended their sinful husks, to have achieved perfection without the weight of flesh holding them to earth.
The dead girls can float, but they still sin.
Where are the bodies of the dead girls? In the basements of houses and trunks of abandoned cars. In the woods, mostly, covered over with leaves or under a few flimsy inches of earth. In pieces in an oil drum, cinderblocked to a riverbed, dumped off embankments on nights with no moon. The dead girls don’t see this as transcendence. The dead girls want their bodies back.
What do the dead girls see? Milk-film over their blinking eyes. A world gone on without them, a thousand petty dramas playing to an audience of the not-bereft. A wave endlessly arguing with the shoreline, stealing a few grains of sand every time.
The living dare each other to walk through the field of dead girls, though of course they can’t see anything but air. Only the sense that something is wrong, air charged with grief like a storm is always coming. The field where no grass grows, only patches of low bramble with fat, untouched berries. The kind of quiet that hums danger into your ears, fills them with a warning you can’t parse. At night it’s never quite dark, even when the Pizza Hut’s lights shut off and the nail techs are counting their tips in their cars. Anyone alive who walks through that place feels claustrophobic even out in the open, their skin seeming to tighten over their bones. And anyone who isn’t would see how the dead girls follow them in a glowing swarm, pressing from all sides, desperate for warmth.
Most of the dead girls are cold. They can feel the rush of the polluted river, the snow promising itself to the mountainside, the wet of the pine needles’ slow, sympathetic rot. The chill of their urgent loneliness even surrounded by the only others who understand their not-life. It’s no wonder the grass refuses to grow.
The dead girls whose bones are buried unmarked claim to be colder than the rest of them. They have new names in the living world, called for the landscape their body was plucked from – Juniper Mountain Doe, Horseshoe Creek – or the human trappings that still clung to it – Cerulean Jacket, Twin Rose Tattoo. These girls make incantations of their true names, pace the perimeter whispering: Lucinda. Lucinda. Lucinda. Maria. Maria. Maria. I was. I was. I am. Some of them are afraid they’ll forget. Others are imagining their voices as radio waves, arcing over the miles until they reach what remains of their source.
Some of the dead girls know they’ll never be found. There will be no cemetery plot, no epitaph – no one who would think to compose one, no human alive up late agonizing over a lost friend. The way the found blink out of the field, some of the forever-missing blinked out of life. No one mourns.
The lucky girls only stay a few days. Barely have time to turn around, see the spot that could be eternity, make a few friends and they’re gone. A car pulled from the quarry like a bad tooth. A door broken open into a bloody room. No one knows where they go next, only that it must be better than here. There is no sense in missing them, now that they’ve been found.
The oldest dead girls remember when the building’s foundation was dug, watching the men lift their dirty shirts to wipe sweat from their foreheads. And before that, when the road was paved in stinking asphalt, and before that, when the cart-tamped dirt was covered in broken stone. And before that, when it was only a few of them and sky and pine in every direction, when they still could have thought this might be paradise.
Cassandra de Alba is a poet living in Massachusetts. Her work has appeared in The Shallow Ends, Big Lucks, smoking glue gun, and Spy Kids Review, among other publications. Her chapbooks habitats (Horse Less Press, 2016) and ORB (Reality Hands, 2018) are about deer and the moon, respectively, and Ugly/Sad was released by Glass Poetry Press in 2020. She is a co-host at the Boston Poetry Slam at the Cantab Lounge and an associate editor at Pizza Pi Press.