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Cenotaph

By Emily Barnes


I have a tendency to collect words when I catch them pacing my field of vision. I often open my notes app and write one in the header and wait for anything remotely articulate or congruent to fill the page. I repeat these words back to myself in my head compulsively, rehearsing incoherent incantations to cling to as disjointed descriptions of self— right now it’s cenotaph and somnambulist and solipsistic. This feels important, or maybe it is just the punchline of a joke for which I do not know the setup, but in any case, it feels an appropriate foreword.


We offered our palms to the grey and caught the rain beginning again. Clouds guarded the hill while we tip-toed outlines of stones, glancing out over the city as the storm creeped forward. Ornate tombs and somber statues filled the field in scattered assortment, winks of stained glass made dull in the haze. I had read somewhere that over fifty-thousand people are buried on the grounds of the necropolis, but only a couple thousand bodies are marked. I had a sense just then, looking down from the crest, that there might’ve been someone right next to me, or right behind me, or waiting for me at the bottom. I don’t say this aloud, just nod to my friends in unspoken understanding that the afternoon has grown old, and we shouldn’t gamble on rain and cold and darkness. It wasn’t really late yet, only the sky tired before we did these days, and the sun was making room for a late-November vignette.


“We’ve talked about the whole ghost thing, right?” I ask. 


We mulled over the existence of a paranormal as we began our march to the base of the hill where the cathedral stood, the spire breaking through the skyline. The trick to Glasgow is finding shelter from the moon and we could see, now, a severe-looking brewery on the street under the overpass. The air had given in to the storm by now but in a few minutes we would find ourselves nestled between open hearths behind its doors; we had no clue yet how lucky we were. Alex was the only one who thought to bring an umbrella, which was promptly handed to Andrew to manage over our three heads. A chill had seeped through our wools and leathers but whispers reached through the soil and the dead insisted we ought not hurry down, that we consider life and death and the in-between.


It seems a nice enough dream— drowsy figures of lost life, drifting alongside those of us still around. I can’t seem to get myself to believe it, though; not for lack of desire, not out of judgement, but by fault of some obstacle of belief in the back of my mind.


I tell my friends that I would love to be a ghost. That I fantasized about it as a child, knees tucked to my chin reading scary stories in the corner of my elementary school library, wishing that I could float through life, invisible and all-knowing. That I would haunt all of the right places and all of the right people. That if I died just then, in the necropolis, that the long white skirt I was wearing would forever graze the ground I’d now hover above. That there is sadness to this that seems euphoric to me, stuck on that hill in perpetual iconized gloom, an immortal desperate shadow cloaked in rain and ash stained white.


And, most critically, that the despair of a ghost makes far more sense than the despair of the living. If that tricky sadness could be lovely, then why would I not wish for it to be?

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