Within the Stone
by Beverly Forehand
The Dead walk here within these walls. I know it’s a bit hard to believe, just looking that this place. New Berber carpeting on all the old, oak floors. Bright strips of fabric wallpaper with rich mosaic designs in every office and a fica in every nook. They may be plastic, those little trees, but I do think they cheer up the place a bit. Looking around, you could almost forget that this building is over two centuries old. That’s right. You can check the little metal sign above the entry: 1799.
The bones, as they say, of this building are old. And even though they try with their redecorating, office lighting, and mood music, they’ve never been quite able to hide the chill that is always in the air. There’s a cold here that isn’t a result of the central air and a sadness that isn’t caused by overtime hours if you get my meaning.
As we sit and work, as eat our lunches and tally our sums, the Dead watch over us. They sit with us. They watch our every move with passivity and what I’ve come to hope is disinterest.
But is it? What do they think? These grey forms that drift through the newly refurbished halls of this old place? Do they notice the changes that have taken place over the years? Do they stare at our computer screens and wonder what all this means? Or, are they so wrapped in their own lives, their own sorrows, that they see nothing at all?
You can’t speak with them. I’ve tried. I’ve been warned not to, told that it wouldn’t do any good. It’s something they’ll tell you the first day you come here. Oh, they don’t exactly put it in the orientation packet, but they tell you all the same — on the sly — like I’m telling you now. They’ll watch you. Sometimes they’ll even follow you down a hall, sit in a chair, act like they want to say something, but it’s no good trying. You can’t speak with the Dead. You can’t quite reach them. There’s plenty that’s tried. They all either leave or change — if you get my drift. They change their minds about it pretty quick if they’re to stay.
You can’t just go around trying to talk with Them. The best thing to do, the thing I do, is to pay them no mind. Just because you see the spirit of a soldier standing by your filing cabinet doesn’t mean you have to notice him, right? Just leave Them alone and They’ll leave you alone. We all rub along just fine here — the living and the not-so-living. It’ll start to be in the time that you can’t really tell the difference.
There’s some days, I can tell you, that I’d rather have one of Them in my office than a fellow flesh and blood co-worker. They don’t steal your stapler. They don’t drink the last of the coffee and then not start another pot. And They’re not always leaving things in the refrigerator for months and months. I mean, why do you bring it if you’re not going to eat it, right? It makes no sense.
The one thing about Them is that they’re reliable. They’re always here. They never call in a sick day — no point really. They don’t forget an appointment or a birthday — because they don’t remember them at all. They don’t forget to give you memos, and they don’t gossip about you behind your back. They’re just about the best office mates you can find, really. There’s some that’ll tell you that you’re unlucky being stuck here in the library with me. There’s some that don’t like it in here — they say it gives them a creepy feeling just coming through the door.
I hear them, of course. What they say. But let me tell you, it might be a little damp in here from time to time — but that’s because of the chimney. They won’t pay to have it capped even though we don’t use it, and last year it flooded down it when we had that big rain. What do they care anyway? It’s just me — and you — and Them here, right?
You see, They like it here. Back in the day, before this building was an office, mind you, back during the War, they used this as a hospital. And this was the room, they say, where the Dead were put. They used to have a little cart to bring in here and load Them up for taking down to the morgue at night. That’s what I was told anyway. I never saw it, of course. That was years and years ago.
They say before they restored this old place that the basement had an earth floor and that the walls down there were stone. All the floors up here were wood, and I guess they would’ve liked to keep them, but it was too expensive to replace all the oak and stuff stained as it was. You can’t paint over it, you know — blood. It seeps right through. Nothing can get it out once it’s in — just like Them, that way. And the stones too, they say, just draw it up. Every chink and crack. You can’t get that kind of thing out.
I know there’re some that’ll say I’m a bit cracked myself for saying this, but I think that’s the way of it all around. I don’t know if you believe in ghosts, spirits, or what have you, but you’ll come to believe something once you see a few of them.
Everyone has their own explanation, whatever makes them feel the most comfortable. Most say they don’t see anything. But here’s what I think, if you ask my opinion: I think that there’s only so much sorrow that anything, any place can take. I think when there’s suffering like this place has seen,well, it settles in the very bones of the place. I think the stones themselves would cry out, if they could. But that’s the pity and the sorrow of stone: it can’t say a word. So it just goes on, and so do They.
They just go on day after day the way They were, and there’s nothing to be said or done about it. I try to be kind. I try not to stare. I don’t like to be stared at, so why should They. I know it’s a bit of a shock now, I can see by the way that you’re looking at me, but you’ll get used to it in time. I have noticed that you’re not much of a talker and that’s good, too. I’m used to the quiet here by now.
I like to finish my calculations right before lunch. Then lunch at 11:00, and a bit of filing for the rest of the afternoon. I don’t take breaks, don’t hold with them. There’s some that have said I should have more fun, take a little time off like the others, but I don’t see why. I like the library and the quiet. I don’t mind Them and they don’t mind me. And I can see by the way that you’ve gotten right to work that’ll we’ll get along just fine, too. I mean, just because you’re my replacement doesn’t mean we can’t get along.
I guess I can help you some, train you up proper as they say. There’s no reason for us not to get along. I know I would’ve liked a little help when I was just getting settled into this position. My current situation is no reason for us not to rub along just fine. Even though you can’t exactly hear me, I can tell you know I’m here. And I’m not like the others.
I’ll just keep to my numbers, same as I did last week and the week before. There’s really no reason not to keep at them forever. And maybe, in time, we can both train the next guy.
I see that you take lunch at your desk and that you don’t leave any crumbs. I admire that. And I see that you skipped that Susan’s birthday party. No call for parties on work time. You’re a nose to the grindstone kind of fellow. I like that. I’ll just keep to my work and you keep to yours and the Dead will follow along as they always do.
I made sure to give that Thomas a good scare when he came in here earlier. He was after your stapler or a pen, at least; probably one of your favorites. Those others show no consideration. They’re not the type to respect a good day’s work.
Most of them didn’t even turn up at my funeral. And I’m sure they would never stay around to make sure the audit gets done proper. But I see that you and I are like-minded individuals. Don’t mind that fellow in the corner, I can see he gave you a start. But he’s just doing his job, too. It’s the work that matters. In the end, that’s what a fellow really is.
This is the kind of place that becomes like a home. And in time, you’ll probably not want to leave either. I spent most of my time here from morning to night and sometimes to morning again when there was a big audit or a problem with the numbers.
I have to admit that I never even knew I was one of Them until I tried to run the coffeemaker and my hand went right through it. Must have just passed on while checking the spreadsheets for the monthly expense reporting. Well, it didn’t seem to be a reason to go on. I mean, its not like I needed a sick day or anything, if you get my meaning.
So here I am. Just like always for the last thirty years. Good old Smithy, they’ll say. He sticks to his work. Not too social. Well, to each his own, I say. And maybe if this all goes well, in twenty or thirty or even forty years or so, I’ll have the pleasure of addressing you face to face — or person to person — you get my meaning just the same, I’m sure.
This is really a wonderful place. A place you can make a home. And I have to say that I’m glad, really glad, to meet you. It may take a bit of time to adjust, but you’ll get the hang of it. I can tell you’re a bright fellow. Don’t mind the cold. You’ll get used to that, too.
Copyright © 2006 by Beverly Forehand