Eleanor hovered over the crowd for half the pageant before spotting him: baseball cap, sunglasses, one hand thrust deep into his pocket, the other snapping photo after photo of “Little Miss Missouri Ozarks” contestants. There was always at least one camera, or camera phone, for her to break at these events; and she relished every crack.
“Come along, Charlie,” Eleanor said to the ethereal floof curled up on top of the gazebo. What he’d been called in life Eleanor didn’t know, but he responded well enough to Charlie. The two had become a bonded pair in death, although the cat came much later — Eleanor’s relationship with time had long since dissolved, but she remembered it was after the old town flooded.
What was once a pioneer “settlement,” a Civil War battleground, a stretch of the Trail of Tears, a highway connecting St. Louis to New Orleans, was now a festival ground, a campground, a nature trail, every local elementary school’s end-of-the-year field trip. She didn’t mind the excitement, even enjoyed it at times, but Eleanor would never understand what drew The Living to sites of mass death and suffering. Perhaps it was the place’s natural beauty: the lush greenery, the flowering trees, the massive oaks, the steep hills and wide valleys, the winding river, the ancient bluffs. Perhaps it was simply the same thing that drew Eleanor to The Living: energy. At any rate, tourists and locals alike gave Eleanor plenty to do, and she liked her routine.
“Good afternoon, Miss Eleanor,” the soldiers waved as she glided past their graves, pausing briefly to allow Charlie his daily greetings. Yankees and Rebels hovered above their bones, any loyalty to their respective flags abandoned long ago, laughing and drinking and playing rummy in the sun. They’d grown fond of Charlie, as he had of them, and Eleanor had accepted there would be no passing by the soldiers without pausing for chin scratches and belly rubs.
“There might be an issue for you to resolve on the trail, ma’am, if you’re so obliged,” a Confederate offered.
“Indeed. He’s down by the river, ma’am,” a Union man added.
Eleanor nodded. “We’ll be on our way then.”
The soldiers knew Eleanor’s routine by now, and they respected it. They also knew what any man should know: most women and girls have been given plenty of reasons to feel certain ways about men and boys. Eleanor was no exception. She had originally only tolerated the soldiers for Charlie’s sake, but they’d grown on her over time, in no small part because they respected — and when possible aided — her routine.
Charlie led the way down the trail to the river, running ahead occasionally to play with Indigenous children and to greet their mothers — they’d grown fond of Charlie as well, all of Old Greenville’s Ghosts had, and Eleanor was pleased to see it.
“I think I’d like to go home,” the girl said shakily. Eleanor and Charlie were hovering over the spot the soldiers alluded to. An empty wine bottle lay overturned next to a campfire, with a half-empty bottle standing next to it.
“One more drink, baby, I’m having such a good time with you,” a much older boy — a man, really — replied. Eleanor noticed one of his hands resting tightly on the back of the girl’s neck, curved like a collar, while the other hand held a drink near her lips.
“Go get it, Charlie!” Eleanor tossed a stick deep into the woods, knowing Charlie’s response would appear to The Living like a random gust of wind — she hoped it would be unsettling enough to remove the young man from the girl’s side, unsettling enough to lure him nearer the river’s edge.
It worked. By the time Charlie returned, proudly holding the stick between his little teeth, the young man was swimming against a mighty current, and the girl was running back home.
“I’ll take this,” Eleanor said, snagging the leftover wine. “Come along, Charlie. It’s time to go home.”
With Charlie perched on her shoulders, Eleanor glided back up the trail and through the campground, periodically taking treats from distracted campers and festival-goers: a freshly made s’more, a funnel cake, a hot dog for Charlie. She considered it a harmless fee for keeping up her routine, and for maintaining such a mild disposition despite The Living turning her resting place into a bustling party zone.
“We found him, and we found something else y’all might enjoy,” Eleanor always gave the soldiers whatever spirits she came across, never having developed a taste for the stuff in life or in death.
“Thank you kindly, Miss Eleanor,” the soldiers replied, their hats tipped in gratitude.
“Let’s enjoy our supper now, Charlie,” Eleanor said. “I’ve grown weary.”
And just like they did at the end of most days, at least during tourist season, the pair savored their stolen treats — with Charlie perched on Eleanor’s shoulders, and Eleanor perched atop her gravestone, its markings barely legible:
1870 – 1883
LOVING WIFE AND MOTHER.
Elizabeth “Liz” Enochs is a queer writer from southeast Missouri. She’s been writing since her mother gave her a blank notebook to fill up with stories. Liz’s cup runneth over with femmes and coffee and cats, and more often than not, you’ll find her in the woods. You can check out Liz’s writings on her website: elizabethenochs.com.