Courtship was difficult for Reggie and Cherry May, since Reggie was shot down in a P-61 Black Widow during the Battle of the Bulge, while Cherry had sampled a lethal batch of drugs at a Janis Joplin concert. Reggie was scandalized by Cherry’s bell-bottom jeans—he hadn’t made it back home to see the women of his own generation playing Rosie the Riveter. Cherry appreciated Reggie’s gentlemanly kisses, but she’d begun to wonder how many decades would pass before they made it to third base.
Yet there were only so many options for romance in a cemetery, especially one that had run out of room for new residents in 1995. So after brief flings with a railroad baron who’d died on his own train’s tracks (Cherry) and a flapper who’d crossed the wrong gangster in a speakeasy (Reggie), the pair returned to the familiar comfort of Reggie’s stiff olive drabs and Cherry’s fringed leather and lace. And the ghost-cold skin underneath which, after so many graveyard years, almost felt like warmth.
One full-moon spring night, Cherry sat on Reggie’s lap, the two propped up against a memorial to Carter Youngblood, Beloved Husband and Father. Carter’s spirit never roamed the cemetery, but Reggie had imagined Mr. Youngblood playing catch with his son in a white-picket-fenced backyard. Cherry pictured him proposing under an angel-dust sunset. But tonight, Cherry and Reggie’s minds roamed elsewhere. Cherry savored the sweet echo of pot smoke on the breeze, while Reggie breathed in cherry blossoms like those of a German spring. For the graveyard’s permanent dwellers, it wasn’t easy to distinguish the present from the past they carried.
Cherry ran transparent fingers across the grass. “If you could have done one last thing,” she sing-songed, “what would it have been?”
Reggie’s hand paused in Cherry’s hair. He was always untangling the blossoms tucked behind her ears, the ones that had been as vibrant as her name when she died. He was always tossing them across the cemetery, but somehow they reappeared in her locks each evening, drooping more every time. “You know I hate those questions.”
“But you’ll answer—for me?” Cherry craned her neck to kiss Reggie’s bloodless cheek.
Reggie’s shoulders stiffened, till Cherry imagined him carrying battle gear. “Well, I was in Nazi territory, bracing myself for a bullet or bomb. I couldn’t have said goodbye to my parents. I couldn’t have made it to the ocean—”
“Reggie,” Cherry snapped, “have some imagination for once.” Reggie’s hand stiffened against her scalp like ice. Cherry should back off—she shouldn’t scare away her one chance for eternal love. But something had gotten into her tonight. Perhaps it was the moonlight, the way it ignited the tips of each grass blade like the candles the crowd held through Janis’s songs.
Cherry pulled back, turned to look into Reggie’s brown eyes that had never aged by a single line. “Tell me the truth,” she said.
Perhaps it was the moon that got into Reggie as well—the way it illuminated Cherry’s eyes, usually dilated from her final high. Tonight he could see the color in them, the bright blue of the ocean he’d never got to visit one last time. “I would have found a girl,” he said, “a girl who smelled like flowers, a girl like you, and I would have…”
Reggie’s bluish lips twitched; he was too polite to say the words. Cherry took his icy hand in hers and led him to the center of the graveyard, where the dew-dropped grass waited like a dance floor, or a stage, while the moon served as a spotlight from above. She looped her arms around his neck and they swayed, and Reggie heard “I Threw a Kiss Into the Ocean,” crooned by a sultry Peggy Lee. Janis’s throaty voice drifted into Cherry’s ear, telling her to trade tomorrows for yesterdays, that freedom might not be so different from loss.
Cherry pressed her ghostly lips to Reggie’s and slipped her phantom tongue inside his mouth, and Janet’s song and the moon’s light warmed her till she was sure Reggie felt it too. His arms solidified around her back, slid lower till he cupped her jeans. She grabbed one of his hands, now lukewarm instead of frigid, and guided it beneath her shirt. He didn’t pull away.
Reggie and Cherry slow-danced to the songs of their last days, and though the beats in their heads were different, they moved perfectly in time. Cherry’s fingers played Reggie’s belt buckle as if it were an instrument; her touch became a melody against the ghost skin underneath. Reggie ran his hands over Cherry’s curves like oceanwater rising with the tide. Their flesh grew warmer still, and they sank into each other, and with the moon beaming and the pre-dawn birds awakening and the dew sparkling under their feet, they hardly noticed their ghost forms dissolving. Combining.
Cherry closed her eyes and she was laughing with her squadron at the mess hall, then back in her bunk, sneaking peeks of a girlie magazine with a flashlight in the dark. She was flying above the enemy, floating in that one weightless moment before the plummet started and the end arrived.
Reggie closed his eyes and he was breathing in the ocean sunrise after dancing to drugs and bonfires all night. Feeling every grain of sand and splash of seawater, high enough to be as one with the world. Then he was among a spellbound crowd, watching a woman scream her soul out on a stage, as the world transformed in swirls of Technicolor until it became too much to bear, and the darkness came for good.
Reggie and Cherry May, who had missed so much living, grasped on to each other’s pasts like lovers desperate to touch. As their bodies dissolved their souls burst forth into free, floating life.
A cloud passed across the moon, and when its light re-emerged, the couple dancing in the graveyard were nowhere to be found.
Stephanie Parent is an author of dark fiction and poetry. Her debut horror novel THE BRIARS is forthcoming in May 2023 from Cemetery Gates Media. Follow her on Twitter at @SC_Parent and Instagram at @stephanieparent30.