“Get out of here, stupid grass. There we go, baby. Much better now. Wait. Let’s get this.” I licked my thumb and rubbed the oval porcelain photo––the shot I took of him on the boardwalk one random day never knowing it would end up being so definitive––removing a few whites specks with my thumbnail. “There. Handsome guy.”
I brought more than I normally do on my weekend morning visits, because today was special. Along with the usual two bunches of baby’s breath, the Today, Tomorrow, Forever heart-shaped balloon, and a blue windmill, I bought a silvery mylar Happy Birthday that had someone’s idea of a festive cake printed on it.
For gifts, I had a few key chains in my pocket, one from a recent stopover in Chicago and one from Montreal, the city where Billy proposed to me in 1998. I’d fit those onto branches of his tree later on, but now I had arranging to do.
I fluffed one of the bunches into a giant snowball that stuck out from the vase centered over him, jammed the windmill into the ground to the right of the headstone and the birthday one on the left.
Crisscrossed lines from the grass etched my knees as I stood and walked the ten paces to Billy’s bench. The tree was overgrown, it’s branches flopping down in a way that startled me every time I drove up, afraid I was going to find that the park had trimmed them away, and all of those key chains that I’d woven into its branches over the years would be lost.
I untangled the other bunch of tiny white flowers next to the bench, another summer snowball, putting the heart balloon next to it, but decided it looked better swaying in the center of the unpolished front edge with WILLIAM LEE LEDBETTER engraved across its length. I took the newspaper that’d wrapped the flowers, wadded it up, and wiped a few white bird droppings away.
I looked up into the tree; the sun flickered through the moving leaves, a disco in the park. It was cooler there, and I tore open the Hostess Cupcakes package, a brown plastic bra, turned it over to tap one out, and laid one of Billy’s favorite snacks on the upper right hand corner of the bench.
After inserting a red-striped candle, I lit it with a match, cupping my hand to keep the flame alive. Water filled the inside of my Revo lenses as I bent over to blow it out.
“I hope you’re dancing right now, baby.”
I sat on the other side of the bench and polished off the twin cupcake, staring toward the downtown skyline that seemed a hundred miles away, the silence broken only from my pleas for none of this to be true.