Authors: Jennifer Longo
Tags: #Children's Books, #Growing Up & Facts of Life, #Difficult Discussions, #Death & Dying, #Family Life, #Friendship; Social Skills & School Life, #Friendship, #Humor, #Teen & Young Adult, #Literature & Fiction, #Humorous, #Social & Family Issues, #Family, #Children's eBooks
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Text copyright © 2014 by Jennifer Longo
Jacket photograph by Cusp/SuperStock
All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company, New York.
Random House and the colophon are registered trademarks of Random House LLC.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Six feet over it / Jennifer Longo.—First edition.
Summary: When fifteen-year-old Leigh’s father buys a graveyard and insists she work there after school, she learns much about life, death, and the power of friendship.
ISBN 978-0-449-81871-8 (trade)—ISBN 978-0-449-81872-5 (lib bdg.)—ISBN 978-0-449-81873-2 (e-book)
[1. Cemeteries—Fiction. 2. Family life—California—Fiction. 3. Friendship—Fiction. 4. Death—Fiction. 5. California—Fiction.] I. Title.
PZ7.L8634Six 2014 [Fic]—dc23 2013026249
Printed in the United States of America
Random House Children’s Books supports the First Amendment and celebrates the right to read.
all in the world
There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.
The Bridge of San Luis Rey
FOR THE BODY
you go to the mortuary. A lot of people don’t know this. Kids at school don’t know this. They think bodies come to us. They also think we’re out here at dusk with a pickax and a kerosene lantern, digging graves with a shovel, rotting, moonlit hands reaching from the upturned earth to pull us down with them. So dumb. Digging a grave really needs a backhoe, not just a shovel, and also we never see bodies dead or undead. By the time we get them they’re drained and dressed or burned, in a box and ready to be buried. It’s just a cemetery. We’re not living in the “Thriller” video.
What’s worse is when actual customers don’t get that bodies aren’t our thing. It’s so bad. Awful. Why doesn’t anyone tell them how to do it? The logistics? All we do is graves. That’s it. Well, and headstones. But they’re pretty much part and parcel so same diff.
Now the Pre-Needs, they know what’s up. They bought their graves a long time ago, before they needed them. But everyone else—I can’t blame them for not knowing because four months ago I had no idea either. I have to remember to be patient, because for crying out loud they’re here on sometimes the worst day of their lives. But then what do I know? I’m just a fourteen-year-old girl wearing jeans and a T-shirt trying to sell some graves, which—it’s just stupid. It looks stupid. I know this, Wade knows this, everyone knows this. It’s a really classy way to run a business, making your teenaged daughter sell graves because you’re too lazy to look farther than across the dinner table when searching for employees, but that’s Wade. No corner is too sacred to cut.
We all pretend it’s okay I’m shoving my algebra homework aside to make room for the headstone brochures, the maps of where to find the best grave sites … away from the road, something with a view, maybe near a tree? People and their trees.
Four months and it feels like forever. Four months since we left the ocean, and sitting here with all these dead people has made me a world-weary curmudgeon, everything bugs the crap out of me. I’m turning into Wade. Tall, dark, and probably twice as ridiculous.
“Ever think you’d get to live in a
?” Wade sighs dreamily every ten minutes or so.
Drop that qualifying
and it’s more than just a creepy euphemism. It is Wade’s loving tribute to his greatest real estate conquest ever, his golden ticket away from the drudgery of years in a cramped Re/Max office cubicle. Here he has his very own sovereignty, a million tiny little plots of land to sell. Buying this thing has given him an enviable joie de vivre that in virtually any other situation (i.e., one not involving hundreds of dead bodies) might have been infectious. He is King of the Hill. Sierrawood Hill(s).
I only have to hold down the office fort three days a week, a blessing owing more to Wade’s lack of scheduling prowess than to any actual parental concern, even with my begging him to take it down closer to zero. When enlisting my heretofore-untapped grave-selling skills, he got me for a bargain: five dollars an hour, cash under the table of course, me being underage and super underenthused. Before I had a chance to turn him down, Wade let me know it wasn’t so much an
as it was a
that I wasn’t
to turn down.
“An after-school job builds character!” he declared. “Any kid would be lucky to have this chance! Couple hours after school in your very own office”—says the guy who hated being in an office so much he’s making his family live in a
? It’s icing on the cake!”
“I don’t want cake,” I whispered.
We need you. I need your help.”
A Sasquatch sighting of his actual sincerity and desperation.
“Please?” I begged.
He gave me maybe half a second.
“No one’s asking you to wrestle a bobcat in a phone booth; just sell a few graves and call it a day, jeez! Don’t be so dramatic. You love it!” No one loves real-time revisionist history more than Wade.
I love it.
My job training four months ago was twenty minutes of Wade giving me the lowdown on his way to lunch one afternoon. The whole operation basically involves binders. Two three-ring binders: one holds the maps of each section’s graves, decades of names written in corresponding representative rectangles, and the other features general section maps of the entire park:
Harmony Haven, Memory Meadow, Vaunted Valley
. Seven sections in all, each one titled like a Lifetime original movie. Standard burials can be single-spaced, double-spaced (side by side, popular with spouses and siblings), single or double depth (just what it sounds like). Cremains go in small drawers or in containers in the ground.
The mausoleum is a hulking white building made of drawers of caskets, each featuring a bronze plaque and a bud vase. People come to visit these drawers and tape notes to them, photographs, haiku about loneliness and circling birds.
Headstone orders are easy, just checking boxes, filling in forms. There are plenty of brochures and catalogs featuring lots of styles of granite and marble and bronze and examples of engraving details for people to browse through. Flowers. Birds. Tractors.
Beneath the pile of catalogs, Howard the County Coroner’s business card is taped eerily to the desk. “Just in case,” Wade likes to say.
Howard and his secretary, Terry, are both middle-aged and very patient on the phone, the only kind of contact I’ve had with them. I also only phone-know Dave, the go-to Baskerville Headstone guy in North Carolina (who keeps calling me
no matter how many times I tell him my name is pronounced
and if he doesn’t knock it off I’m going to start calling him
and Jason, the super matter-of-fact mortician over at Chapel of the Pines who is only twenty-eight years old and according to Wade wears a ton of hair gel and became a mortician on purpose just to piss off his orthodontist father. All these guys, like the grave-buying clientele so far, clearly couldn’t care less about my probably illegal plot selling. Apparently this backwoods inland Northern California town (‘Hangtown’, a sentimental homage to all the gold rush vigilante hangings committed here) has retained its devil-may-care-but-we-sure-as-hell-don’t attitude regarding things like adherence to child labor laws. Maybe I’ll report myself.
I am allowed to clock out (read: write my hours on a Post-It) and lock the office door at six p.m., which sucks now that it’s autumn and the sun’s gone so early. Because, four months to get used to it notwithstanding, who wants to go traipsing through a bunch of graves in the dark?
A park, a park, just a park.
I whisper my mantra as I make my way to the house, wending my anxious way around and over the people beneath my feet in the damp green hills, down into Peaceful Glen and onto the narrow dirt road that makes its way beyond the mausoleum and past the tin toolshed. Past stacks of cement grave liners perched precariously atop one another in lopsided piles. Past a silver single-wide trailer reflecting the very last, low sunlight through black silhouettes of pine branches.
Until I reach a line of flat headstones. Headstones with mistakes etched into them: misspelled names, wrong birth or death date. Wade, never one to waste good granite (or miss an opportunity to be regarded as clever), has taken all these “mistake stones” and laid them in a snaking path through our yard, straight to the front door of
He has demonstrated rare restraint in turning them text-side down. They gleam, cool and sleekly polished, and wind their way past more grave liners filled not with people but with soil and sprouting geraniums and marigolds, hearty annuals and perennials that don’t mind blooming in boxes normally found down in a grave with a casket nestled inside it, one more barrier between the body and the earth to which it is supposedly returning.
The headstone path, the grave liners in the garden—over the past four months Wade has continued to muddy the line between the graveyard and the house a little more every day. Because he thinks it is funny. Because death is hilarious. And
I love it.