We were eight, mouth agape, the day they covered the graves in concrete, sealing them in, ensuring they would never return. Unattended ice cream melted, running in sticky rivers down our fingers, as we froze in the shadow of finality.
"It's just their bodies," they said, their best efforts at comfort clattering hollow in our ears.
Hobo was my first brother, that lived. I had an older brother that did not make it through child birth. In my earliest memories, Hobo is there exploring the hill with me. Carrying me at times on his back.
The hill on which we lived was surrounded by thick forest, the top occupied by four houses. Ours was in the center of the gravel loop, surrounded by those of our aunts, uncles and cousins. If you followed the loop to the exit, you would find the cemetery.
I walked among the dead most of my life, their names familiar, even though I never met them. Many a day I lay stretched across the face of their sarcophagus, or resting my head on their stone, staring at the sky. For as long as I can remember, there has been an open grave, waiting for the next to fall asleep.
At the end of the cemetery, a stone wall forms a large square. This is where we laid Hobo to rest when his time came. It was fall. The pick axe bounced on the hard ground, until it cracked to accept him.
Hobo was a floppy eared, belly dragging hound dog, but to me he was my first friend. I would rub his soft haired ears and the world would be okay. When he died, they gave me a stuffed animal, in his likeness. I slept with it every night, but it never replaced the warmth of him next to me.
A cloud of dust reached for the sky, behind a truck making its way up our gravel drive way. No one ever came to our hill, so it became an event. Cousins dashed in lazy circles, excitement spilling out on everyone. We got ice cream cones as treat to watch as dirty men climbed down from the white clackity truck, they had backed between the tomb stones.
A great white tongue swung out over the stone wall of the pet cemetery and lumpy grey concrete began to pour, spreading slow across the dirt. My friend. It had been two years, but I still knew the feel of his ears. And my little heart stopped as I knew he was now locked in. Forever. Away from me.
"It's only a dog," they said, as if it did not matter. As if he did not.
Melting ice cream waterfalled from my knuckles, painting the grass in milky rain. Hiding the tears. Death wrapped its clammy skeletal fingers around my other hand. I had felt them before, only now I felt them squeeze.