We buried our dead but first we wrapped them tightly in white. The shrouds kept the souls locked up, tight, and comfortable. The plague-dead, we called them, as if they were so much different from all the other dead.
Bodies are bodies. The earth will return them to dirt just the same. Shrouds keeping them longer maybe. Or not.
The dead rise and white cloth hangs from the body.
Our ghosts are tricks: sheet-swaddled children trundling from house to house, asking for treats. Something good to eat. Mothers hold the hands of their children tight, the grip loosening only at doorways, when it’s safe, when they are asking for gifts, baskets outstretched. Mothers breathe out and watch their breath hover in front of them. The cold bites as the sun dips low, children dressed as the dead turn back to smile at their mothers.
Caskets were too needed to bury, they carried the bodies over and over; the dead in their shrouds would be protected enough.
The grave is cold, the cloth clings.
So many we buried, one by one by one by one by one by one by one, and there was no time for rites, for prayer, and the dead in their shrouds, shook and shuddered beneath the earth. No rest for the wicked, no rest for the good.
A mother finds the drawings later, of ghosts hovering, like sheets filled with air, and she traces the image with her fingers. The indentations make the drawing seem fresh. She can feel them. The sun has a smiling face. Her daughter’s hands did this.
The shroud memories are carried, like the dead themselves were carried, into the present. These ghosts drawn in sheets, white shrouds rippling around shapes that once held life. Children come to think of ghosts as white and bright.
Children who survived the plague, years later, remembered the images of skeletons dancing with the rotting dead—sheets covering bodies, but not the death itself.
The mother sinks to floor, digs fingernails into palms of her hands, imagines her child dreaming of ghosts and the dead smile in her dreams; they are so welcoming, so open, so ready to love another, willing to cradle the newest of their number.
We buried our dead. We bury our dead, wrapping them tight, hoping to keep them warm.
Chloe N. Clark's work appears in Apex, Booth, Sleet, Wyvern, a previous issue of CHEAP POP, and more. She writes for Nerds of a Feather, and Ploughshares, For her thoughts on cake and magic, follow her @PintsNCupcakes