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Side By Side (standard:humor, 3445 words)
Author: denis holzhauserAdded: Nov 19 2001Views/Reads: 2541/1685Story vote: 0.00 (0 votes)
Three dead and buried guys form a trio

Click here to read the first 75 lines of the story

able to know what is out just around my grave,seeing what I shouldn't 
be able to see,like I reckon you'll be able to do,too,shortly.Whatever 
all that plus more is,is what you and I called death when we were 
alive.It ain't too bad,it ain't great,it's not life,but it's a whole 
lot better than I would have ever thought it would be.And since I 
wasn't  given any choice,I've settled for it.You,I hoped,was to be a 
plus,I still hope that's going to be so,cause 


I'll teach and amaze you about something you can't know yet.After a few
years of laying here just listening and thinking,you tend to get a 
little lonely.I ain't complaining.I'm just explaining,but you are what 
I got and i'm  what you got,so think on that for a little while you're 
laying there on your back. 

He had very carefully listened to everything Aintwe had said and began
to feel a tingling of excitement.He was dead,he knew that.He had been 
embalmed,at least he thought he must have been.He had been buried and 
was now laying on his goddamned back in a goddamned cemetery having a 
conversation with another dead guy."How can I hear you,how can you talk 
to me,how do you know what's outside? You can't see it,you can't get up 
and move about.You're dead,just like me.I can't see anything out of my 
coffin.I don't know where I'm at.If I don't know,how can you?" 

"You sure can ask an awful lot of questions and I'm going to put up with
you because I can still remember how I felt when I first began to ask 
the same questions you're asking now,of course I asked them quietly to 
myself,and had to figure it out myself,since I didn't have anyone as 
kind and intelligent and giving as I have been with you,but I have been 
here a very long time and have slowly began to understand how death 
works,so being your mentor will be a treat for me," Aintwe 
said,chuckling softly the whole time here spoke. 

"Whatever you can tell me I want to hear,but can you please get on with

"Only one question? You must be getting tired. Why don't we wait until
you' ve rested and then I'll instruct you on how to behave in your new 
roll as a dead,thinking entity." 

"No,please,I'm not tired." Then,as he thought of what he had just
said,he got very angry and began to shout, "How the hell can I be 
tired,I'm dead for Christ's sake! I don't get rested or refreshed,I 
just lay here." 


"Yes,I know, you're on your goddamn back,but look how much you've
already learned by listening to me." 

He spoke slowly,softer than he had spoken since his first words from his
grave,"Please,I'm having trouble with this.I need some idea of what is 
going on with me,us.You've been at this a lot longer than I have.You've 
been able to think about this for a long time,maybe you have some ideas 
about us.If you do,I really want to hear them.I'm going to shut up and 
listen.Just tell me everything you think about what has happened to 

Aintwe was silent for a short time,then began to speak in a deep,more
thoughtful tone than he had used before with him.He spoke like a man 
telling an old and long story that he knew well but had never had the 
opportunity to tell anyone before."I have thought about this every 
moment I have been here over the last fifty years.I didn't know it was 
fifty years,we don't deal that way with time.That is a measure used by 
living  mortals who have a finite amount of it to reckon with,not that 
I think I'm,or rather,we're immortal.I don't feel our force is going to 
last forever,but no matter how long it lasts,it is not measurable in 
human time.I came to the conclusion that we have an impulse,or an 
energy of some kind,something that gives us the ability to transfer 
thoughts in the air and to receive thoughts back from entities like 
us.Now,I know that not a whole lot of the others can do this,because it 
they could,then this place would be loaded with living people and their 
equipment,recording and measuring everything the heard--" 

He had interrupted Ainwe,"What are you talking about,what people....are
you saying--" 

"Hush now,,just listen,that's what you said you were going to do.I'll
answer your questions best I can,but in my own way and in my own 
time.There would be sounds,lots of them,and yes,maybe living people 
would be able to hear them and it would be a constant thing.There are 
hundreds of people buried in here.Hell,the noise,night and day,would 
really be 

Page 5... 

something,but in all the time I've been here,the only other one I've
heard is you.Now.I'm sure we're not the only ones,but it must be rare.I 
think it might have something to do with the way we die or something we 
do at the last moment that triggers this power source.I died 
accidentally and very suddenly.How did you die?" 

"I died suddenly,but not accidentally,so maybe it's just the sudden part
that affects it." 

"I don't think it's that simple.Again remember,as far as I know,we're
the only ones here that seem to be doing this.I need to know more about 
how you died.If it was sudden,but not an accident,what caused your 

"I did.I commited suicide.I put a gun in my mouth and blew the back of
my head off." 

"Sweet Jesus,why?" 

"I had an esophageal cancer.The doctors had given me about six months to
live and those six months were going to be painful and ugly to 
everybody involved with me,and then I would die.It just didn't seem 
worth  it,so I did what I thought was best,but...when I began to react 
here I thought God was maybe punishing me for taking even what 
miserable life I had left." 

"God isn't a bookkeeper.He don't play tit for tat.God forgives
everybody.He loves everybody.I don't think God can even punish 
anyone.What I think God is,is love and forgiveness in its purest 
form,because,only God could be that." 

"Aintwe,you are a philosopher." 

"I told you I was black." 

"No,you told me you were black,but you weren't anymore." 

"I'm glad you were listening but I still think that there is something
that connects our deaths.I was killed instantly when I was hit by a 
speeding car,but even in that microsecond,if such things exists,I 
said,or thought I said,"My God!".Did you think or say anything like 
that just as you died?" 


He didn't answer right away,so Aintwe said,"Well what was it?" 

"I seem to recall that my last thoughts were 'Please God',and then

"Maybe that's it.Maybe if you die instantly and your last words or
thoughts are of God,you trigger this ability." 

"I don't know,that's awful simple.We will probably never know,but
really,does it make any difference if we do or not?",he said. 

"I don't have the foggiest idea,but I do have a guess.I think our powers
to send and recieve messages is aided by our coffins.That energy is 
retained and not diffused by our being in an enclosed space,and when 
our boxes begin to break apart,our abilites will began to fade." 

"I'm really glad you told me that", he said sarcastically. 

"You said you wanted everything.Also,while i'm thinking about it,have
you been able to see outside of your coffin yet? It took me a little 

"I saw or imagined I saw some of the outside,but I was limited.I tried
but couldn't see either your or my headstone." 

"That's very good,but you're never going to see much out there.If you
look straight ahead and imagine a line running straight forward,your 
line of sight is going to be limiter to about forty-five degrees out on 
each side of that line.It's like a triangle with the point touching on 
your nose." 

"If I still have a nose.It's nice to know it still could be good for
something.Anyway,I see what you're trying to tell me. 

Aintwe was quiet for a while,then asked. "Does any of this make any
sense to you? I'm not an educated man,so I may be very wrong about all 
of this." 


"I think what you told me makes as much sense as anything I could come
up with,and really, what difference does it make anyway.We're here and 
we're going to stay here.So,I guess we should try to make the best of 

"You have really become a lot smarter than you were when you first began
to bother me,so I'll tell you a little more about me.I love to sing.I 
use to sing in a choir,and that was the most important thing in my 
life.Back in nineteen forty one blacks didn't have a whole lot going 
for them,so simple things use to become important to us.I was rushing 
to practice when I was run down.I began to sing as I came to in here 
and really missed not being able to sing with others.Now you're 
here,we're going to learn to sing together." 

He was silent for some time then began to talk in an angry tone,"Well
since you decided what I am going to do here,I think i'll bring you up 
to date on some of the really big changes made that would have affected 
you if you would still be alive.First,Congress passed a law  in 
nineteen fifty two legalizing lynching.If you're white and purchase a 
federal duck hunting stamp,you can get it signed and authorized by the 
local Post Master to lynch blacks.It costs ten dollars for the stamp 
and two dollars more for the lynching authorization.Then back in 
nineteen sixty-six,Mississippi held a special election and relegalized 
slavery,but you don't have to worry,because during the fourteen years 
between the enactment of the lynching law and the reinstatement of 
slavery,most blacks either left Mississippi or ended up being year 
round Christmas tree decorations.Second,I don't sing.I can't sing.I 
can't even carry a tune,so i'm afraid you're going to still have to 
sing alone." 

"You are the meanest white toad I ever knew.You don't have one nice
thing about you.If they had done such foolishness,you would have been 
the first one to move to Mississippi and spend the twelve dollars,but 
you're still going to sing with me.I don't care how bad you sing, 

Page 8.. 

you're going to sing with me,and if you don't,you're going to miss the
biggest surprise you ever had.Period. 

He was laughing so hard he couldn't talk for a while.When he finally
began to slow up,he asked,"What are you talking about,what surprise?How 
can you surprise me?" 

"When I was buried here fifty years ago,I noticed a man named Mr.Henry.I
was nineteen years old,so he looked pretty old to me then.Now I realize 
he was about thiry eight to forty.He is still here at the cemetery.He 
takes care of the graves.He can hear me sing,at least he can hear 
something because if I start to sing,sometimes in the evening, and he 
is still out from that old shack they let him live in on the grounds,he 
comes over and sits down in the front of the grave and listens.He'll 
stay until I stop singing,then he'll get up,wave at me and go home.If 
you don't sing with me,I'll never sing again and you'll never get to 
see that someone can react to it." 

"Is that true? Are you playing with me because I teased you?That's
fantastic! I don't know whether to believe you or not.Do you think I'll 
be able to see him?" 

"Not if you don't sing." 

"What could we sing?I don't know many songs from the beginning to the
end,and you don't know any of the songs I know since they were written 
after you died.How are we to manage with all of that?" 

"You know Swannee River  or Row,Row,Row you boat or any of those old

"I know some of those but not all of them.I know some old songs but
again I don't know all the words.My wife use to sing an old song I 
liked.I think it was called 'Side By Side'.I'll hum some of it,see if 
you know it." 


"I know it,so we can sing some of those.When you don't know the words
just hum along like you did just now.We'll make do and old Mr.Henry 
will know I have company and be glad." 

"When will we sing,now?" 

"In a little while.It must be almost time to close the cemetery.The sun
is down from the looks of the shadows.We'll start when everybodys 

They were both quiet with their own thoughts as they waited for the time
when they could start to sing. Finally,without talking to each 
other,Aintwe began to sing an old hymn.He just hummed as best he 
could.When Aintwe finished he said,"Hum louder,Mr.Henry has to be 
ninety.His hearing can't be too good.If he comes,I want him to know 
you're singing with me,so put some heart into it." 

Aintwe began to sing a new song and he hummed louder as he looked to see
if he saw the old man coming."I see him,he's coming." 

"Hush,,just keep singing." 

He watched the old man come and sit in front of Aintwe's grave.The old
man was almost out of his sight,so he started to hum really loud.The 
old man looked over at his grave,smiled and got up and moved so that he 
sat on the ground,directly in the middle,but in front of both 
graves.Aintwe said,"Okay, let's sing your wife's old song,but sing 
it,don't hum it." 

They began to sing the old song,"Side by Side" and watch the old man as
he tapped his feet and moved his head in time with the music,when 
suddenly he began to search his pockets until he pulled out a stubby 
pencil and a small piece of paper.He wrote as fast as he could and 
finished a little time after they had ended singing the song.When he 
had finished writing,he stood up and said,"Thank you gentlemen.I really 
enjoyed that.I'll see you both soon again",and turned and went towards 
his shack. 

Page Ten.... 

They hummed or sang a few more songs until he stopped and began to
talk,"My name is Robert Morrison.I'm a lot older than you.I'm seventy 
one years old.I've never been particularly successful,I just always 
made a living.I worked most of my life for the railroads.I retired at 
sixty five and waited to die.My wife called me a mean,old,dirty-mouthed 
skinflint,and I guess she was right.Spider,if you don't mind,please 
call me Bob.I really want to thank you for your help.You've made this a 
lot easier." 

"Bob,that seems funny.I would never have picked Bob for you." 

"Well,if it would make you feel more comfortable,you might just try
calling me "Massa", Bob laughed. 

"On second thought,I guess Bob will do after all.I'm glad you're going
to be here with me." 

The two men spent the balance of the year talking and singing,becoming
better and better friends.Bob's singing never became a thing of 
beauty,but he put vitality and enthusiasm into it and both seemed 
satisfied.Old Mr.Henry continued to come whenever he heard them 
singing,and always seemed to prefer the old song,"Side by Side" the 
best.That year was an usually hard winter,but they were unaware of the 
cold and ice,and when spring came,they noticed the flowers beginning to 
bloom and the birds building nests.They enjoyed watching some baby 
birds learning to fly.It was right at the end of spring when Spider 
told Bob,"Someone is going to join us". 

"How do you know?" 

"Their digging on the other side of me.That means their going to put
someone in there today." 

Bob was silent for a moment,,,then said,"I hope it don't change our

Page Eleven... 

Aintwe started to laugh, "I know what you mean but I don't think what we
have is a lifestyle.Look on the bright side,maybe we'll get a bass." 

Bob sighed and said,"Whatever". Then he was silent for the rest of the
morning.In the early afternoon the burial began.Neither one could see 
much,but they could tell it was a very small group of mourners.It was 
done quickly and was over in about twenty minutes. 

For some reason both Spider and Bob were depressed and didn't talk for
the rest of the afternoon,but come early evening Spider began to 
hum,first one song then another.Bob was silent,not in the mood,until 
Spider began to sing "Side by Side".After a while Bob joined in and 
their duet was sweet and soothing.Bob said,"I don't see old Mr.Henry 
coming.It's been a while since he came to visit us." 

Spider kept on singing,so Bob picked a spot to join in.They sang a few
of their favorites until they were back starting "Side by Side" again 
when he heard a thin,weak voice begin to hum along with them.Spider 
said,"Hello Mr.Henry." 

The End 


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