Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Caretaker by D. A. Kentner from Calliope

This story won first place in Calliope's 18th annual fiction contest, and it is easy to see why. As you read you follow Archer Foley (what a great name) from a bar where he has a conversation with a stranger to the cemetery where his wife was buried a year ago and where he learns the name of that stranger. The cemetery manager says that this man, Henry, visits the cemetery every day, “cleans away any debris from his wife's grave, then busies himself cleaning markers, raking leaves and grass, and throwing away dead flowers,” though he isn't employed by the cemetery. Not only does Henry fulfill the duties that a caretaker might have, but it turns out that he also keeps track of graves that don't get visited.

It is then revealed that Henry finds the families of those whose graves are un-visited and finds a way to heal them by getting them back to the cemetery. So Archer's chance encounter with him at the bar turns out not to be chance at all. And suddenly Archer is on a mission not only to reconnect with his own children, but also to reunite Henry's family. Though he had been drinking double scotchs at a bar (and then driving) only a few hours ago, now his life has a purpose. The cemetery manager sees what Archer is about to go do, and says that it isn't easy work being a caretaker like Henry. And Archer responds that, “there isn't a better paying job on the planet.”

This quick plot rundown doesn't do the story any justice, and if you've got a second I'd say to read it (online at The one part that irks me is that Kentner lets Archer get in a car and drive after spending an undisclosed amount of time drinking at a bar. Other than that it is a really moving piece.



Popped said...

That is an awesome story!! (I do agree with you about the drinking bit though). I think cemeteries are beautiful, peaceful places, but you always find graves that are not taken care of or visited. It's really sad and I've always wondered about the history behind the stone, particularly when the writing has worn away. Though I know it's just a story, it's comforting to think that people like Henry might be out there making sure that both the living and the dead aren't forgotten or alone.
---Jen G.

Popped said...

Sounds like this is one you have to read to appreciate, because the premise sounds like your pretty basic redemption-by-one-unique-person-in-a-ridiculously-limited-span-of-time plot.

I'm curious...with the drinking, was anything made of the fact that the character was probably drunk? Because if he wasn't tipsy or having trouble, that seems like an error on the writer's part. If it was just that it was bad decision making, well, it does lend a touch of realism. How many people are honestly thinking straight when they can't even walk straight?

I do like stories that involve some kind of preservationist, historian, or storyteller, who has decided to dedicate themselves to maintaining what so many others ignore and forget. In that sense, this sounds like it might be right up my alley.

--Sarah Lawrence