She takes me to the cemetery in August.
Frederick Street unfurls its spine as we exit the roundabout. The Colt, which she drives one-handed ten kilometres above the speed limit, gasps its way up the hill. Bitumen lays beneath the gaze of streetlights. The houses lower their eyes. We park beneath the powerlines on Sleath Street and climb out of the car.
I’d thought it would be cold, standing on the road in the middle of the night. And it is. It’s wind rattling trees and stretching fingers down my coat. But it’s also Hunter, wearing a cargo jacket and a cigarette behind her ear, walking to me through the dull yellow light.
‘Are we here?’ I ask.
She gives me a look. ‘Does it look like we’re here?’ she tips her head back, gesturing over her shoulder.
I watch the shadows of her ringlets streak down her face. Then I glance behind her, where across the road, graves lap up to the footpath. They are incisors poking from the darkness, crowding behind the gums. In truth, I’ve known since we left Bardon exactly where we were going. Maybe longer, since yesterday, or three months ago, when Hunter spent the cafe money on the Colt. Hers is a predictable kind of chaos. Of course she goes to the cemetery. Of course she brings me.
She smiles, ‘It’s nearly midnight.’
‘When do you need to be home?’
I think of the 9am tute I have tomorrow. I tell Hunter, ‘Anytime.’
‘Good.’ The arc of her mouth becomes ferocious, and it’s such a Hunter-like expression that I have to exhale. ‘It’s technically trespassing,’ she tells me.
‘You,’ I say, ‘are a walking Pinterest board.’
Hunter doesn’t bother rolling her eyes. We’ve played this game before.
‘Are you going to tell me why we’re here?’
She slides her hands into her pockets and shrugs. Twenty minutes ago, I’d been reading Essentials of Psychopathology in my room. Hunter called at 11.35 knowing I’d be awake, and that by 11.40 I’d be waiting by my letterbox. Then I was in the Colt, her wrist on the wheel, the streetlight like waves, her only explanation that she had something to show me. Psychopathology feels like hours ago.
Hunter backs away, her shoulders hunching, her face alive. ‘You coming, Belle?’
I grin back at her. Above us, the sky sprawls like the inside of an eyelid. I think, if I stood on tiptoes, I could swallow it whole.
We cross the empty street, the wind licking away our footsteps and carrying the creak of crickets. The streetlight closest to Hunter blinks as she steps onto the grass.
When I was a kid, I would hold my breath when we drove past a cemetery. It was a superstition made into a game, like knocking on wood, like salt over shoulders. Right now, breath is all I am. My lungs are as shaken by the sight of her as the leaves are by the wind.
I follow Hunter into Toowong Cemetery and light falls away. It’s there, dangling in stasis, then it’s devoured by the black and we’re surrounded by graves. They look like bodies in the darkness, the monuments and the reeds. Our shoes rustle the grass. Insects tick in perfect time.
My eyes are on the tangle of Hunter’s hair, still blonde even in the dark. She leads me up a hill, the incline growing steeper until we’re throwing out our arms to keep balance. The grass writhes from the earth to cling at our shins. We stamp through it, feeling for footholds on the hill’s face. The smell of decaying stone, all rust and wet cement, permeates through the wind.
When we reach the top, we turn to gaze down at the cemetery. The stones rise through the monolithic dark, outlining steeples, crosses, turrets. In the distance above the trees, the city glints like fairy lights.
Hunter lowers herself onto the grass. I sink down beside her, feeling dew seep into my jeans as I cross my legs. The wind, now furious, shudders through me. I pull my arms against my body.
‘I told you to dress warm.’ I can’t see Hunter’s smile, but I hear it.
‘I did,’ I say, but it’s not really true. I’m wearing my corduroy jacket instead of my puffer. It looks cooler.
‘Mhm.’ She flicks the skirt of her dress just to make me huff. There’s something, like fire, in Hunter’s DNA. She doesn’t get cold.
‘Is this where you were?’ I ask. ‘Before you called me?’
She tips her head back a little. I take it as a yes.
‘By yourself, wandering in the cemetery.’
‘I was looking for something.’
This isn’t the answer I expected. ‘What?’
Hunter stretches out her legs, and my eyes catch on the movement. They’re pale and bare, her knees bent, calves brushing the grass. She’s lost weight since she started her hormones and her thighs are lean in the dimness. She takes the cigarette from behind her ear. The lighter flame flickers across her face.
The wind comes again. Or it never stopped—suddenly, I can’t remember. My shiver resounds from my ribcage.
Hunter glances at me. Then she lifts herself by her palms and inches closer. My chest goes still. She settles against me, arm to arm. Leg to leg. And we sit. We just sit. Sharing body heat.
The hairs on the back of my neck pay close attention.
‘Belle,’ she says, and I realise she’s offering the cigarette. I take it, turning it over in my fingers before I put it to my mouth.
I think of her walking the rows of graves. I think of her lips, a ghost against the paper. I think I can feel her eyes on me now.
I ask, ‘Did you find what you were looking for?’
Hunter’s voice is so close I almost don’t hear her words, ‘I did.’ She takes back the cigarette.
I can’t quite look at her, so I look at the cemetery. Tombs climb into high-rises that loom above the headstones. Roads cut avenues through the lawns, silhouetting street blocks; a city within a city. I watch quietly, because I know her too well to expect an elaboration. In the beginning, I didn’t know what to do with all of her silence. I thought it was awkward, or that I was, but really it’s Hunter waiting for the most impactful moment to reveal what she’d been thinking about. To tell me she’d listened to the band I’d mentioned three weeks ago. To call by chance when I’m breaking down, with nothing particular she’d wanted to say. It’s a timer in her head, counting down to the right second.
When she’s done with the cigarette, Hunter stubs the butt against her shoe and slips it into her pocket.
‘Punks don’t litter,’ she tells me, because she knows I’m about to comment.
I hold up my hands. Then I ask, ‘So, is this what you wanted to show me?’
‘No.’ Hunter stands and offers me her hand.
I let her pull me up and we stagger down the hill. She leads me into the sea of stones, passing cherub sculptures and groves of trees.
‘I was looking up my name.’ Hunter’s eyes fix on the ground as she talks. ‘And I thought to check the cemetery’s website.’
She switches on her phone’s flashlight and the night erupts into clarity. I watch her tread through the overgrown grass. She doesn’t slow, doesn’t check the row or count the columns. All night, I had been imagining she came here on an inevitable whim. That, before collecting me, she’d wandered the paths with headphones in and head tilted up, so Hunter it hurts to think about. But this—the way she’s weaving between spiderwebs and glancing the light off inscriptions—is something else. There are thousands of graves in this cemetery. It’s the largest in the city, in the state—it swallows ten whole blocks—but Hunter knows exactly which row to take.
After a while, she stops in front of a grave. I come up beside her.
She says, ‘There was only one Hunter.’
The headstone is old. It arches from the earth, a single slab of decomposing rock. The lettering’s faded, a barely-there scrawl, but I would recognise our names anywhere.
Isaac Hunter Burnup and Isabella Adam Burnup.
Hunter and Isabella. Hunter and Belle. The only Hunter in the cemetery was married to an Isabella.
‘It’s us,’ Hunter whispers.
I close my eyes. When I open them, she’s all I can see.
Grace is a Brisbane-based writer studying Creative Writing. She is part of ScratchThat Magazine, where some of her own work has appeared. She was included in last year’s Literary Salon Collection, and is currently working on a young adult novel set in the Gold Coast hinterlands. While her writing tends to skip haphazardly across genres, it’s unlikely she’ll ever write something that isn’t a little bit creepy.