This stone carved like two hearts is William Roberts and Little Loy – now, there’s a story. And don’t a living soul know it but me. Tell you? Well, I reckon hit don’t matter – ain’t no one left in these parts what knew those two.
So I stepped into the bedroom. They was side by side in the big bed, holding hands like a courting couple. William was breathing heavy and it was clear to me he was on his way out and Loy didn't look much better, But there was something about them that put me in mind of two people off on a journey together -- unsure of what lay ahead but happy in knowing they was together.
Little Loy opened her eyes and beckoned me to her.
Honey, says I, is there something I can do for you?
She nodded her head and whispered, Birdie, I told the doctor I wanted you to be the one to lay us out. We don't want to go to the funeral home, The young uns are here and they'll see to the burying. But I want it to be you and no one else who washes and dresses us-
And she took a coughing spell and I promised her I would do like she wanted. I tried to tell her that she could get better but I knew that weren't the case. The two of them had their feet on the road . . . Just remember, she said as I took my leave, you and you alone. You'll understand. . .
Well, I didn't, not then. But I had done my share of laying out the dead. Back then the law weren't so hicky about autopsies and embalming and such. And I was happy to do it for old friends like Loy and William. . .
So when I got a message the next day that they was both gone, I put together a basket with some of the things I'd need and hurried over to their place. The young uns was all tore up but they was happy to leave me to my work.
It was early winter and the bedroom window was cracked open to keep the room cool. Them two was still holding hands and they looked so peaceful that I most had to smile.
Then I set about my work. Ladies first, says I and took Loy's hand loose from William's so I could get her nightdress off and wash her before putting her into the dress the young uns had chosen to bury her in.
It's the last thing we can do for our dead before they're buried and it can be a kind of holy thing, washing them careful and particular. I wept a little, thinking how I was going to miss my old friends, and I got Loy all fixed with her pretty lavender dress on and her white hair brushed smooth and then I begun on William.
I got his pajama shirt off and was surprised to find a bandage round his chest. Sometimes folks cough so hard that they can crack a rib and I figured that was what had happened. Then I went to pull off the pajama bottoms. Oh, my heavens! I cried out.
You all right, Miss Birdie? one of the young uns called from the front room.
Just fine, honey, says I, unwrapping the bandage. It was just that I . . . stubbed my toe on the bedstead is all. I'll have your folks all ready in a few more minutes.
Lizzie Beth, I had told a flat lie. For what had startled me wasn't no stubbed toe. It was William Roberts laying there -- And William was a woman.
As I bathed and dressed William Roberts' corpse, I marveled at how those two had kept this secret all these years. And wondered how I would manage to keep it myself.
And now I've told you. But you'll not tell it around. And like I said, ain't no one living that remembers them. Their young uns came back for Decoration Day for quite a few years after that but then they got old and we didn't see no more of them.
I'll leave this piece here for William -- or whatever her name really was -- and Little Loy. Whatever they were, they was the lovingest pair I ever did see.