Sunday, August 26, 2007

Twenty Eight

That afternoon Will settled in for a nap. Grateful for some unstructured time, Diana saddled her horse and slipped away before anyone could ask what her plans might be.

She rode through the outskirts of town, winding her way to the cemetery road on the same route she had taken that morning. As she approached the rise where she had shot Strecker, she reined in and scanned the weeds at the side of the road. From time to time her gaze drifted toward the shack where she had lain in wait that morning, as if the ghost of an assassin might be watching her. She shrugged off the feeling and kept looking. Finally her eyes lit on a patch of red hidden in a clump of sage behind a chunk of broken concrete. She fished around in the weeds and pulled out a bouquet of roses.

She brushed off the dust and disentangled bits of dry grass from the stems, careful to avoid the thorns. Then she got back on her horse and followed the road to where it terminated in a series of plastered adobe posts. The metal rails and gate had long ago been sold for scrap, and an improvised fence had been made by stringing rope made from the tough fibers of the yucca plant.

There was no gate, so Diana walked her horse through.

It was her first time in a cemetery since she had buried her family, but this valley graveyard was not unlike the one that sat atop a low hill near her Valley Redondo home. Spanish in character, it was colorful with paper flowers and small offerings, pious with crosses and plaster virgins. Rosaries were draped over some of the markers, dull and cracked after years of exposure to the elements.

Uncertain where she was going, Diana dismounted, tethered her horse to a monument, and began walking the rows. Some of the stones were hand-carved, the inscriptions informal and misshapen. Others had been inscribed by machine and had the cold, efficient look of the early years of the century. Many markers had no names at all, and Diana began to fear she wouldn't find the stone she sought.

Finally she located it and immediately wondered how she could have overlooked it, bedecked as it was with flowers, statuary and other colorful offerings. The marker was polished to a high gloss and neatly lettered: Jacinta Matute-Evans. Behind an oval of glass, Diana could make out the fading image of a pretty, dark-haired girl. She looked like a cheerful sort, the type of girl who found a lot to laugh about. Why would she have ratted out a hoarder— someone who only wanted to survive these crazy times, just as she had surely hoped to?

Diana set the roses in a vase of water in front of the picture after removing a bunch of yellow flowers that appeared to have been placed just a day or two before. She laid the old flowers near several other bouquets drying in the sun beside statues of madonnas and friendly-looking woodland creatures. Some envelopes weighted with rocks intrigued her, and Diana selected one at random. The letter inside startled her in its ordinariness, as of a man writing to a living woman he expected to see in a day or two. With a puzzled frown, she placed it back under the rock. She looked at the vast open space all around, then returned her gaze to the smiling girl on the headstone. "Don't tell me he was just a man."

The thoughts that had eluded her that morning washed over her— memories of soldiers herding her family's animals into transport trucks, men setting her home ablaze. She remembered her grandfather tackled and beaten as he ran for the house, her mother dragged away and shot on Strecker's orders. Diana had wanted to go to her, Strecker be damned, but Will had held her close, clamping his hand over her mouth to keep her from screaming. She had fought him so hard it was weeks before the last of the bruises faded, but he had saved her from her worst instincts. When Strecker and his men departed, he took her to Amalia.

Every twisted thing in her life: this crazy career of killing, the hateful parasite growing inside her, and her half-incestuous marriage, could be traced back to that one March day. Diana glared at Jacinta's headstone. "Didn't you realize all the trouble one mistake can cause?" She kicked a ceramic fawn. "We're so stupid. All of us."

With the image of forever-cheerful Jacinta burning in her mind, Diana retraced her steps up the path. The sun was setting, casting blue shadows among the graves. Time seemed to hold its breath as the wind rustled the paper flowers and blew dust to cover the dead. Diana shook herself, grabbed her horse's reins and swung herself into the saddle.


Alice Audrey said...

poignant. But I'm still glad he's dead.

Ann (bunnygirl) said...

Me too, but I like how Diana is starting to realize that we're all human and we're all screwed up in one way or another.

She won't truly heal from what happened in Valle Redondo until she has to go back there (Diana's Diary, about mid-January), but this is a first tentative step.

Alice Audrey said...

Looks like you're sucking me into another series. :)