Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Folklorist: "Cemetery"

The dog and I seem to be on a roll of misadventures. The cemetery near us prohibits dogs, even on leash, so we don’t go there. Unless it’s dark. The guard locks the gate weeknights around seven. So when, on our evening walk, we found the gate open at nine, we thought – or I thought, not sure the dog gave it much of a thought – that the guard had forgotten. We entered.

People don’t often think of cemeteries this way, but they’re parks, free spaces. Instead of swing sets they’ve got granite and marble blocks of stone scattered around like chess pieces.

And souls.

Our cemetery is bigger than a lot of parks, full of old trees, mainly oaks, but a few interesting exotics, such as ginkgos, yellow amidst the dark green, and Japanese maples, like clouds at sunset.

The entrance is near the crest of a hill and the cemetery rises over the top and then rolls down to a creek. The road winds around and circles back a couple of places creating a series of terraces. The cemetery is called Riverside. The creek at the bottom is not the river. The river is a quarter mile away.

The dog ran amid the stones. She likes the cemetery. All sorts of new odors. I strolled along the lane, looking up at tree tops silhouetted against the night sky.

We’d been inside all of fifteen minutes when I saw the flashing light atop the guard’s truck. Yellow, like a construction vehicle. I don’t know why he had the light on except as a warning for people to clear out.

Shit, I thought. The fine for a dog is fifty bucks.

I called, she came, and the two of us crouched behind a large granite stone. I couldn’t make out the name in the dark. When the truck passed, we ran toward the front gate, military style, half crouching. Not an easy way to run.

The flashing lights swung around along the next tier, and we crouched again, this time behind a mausoleum. I think that’s what you call it: a stone box above ground for folks fearful of underground storage. It was just my luck that when I looked to see if the coast was clear the guard’s jack light scanned the hill where we were, caught my face, and held it.

I ducked back behind and heard the truck turn and head our way. The dog was back on leash. We hobbled off at a diagonal, staying away from the road.

None of this made any sense. Avoiding a fifty dollar fine wasn’t worth a heart attack. But something about the scene provoked teenage excitement in my old soul. It was more fun to run than take my lumps.

And the dog was into it. She probably had no idea what we were doing, but it was different and involved running, and I could see her looking up at me, mouth open, tongue out, smiling – well, I saw her doing that once, when the spotlight played across us. She was smiling then. I suppose she was smiling the whole time.

Then she started to bark.

I crouched with her behind one of the stones and held her mouth shut. I didn’t think the guard would like any sign of aggression, even if it wasn’t aggression but excitement.

The yellow lights pulled around the lane above, the spot light panning the grave stones for movement. We scooted around to the other side of the stone and kept low. When the light passed, we cut a diagonal deeper into the cemetery.

I saw the flashing yellow lights coming back around. We ducked behind another stone and waited.

What saved us, I think, was the guard didn’t want to get out of his truck. He probably didn’t care that much about us being there. He crisscrossed the lanes several times, we stayed away from the road, and after a last pan of the spot light, he turned left at the intersection and rolled toward the gate. Maybe he thought we’d left.

I listened to the truck roll away and saw its light round a bend near the top of the hill. We waited, listened. He stopped at the gate. I suppose he locked it. We didn’t check. We know an opening in the fence at the other end, down by the community center, which has a ball field just outside the cemetery, and we dropped down to the opening and walked home that way.

Back at the house, the excitement was worth a finger of scotch for me and a cube of cheese for the dog.

No comments: