He never figured on being back but it looked like fate had other ideas.
If anything the town looked even more decrepit. Only a handful of adobe houses still stood, their walls pitted and blistered by the harsh desert winds while the rest were little more than sagging piles of rubble. A yellow tabby lazed in a minuscule patch of shade, front paws tucked neatly under its chest as it watched him ride by.
The tree was still there, its desiccated husk hard by the remains of the house, its branches splayed as if in surrender to the sun-bleached sky. The house itself seemed smaller somehow. The door was gone as was a sizeable piece of the roof. And the glass; it’d been the only house in town to have a real glass window. The other women sure had been jealous but hadn’t envied her having to put up with the likes of Benvenuto. He didn’t give it a second look as he passed by. There was no need. What’d happened that day was seared into his memory.
He drew rein beside the crumbling wall that flanked the entrance to the graveyard. The pinto shook its head, worrying the bit as it sidled left. He gentled it with a touch and a few softly spoken words. The pinto responded with the flick of an ear and settled with a rueful snort. The good-natured smack he gave it raised a cloud of fine dust from the animal’s coat as he slid from the saddle and dropped the reins.
The ground was crisscrossed with hundreds of tiny fissures, the earth splitting from lack of moisture. Even a tuft of grass would be hard-pressed to find purchase. Grit crunched under his boots as he picked his way between the graves, the soft chime of his spurs overly loud in the silence.
He paused, frowning. This was where she had been buried, he was sure if it but the marker was gone. He had made it himself, fashioning a cross from two pieces of wood. There was no trace of it now. Weathered away he supposed or stolen, the wood put to some other use.
He hunkered down, picking idly among the detritus; a bit of twine, a shard or two of glass, butts from a few cigaretos. Several larger stones were sent skimming across the ground, kicking up dust in their wake followed by a handful of pebbles. One pebble he kept its flecked surface smooth to the touch. He chased it around the palm of his hand with a finger as he stared thoughtfully into the distance.
There was no need for some fancy stone to mark her final resting place he decided. What mattered was he remembered. He remembered them all. Some he had been privileged to call friend. And now there was one less. The news had caught up with him almost a week ago; too late for the funeral. Maybe that was what had drawn him back here after all these years. He’d learned the hard way that with time came healing. Maybe now was time to let go of the hurt and the anger, time to let happier memories replace the bad.
It was hard letting down his guard especially here where it had all happened, where his life had gone from bad to worse in the blink of an eye.
He shifted, dropping onto one knee. The sharp edge of a rock made itself known even through the tough leather of his calzoneras. He ignored it, bowing his head as he leaned forward, dropping the pebble to lay his palm flat against the too warm ground.
They came slowly at first, the memories, almost as if they were testing the waters. Then with a surge they came rushing back, the good mixed with the bad. He opened his heart, his love sifting through the memories. Finding the woman she had been before the disappointments of life had changed her, leaving her hard and brittle, the woman with the flashing eyes and ready smile, the woman who had meant everything to one small mixed-race boy.
In memory of Marlene