I went into the house and put the skull into the small freezer we keep in the boot room. The boot room, aka mud room, is a small utility area off the side entrance that still bears walls that were original when the two room schoolhouse that forms the interior of our house was hauled to the lot 160 years ago. I wrapped the skull in tin foil. I know, that’s what crazy people do, make hats out of tin foil to keep the aliens from screwing with their brain waves and that thought was certainly in the back of my mind. Mostly I didn’t want to get dirt on the other stuff I store there. I have a great friend who’s a hunter who kills birds, deer, and other creatures and brings them to me. His wife doesn’t like to cook them. I freeze them and cook them in the dead — emphasis on the ‘dead’ — of winter. If you’re having dinner here, be careful that you don’t bite down on a piece of lead shot and break a tooth.
Why the freezer? I have no idea. I don’t own a safe, and it seemed like a good idea to isolate this artifact. There is a certain aura around a skull, a real one. Danger? Yes. It cannot be denied.
“You drive,” I said when I was back outside. “He knows my car.”
“He?” Mark asked.
“You know, the cop.”
He nodded, resigned. I watched him walk across the neighbor’s lawn and climb into his Volvo station wagon. Here he had just bailed me out of one bizarre adventure, and he was now volunteering to head into another. A good pal. I stood by the side of Warner lane, the gravel road that runs beside my house, listening to the wail, the crying in my ears and head. Ada, oh so sad, will it never go away, will you never have peace?
I gathered up my Weaver Street Market tote bag full of old bones. I hoped my backpack with the shovel was still where I left it, stashed underneath a bush in the cemetery.
Mark pulled up, and I asked him to drive me to the Nash Street Tavern and drop me off. He pulled into the parking lot, which was empty because it was Sunday night and all the businesses were closed. I was hoping that meant that the police wouldn’t be patrolling the area as assiduously as they did on a normal night. I didn’t want to be seen sitting here if they did roll by, and I didn’t want Mark involved. But I couldn’t drive my own car and leave it in the lot; he knew my car. The cop.
“I’ll get out and walk over to the cemetery. The site is down at the end of the grounds nearest to where we are.” I realized the dome light was going to go on when I opened the door, but there was nothing I could do about that now. “I don’t know how long this will take. I already have the hole dug. If nothing goes wrong I should be able to bury the bones and get out of there in fifteen or twenty minutes.” I hated to say those words, ‘if nothing goes wrong,’ because that’s always where everything goes to hell in most narratives like this one.
“What do you want me to do?”
“When I get into that stand of trees,” I pointed at the copse of trees and bushes at the far side of the parking lot, “pull out and drive around a couple of blocks for at least fifteen minutes then come back and circle the block. Look for me at the farther end of the property, up on the northeast corner. Pick me up there.”
He nodded. I could see him in the glow of the dashboard lights. He looked pale and apprehensive. Which was normal; I’m sure I looked the same. Stick to the plan. There wasn’t anything more to say, so I opened the door and swung out, taking my bag of bones with me. I closed the door quietly and trotted across the dark lot. As far as I could tell, I was alone other than Mark sitting in his car. I turned back and watched as he pulled away and drove up the street.
I had done this before, so I more or less traced my route of several nights ago. Two nights: it seemed like a lot more time had passed than that. I was exposed under the streetlight for a few seconds and then I was into the darkness. I stopped, oriented myself and skirted the low wrought-iron fence that penned in the few remaining gravestones. I made it to the burial site and put down the bag of bones. Ada’s sad tune was still singing in my ears, louder than ever. I turned and walked to where I hoped the pack was and knelt. It was further back than I thought it would be, which gave me a moment’s pang, then I touched the pack, got my fingers hooked in the back strap and pulled it free. I was running on adrenaline and instinct now, trying not to think.
Shovel out, blade snapped into place: done. I scraped the brush covering off the hole, working more by feel than sight. I made a few digs into the ground and it felt like just how I had left it. I got down on my knees and pulled the bag of bones into the hole and dumped them out. They fell in with a dry clackety sound, but I knew it wasn’t loud enough to rouse anyone in the area. I tried to straighten the pile, to align the long bones so they were parallel, but I don’t imagine I was accomplishing much. I could hardly think for the keening in my head.
I knew where the pile of dirt I had removed from the ground was, to the right of the hole, and I tried to dig the shovel blade into it, but I was still on my knees and couldn’t put any weight behind it. So I began scraping with the shovel, moving the dirt over atop the bones. After a few tries, I picked up a rhythm and I could feel and hear the dirt going into the hole.
After I was well into it, I noticed that the keening in my head was being muffled with each shovel of dirt.
Less. More dirt.
Less. More dirt.
I threw the shovel to the side and scraped the soft earth with my hands, tamping it down, scraping, tamping, gasping for breath.
Until it was gone. The keening. It faded out like the signal on an old-fashioned radio when you killed the power. Reduced to a dot of sound, then blinking off.
I felt a hand on my shoulder.
“Good.” A quiet voice. “You’ve done well.”
I’m not sure what stopped me from screaming. Maybe it was because I knew the voice and had been expecting it sometime, maybe not right then, but sometime.
Rafe. Raphael. My first thought was Where the fuck have you been? Do you know what I have been going through? My second thought was: he does know what I’ve been going through. But did I forgive him? Not then. Not yet.
The hand pressed down harder on my shoulder in warning. I peered through the tangle of brush out at the street. Nothing, and then a cop car slid into place at the curb and stopped. I felt my breath catch and hold. The steady pressure of the hand didn’t let up.
I could see into the car’s interior through the brush, but not clearly. There was a figure, bathed in the same green light as before, and while I wouldn’t swear it was him — the cop — it was him. It appeared as if he was speaking into his radio, but I heard nothing. Maybe he was writing in his little book. He was doing something in there. I was pretty sure my name was involved. His face twisted toward me, us, and I could feel him looking. Did he see? I have no idea.
He drove off.
“Get your kit together,” Rafe said. I wasn’t quite ready to talk to him, or maybe I just didn’t know what to say, so I kept my mouth shut and gathered up the shovel, released the blade, folded it against the handle and stowed it in the backpack.
“I’ll meet you at the house,” Rafe said, and moved off before I had the wits to respond. He was into the darkness and gone, quickly.
I made my way across the acre of cemetery to the far northeast corner where I crouched down in the shadows to wait for Mark. In a few minutes I saw headlights and then the Volvo as it pulled up and stopped in the street. I could hear his engine ticking as it turned over. Needs a valve job, I thought, old Volvos…and just as I stood up, more headlights and the cop car slid up behind Mark, silent, like a shark behind prey. I froze.
The cop climbed out of his car and situated his gear – gun, flashlight, baton – on his belt, walked beside the rear of the Volvo and touched the brake light as he passed, arrived at the driver’s side door, crouched down and spoke to Mark, just murmurs to me. After a couple of back-and-forths, he stood up and walked back to his car. He paused at his door and looked over the top straight at where I was crouching in the shadows, hidden the way a child puts his hands over his face and thinks himself unseen, and this time there was no doubt in my mind that he saw me before, crouching over Ada’s grave, and he smiled and it was the smile on the skull back in the freezer, the smile we know from pictures we’ve seen, bad old movies watched late at night, the smile we know from all our nightmares, the one that will freeze your blood, stop your heart, this smile from the grave, the one that speaks without words and tells you that this is not over, that you may have stilled one voice, yes, good for you, little man, good-night, Ada, but this – it – this dance, this crawl, this hiding, this struggle is not over.
There is more to come.
Did he laugh? Not out loud.
But I could hear it, in my head. No, this was not over.
Yes, there was more to come.