It was late last Saturday afternoon, and we were headed for a Polish Easter Eve celebration in Greenpoint. It was to be a night of great food, good beer, and soulful Eastern European celebrants.
My lady friend(LF) and I along with the pizza and Chinese delivery guys(aka num and nuts) headed out of our apartment building in Upper Manhattan. We sauntered to our car that was parked a half block away. On my iPod was The Cure song, “Sinking.” I thumbed along with the music on an imaginary Music Man bass guitar that hung just above my knees. “Sinking” is a song that helps me to drown out extraneous noise in my life. It has a way of pulling me into “a moment”. Plus the bass line is fantissimo.
,(The Cure – “Sinking” Live in Orange)
“I’m starvin’ like Marvin!” I said as I jumped behind the wheel of our Camry and threw it into drive. I checked for traffic in the rear view mirror and raised my brows in surprise. Planted in the back seat between num and nuts was Benny, “the cigar store Indian.” I had been the last one out of the apartment, maybe twenty feet behind my three roommates, and didn’t see him get in. Though by habit I had avoided sight of num and nuts, who both had their hair slicked back and wore flare-leg slacks and open-necked silk shirts. To their credit, they exuded style and cool. It’s something they practice in front of a full length mirror in their room.
For a few blocks, I said nothing to my LF, who was in the passenger seat typing messages on her phone. She had her hair up and wore a choker necklace with a diamond cross. She looked virginal, almost beyond reproach.
In the rear view mirror, I saw Benny’s eyes gleam as he diverted his gaze from mine. The old homeless man knew with my LF in the car, I was virtually emasculated.
It occurred to me that he might have the key to our car as he holds such sway over my LF’s better judgment.
Alas, I leaned aside to my LF and puckered like I had sucked on a lemon. “In case you haven’t notice,” I said tenderly, and gave a reverse nod to Benny, “we have a flaming pink elephant in the back seat.”
“We’re going to stop at Calvary on the way,” she said in a tone that suggested it was a supermarket and not a cemetery.
I bit my lower lip. “Anyone have any dead relatives buried in Calvary?” I asked, scanning the faces of the three bananas in the rear view mirror. I got wacky stares from num and nuts. They seemed to consider it. I turned to my LF. “Are you sure you’re not mistaken, there is absoooo-loooot-ely no reason we need to go to a cemetery, especially on the day before Easter when our presence might be considered a slight on J.C.”
“Joe, it’s on the way,” my LF said sweetly, while she reached over and scratched my dome. She does that to get her way. I’m worse than a dog.
I pointed at Benny in the rear view mirror, my face flush and jaw locked so I wouldn’t smile. “You’re lucky she’s here,” I said, mad that it was the third time I had to drive Benny to Calvary, so he could talk to the odd ghost. “Next time, drive you straight into the river.”
Benny gave a casual, gap-toothed smile. A joyous light was in his eyes. I grinded my teeth.
(Calvary Front Gates – Photos by Joe)
I did a U-turn out front of Calvary’s wrought iron fencing and steered to a stop at the curb.
“Could you drive in?” Benny asked.
I stared at the steering wheel for a full moment before I put the Camry back in drive.
The cemetery road was covered in the early evening shadows from clusters of tall monuments. The place sort of looked like a miniature city, replete with solid granite and marble skyscrapers, topped with innumerable crosses, angels, cherubs, Virgins, and Christs.
Benny leaned forward and told me to stop.
Dressed in an old but clean suit of clothes, Benny looked more like an elderly gent from the 1920’s than a homeless man with clairvoyant powers. The light in his eyes showed an inquisitive and excited nature. In the past, his face has never conveyed the burden of age, which, for someone who says he’s lived more than one life, is good, I guess.
There was a jump in the old homeless man’s step as he went off on his little excursion to find his “friend.” He waltzed up a cement sidewalk between the graves, abruptly turned to his right and strode on the grass between the rows. He raised a hand and grinned. It looked like he was about to greet someone who stood in his empty path.
The four of us leaned against the car and waited. Num and nuts hovered close to my LF. They had a lively chat, or so it seemed by all the noise they made. I didn’t listen to a single word. My stomach emitted what seemed like a symphony of hunger pangs and groans.
Benny’s slight frame was partially hidden by a succession of graves. By the way his mouth moved, he seemed deep in conversation. If he spoke with a ghost, I didn’t see it. As a matter of fact, there wasn’t even a vague shadow–that could be attributed to spirit matter–over the entire cemetery. The place looked spiritually bereft. And it was the gloaming, too.
I pulled my camera from the sleeve and checked to see where the mourners were located. I didn’t want anyone to see me taking photos. It was bad enough that I had brought Benny to violate their space. Except for a woman who was nearby, the cemetery looked closed.
Ten minutes later the old homeless man strolled back to us with a smile. Such a sacrilege in itself. Worse. He stopped to say a few words to the lone mourner. It was an elderly woman who didn’t acknowledge him with either a motion or gesture. Her head and shoulders hung in such a manner that she gave off an air of deep depression. I couldn’t blame Benny, that is, if he was trying to comfort her.
She made the sign of the cross and kissed her thumbnail. She hung rosary beads over a small wicker cross in front of the grave. Benny stepped closer and she turned her face in what could have been fear or anger.
When Benny didn’t pull away, I made a beeline to him. My feet thudded on the grass. I eyed the old homeless man’s neck and clenched my fist.
Just as I arrived the woman draped her open hand down to the grave. There was a large granite slab that ran perpendicular to the headstone’s base. Benny knelt down and dug at the side of the slab with his cupped hand. He pulled away the earth like he was about to plant flowers. I was apoplectic.
Benny looked up with half-moon brows and a touch of sorrow in his eyes. I took a step back. The inscription on the tombstone read:
John 1939-1999, Father Margaret 1940—-, Wife
Robert 1964-1984, Son
“Robert does it out of hunger,” the woman said, whom I guessed must have been Margaret. She had unkempt gray hair and wrinkled white skin that was freckled and liver-spotted. She looked approximately 70-years-old, as she would be given the date etched on the stone.
I put my hand on Benny’s elbow and helped him up. “Time to go, old man,” I whispered.
Back on his feet, Benny held his ground.
“My son is a–” Margaret said, and cupped her mouth. Her eyes were tragic.
“Benny,” I said, and tugged on his elbow. “It’s getting late.”
Margaret raised both her hands and held them about her cheeks. “My son is a vampire!” she said breathlessly.
I rolled my eyes, too pained with hunger to put up with any more nonsense. I also might have cursed, but that was under my breath. (I believe in loads of crap, but not vampires.)
All of a sudden, it got much darker and the three of us turned away from the grave. Over the top of the small buildings that sit across the street from the cemetery, I caught the last rays of the dying sun. Like a last breath . . .
The light of day quickly withdrew as if it was sucked up into the night. I can’t say why, but I immediately turned back to the grave. It was just in time to see what looked like a mouse push out of the loose dirt next to the slab. But it wasn’t a mouse.
It was blackened fingers and they stretched through the earth.
“We really, really, have to go,” I cried and pulled Benny hard enough so that he stumbled along side me. A few steps later he tried to look back at the grave. I jerked his arm, so he wouldn’t see the hand that had now risen up beyond the wrist.
In our path were num and nuts. Both were aghast with their mouths fixed open. Their eyes looked like someone was *tickling their privates. One began to groan, and then so did the other. My eyes darted to the nearest marble Jesus, and I prayed they wouldn’t scream . . .
*I’m sorry for that description, but as readers of my blog know, those two guys are totally whacked.
Here are all the posts in this series: Episode Twenty-Eight – April/May 2010 – “Something to do with Vampires”