With a Blue Jug in Her Hand
I lit a cigarette and watched the old woman carry her blue jug through the cemetery gates. Most of them use a plastic bucket, a yellow cloth hanging over the side.
It was the afternoon of November 1st. A Monday, so the town had shut down for a long weekend. A cold sun made the white stucco of the buildings hard to look at. The pizza restaurant, where I was nursing a cold coffee, had been open a couple of months. It was 2 o’clock and I was the only customer, cup-in-hand, cigarette-on-lip, taking cover in the entrance. Franz looked over from the bar and I shook my head. He slammed a glass into a saucer and made himself a café corto. The machine filled the silence in the restaurant and spilled onto the street. The old woman paused with her cloth on the tombstone and shook her head.
How many November 1sts had she walked down the hill to the cemetery? Her jug had looked old: its cracked glaze was visible when I nodded as she passed the entrance to the pizza place. She wore a hat, a once-best coat and some shoes that she had almost polished enough to hide their age. I could still see their shine as she moved around the cemetery, picking up litter that must have blown in from Franz's place and the waste container parked at the end of the street.
Music blared from the speakers inside the restaurant. I looked at Franz and lifted my hands palm up. He turned it off, one of the waitresses must have tuned it to Latino FM the night before. The old German would take hours to find Radio Nostalgia again. He didn’t like the customers to see him in his glasses, especially the women. Franz’s belly and pony-tail didn’t seem to put them off. Still, he owned the restaurant. I wouldn’t have been seen dead in his leather waistcoat, though.
The cigarette-end fizzed in the dregs of my coffee. I held the saucer up and gave Franz the high-sign. He gave half a smile as though he was rationing them for any other customers who might eventually appear. Maybe he knew I had wanted another coffee all along. Anyway, the customer is always right, especially if it’s me. The old woman came out of the cemetery. She looked right at me, her back a little straighter, taking some of the curve out of her dowager’s hump. Then her head turned away sharply, for all the world as if she meant to show exactly what she thought of the guiri watching her private ceremony of remembrance.
She walked up the hill faster than she’d shuffled down it. I wondered if I’d even have a tombstone, much less someone left behind to clean it, once a year.