Xenolith, Page 52A. Sparrow
Chapter 44: Pranksters
Before she reached the Oldsmobile, a niggling gnaw made Mrs. Meretz stop and turn. The figures sprawled across the central monument of the roundabout had spooked her terribly, but being startled by strange figures in a cemetery naturally triggered more acute reactions than if it happened in a grocery store. Her mind, occupied with petty frets as she filled her watering can, had filed them away as statues of angels or such, arrayed artfully against the blank facets of granite. But she visited this cemetery often enough to have known better.
Once she overcame her initial shock, Mrs. Meretz’s innate sense of pity reasserted itself. These were victims, not victimizers, all bound up in a daisy chain. Three of the four were girls and petite ones at that, probably illegal immigrants of one sort or another, Mexicans or Salvadorans or whatever kind of Latin immigrants were coming to Connecticut these days.
She ascribed their predicament as the work of pranksters, quite likely emanating from the high school down the road. This very cemetery had suffered an incident last year in which a row of headstones had been knocked over and graffitied, her sister Evelyn’s stone, thankfully, not among them. As they passed through the neighborhoods to reach their informal housekeeping or landscaping jobs, she could see the attractive target they might have posed for a gang of idle and addled delinquents.
Despite her friends’ complaints, high school hooligans were by no means a new fixture on the landscape, spawned by violent movies and video games. She would insist that her friends’ memories were either faulty or selective. She, herself, had witnessed plenty of racial, ethnic and social shenanigans as a schoolgirl in Stamford. Back then the victims were often Puerto Rican, though anyone not conforming sufficiently to the ideals of the day invited abuse. And the abusers were not delimited by class, but included the spawn of salary men and workers of any collar.
As Mrs. Meretz’s overturned watering can dribbled its last across the road, she went to her car and retrieved the grass shears she had brought to trim around Evelyn’s headstone. A patch of chickweed had sprung up ever since she had placed a little white plastic picket fence around it to protect the soft marble from the landscapers’ cord trimmers. Only six months on from Evelyn’s funeral, their trimmers had already chipped its corners. This had prompted her to prepay for her own sturdy granite monument, as she knew no one would tend her grave the way she tended Evelyn’s.
Shears in hand, she walked up to the immigrants, determined to free them. But the sight of her approaching made one of the girls cringe and twitter. The vandals must have traumatized the poor dear.
“Oh, don’t worry, I’m not coming to harm you,” she said, though uncertain whether they understood English. She wasn’t sure whether she found being perceived as a physical threat more amusing or alarming. She patted the shears and waved her hand in an attempt to reassure them. They seemed to understand, and the skittish one relaxed.
There were three women and one man in all, each very young though she could see from their creases, calluses and scars that they had led a rough life. Their wrists were tied up with a pearly-grey, silk cord, of a quality suitable for piping draperies or pillows; expensive to waste on a prank, probably looted from a mother’s sewing kit. She imagined the pranksters coming from one of the giant houses built on tiny lots on the old farmlands on Great Hill, packed together like a herd of elephants around a water hole. She regretted cutting such fine cord, but her arthritis would not allow her to loosen such tight knots. Whoever trussed them up had quite a facility with rope. A Boy Scout or sailor perhaps?
She wondered if the women had been molested, but somehow they didn’t give her that impression. Their clothing seemed intact, if dirty. Their spirits seemed high, not a teary face among them.
She considered calling the police, but worried that the local law enforcement would only add to their torment. She had seen the local cops, on occasion, harassing a black person for no good reason apparently, but for happening to stroll through a neighborhood with residents of a different skin tone.
They were filthy, the poor dears. The young man among them was injured, she imagined from defending the ladies. One girl ran straight for the water spigot, splashing her face and drinking thirstily. They all surrounded her, effusive and grateful for their liberation, bumping their shoulders gently, hugging her. The words spilling from their mouths sounded nothing like Spanish.
In a flash, the celebrations ceased and they scurried off towards the forest. “Wait!” She hadn’t had a chance to offer them something to eat. She had just been to the store, and could have given them a box of tea wafers to take along. They smiled and waved, but kept on going. She watched until they disappeared behind a stone wall and a screen of young maples, before righting her watering can and hobbling to the spigot to refill it.