There's a cemetery near my apartment. I go there on Sunday mornings to ponder my lonely life. It's a quiet place where my private thoughts are seldom interrupted. I like to climb to the high ground, and sit on a park bench to watch squirrels race up and down the trees. Occasionally, a couple of kids come to the cemetery to make out. I watch them, envy them, really. They are unaware that I'm watching. I always wait until they head off in one direction or the other before descend the hillside.
Sometimes I cut through the cemetery on my way to and from a running track. One evening recently, I was returning home after my run. It must have been after nine PM because that is when they turn out the lights. As I jogged along, I heard the fall leaves rustle under my feet.
An owl hooted. It sounded nearby, too near to be coming from the trees high on the hillside. Then, a kid I recognized from my building darted in front of me. I lost sight of him in the shadows.
That's strange, I thought, a kid his age should be home this time of night. I didn't know his name, or which apartment he lived in. I'd only seen him around.
The following Sunday, I was sitting on my park bench, watching the squirrels gather nuts for the winter. It was cool day, and there was the hint of snow in the air. The young couple was down below, making out as usual, unaware that they were being watched. The girl slapped the boy's hand, blushed, and threw her arms around his neck, giving him permission to keep his hands inside her jacket and fondle her breasts.
A mournful wail startled the couple. They looked alarmed, and took off down the path, running, hand in hand. The wail became a despondent cry. I had to stand on the bench to see the man. He was on his hands and knees, not more than ten yards away, crying like a child. He reminded me of myself, eighteen months ago, right after my wife died.
I decided to try to see what I could do to comfort him.
"Excuse me, Sir," I said, when I was ten or twelve feet away from where he was kneeling on the ground. I had no right to enter his private space if he didn't want me there.
He looked up, peered at me through tearstained eyes, and cried out, "Look what they've done."
This was clearly an invitation for me to move closer in order to see what he was pointing to.
The stone was on its side, and one corner had been broken off. Otherwise, the inscription was still readable: Patricia Buttes, October 14, 1907- June 16, 1958.
"They've desecrated my mother's grave. What would make them want to do such a thing?"
A thought hit me, what if Nancy's stone had suffered a similar fate? I ran the thirty yards, found that my late wife's burial place was undisturbed, and went back to where the man had gotten to his feet.
He looked to be in his early sixties. There were specks of grey in his mustache, and his hair was thinning, almost white.
I looked around to see if other stones had been pushed over, and saw that Patricia's was the only one.
"Have you reported this to the police?" I asked.
"Harold Buttes," he said, extending his hand. His face still showed signs of his recent crying spell, but I could tell that talking to me was helping him recover.
"Jason Crabtree," I said as we shook hands.
"I only found it just now," he said. "I doubt if it would do any good to tell the police. They don't have manpower to station an officer out here at night."
"How do you know it happened at night?" I asked.
"I don't know when it happened. I should come more often, it's been months."
For a second, I thought he was going to start bawling again. I tried to divert his thinking by assuring him that the stone could be repaired, and restored to near its original condition.
Harold Buttes was doubtful, declaring that, "They'll just do it again."
The sound of rustling leaves drew my attention to the path below. The same kid was there, looking up at us.
"Hey, kid," I called, running down the hillside, wanting to talk to him. Had the hooting owl sound been made by him, to warn the vandals that someone was coming? This seemed like the same place I'd heard it.
He saw me running, and took off. He was fast, but not as fast as I was, and it wasn't dark this time. There was no place for him to hide in the shadows. I caught up with him about fifty feet down the path. He was breathing hard when I pulled him to a stop and scooped him off his feet.
"What's your name?"
He wouldn't tell me.
"How old are you?"
"Ten," he said, struggling to get free. I was no judge of boys' ages, but I knew he didn't weigh enough to be ten years old.
"You're lying. What were you doing in the cemetery the other night?"
"I wasn't doing nothing."
"It was too late for a boy your age to be out alone. Who were you with?"
"I was by myself," he said, begrudgingly, still trying to fight for his freedom. The little bastard tried to kick me. I picked him us by the coat collar and spun him around, so he was kicking the air.
"Don't kick me," I warned. "I'll take you over my knee."
"You wouldn't dare. My old man would kick your ass. Let me go."
"Is he at home? We'll go see him. Where do you live?"
The kid wouldn't tell me where he lived. I marched him in the direction of the apartment building where I lived, prodding him to tell me where he lived with every step.
I'd knocked on every door on the first floor, asking the occupants if they knew where the kid lived. A lady told me to check the third floor. "What's he done?" she asked.
"I ain't done nothing," the kid spat out.
"That's right. There's no proof that he's done anything wrong. I need to find his parents before I take him to the police for questioning."
The mention of the police made the kid squirm even harder. I had to put both hands on his shoulders to make him see that he couldn't get away.
We got to the third floor, but he was going to make it hard for me. He wouldn't tell me which apartment was his. It didn't take me long to find out. The lady that answered the first door that I knocked on pointed across the hall. "They live over there," she said.
The girl that answered the door didn't look old enough to be the boy's mother. There was sheen to her dark hair, and her eyes glistened, like she had been crying. Maybe she was older than I first thought. She was wearing a short sleeved T-shirt that accented her tits.
"What's this about?" she asked.
"Is your husband at home? I need to talk to him about your son's recent activities."
She pulled the boy to her, and I released my hold on him.
"What's he done?" she asked, avoiding my question regarding her husband. The kid looked up at me, tauntingly, like he was safe in his mother's arms.
I could see from the way she was protecting her son that telling her my suspicion about him warning older boys with the owl call would be a waste of my time. Really, I had nothing conclusive about his involvement in the vandalism.
I made sure that she saw me making a mental note of the apartment number before I tipped my cap. "I'm in apartment 2-G, in case your husband wants to hear what I have to tell him," I said, and turned to leave.
"He didn't do nothing," she called after me.
I went downstairs to the lobby and checked the name on mailbox 3-C. It read 'Ramos.'
Over the next few days, I watched Mrs. Ramos and her son come and go from the apartment building. Even with the winter jacket she wore, the way her ass was poured in her tight jeans was enough to make me hard. I couldn't take my mind off the way her breasts filled out the T-shirt.
I waited all week for a visit from Mr. Ramos, but he never showed up.
On Sunday, I visited Nancy's grave, making sure it had not been disturbed before I walked by Patricia Buttes burial place. The stone had been reset, and the chipped corner had been repaired.
Satisfied, I took up my position on the park bench, watching the squirrels scamper from tree to tree, while waiting for the young couple.
I didn't have to wait long. They looked to where the crying sound had come from the previous week before beginning to neck. It occurred to me that they stood in that particular spot on the path so they could watch both directions for other visitors to the cemetery. Was that the reason the kid had been in the same spot the night he made the owl's sound? He'd heard me coming before I spotted him.
The boy had the girl's jacket open, and his hands were cupping her breasts. She stopped him when he tried to put his hands under the sweater. I felt sorry for them. Was the cemetery the only place they could come to be alone? It reminded me of some of my experiences when I was a teenager. The fall and winter were the worst times of the year. Summer was better; less clothes and more places to hide. I waited until they left before I trudged back to my apartment.
I was making myself a sandwich when I heard a light tap on my door.
"You're never home. I've been here several times to see you," Mrs. Ramos said, stepping inside without being invited. She was wearing the same T-shirt and jeans that I'd seen the previous Sunday, only today, she wore a hint of lip gloss, and her dark hair was up, layered on top of her head. Her eyes were wide as she looked around my apartment.
"I've been here," I said, thinking of the times I'd watched her and the boy from my window. "What did you want to see me about, Mrs. Ramos?"
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