by Benjamin Alvarado
The two caretakers saw him drive slowly in the grey beetle. They sat in the cart as he passed by them, backfiring smoke into the Elder trees that moved faintly in the wind and shaded the graves. Most visitors departed but few lingered to admire the anomalous tombstone. They calculated the old man’s arrival and many took pictures before he appeared. The tombstone was made of granite and designed like a bar with two concrete stools. He stepped out of the car in the usual painful demeanor and limped lamely to the stool, staying in balance with a cane.
“Who is he?” the young caretaker asked the older one.
“One drunk, old man.”
“Does he just sit there and do nothing?”
They drove the cart down the narrow, one-way street. A young couple walked away toward the exit gate holding hands as the girl wiped tears from her eyes and a man sat on the grass in front of a grave. It was an old cemetery and many graves were abandoned. There were two freshly dug graves under green canopies near the old man and a backhoe. They parked behind the beetle.
“I told you to wait. Let the man mourn.”
The man pulled a cigar from his pocket and lit it. He then placed a transistor radio on the countertop and tuned it low to classical music.
“He looks like a hobo.”
“Stop critiquing. He was a surgeon. He has more money than you and I ever will in our lifetime. He has class.”
“How do you know?”
“He advertised his services on a billboard near the hospital. Didn’t you ever see it? It was there for years. Dr. Clandestino.”
“I may have seen the billboard. If he were clean-shaven maybe I’d recognize him. What’s his sorrow?”
“Death. What else?”
“The death of a family member?”
“No, he never mentions them.”
“If I was rich I wouldn’t be driving a piece of junk like that.”
“Perhaps he doesn’t care. Luxuries are just to show the world that you have money. Have you seen his shoes?”
“He’s wearing sandals and socks.”
“A pair of sandals gives him the comfort he desires. I heard he has made a request to be buried barefoot.”
The old man raised his right hand. He pulled a shot glass from his pocket and tapped it over the countertop.
“No beer today, no mug” said the old caretaker. “Some men enjoy paying a high price to rush death. It is the only thing worth paying for. It gives you power over mortality and it’s more gratifying than dying gradually and painfully. The man enjoys this particular expense. Lets go to the liquor store and get the man a bottle of the best whiskey.”
“The police will arrest him.”
“They won’t. The man has significant connections.”
“I will retire in two weeks. This job is yours.”
“What’s your cause for retiring?”
“Health issues, son. It is my liver.”
They met Harley at the parking lot of the liquor store across the street. His gray beard ran down to his chest and he wore a hat with a rattlesnake band.
Harley was belting his teenage daughter near the dumpster. She was bleeding from the corner of her lip as she ran to the back of the store. No one saw her again.
Both caretakers stood by the entrance where Firulais, Harley’s dog, lay under the doorsteps. She had been ill for weeks; she died four days later.
“Harley, you crazy son of a bitch!” the old caretaker said laughing. “Was she stealing beer from you again?”
He brushed the blood from the palm of his hand on the store wall. “I’m removing her from the testament and this time it’s for good,” Harley said, slamming the door open. “What do you need?”
The store had wooden floors that squeaked, shelves full of merchandise, and a bubble gum machine by the exit,
He made a gesture with his eyes toward the cemetery. “A bottle of the best whiskey, a small container of ice, and a glass for Clandestino. Place it in his bill.”
“And who is this other guy?” Harley asked.
He put an arm around the young man. “This is my replacement. He’s a good kid. Today is his first day.”
“I predict he resigns in two months. This kid is not built for hard work. He is ruined.” Harley said, frowning. “How old are you? Eighteen?”
The young caretaker looked at the other.
“Grow a beard or a mustache. That should earn you respect.” Harley grabbed the items from a shelf and put them in a paper bag. “Here, tell him there is no charge. The medication worked. My back is better.”
Both caretakers sat quietly inside the cart. Dr. Clandestino sat barefoot; both elbows on the counter, gazing at the cars vanish in the distance of the road. The music continued to play.
“Is he going to come and get it?”
“I take it to him.”
“Do you drink with him?”
“Only on Saturdays. Great company is seldom,” the old caretaker said. “Drive the cart into the garage and connect it to the charger. You can go home now.”
He wiped the top with the long sleeve of his shirt, sat on the stool, arranged both glasses on the countertop with two ice cubes, and poured the whiskey.
“A tip for my treasured friend,” Dr. Clandestino said. He aimed to put money in the pocket of the caretaker’s shirt but as always the caretaker receded. “Gracias. Your empathy is appreciated. How bad is the jaundice?”
“My eyes are like suns.”
“I’d say about two months. Yours?”
“I’d say about one. I can hardly walk.”
“How much have you drunk today?”
“Almost half a bottle of whiskey.”
“Good for you.”
“Serve two more drinks. The sun is setting.”
The caretaker poured two drinks.
“What will the epitaph read? Any intimate quotes?”
“No, only my name, birthdate, and deceased date. No one cares. It will be on the countertop. I can assure you my associates will have nothing indecent to say. Hypocrites! It will save me money on the inscription and with that I will bequeath you a bottle of the finest cognac. Will you continue to come and drink with me when I’m buried? You know the additional stool is for you. Bring a guest, remember that great company is seldom.”
He smoked the cigar. “Pour two more.”
“Definitely. My eye lids are weakening.”
They drank until after sunset, dissolving in the nightfall.