Such a Guest Is Meet


amato_icon.gif nick_icon.gif

Scene Title Such a Guest Is Meet
Synopsis What is he that builds stronger than either the mason, the shipwright, or the carpenter? … When you are asked this question next, say 'a grave-maker: the houses that he makes last till doomsday.' Amato buries the dead while Nick does the same, lacking a corpse.
Date September 24, 2010

Overgrown Cemetery, Staten Island

The vast graveyard stretches for kilometers, with dark damp soil making everything feel cold as you-know-what. Signs of mass graves, loose soil, and the faint smell of rotting flesh are present around the outer edges, ominously surrounding the original relaxed single-grave style in the center. Many of the old graves have been vandalized or exhumed, leaving many empty six foot deep holes scattered around. Some open holes are still curiously empty, while others have been reorganized into piles of bodies, forgotten and unburied, and still more are just as likely to house the living.

The marble sculptures and tombstones of long ago have been reduced to nondescript lumps of rock, but this doesn't stop people from placing new markers for the deceased — yet it seems futile since none of it will stay. The inhabitants will take whatever stone and scrap metal are left here, using them to build makeshift shelters, or simply reorganizing them to whatever chaotic patterns they worship.

While it might officially be autumn, summer is doing its damndest not to be forgotten, and the late September day is a hot one — not a bad day to be spent outside under blue skies and sunshine. But for the task Nicholas Ruskin has undertaken today, the bright heat seems a little out of theme. A gloomy gray sky would fit the melancholy and solemn mood the young man is in, but the weather is not providing him with the pathetic fallacy of rain clouds.

Rain and gray skies were the norm growing up for Nick and Eileen, and that's yet another reason a darker sky and colder weather would fit the project he has set before himself. Nick is in his usual jeans and t-shirt, kneeling in the grass, having found a small spot of earth beneath a weeping willow. A flat of flowers— poppies and forget-me-nots and thistle and daffodils and rhododendron — sits waiting to be planted, along with a spade and bag of potter's soil against the tree.

A large, angular flat rock serves as a pedestal for a makeshift memorial that Nick is constructing out of somewhat primitive means — Krazy Glue is not the most artistic nor sophisticated means of adhering components of what makes up a sculpture, but Nick is neither very artistic nor sophisticated. On top of the rock, he is arranging a collage of sorts, the main components a very worn and tired looking violin and bow, a pair of small white ballet slippers, and a used book, its hard, thread cover a faded navy blue, of poetry by William Butler Yeats.

This memorial will not last forever — but he is no stonecutter. Perhaps when he is through with this place and not undercover, he will buy her a memorial — somewhere — one with her name on it. She deserves to be remembered — this broken and abandoned cemetery is not the right place for her name to live on — which is one reason Eileen’s name is not engraved anywhere.

Many of the flowers that have been planted in the cemetery this summer have already past their prime, their blooms having already blossomed to gift the dreary place with beauty as well as the local ecology with their bounty. Soon, the unofficial grounds keeper will take it upon himself to keep the place clear of fallen leaves and other such autumnal refuse, but today Amato Salucci is here with a different task - the task of more appropriately burying the dead.

He arrives on horseback, and it's the snort of the mare as he dismounts that announces his presence to the otherwise serenely quiet clearing. He secures the horse at one side of the cemetery so as not to desecrate the holy ground and busies himself with getting the supplies he brought from the saddle bags. A shovel is strapped across the horse's haunches, and once he's donned a pair of sturdy leather gloves and a white breathing mask, he takes it up and starts toward one of the piles of bodies left to rot.

After all, how can one rest in peace when their remains are treated with such disrespect?

Hearing the horse's hooves, Nick rises from his knees and steps behind the tree to survey the landscape of fallen headstones and overgrown grass until his eyes fall on Amato.

He frowns — it seems that their paths are destined to cross and re-cross, but for some reason, he doesn't fear the Italian anymore. He steps out from behind the tree and watches for a moment, before moving back to his task. He kneels down in front of the stone and opens the bottle of glue, spreading the translucent gel along the bottle of the poor violin — though no one was going to play the decrepit instrument ever again. Once the glue has been dotted along the entire backside, he places the instrument against the top of the slab of rock, holding it in place while it dries.

It's when Amato is surveying the empty graves for one that is not marked, or at least, no longer bears a readable one, that he notices Nick in turn. He pauses, studying the figure bent beneath the willow for a moment. There is something to be said for the fact that they are able to exist so near to one another without either of them getting too terribly skittish. So Amato goes back to his work, moving to the pile of bodies to lift the topmost one into his arms.

While Amato may only boast the leanest of muscle, he isn't exactly weak. Still, the dead weight of the corpse is trying, and he grunts with the effort of moving it, cradled in his arms as if it still held a living soul.

There is no good way to lower it into the empty grave, however, and so Amato frowns, his eyes closing as the body drops into the oblong hole with a thud that sends a cloud of dirt rising into the air. He's thankful to begin shovelling earth on top of the body, given how crudely it has landed within. Still - even a partially decayed corpse is better off within it's own bit of the ground than atop a mound of fellows.

The younger man glances up, noticing the struggle between corpse and living, but he's not about to offer his help — one, his shoulder is still healing, and while he's strong in body, hauling more than 100 pounds of dead weight is still just a touch beyond him for a few more weeks yet. He begins to put the glue on the violin's bow next, then lays it across the violin at a diagonal — he's not artistic or creative, not anymore — once upon a time, he used to tell stories to Lee when they were children — but he's seen photographs and paintings, and he has an image in his head of how he wants the finished product to look.

The book is next, and set down beside the violin on the rock, and the shoes last, set in the 5th position, a little homage to the things Eileen loved as children.

There's one thing missing, one thing he couldn't find — a biscuit tin like the one she used to hide her treasures in. They simply don't seem to sell that brand in America.

Truth be told, if Amato lifts another body today - even one as small as the one he just did - he won't be in any decent sort of shape the next day. So he resigns himself to caring for this one vessel as he fills the grave with dirt in a methodic, rhythmic manner. He glances to Nick between every other beat of the shovel hitting the mound of earth, watching him. He still can't see what it is he's doing, but whatever it is is clearly much more involved than picking up a drop or some other blatantly surreptitious activity. Amato may, in the end, say something - but not until the other man has finished.

The flowers are next. The circle around the stone has already been dug, prior to constructing the memorial, and Nick works at planting the mixed variety of flowers, making sure it's not in any particular pattern, mixing the species and colors of the plants so it looks more natural, more like a fairy circle of wildflowers instead of fungus. Potting soil is lifted with a wince, the 50 pound bag pulling at the healing sinew of his shoulder, before he pours it into around each plant. It's a bit haphazard and messy, and the likelihood of these little flowers living long enough to take root and then live after the hibernation brought on by winter is very, very small.

But it's the thought that counts. Right?

Finally, Nick wipes his sweaty face with a tired hand and grabs from a backpack used to haul some of his tools two bottles of water, before striding to where Amato works. Wordlessly he offers one.

The grave Amato picked to work in is by no means a shallow one, and so it's only roughly halfway full when Nick comes toward him. When he holds out the water, Amato sticks the blade of the shovel into the pile of dirt he's been working from to free his hands and take it with a nod of thanks. He twists the cap off and takes a hearty drink, the sweat already beading on his brow and starting to dampen his t-shirt.

It's not the best day to be working out in the sun.

After he's satiated the thirst brought on by labor, Amato nods again, replacing the cap with one gloved hand. "Thank you," he says, the words heavy with breath. It's then that he looks past Nick to the willow, seeing the array of flowers and the cluttered stone they surround. He can't tell from here what all of the objects are, but it's clear enough what Nick was here to do. That alone draws a drier swallow from Amato, coupled with a tightness in his chest that is evident in his eyes. Somewhere, a crow pierces the afternoon sky with its grating cry.

Uncapping his own water, Nick wipes his brow with the hand curled around the cap as he brings the bottle to his lips to drink. Blue eyes glance down into the grave, then back to the piles of bodies, and finally back to Amato, black eyebrows rising above them.

“Seems like a losing battle,” he says quietly in his American accent. The words are not unkind or belittling; instead, they are almost apologetic in tone, for having the gall to find Amato’s efforts futile. “Were you the sexton here or something? Or just self appointed? Don’t get me wrong — it’s a good thing you’re doing but…” But it will continue to be undone by grave robbers, or new bodies will continue to be dumped.

“Perhaps,” Amato says with a slight shrug before he takes another refreshing pull from the bottle, “but it is one well worth fighting.” His own accented voice is muffled by the mask he wears, but not so much that he isn’t intelligible. It’s funny how one drink has you wanting still more, but when he caps the bottle for a second time, he bends to set it against the stone before he takes up the shovel once more.

“It’s funny,” he says with a slight grunt as he levers another shovel-full of dirt onto the blade, “but I have never held any church office. I was never even a real seminarian.” It’s an odd bit of confidence to be shared between Amato and this man he both barely knows and knows all too well. “People are so quick to assume.” The murmured observation comes as the man tips the soil into the grave. “What if it were your shell resting there?” He asks the question with a jerk of his head toward the pile of bodies left to rot in the summer sun, all of which are discolored and maggot ridden. “Would you not want someone to commit your body to a more distinguished rest?”

The younger man turns to look at the pile of bodies, squinting a little in the sun. He’s already a shell, is his initial reaction, but it is not one he voices. He shrugs, and glances back into the grave, brow knit and forehead rumpled, making him appear much older than he is. “I don’t know,” he says with another shrug, blinking at the question he’d never really thought about. “I sorta think that it won’t matter. If there’s anything left after we die, it ain’t gonna be in whatever’s left of our bodies, right?”

He lifts his bottle again to take another swallow before capping it, holding it loosely at his side. “I don’t think I’d deserve it anyway,” Nick adds, finally looking back up at Amato, something grim in his expression, before turning to head back to his supplies. “Good luck,” he adds. He isn’t going to join the man in the futile endeavor, but he seems to respect Amato’s need for it.

It’s not surprising that Nick would be the sort of man who doesn’t believe in the idea that someday, men will be resurrected from the grave to join the Messiah as he walks the earth once more. So Amato keeps those comments to himself as he continues to shovel. “Whatever happens to what makes you you, death renders us all equal, Nicholas,” he calls after the Englishman as he works.

“And whatever your feelings on the matter, I would still ensure your body rested as peacefully as any pope’s.”

Nick strides a few feet away but when Amato’s words reach him, he turns to look at the other man. “The best case scenario for me is no after life, mate. And I’m pretty sure the worms’ll make meat out of me no matter where my final resting place is, unless I’m cremated first.”

He glances to his memorial for “Lee,” and then back to the gravedigger. “I donno if I’ll come back here much, and if I get what I’m here for done, I’ll likely leave the country. Could I…” he pauses, swallowing literally as he swallows his pride, “could I ask maybe if you’d… you know… keep that spot under the tree tidy, if you happen by?”

There’s a good chance that no matter how forgiving God may be, not matter how perfect grace is, that Amato will end up in the same eternity as Nick. And while he’s sure sharing that may bring the other man some measure of comfort and perhaps even a bit of faith, Amato doesn’t mention it. Call it pride. Call it guilt. Call it what you like.

He looks past Nick to the willow tree, his eyes narrowing once again before he nods. “Of course,” he murmurs, as if Nick had asked him to remember to eat on a daily basis. The crow caws again, and a rustle of feathers against the hot air announces its departure from whatever tree it had been resting in. Amato glances skyward, his brows furrowed in thought.

But when he looks back to Nick, he nods once more.


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