The Caretaker – 2

HENRY SALINGER’S HEADSTONE was a slab of rainbow granite lacking any flourish with the exception of two-inch high etched letters indicating that he’d lived from July 1, 1888, until August 23, 1972. Most of this information, as well as Henry’s name, was obscured by caked-in dirt and decaying leaves. I’d walked past his grave dozens of times before making the decision. I knew nothing of Henry Salinger at the time, of course, aside from the fact that, in my estimation, his grave hadn’t been visited in ages. Cleaning the headstone, which, flush with the earth had become nearly eclipsed by grass, proved neither a long nor arduous task.

Over time, I became acquainted with the names of every forgotten resident of the Devonshire Cemetery: Agnes Worthington (1893-1897), Edward Martinez (1891-1998), Carol O’Caffery (1911-1954), and Felix McMahon (1921-1968) to name a few. Devonshire Cemetery was a large, sprawling place with no shortage of occupants or vacancies. I too-often witnessed new arrivals, many of whom who, over time, could also be categorized among the forgotten.

I retired from the orchestra at age sixty. Playing had become an increasingly challenging endeavor in the prior years, and there was little room for a solo violinist who couldn’t perform solos. I later learned that I’d developed Dupuytren’s contracture, an incurable condition that restricts the finger mobility. I continued to play for my own pleasure, or on request during special orchestra events, but otherwise closed the door on my musical career.

The upside of retiring was an influx of free time. I alternated my hours between reading, traveling, and cooking. My daily walks through the cemetery continued unabated, as did my caretaking efforts.

On the night of my 70th birthday, I realized that I’d spent a considerable amount of my life at Devonshire Cemetery. I knew it was where I should be laid to rest upon my death. I soon purchased a plot adjacent to Henry Salinger. This seemed somehow symbolic or poetic, perhaps both. I knew, also, that I’d likely die alone, and I preferred it that way. The last thing I want on my deathbed was to be surrounded by hospice workers offering false promises like “it’s all going to be okay.”