Elena Arbizu has had seventy years to sink into herself like a nesting doll. She waddles through her graveyard three times a day: in the morning to unlock the gates, at night to lock them, and some time in the middle to inspect the graves. Spanish graves are marked with grand statues and ornate sheds, and the miniature city of marble and plaster seems to grow up around Elena as her bones settle and shrink. Some day they will reach the sun.
Elena has worked in the graveyard since she was a girl, and now her granddaughter Adriana works here too. They don’t do much unless there’s a corpse to prepare for burial, and more and more of that is done by private contractors anyway. Mostly they just sweep the graves or knit scarves in the shack by the gates. Elena wears a blue shawl and a white blouse almost every day, so that even the graves with no flowers will have a little color as she walks by. She knows the names of those who visit faithfully, and they know her. Up until recently she took it upon herself to gently guide the grieving out of the graveyard, but her knees and her voice are going, and she finds it difficult to come up with some of the right words now. It’s as if she can see them in the air in front of her, but she can’t read them, and the last time she tried to comfort a young college boy at his father’s mausoleum the words became so difficult to find that she was reduced to tears. He thought she was crying with him and thanked her, but she has had Adriana handle the job ever since. She has a feeling that her granddaughter has a think for the boy anyway.
But as old as she gets, and as much as her joints creak, Elena refuses to give up her midday walk among the markers. She takes her cane and a thermos full of gazpacho and she says hello to the dead. She sees the names of people she knew, people whose children she knows, people whose names she heard spoken when she herself was a child. Each family shares a mausoleum, with size appropriate to wealth, and each day Elena ends her walk at her own family’s tiny mausoleum. Every day the roof seems a little higher, the ground a little closer. And one day, some day soon, she will become so small that they will not even need to open the doors for her. She will slip right under the door, and shrink down into the earth.