THE GRAVEYARD FIESTA

By Richard McCord

As the July sun was setting, Bonny Christina Celine was alone in Calvary Cemetery in the Martineztown section of Albuquerque. Aside from her thoughts, the only thing she heard was the din of traffic from the nearby Big I, where Interstate 25 meets Interstate 40. She had come to tell a friend goodbye.

Dolores Gonzales was the receptionist in Celine's business office. A few days earlier Dolores had gone into surgery for the removal of what seemed to be a benign tumor. Something went wrong, and she died in the operating room. She was just 32.

Celine was inconsolable. She did not attend the burial, but a few hours later was sitting at the foot of her friend's grave. She planned to stay until the sun was gone.

In the deepening gold she remembered how much Dolores had loved to laugh. She recalled the joy Dolores brought to work each day, the pride she felt for her job and her young son, the big smile for everyone, the playful elbow in the ribs.

She remembered that Dolores' favorite thing was dancing, into the wee hours. Dolores was the life of any party, and anywhere she went became a party. But now the party was over.

The death was a total shock. Nobody was ready for it. Dolores had worked the day before she went to the hospital, and everyone from the office was planning to visit her there as she recuperated. But Celine was away from work on that last day, and did not bid her friend farewell. Now she was trying to apologize.

She could not tell if she was getting through. The only thing she felt in the stillness was a crushing grief. Then without warning the silence of the dead was broken.

Through the cemetery's entrance came a procession of five automobiles. Two were stretch limousines, shiny gray and adorned with flowers and crepe-paper streamers. The cars drove slowly past Celine, and stopped at a headstone down the way. The doors popped open. Like a flock of doves, out flew a wedding party into the golden light.

The pretty teen-aged bride was in sequined white. Her proud new husband and his handsome Hispanic groomsmen were tuxedoed in black. The bridesmaids all wore cobalt blue, and the dress of someone's mother was shimmering pink. Moist with recent summer rains, the graveyard that enclosed them was as green as a garden.

They held hands in a circle around the grave. Sounds of laughter and happy Spanish singing floated through the tombstones of Calvary Cemetery. Prayers were said, and memories were called back to life. Every celebrant lifted a long-stemmed goblet, and each was filled to the brim with pink champagne.

From the little hill on which she stood, Celine could hear the clink of crystal. She felt thrilled, blessed, awed. Without moving or speaking she gazed down on the fiesta, while her thoughts drifted back over the festival occasions of her own life: lawn parties in New England, square dances on the Dakota prairie, powwows in the Indian Country of Oklahoma, hoedowns in southern New Mexico. Yes, she reminded herself, there is truly a time for every purpose under heaven.

The sky softened to pinks and violets, and still the celebration went on. Suddenly Celine felt an elbow poking her lightly in the ribs. Or maybe she only imagined it, as well as the voice that was saying: "They must have loved that person very much--but it's Saturday night, and now those young people should be going out to dance."

As though hearing the same voice, the wedding party jumped back into the rented limousines and the other cars. Again the procession filed past Celine. This time everybody waved gaily at her. In the last light of day, she waved back at them all, and smiled.

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