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Chapter IV - Haunted

The next month Guiseppe received a call from the custodian of the cemetery. He was to bring a gallon of white wine and a quart of alcohol. He needed to clean the bones of my mother since her coffin had been exhumed. If he did not want to preserve the bones they would be put with the unclaimed, and at a given time, incinerated. Of course there was a fee for this work.

My brother, being busy, sent me over to the caretaker's house to deliver the requested wine and alcohol. I knocked at the caretaker's door and a woman appeared. It was his wife. I said, "I brought the wine your husband requires to clean my mother's bones."

She said, "He is at the chapel in the cemetery. Bring the wine to him."

Outside the chapel there was a closed coffin. I called. No one answered. Then I heard voices coming from the next chapel. I assumed he would be there. I went over, entered the chapel, and saw an open coffin containing the remains of a man with a mustache and no one else. The voices came from the burial grounds underneath the chapel. I called. Three people came up. I said I had come to bring the wine. One spoke up, "Go outside and wait for me. I am almost finished."

A cemetery did not frighten me. I was accustomed to seeing all kinds of skulls in semifinished niches where bones were deposited after being exhumed from their graves to make room for more deaths. People would buy a niche if they could afford one to use as a depository for the family remains. These niches measured about eighteen inches square and were closed with a white marble slab. Some people, not having the money for the marble slab, would leave the front open until they could afford one. Others would not claim the bones and they would be put all together in a room to be incinerated in due time. I had even seen the body of a baby in a glass coffin propped on a stool.

On All Souls' Day the cemetery would be open to the public so they could pay respect to their dead. On the first and second day of November people would bring garlands of flowers and burn candles on the graves of their loved ones.

No, I was not afraid of cemeteries, but I was not prepared to witness that to which I was exposed.

The caretaker, having finished his business with the other people, came up to me and said, "Follow me."

I followed him to the front of the chapel where I had seen the unopened coffin. He stopped and said, "This is your mother's coffin." He lifted the lid in front of me and there was my mother already dead three and a half years. Nothing had changed, the same composure, only her skin was dark brown. I was paralyzed. He proceeded to explain that her dress was of silk. If it had been cotton it would have deteriorated. With the point of a large knife he slit the dress and then inserted the point of the knife in my mother's nostrils and lifted the skull. He proceeded to dismember my mother's body, scraping off the flesh from the bones. I asked if I could leave and he said, "Yes."

I was in a daze. I could not believe what I had seen. At home I lay on my bed but I could not sleep. The memory of what I had witnessed haunted me. I could not eat. My sister-in-law wanted to know what the matter was but I could not talk about it. It was imbedded in my mind but I could not formulate it in words. My stepmother wanted to know if anything had happened to me and I would answer, "Nothing." Meanwhile, my nights were a nightmare. Sleep would not come. Every little noise would make me jump. Little by little no one asked me anymore. I was living with the horror of remembrance. The nights were the worst. I n the daytime there was life around me. At night, alone in the darkness of my room, lying on my bed, sleep would not come. I kept seeing the man with the black mustache and the caretaker lift my mother's skull with the point of his knife. I surely would have lost my mind from the haunting agony if something had not happened.

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