18. The Fraternal Order of Civil War Veterans

court street cemetery, Dunbar-Spring, Tucson
Boundary marker for the old Court Street Cemetery.

Inglorion comes out of trance a bit after dawn. He feels a bit tired and stupid, but otherwise none the worse for wear. He’d expected to have a raging migraine, or to have turned into some kind of wretched 19th century allegory for debauchery and hubris — half-man, half-jackal, perhaps. He sits up and blinks vaguely, and tries to remember what a jackal looks like. He suspects he’s confusing it with a hyena. 

He hears Tereus rustling around in the next room. That might be what drew him out of trance in the first place. Inglorion hops up and checks to see if his clothes are dry. They’re damp, but not unpleasantly so; he dresses, and hangs Tereus’s shirt neatly on the coatrack with his sword belt and bullwhip. He peers out a window at the rain-soaked landscape. The air is fresh and cool; the clouds hang heavy. It looks as if it might rain again.

As he sits back down on the couch, he sees Tereus’s sketchbook lying open on the side table. He’s always assumed it was for translations. He’s surprised to see a hand-drawn topographical map of the property. It shows the existing trees, basins, and raised beds, along with the chicken coop. It’s drawn to scale and includes dimensions, but it’s not merely a schematic. It’s prettily executed, rather like an 18th-century architectural drawing.

The only divider between the two rooms is a curtain made of a frivolous crimson satin shot with gold thread. Tereus pokes his head out and says, “How do you feel?”

“Oh, fine. A bit tired, as if I have a touch of the flu.”

“No headache?”

“Nope.”

Tereus gives a satisfied nod and disappears again. From behind the curtain he says, “I didn’t think you’d be hung over, but one never knows.” He emerges again, fully dressed and plaiting his queue. He starts to make coffee. “Do you want an egg?”

“God, no,” says Inglorion with revulsion. Seeing Tereus’s amusement, he adds defensively, “I can never eat first thing in the morning. Don’t you dare moralize about how that explains why I’m so damn skinny.” He lights a cigarette with a defiant air.

Tereus pours out the coffee and sets about cooking his egg, saying, “You can open a window if you don’t like the smell.”

“Thank you, I will,” Inglorion says. He’s pleased that once Tereus has cooked his egg, he doesn’t stand on ceremony, but rather retrieves his sketchbook and makes little notes as he eats his breakfast.

Inglorion browses the bookshelf, sips his coffee, and occasionally glances over at Tereus. Finally he asks, “What’s that drawing for?”

Tereus glances up. “I’m not sure it’s for anything. I suppose I’m reviewing what I thought was there. In a few moments I’ll go out and see how water actually moved over the property.” He shrugs, smiles. His expression is diffident, that of a man confessing to a private passion. “The idea is to return the rainfall to the ground. There used to be a huge underground aquifer here. It ran dry 50 or 60 years ago.”

“I didn’t know.”

“Come outside; I’ll show you.”

And so Inglorion follows Tereus as he traces how storm water moved across his property: Runoff from the roof, overflow from the cisterns, sheets of water that poured off the alley through curb cuts. Tereus frowns over two basins that were washed out — they’ll have to be deepened and rebuilt — and notes that some water is still escaping under the back fence, by the chicken coop. Though Inglorion has helped Tereus around the farm for weeks, until now he hasn’t really understood that every detail must be planned around water: The amount and frequency of rainfall, how water flows, pools, penetrates and evaporates.

Tereus takes extensive notes on a pattern of sinkholes just north of the kitchen, pacing, measuring. They’ve grown with the first hard rain. Inglorion peers into one. It’s a hole roughly two inches in diameter, with no visible bottom — a little black gap in the world. Finally he asks, “Are those burrows? What lives down there?”

Tereus glances up from one he’s probing near the foundation of the house. He grins. “At first I thought it was ground squirrels. My neighbors set me straight. This whole neighborhood was built on a cemetery.”

Inglorion masters an impulse to jump back from the hole. “No shit?” he says.

“No shit. Look around you.” Tereus walks over, and scratches out a rectangle in the dirt and wildflowers, roughly six by 10 feet. “There’s another area by the North gate, and one between the porch and the street.”

“How did you find out?”

“I was standing in the alley chatting with Mike, the guy who lives two doors down. You’ve seen him. Old guy, black. I looked over into his yard and saw that he had a human skeleton laid out. I asked him what he had there, and he said, ‘Skeleton. It’s pretty much intact.’ He found it in some fill dirt he got from the lot behind mine. It was gone two days later. I asked him what he did with it, and he said, ‘Buried it respectfully.’ After awhile he took pity on me and explained that there used to be a cemetery here. When they decided to build on the land, they put an ad in the paper telling people to come get their relatives. But a lot of the people who settled out here in the 1800s didn’t bring family, so they were never reburied.”

“So they built streets and houses knowing there were bodies around?”

Tereus nods. “Seems crazy, right? Because they must have found some when they dug the foundations. Shit, they made the adobe brick onsite. All I can figure is, the town was segregated and this was a black neighborhood. The authorities didn’t much care.”

Brutus looks down at the ground almost fondly. “Right here — this little half-block — they’re everywhere. There was a fraternal order of Civil War veterans. You paid a little fee to get buried properly if you died out West, away from your home and people.” He looks up at Inglorion. The tattoos make his expression hard to read, but his voice is gentle. “So they’re down there, Union and Confederate. All white, of course, because even the cemetery was segregated. But, yeah. Soldiers who came out here to fight, then stayed after the war ended.”

They’re quiet for awhile, tracing the path of the water, retrieving a few tree branches that broke in the wind, then feeding and watering the chickens.

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