Each morning Hector waited, crouched in the bushes along the path to the graveyard, to watch Juanita eat the roses off the old man's grave. Every night for as long as he could remember he had stolen his way into the graveyard and planted roses in the soil directly over the old man's withered and rotting heart. Long ago his mother told him that when roses sprout on a grave it means that a love not tendered in life leaks from the earth in a last effort to not be utterly lost. He was certain that when Juanita came each morning with the sun and picked the roses off the grave, she was culling his love and carrying in her long brown fingers, or enjoying gently in her mouth the sweetness of, more and more portions of his heart.
Steaming in the press of the day's heat, Hector pushed his thin body from the bushes one morning after she left. He stood, as he always had done, forlornly in the footprints she'd left in the mud, even though her feet were larger than his. He stood there for some time before he realized he couldn't move.
The sun spat out an animal heat, the same heat that had been ravaging the wide brown hills for months, a heat that dried to the core one hundred year old trees thick as sailors. The heat shrank the soil around his feet. He bent over, grabbed his knees, and tugged with all his strength in an attempt to free himself from her footprints on the old man's grave. Hector remained stuck, however, in the gravity of that old man's black heart. If only Juanita had known the old man's true nature, how his nails were long and yellow, his bones hollow like some terrible bird's, that his words were lies, his gestures and life false, that the poems Juanita carried around, the same ones that she lifted to her mouth and kissed each night while staring at the stars were from Hector's notebook that the old man had stolen, then perhaps she would have chosen otherwise. It all made Hector want to spit. The earth held him fast as sweat sprouted on his skin and soaked through his shirt. He seethed in the heat, his sweat-wet hands hairy with dirt. No one came. He was utterly alone and stuck.
Soon the struggling wearied him and he lay down as best he could, his position of steadfast love requiring some contortion. His face lay against the dirt. His nostrils pawed out weaker and weaker tufts of dust till at last something inside of him, a thing which youth refused to define and age would only amplify, broke; and he lay there until the sun began its slow leave and night became a low howl across the sky, dripping shadow into the gouges he'd made clawing at the hard dirt in which he was stuck.
Hector knew much about cats and he thought of a particular one as he lay over the old man's grave. He'd seen two boys once tie up a cat with rope and latch it to a tree. The cat had made a fearsome roil, an awful noise as it struggled against the line holding it fast to a position it didn't want. The boys laughed with the type of cruelty only children and the insane have. The rope eventually twisted over the cat, around its neck, however that didn't ease the animal's struggle. It flailed with more intensity. The cat lunged for freedom with such a manic want that ultimately it strangled itself against the rope. Hector had walked over and stood above that dead cat, certain that the episode he'd just witnessed was a lesson about love.
As Hector lay there with ragged breath, staring at a lone rose petal Juanita had dropped on the ground before walking off, his struggle against the heat-quickened mud growing weaker, he thinks of that cat, of Juanita's brown fingers and her white, flashing laugh, of the old man's sour manipulation, and, as the hills release the day's heat, as the dark starts its late hour crawl from corners and gaps, several long breaths bring him a calm and he relaxes into the soil's odd clasp, feels the cool wash of night over his sweaty arms and neck, feels his fingers with their yellowed nails relax into the dirt while the deeper earth wells up into him. His heart beats red through the dark. Relaxed, he's now able to turn onto his back, so that his heart opens to the wide night instead of the clamping hollow below him. With each beat of his strong heart it's as if the stars flare into life with mighty and divine approval. The wind rushes and a low howl fills the hills where he spent his youth. The wind raises a roughing dust and clogs his nostrils as he stares into the marathon night where his heart beats, and he thinks that there is no more onerous, nor more noble, labor than love.