I f she kneels on the old tin chest and peers through the wooden slat, Daina has a passable view of the gate. All the better for whiling away the late afternoon and ignoring her rumbling stomach. Rusty and bent and older than the moon, the gate still stands strong, though it creaks louder than a tired old man.

Whenever Daina complains of the gate’s noise, Ma shoves her chapped hands into the back pockets of her frayed jeans.

“It keeps out the loiterers. Vodka-chugging homeless,” Ma says. Then she shudders. “No gate will keep the spirits out, anyways, Dai.”

When nervous, Ma tends to swallow the last syllable of her name, with the “na” thrown in as an afterthought. Daina doesn’t share her jitters. Years of sitting on her old tin perch, spying on the comings and goings beyond the gate, have made her feel friendly toward those lying peacefully beneath the dandelions.

Now, Daina watches her mother tread the muddy path toward the gate. Two strangers follow. Foreigners. She can easily tell. The padlock is thick and heavy and it takes two hands to open: one to hold it tightly, the other to slip in the key and turn it firmly.

Vasara presses her lit cigarette hard against the metal post, and ashy flecks glint in the wind. She shoves the stub above her left ear and tries again. The prong springs loose with surprising force, and Vasara gestures to the foreigners, pointing them through. The barrel-shaped man with the wispy beard and funny side curls nods in recognition and follows the other man through the cemetery gate.

“Dalar… dalar…” mutters Vasara.

A five-dollar bill is already in hand.

Vasara points the way forward, and the two men make their way along the crooked stone path. Prickly thickets of wayward weeds clamber between the graves. She leans against the rusty gatepost and watches them, enjoying a moment of peace.

The world is silent. Before, a company of turtledoves had chirped in the alder branches, and a distant truck could be heard hooting through the fog on the highway. But now, the only noise is the faintest rustle of leaves in the autumn breeze, and the intermittent creak of the metal gate.

The burly man tries to keep the pages of his prayer book from blowing up and over, but the serious man sinks almost instantly into prayer. Head bent, eyes pressed closely shut, arms intertwined, his lips barely move as they whisper and his thick silver beard careens down his silky black coat. His back is ramrod straight, as staunch and resilient as a wind-beaten cliff. And yet he lowers his head, his demeanor as submissive as the willow branches that trail the earth.

The two men have been here before and Vasara has grown to anticipate their nearly monthly visits. Fortunately for her, the number of visitors to this overgrown cemetery has been on a steady rise these past few years. The few dollars it brings in means little to the visitors, and everything to her and Daina. Still, there’s something about the intensity of these two visitors that glues her to the gatepost, watching.

The turtledoves erupt in a domestic spat, and Vasara pulls herself away from the gate. She must return with the key in an hour to lock up after them. She should use her time wisely. Daina will be expecting supper. (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 605)