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Tag Archives: digging


shovel dirtThey had hardly spoken, the birds in the cottonwoods saying all that needed to be said, answered by the crunch-scrape of their shovels in the moist soil. A shovel tip would clank and one of them would bend to free another grapefruit-sized stone, tossing it to the side. Their shoulders and arms and backs understood this labor, moved in silent rhythm in the white glare of the summer dawn.


Denton clawed at the ground with his fingers and a salad fork. He was breathing through his mouth, panting, but still trying to be quiet, not to disturb Syl, who had awakened at the slightest whisper of sound ever since the baby was born.

It was dark in the yard. The neighbor’s damn dog was silent for a change, trucks on the Interstate a distant wash of static. The soil was cold, damp and sharp under his fingernails. What was this damn fork? He had grabbed it off the kitchen table, afraid to open the drawer and hunt down something better, afraid to switch on the garage light and look for a real tool because the radio would blast on and then Syl would be awake, peering out the second floor window with her giant flashlight, and he’d be caught.

The knees of his pajamas were smeared with dirt and grass. He was cold. He pried a clot of soil from the compacted plot and scrabbled with his fingers to lift out more. He could feel tiny bits of earth flying onto his face and hair. In spite of the cold, beads of sweat gathered on his upper lip and at his hairline. Another chunk broke loose.

He thought of the earthworms and shuddered. There had been so many when he had dug the hole, his shovel slicing easily into the rich garden soil. It felt like that had been weeks ago, but that was only Tuesday and now it was Saturday morning, 3 maybe. He had filled the hole, piling the dirt back into it and stomping on it, jumping on it with conviction and finality, grinding his heel into it to make it flat and finally covering the spot with a few leaves and a dusting of fresh turned earth so it would disappear.

But it would never disappear. He knew exactly where it was and with bloodhound accuracy he had returned, failed in his conviction, weak, desperate, sneaking around like a criminal. Oh god, if his poor mother could see him now.

He scraped with the fork, lifted out another dirt clod. At last his fingers touched the edge of the plastic bag. Relief. He dug faster, unconcerned about the mess he’d made of the flower bed, no longer thinking about Syl’s sleep. He ripped at the plastic bag with the fork, tearing a hole in it, and reached inside. His fingers were abraded by the digging, numb with cold and unable to grip. He pushed them deeper into the hole, into the bag, and finally wrested free a crumpled, but, thank god, dry, pack of cigarettes.