By John Chrostek
I start digging the grave in the corner of the yard by the thin little tree, Mom close behind me. We get a few inches into the topsoil and the dense roots are already in the way. I’m all worked up, thinking of Indy waiting for his rest not too far away and start to cut at them with a shovel, drenched in rainwater and sweat. Dad comes out and says we’re harming the tree, that the roots extend outwards as far as the drip-line. As above, so below. We gotta start again, move the hole over a few feet.
We take out some of the garden, these tall orange bell flowers that weren’t here when I moved to the West Coast half a decade ago. Slow going but spirits are higher than they were the day before. Nobody expected this to happen, not so sudden, but that doesn’t change a thing. We get to the netting that separates the top soil Dad set down a decade ago over the natural yard. I show a proficiency for the hatchet I don’t for the shovel. Dad’s the opposite, a life of digging coming to use. His Uncle Skip told him once it takes a man thirty-five years to learn how to work with what he’s got, so he knows how to do this without destroying himself.
I’m not quite there today.
We’re into the clay and things get easier. We find a bunch of things: a cerulean cat’s eye marble, a toy mecha-dino with a root growing through its ass. I remember how my neighbor and I buried my toy wrestlers in the front yard to “save them for later”, how I dug up that spot months later only to find no trace. A nice little dream, that they might have found new life burrowing among the molemen, pile driving worms for sport.
We get a few feet deep and hit chunks of something reddish and wet. For a gutsick second, we think we’ve dug too close to Bella’s grave, only a few months gone herself. We take a smoke break and sit in our grief, thinking of the two dogs as close in death as they were in life. Dad braves a closer look. It’s chunks of red maple, wet and pressurized by the decades, taking on the look of raw muscle. We all breathe a sigh of relief.
I think about the songbird chick I found in the gutter a week before. How Amanda and I tried to make it a shelter, how our neighbors came out with a shoe box they set up in their window flowers so its mother could find it during the night or maybe early morning. We didn’t know then there’s a plague spreading through the songbirds of the Atlantic. Our neighbors never told us what happened to the bird, but the box was missing from the window by the next afternoon. We avoid discussing it.
It comes time to put Indy to rest. He was a gargantuan dog, so it takes the last of our strength getting him into the hole. His immobile face comes out from behind the blanket and I start to cry, something I’ve avoided all day. I know that this all happens. I was there the day before, helped carry him out of the bathroom where he always liked to sleep by the air grate, on the cool tile. I know too, too well it’s the fate of us all. Lost an old friend the first day of the year, Bella a month after, my uncle the week we drove cross-country to move back home, Indy just days after his funeral. All above us now, all below.
I breathe the bitter air in as Dad covers Indy in lime. Somewhere in the twilight sky, Saturn sits in Aquarius and the songbirds play choir on the breeze. I’m hurting as deep it reaches but glad, if glad is what it is, I get to do this: to suffer in service to love, to take hold of one spoke of the celestial wheel and push it forward. I take a hit of the razor-thin joint my aunt left behind, find a second wind and we bury our boy beside the flowers.