The Dig by Aram Mrjoian


Rachel and Tommy are in the backyard digging for their father. Yesterday evening, I told them he was on a business trip in Madrid, not knowing where he was or if he’d return. Chuck was prone to disappearing, but even for him it’d been a while. Usually he just needed a night to roll in the grass and piss on the oaks and elms that made up the nature preserve to the east of the gravel section of Dexter Road. He’d wake up dew-stained, with soil pressed into the crevices of his clothes, and limp home, his aged joints stiff from the cold night. He wasn’t a drunk. Not in the slightest. In fact, on most of his outings I don’t think he touched a drop. He had bourbon on occasion, but it was always a social gesture. Sometimes the impulse just overtook him to be out in nature. He’d build a lean-to and ululate at the moon like a schoolboy, work tirelessly to spark a bonfire of damp twigs and rotting logs, dig a cathole for his shit when necessary. He’d chew on pine needles for nutrients and eat ants because their blood was acidic. He said they tasted like Starbursts. I always imagined him swatting spider webs like Indiana Jones. One night. That’s all it ever took. He’d come home and we’d move on.

But it’d been three days. Seventy-two hours of wondering if this time he would never spin out of it. He could be hitchhiking toward the Appalachian Trail by now. I wouldn’t put it past him.

My explanation for Chuck’s absence didn’t deter the kids from wanting to see him. They traipsed over to the outdated globe stuffed between the bookshelf and window of his study. It revolved on a lacquered wooden stand full of nicks from half a dozen moves. A relic from his grandpa’s attic.

After locating Madrid and estimating the distance, Rachel and Tommy schemed numerous methods for reuniting with their dad. Hot air balloon quickly became the frontrunner. However, Rachel, being afraid of heights, suggested racecars that morph into submarines. Bicycles were accepted and rejected in the course of a sentence. Eventually, they concluded it would be safest to avoid the treacherous geography dividing them, leaving tunneling as the most logical and efficient route to Spain.

In the morning, a vent pummeled cool air at my feet as I peaked through the blinds. Earlier, the three of us referenced an old draftsman’s map of our half acre. Together, we selected a site that would not disturb the septic field, sprinkler system, or electrical wires. We also agreed to steer clear of tree roots and flowerbeds. No sense in creating extra work.

Tommy jabbed a posthole digger into their shallow pit while Rachel sat atop a pile of excavated rocks, admiring her brother’s labor. As I watched, the murmur of the garage door reverberated through the house. I could already imagine him wandering in reeking of pine and tinder smoke. They’ll be so delighted now, I thought. No longer having to move the earth for him.

Aram Mrjoian is a regular contributor at Book Riot and the Chicago Review of Books. He is currently working toward his MFA in creative writing at Northwestern University, where he is a fiction editor at TriQuarterly.