I sink the shovel into the ground hard and turn up another feeble clod of mud. The low beams of my SUV illuminate the tall maples just off the gravel road that winds like a vein of silver in the moonlight through my family’s farm. As I stamp my work boot against the stubborn blade I recall the way my grandfather twisted and heaved with his post hole digger from dawn until dusk if he had to, excavating slim cylinders of red clay until the hole was deep enough for a fence post. I’m chilled but sweating, my hands are clammy in my work gloves, and though I’m no farmer, I can empathize with his work ethic.
My poor colleague would usually have been right beside me with his own shovel, out here at night in the dark woods by the creek doing the grunt work, but tonight I don’t have the benefit of his strong arms. He and I had shared an unexpected evening together the previous night, a tangle of sweat and limbs, and the next morning before we left for the same place of work I fed him strawberries from the plant on my balcony, brushed my shaving cream across the stubble of his weathered jaw so he could shave it smooth. We made love again on the bathroom floor and I told him I loved him. At length he replied that the cops had questioned him. He wept in silence. I stared at the mole on his neck as he held me.
Now, in the beam of my flashlight, he has a five o’clock shadow, dried blood caked around the small hole in his forehead. I angle my flashlight towards the hole and heave another shovel full of dirt to the side. I begin to whistle, and somewhere in the distance an owl says, “Hoo?”
Tamara Burross Grisanti is the associate editor of ELJ – Elm Leaves Journal. Her poetry and fiction appear in New World Writing, Chicago Literati, and Eunoia Review.