Cahill Minot Assignment
July 23, 2009
Gravedigger and his assistant
“Come on, dig the grave much deeper. You always dig such shallow graves, and then the coffin is too close to the surface, causing too many cosmetic problems with the cemetery, never mind the vegetation.”
“Come on, now, Ralph.” The gravedigger drew a deep breath on his cigarette, preferring to absorb the nitrates as deeply as possible; he did not seem to care or notice how shallow his breathing had become over the years, a little too labored, a little too soon.
“I said, come on!”
Ralph grumbled something like not really my boss, while spitting on the ground. But he took bigger sweeps with the shovel. He dug deeper.
“Heard who we’re digging the grave for? Old Mr. Hines, the one who lived alone all his life and never came to the community gatherings; never gossiped, but those who claimed to have known him told tall tales of his younger years on a farm in South Africa.”
Ralph muttered “Good for him.” He dug deeper.
“Anyway, Ralph, looks to me he was a wealthy landowner in South Africa, accumulating much wealth after he served in WW II. Rumor had it though he lost almost all that he had because of a bribe necessary to keep him out of jail. He killed a woman and her small child. He killed them.”
The gravedigger lit a second cigarette. His talking seemed to distract him from his task. Ralph kept digging.
“Mr. Hines fled the country. Rumor had it he became a recluse, rarely seen around town. Please prepare the grave for a pauper, heh, heh.” The gravedigger flicked some of his ash into the opening in the thawing spring soil; he seemed to smile down at the smoldering embers as they hit the softening earth. Ralph kept digging. A soft rain began to fall, ever so gently. Their shoulders and the tops of their heads became moist, the raindrops reflecting the flickering dim light of the streetlights near the entrance to the cemetery.
“Alright, we’re almost through. Let’s finish up and call it a day.”
Ralph took a few more sweeps with his assistant’s shovel. He wiped his brow, and then attempted to dry his hand on his damp jacket. It was futile: he lifted his face to the drops and let the sweat and tears mingle with the rain. Tears he shed for his father, who died alone.
Tears he shed because his father is to be buried in this very grave.
A final glance, a grey yellow streak breaking up the heavy edges of the twilight sky, and the gravedigger departs.