The Buriers
Story by B.J. Hollars   •   Photo by Pedro Libório
  


The first time we did it, we thought we were being good.  When you come upon a dead goose by the side of the road, something inside whispers, "Bury it," and so we did.  It seemed funny to us, to see this dead goose, and the way its neck was twisted and flat, the tire marks still fresh.  The black beak was perfect and so were the eyes.  But it was only the neck that mattered.

Hazel and I were being good, and that's why we took her father's shovel and buried it.  We didn't want to touch the thing so we placed a garbage bag on the ground and then used sticks to roll the body onto the bag.  And then we dragged.

The hole wasn't very deep and there wasn't really any kind of service for it.  We just did it because it felt good to put it underground, and we liked the way our hearts beat when we knew that we were the last people ever to see it.

We put the shovel back and then we went back to our houses and went to bed.  But it didn't stop there.

*

The dog was nearly dead anyway.  That's what we told each other.  It was the next day, and our eyelids were sulking and dragging as we tried to keep them open.  Neither of us had slept the night before.  We couldn't stop imagining the goose. We just kept thinking of the image of the goose springing back to life and twisting and turning, only to find the weight of the dirt too heavy.  That when he tried to breathe, nothing went down but dirt.

Hazel and I were treading water in the middle of the pond when she told me about the visions.  "I just kept thinking of that neck, and that way it would probably inflate and all when he started to breathe again.  You know, after we buried him and made it good again."  I tried to explain to her that this wasn't how it worked.  That geese were not like seeds and they did not grow when buried three feet deep.  But she wouldn't hear it.  We changed the subject and talked about grizzly bears instead.  And what if we were just treading water when all of the sudden a grizzly soared from the bottom of the pond and dug claws into our legs like shark's teeth?

"That's not how it happens," I told her.  But she didn't hear.

*

This is what you should probably know about the dog.  He was practically dead when we found him.  Lying down with his head in his paws, the spotted, mangy thing whimpered and didn't roll over when we came to pet him.  We knew this dog, and had been passing it for as long as we could remember.  He belonged to no one and only sometimes did we stop to feed it.  His breath was heavy and he snorted through his nose like he couldn't stand the burning sunlight.  Hazel dared me to hit it with the rock and I said fine, but only if she double-dog-dared me.  So she did.  And I watched the way the words fell from her mouth.  The way she questioned me.  And then, while that stupid mangy dog closed its eyes and shivered under the sunlight, I picked up the rock with both hands and held it right above his head and waited.

"You won't ever do it," Hazel said and started to walk away from me like she could read the future.  But then I did it.  The skull cracked and the dog didn't move.  His body didn't go rigid or anything like that.  He just sort of sulked.  Hazel didn't turn around but I could tell she was smiling.

"I'll get my father's shovel."

*

So we buried the dog in a hole next to where we had buried the goose.  This hole was bigger, but it wasn't big enough and we had to twist his hind legs and put them near his nose so he would fit.  Hazel said she wanted to be the one to put the dirt on top, which seemed fair to me because I had been the one to dig the hole.  Little by little, the coddled dirt began to fill in the empty spaces and soon the fur was gone and all we could see was what resembled soft ground.  And then the world returned to flatness, and Hazel grabbed a big rock and put it on top of the grave so we'd never forget what we had done.

"I'm not sure why this feels so good," she whispered to me, guilty.  I shrugged, wiped the sweat from my brow and coughed up a little dust.

"Dead things always want to be buried," I told her.

*

That's when we started to get dangerous.  That's when she told me to bury her.  "Just do it, please," she begged.  "Please.  And then I'll do you next."

We knew that this one wouldn't be so simple, and we took a cardboard box and taped up the sides real well.  She stuck herself inside and said it was a tight squeeze but that it would do.  "You sure about this?" I asked, but she nodded with crazy eyes and said, "Yes, yes."

We took turns digging.  It was warm October and the orange glow of the setting sun made everything feel like jack-o-lanterns.  Crops were in and the farmhouses all around us felt like ghost towns.  They had no use any more.  They were just empty spaces.

Once the hole was big enough we put the box inside and then Hazel slipped inside the box.

"Bury me," she whispered.  "Real deep.  So I can't see any light or anything."  I did it because we were friends and she had asked me to.  Later, after the box broke and the dirt caved and she drowned and died right beside the goose and the dog, I wouldn't tell the sheriff what had killed her.  That I had.  And I didn't tell him where she was buried.

The hole was covered and I yelled down to her and asked if she was okay and she said, "Leave me for awhile," and so I did.  I walked around the woods and then came back an hour later, just as the final ebbs of light began to dim, and that's when I saw what had happened.  Dirt caved in, only half filling the hole, but it was enough to cover her mouth and nose.

I told myself that this was okay.  That this was just fine.  That she was practically dead anyway.  That she had been asking for it.  But it wasn't until years later that I began to understand it.  That she hadn't been the one to ask at all.

At the funeral, they buried an empty casket, and as her father took the shovel and began to cover up the box, I did another good thing.  I didn't even ask to help.  I held back.  I restrained.  They put a gravestone over the empty shell and cried like it was really her.  I cried too, though the whole time, I was only thinking about that goose.  And the way its neck looked, all crooked and backwards, as if trying to stare at the car that had killed it without question.


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