Digging The Hole

My shovel is old, ragged, the wood protesting loudly in its conversation with the stubborn, packed dirt of our backyard.

Schluct … schluct … 

I found my Cocker Spaniel, Sadie, lying by my nautilus equipment. I hadn’t seen her for the better part of the day and was a little concerned. She was old. 18 years. She had been having some breathing problems lately. Just that morning, I’d mentioned to my wife that we were going to have that uncomfortable conversation that dog owners have as their dogs approach the end. You can feel it, when it’s coming. As stupid as that sounds, as cryptic and dramatic – it’s the truth. You can feel it in your bones.

My daughter, Alyx, and I were watching Veronica Mars on DVD. We paused between episodes to get a drink and a snack. A sandwich: turkey, lettuce, mayo, cheese on white. We finished and I mentioned before continuing, I hadn’t seen Sadie today. She had the habit of occasionally going downstairs to lie on the concrete floor. It was cool in the summer heat and she liked that.

Schluct … schluct …

It has to be deep, this hole. My arms shudder as I smash into a shoe-sized rock, unyielding. Sweat covers my face and shirt, damp crescents beneath my arms.

I clicked on the light in the basement and walked down the steps, avoiding the choice article of clothing here and there left by a rushed wife or child. I looked to the left. Nothing evident. To the right, just clothing by the washer and dryer, stacked in Egyptian pyramids by color or material.

I move to the left, past the clothes. I see her, lying next to my nautilus. Next to her is a small pool of water, collected from our tired, choked air conditioning. In the light, I can see a thin ribbon of crimson, coiled around itself, snake-like.

Schluct … schluct …

Sadie was my dog. She was always my dog. And this is my work, my responsibility, though we all share the loss. I’m thinking about the hole and the ugly sound my shovel makes when it begrudgingly pierces earth. Somewhere behind me, my daughter is crying. It’s taking forever to dig this hole.

“Sadie?” I said, not quite whispering. My daughter was waiting half-way down the steps. She could hear it in my voice. She said something under her breath. I nudged Sadie. She was stiff. Cold, fluid mouse-tailing from her nose. I returned to the steps and caught my daughter’s eyes.

It was a long moment. We look into each others eyes. No words.

“I need to call your mother.”

Schluct … schluct …

I’m talking to my daughter a few short minutes ago. “We always bury our animals in the ground, Alyx. Why do you think we do that?”

“So they go to Heaven?” she answers.

“Kinda. But that’s not why we do it. Why do you think we do it?”

“I don’t know.”

“So they help create new life. That’s their next journey. We feed them to the earth and they feed life on earth. As hard as it is to understand or hear, that’s how Mother Nature likes it. And as hard as it is to understand or hear, it’s a noble journey.”

Schluct … schluct …

She was watching her friend’s dogs while they were on vacation. Her cell phone was ringing. I suspect she was probably already asleep. She had to get up early the next morning for her landscaping work. It was going to be hot and humid so she would start early.

“Hello.” She said, her voice crusted with Nod.

“You need to come home.”

“What’s wrong?”

“You need to come home. Sadie. Sadie’s gone.”

I sway backwards. It’s deep enough. It’s finally deep enough. I climb out of the hole, knees unsure. Wheezing, I grab a blanket and descend into the basement. I wrap her body in the blanket and walk upstairs and outside. Everyone is there, waiting. I place the bundle into the dank hole and my wife and I begin to fill it. It doesn’t take long.

Now we stand at the grave, sniffling. My daughter and son are crying, but no one is saying anything. Someone should say something.

“I wasn’t there with you … at the end … to see you off. I’m sorry.

“I’m sorry … goodbye …”