[Written in 1991 and published in Spire, Elgin Community College’s student newspaper. It is very, very, loosely autobiographical.]
It is very late and I should not be here.
I had to break the lock on the gate to get in. I could not carry what I needed over the fence. I doubted anyone would find anything amiss come morning anyway. I had no reason to fear discovery by the caretaker. He lived like a hermit in his little house. No one remembers ever seeing him. The whole area was an eyesore, because he never came out to tend the grass or the flowers. The whole area had fallen into ruin and decay. No, I did not expect to encounter him at all.
Propping my shovel against a short, gnarled tree, I carried the bag alone to the spot. I carried it past the Olmsteds, and Old Julia Olney with her withered, old flowers. I nearly tripped over the Olsens. Fortunately, I caught my balance. I could not drop that bag. I cut across a path in order to reach – but they were not there! I was amongst the Stuarts when I should have been near the Vullners. Had it been so long since I last visited that I could not remember….No, I could see it then. I had not gone far enough. The Vullner stone was to the right. I hated the Vullners for that big, marble stone of theirs. Although, I confess, I’ve never met them, I can guess they are snobbish, conceited people to have so large a stone.
Then was not the time to dwell on other pains. I had a difficult enough duty ahead of me. I ever so gently placed the bag next to the tiny stone which read, “Kenneth A. Wadford,” my father’s name. I’ll be right back, I thought, but did not speak. I had to go back for my shovel first. I had not yet passed the Olsens when I heard someone at the gate. I could not see the gate, so I must have been equally invisible. Yet my first thought was of the embarrassment of being found, and I hid behind an old, dead bush. I could hear the creaking of leather boots. Had he heard me? I had no doubt been discovered by the caretaker. So, he was more vigilant than I had given him credit for. The gate creaked open. He had discovered my handiwork. Had he found the pliers I so foolishly left at the gate? He must have known I was there, and for a moment I wished he would shine a flashlight on me and get this over with.
He did not come in.
Perhaps he didn’t want to bother, or the night air was too cold for him, but he did not come in. Maybe there was something on TV he didn’t want to miss and so he went back. Cautiously, I waited to hear his creaking boots again. When I had heard nothing long enough, I rose up and fetched my shovel (which had fortunately been on the wrong side of the tree to be seen from the gate). I almost went through the open gate to fetch my pliers, but I realized that the caretaker, should he return, would find it even more suspicious if the pliers were missing.
The bag was right where I had left it. Should it not have been? The caretaker’s appearance had made me frightfully edgy. There was no reason for it, though. The dark and my remoteness would protect me from discovery. Only the moon and the southern cross would see what I would do for Timmy. I had a simply enough task – to dig a hole. How quickly I felt ashamed for thinking such a thing. There was nothing simple about this. The simple thing to do would have been to do nothing. When the church told me Timmy would not be given a proper Christian burial, I could not go along with that at all. Timmy deserved better. I tried to explain to them how Timmy was just a victim of circumstance, but they didn’t understand how important this was. I dug into the earth with my shovel, thus beginning my excavation.
The digging wasn’t easy, but my mind wasn’t even on what I was doing. My thoughts always went out to Timmy. It had always been painful for me that you were not of my flesh and blood, Timmy. Was it difficult for you, knowing you were adopted? I wouldn’t know because I was raised by my own parents. I wasn’t as young as my father was when he had me, but I tried to play the kinds of games with you that he used to play with me. I was on the football team back in high school. Did I ever tell you that? Probably not. I didn’t want to make you feel obligated to follow in my footsteps. If football wasn’t the game for you, then I accepted that. I tried to find things both of us would enjoy doing. We never did try trench digging, did we Timmy? I was exhausted and only two feet deep. Had I become all that tired in body? My limbs trembled, and my eyes were so weak I could no longer see what I was digging. At least, that was my first explanation. Quickly, I realized that the fault lied not in my eyes but in the clouds in the sky. They hid the moon and the stars and plunged me into darkness.
Can you imagine the entirety of the situation? There were no neighboring houses way out there. There were no unshuttered windows to cast light into my hole in the ground, except for one at the caretaker’s house, but that window was so far away as to only be a glow in the distance. I had a flashlight, but I dared not use it. Should the caretaker see it, he would know his vandal was still there and would surely come back out for a more thorough search. Perhaps, my mind at that late hour, and so exhausted from my labor, exaggerated this obstacle, but for a few minutes I was prepared to stop. I tossed my shovel aside and slumped down on the cold earth next to the bag.
I’m sorry, Timmy, I thought to myself. I can’t do it. Will you forgive me if I can’t? Ah, I remember your first birthday. All you wanted was to sleep, but I kept waking you up from your nap. I wanted to sing “happy birthday” to you and give you some birthday cake. I didn’t want to wait a few years until you were ready for a birthday party, so I tried to force one on you. You were so cranky that day. You showed me. Did you ever forgive me for that? Heh, at least I had the sense not to invite the neighbors’ kids. Oh, God, I miss you, Timmy. When the doctor told me you had been sick for so long….Why didn’t you ever tell me? I thought we were closer than that. I suppose you were just paying me back for when I wouldn’t let you take your nap.
Fortunately, the wave of despair which had passed over me did not stay long. What did I need to see for to dig? The ground would be there whether I could see or not. I resumed my work. Those few minutes of rest had done wonders for me, and I worked with renewed vigor. I shoveled out great mounds of dirt, and soon had an enormous pile of disgorged earth to the side of my hole. It seemed I would not fail Timmy after all.
Man Thing by Jim Cheung
19 hours ago