Two days later, the day of the funeral is mild and sunny.
The hole in the ground is much smaller than he was tall. Or so it seems when vertical is converted to horizontal. But it does seem deep. The casket is lowered in and there is at least four feet between the top of it and the ground. The dirt is sandy and gritty with lots of little pebbles in it. It is dry, there is no shade. What meager shade exists is due to unimpressive and widely scattered scrubby looking trees.
Every person gets to put in a shovel-full of dirt. I want to do it all myself. He was my dad. He is my dad. Mine. No one else’s. Not even my brother’s. I resent other people being around and sharing in it. Although I want company and don’t want to be alone. I do want to be alone. Alone, not alone. Confused.
No one else can comfort me. No one else can say anything to soothe me. No one else knows how. I am twelve. They think I am too young to understand. They think they understand because they are adults. What do they know?
Once I start shoveling the dirt, I don’t want to stop. I could do more if I didn’t have on that tight suit that I am wearing with uncomfortable dress shoes which squeeze my feet and a tie that squeezes around my neck. The jacket limits my arms and shoulders. I am hot, and the wetness of the beading sweat is like a tiny pebble in my shoe that I can’t take care of.
If I had my garden clothes on, if I had my shorts on, and some garden gloves, I could do more. I could do it all. If they didn’t stop me. I don’t want to stop. I like the feeling of the shovel in my hand. My left hand on the wood shaft and my right hand on the cold metal handle. I like the weight of it, and the balance of it. I like the sound of the shovel hitting into the dirt, the pebbles in the sand grinding on the metal shovel telling me I have a new load of dirt on there.
I think I see a spark coming off the shovel as I slam it into the sand and pebbles. I like the momentum when I swing it over the hole and I like the sound as the dirt slides and scrapes off the metal end of the shovel and drops onto the wood casket below with both a thud and a sprinkling. I don’t like the thud so much. It sounds better after there is some dirt on top of the casket. It doesn’t sound so deep and hollow anymore. Sweat starts to collect on my forehead and drip into my eyes and down my nose. I feel my t-shirt starting to get damp on my back and stick to my skin.
I don’t want to stop when my brother touches me on the back and gently says my name. “Neal,” but I don’t hear him at first. He says, “Neal, let me take the shovel. You did enough.” No, I didn’t do enough. I want to do the whole thing. I keep going. Dig, swing, throw and dump. Just a few more. I still feel my brother’s hand on my back. I reluctantly, so reluctantly, slow my pace, then loosen my grip on the shovel. I do not want to let go. I hear, “Don’t let go,” screaming in my head. “If you let go, you are all alone. No protection. From the world. From your mother’s smothering.” I feel a strange sick feeling of dread in my stomach. I didn’t do enough. I want to do more. I want him back. How is this real?
I am twelve. I already learned a couple of things. IT doesn’t play fair. And IT doesn’t give back.