By Katherine Bonnie Bailey
There’s a dog buried beside the telephone pole, and three days a week, a girl comes by to see it. She lets herself in through the pasture gate and places drooping wildflowers on the soil, brushing the browned and brittle stems from her last visit aside. Small hands meet in front of her flat chest in prayer, and her knees make round imprints in the soft soil. The earth is fresh and loose and has the same fertile smell as garden dirt. She digs her fingers into it while she sobs, and she goes home with streaks of brown mingled muddily with the salty tears on her cheeks.
There’s a rhythm to her appointments with the grave.
On Mondays, she wears a white dress with blue polka dots and her face shines. She cradles extra flowers in the crook of her arm, and after placing a portion in their rightful spot, she sits with her back against the pole and ties the rest into a crown, which she tangles into the curls of her auburn hair while she converses with the dead.
On Wednesdays, she wears ill-fitting blue jeans and a hunter green T-shirt with a large sunflower on the front. She brings a sandwich of white bread and turkey. She runs thin-boned fingers over the letters she carved into the wooden pole while she chews, and she places half of her sandwich, cut into a triangle, right up against the splinters. The offering is meant for her companion below ground, but only minutes after her departure, a neighborhood cat appears to steal it away. The striped hunter takes the treat back to his own yard before gobbling it down. He cleans his whiskers on the porch steps, watching grasshoppers dance through the freshly mown yard with jewel-bright eyes.
On Fridays, she reads aloud from a book, feet crunching the sun-soaked grass, acting out the best parts. She jumps and dances, her voice traveling up and down the scale, impersonating first a man, then a woman. Laughter bounces across the field and echoes back, but the lack of reaction from her audience of bones invariably brings her to tears, and she ends up on her knees—dirtying the khakis of her girl scout uniform—with her head on the ground as close she can get.
She tends to the grave for one hundred and twenty-eight days, following her routine of worship, and on the one hundred and thirtieth day, she doesn’t.
Grass covers the cyclical soil. Weeds snake their way across the letters, ‘M’ first and then the ‘I’, and no one comes by to laugh or cry with the dog buried beside the telephone pole. The field is silent save for the wind and the distant sound of motors churning down the highway. A cow wanders by on occasion, its moist muzzle buried in the deep, nutritious grass, but cows pay no mind to ceremony. The cat is the only creature to acknowledge the hallowed ground—like clockwork every Wednesday—padding past on silent feet with his tail in the air, nosing for a forgotten morsel.
Perceptive & poignant.
I loved the imagery, and the very simple but powerful prose. Such writing is not within my grasp yet, but I hope it will be, because it is the most effective, I believe. Excellent work, Katherine.
Wonderful narrative skill. The imagery was well painted with strong words and I enjoyed every bit of it.