“Life’s a grim business, Jack,” Jack’s father said, leaning on the shovel. Shaking a cigarette out of a pack from his shirt pocket, he lit it and looked his handiwork over.
The hole was deep enough. For a moment Jack and his father stood silently in the sun, his father smoking meditatively, Jack trying not to look at the thing at his feet.
“I’m going to leave you to bury him,” Jack’s father finally said, tossing the cigarette butt into the hole. “I dug the hole for you, now I want you to bury him. He was your dog, you should be the one to do it.”
Jack nodded. “And don’t forget to take your shoes off before you come inside” his father said, handing him the shovel and then walking toward the back door. Jack watched his father enter the house. Shutting the blinds to the sliding glass door, Jack’s father spotted him watching. From behind the glass, he motioned for Jack to begin.
Jack looked down at Gus. There was a pool of blood under the dog, sinking into the grass. Already the flies were thick around it.
Once again Jack pictured his father plunging the knife up into the dog’s chest, the look on his face, one of utter purpose, the thump his fist had made on Gus’s ribcage, following the tear of the knife. “Here, dog, here,” Jack’s father had said, patting his knee, squatting there in the middle of the lawn with the knife dangling in one hand. Submissively, the dog had come.
It had only taken a few seconds for it to collapse. The mutt, as his father called him. A begrudgingly given Christmas present of three years ago. “Hey Gus, hey there old buddy, hey,” his father had said, Gus trying to lick the knife, wagging his tail as his father petted him.
Then he thought of Ellen, his sister. Their mother was with her at the ER now, sitting with her while they stitched up her cheek.
He squatted down and grabbed the dog by an ankle and dragged it into the hole. He filled the hole. Dropping the shovel beside him, he crouched down to smooth the mound. The dirt was warm and faintly moist in his hands. He was sweating. The sun was right over him.
Then he went and got the hose and sprayed the grass, washing as much of the blood down into the dirt as he could. In the spray of water danced a rainbow.
Taking his shoes off at the door, he opened it and went inside. His father was in his chair watching sports, a beer in his hand.
“Did you finish, Jack?” he asked as Jack came in. Jack plopped down on the far end of the couch.
Jack nodded. “Do you think I should put something there to mark the grave? Like a cross, or something?” he asked.
“Nah,” his father said, feet up, beer on belly. “Don’t bother with marking a thing like that. You mark a thing, and you grow sad around it. Best to let sleeping dogs lie,” he allowed himself to say, chuckling in spite of himself.
Jack nodded. Brooding, he waited for the grass to grow over.
Christopher Blaine is an occasional writer of stories.