By Joe Seale
The boy watches his bare feet as he slowly walks toward the clearing where the man had pointed. His feet are brown from the sun, but are gritted red with dirt, grimy yet gleaming in the harsh sunlight. He watches his dirty toes as they bend upward with each lifted foot, as they curl with each planted step. He takes his time crossing the scorched ground. The sun beats down on his bare shoulders, which are already pink.
The man lags several paces behind, deliberately slowing his gait so that the boy will be alone when he sees it.
The man coughs once and spits onto the dry dirt. He has a grimace on his face that almost looks like a wry smile. His heavy boots thump loudly on the hard ground. His yellowed t-shirt clings to his body with sweat. He shields his eyes with one hand as he moves forward.
The boy hugs himself tightly as he walks despite the heat, his thin, stringy arms wrapped snugly around his bony shoulders. Shirtless, the boy is all hard angles and sharp points, like some geometric wonder. He wants to ask where he is going, but knows better. The man would only yell at him to keep moving.
The man tells the boy to stop and the two of them stand there in heated silence, separated by only a few feet of packed red earth. The boy hugs himself tighter.
“What you see, boy?”
The boy looks all around him, but sees nothing out of the ordinary. They are at the end of the flat, red dirt of the trailer park, and the boy stands at the edge of a muddied ditch separating the red dirt from a small patch of grass and trees. Everything is yellow and wilted from the heat, the grass blanched by the unforgiving sun. Cartons and wrappers and bottles litter the lifeless grass. The man keeps his distance.
“I don’t see nothing,” the boy replies. He keeps his arms crossed as if holding himself together, as if he might fall apart at any moment.
“There, in the grass. Look.” The man points, but the boy’s back is to him.
The boy searches the overgrown, bleached grass stems. He briefly unwinds his arms to shield his eyes, but quickly encloses them again. Then he sees it.
The remains are tucked safely in the tall blades of grass, held aloft while simultaneously buried. The boy can’t tell what the carcass is, but he knows death when he sees it. He shudders violently.
The man notices the spasm and smiles. “What you see there, boy?”
The boy tries to speak, but finds his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth. He looks back at the man, turning only at the waist and keeping his feet firmly planted. “What is it?” he asks.
“Hell, go on, take you a closer look,” the man replies. When the boy doesn’t move, the man’s smile falters. “I said, go on, now.” He takes a step forward, and the boy tumbles away from him into the muddied ditch, sinking to his ankles in filth.
He can smell the death now, a stale, pungent odor that settles on his tongue and into the pit of his stomach. He climbs from the ditch and stands over the mangled remains. “What is it?”
The man remains several paces away, one hand blocking the sun. “Something that damn dog of yours done drug up.”
The boy shakes his head. “Not Ruby,” he says simply.
The man barks a laugh. “Yes, Ruby.”
The boy continues to hug himself. He bends at the waist to look closer. He notices what he assumes are teeth marks, but also observes the absence of blood. “It looks asleep,” he says quietly, almost to himself, but the man hears and laughs loudly.
“Ain’t no sleep,” he says. “That there is dead.”
The boy grits his teeth as he bends at the waist. He flares his nostrils at the stench. He’s covered in dirt and mud and feels himself to be a part of the earth. “Not Ruby,” he repeats.
The man studies the boy, his hand blocking the sun.
Suddenly, the boy feels a spasm beginning somewhere deep behind the pit of his gut, an uncontrollable welling, and he retches liquid and bile onto the grass beside the dead thing.
The man shakes his head. “Thought you was gonna impress me there for a minute,” he says. Then he takes a hand and waves the boy away like he’s nothing, like something easily forgotten.
The boy remains bent over, hands on his knees, trying to breathe.