By Michael Gigandet
This Story Won Second Prize in Our Contest
Martin raised the grubbing hoe over his head, paused long enough to breathe deep and grunted as he brought it down onto the red clay, now hard as brick from the July drought. Thwock! Bits of flinty rock and marble-sized dirt clods shot out like shrapnel from an artillery burst. Again and again, he slammed the hoe against the ground. Gasping for breath, he dropped the hoe, picked up his shovel, and scraped away a handful of dirt.
That’s not a hole; it’s a scar, he told himself. This is a bad idea.
Thwock! Thwock! Thwock! Scrape!
He’d never last, but what could he do? He’d promised Sandy that Daisy would have a grave, and the little girl had cried so.
This is like beating an anvil to death.
His five-year-old daughter Sandy fell in love with Daisy the moment she was born. How she cuddled and cared for Daisy, always quick to dig out a baby carrot from her pockets, tickling her behind the ear, talking to her in that voice little girls use with fragile things like baby birds.
Martin had to forbid her to spend the night with Daisy in the barn, one of the few times he ever said no to her.
“That’s a surprise,” his wife Margo had said. “She always gets what she wants if she comes to you first.”
The death of a pet is never easy.
Standing on the side porch that morning, sipping his coffee, Martin watched the sun rise and the pasture appear out of the dark like a photograph developing in a tray. He would have to drag off a few fallen limbs from the night’s storm, but the air smelled clean and freshly washed, and he was looking forward to working outside. The old pear tree on the hill appeared wider than usual. It had been hewn in two by a lightning bolt. Soon, he saw Daisy sprawled nearby, her legs sticking straight out like the points of a compass.
On the walk back to the house from his inspection, Martin rehearsed the grim task of telling Sandy that Daisy was dead.
“Honey, I have something very sad to tell you,” he said to the little girl when she came out of her bedroom in her Cinderella pajamas and held her arms up for him to lift her onto his lap. “You’re going to have to be a big girl when I tell you.”
And he told her. She planted her face in his chest and sobbed, her body heaving, and he felt his heart break.
“Daisy didn’t suffer,” he said. “She never knew what hit her…. She went out like flipping a light switch.” Considering the circumstances, the light switch analogy was not the most appropriate, but he was desperate.
“Can we have a funeral?” she asked. Of course, she could have all the funeral ceremony she wanted.
“And a grave I can visit?” Absolutely.
“You’re going to dig a grave?” His wife asked, but it wasn’t a question. “Hah!”
A 400-pound cow is not an easy carcass to bury even if you have a front-end loader or a bulldozer to gouge up the hard-packed clay.
Martin’s shovel rang as he chopped at the soil. He should have brought a radio but decided that would not be appropriate for such a solemn task.
Throughout the morning, his neighbors saw him from the road and came over to see what he was doing.
“The slaughterhouse people will get that cow for you,” Old Man Tucker said. “Turn her into dog food.”
How would he ever explain that to Sandy?
“That’s enough steak right there to last you a year,” another neighbor volunteered.
Even Margo offered expert advice. “Bit off more than you could chew…. Looks like to me. You ought to get a front-end loader and dig a hole.”
“Got one?” he said, not caring if he sounded impatient. “Know where I can borrow one?”
“Er, no,” she said. “Enjoy.”
By mid-morning the sun and the clay had drained him of his strength and resolve. He had a hole about one foot deep, but it looked more like a giant footprint or a crater. Daisy was so bloated now that he would need an even deeper hole if he hoped to put her in there.
“Is it time for the funeral?” Sandy asked when he went to the house for water.
I need to go to plan B.
Martin convinced Margo to take Sandy for ice cream. “You never take me for ice cream when I’m unhappy,” she complained as they drove away. He hitched his tractor to Daisy and dragged her to a ditch on the back side of the farm. The buzzards would take care of the rest.
This is the natural order of things, he reasoned to himself as he shoveled dirt into the scar. An hour later, when they returned, he was patting down the surface, using the shovel like a giant flyswatter. Sandy would never know Daisy wasn’t in there
The funeral service was impressive considering that Daisy was a cow: a prayer (He stood with his cap over his heart), a hymn (He sung backing vocals to “Jesus Loves Me” while Margo hummed), and Sandy’s heartfelt words lauding Daisy’s finer qualities of which there were many. At the end, they stood at the graveside holding hands.
“Let’s make Daisy a cross,” he said. “You can paint her name on it.”
“Now I can come visit Daisy every day.”
While Sandy ran ahead, Martin saw Margo watching the buzzards circling over the back of the farm like an unpleasant memory.
“Just look at all those buzzards,” she said. “You’re too protective. Honesty is essential to trust in parenting.”
“Sometimes you have to compromise, Margo. Find something that gets you through.”
He didn’t think Margo would tell Sandy until she was older when it wouldn’t matter anymore.
Maybe Sandy will have made her own compromises by then.