Tom plunged the blade of his shovel into the damp sod of his backyard flowerbed. He pushed down on the worn wooden handle and separated a clump of black-brown dirt from the surrounding earth. It was heavier than he’d expected, soaked as it was from the rain the night before. At least the hole wouldn’t need to be that big — he glanced at the trash bag-shrouded bundle in the dewy, overgrown grass to his right — no more than two feet deep, three at the most. As he brought his heel down on the butt of the shovel for the second time, he felt the first icy pinpricks of rain against the back of his neck, then his bare arms. He heard a low rumble in the distance. Not promising, but this should be quick work, he thought.
After a few more shovelfuls, Tom set down his tool and knelt to pick up the trash bag. He placed the bundle in the hole and pressed it down with his hands, trying to make it fit. But despite his efforts, the top of the black plastic lump still rose inches above the surrounding flowerbed.
“Guess you should have laid off the ol’ Kibbles n’ Bits, eh Sparky?” Tom said as he lifted the trash bag back out of the hole and dropped it once again in to the unkempt grass.
Sparky had been his daughter’s dog, a white and brown Jack-Russell Terrier. But now Sparky was the lifeless resident of a Hefty trash bag. Kim was away at college, so the role of canine undertaker had fallen to her unwilling father who had found Sparky stretched out, looking a little too relaxed, in his favorite napping spot earlier that morning.
After a few more shovelfuls, Tom once again tried to fit Sparky’s remains in the hole. Closer this time, almost flush with ground level.
Tom hesitated; the rain was starting to come down harder, upgraded now from a mist to a steady shower. Maybe he could just leave it this way, spread a thin blanket of dirt over the dog and call it good. After all, it was just a dog — not even his dog, technically — and the back of his t-shirt was starting to soak through.
But no, an opossum or coyote might dig up the poor mutt. If that happened it would just create another chore for Tom, and picking up mangled pieces of Sparky from around the yard sounded even less pleasant that what he was already doing. Although it would be fitting in a way, he thought as he picked up his shovel. It seemed like he was always picking up after that dog; his shit, his toys, the balls of his fur that collected on the carpet. Picking up pieces of Sparky himself might be the logical conclusion to their relationship.
When Kim’s mother was still in the house it wasn’t so bad. Tom had made it clear when they got Sparky that he would have nothing to do with it — he’d never liked dogs. So if Kim and her mom wanted a dog, they could clean up after it. When they had started going through the house to divide their things it was assumed that the dog would go to Kim’s mother’s house. After all, Kim would be there most of the time, and, as her mother was quick to point out, Tom didn’t even like dogs.
And yet, Tom had insisted that Sparky stay in the house with him. He said there would be no room for the dog in the townhouse with her mother and that Sparky would need a yard to play in — all of which he supposed was true, though he didn’t really care. He even claimed that he and Sparky had become very close, which was an outright lie. The truth was — and he barely admitted this even to himself — he was afraid that without Sparky there, Kim would never feel at home; that for her, home would always be with her mother because that’s where Sparky was. He told himself this was irrational, but Tom still held defiantly on to the dog he didn’t like, and for the next five years cleaned up all of his messes, including the final mess Sparky would ever leave: his own mortal remains.
Tom scooped the last few shovelfuls of dirt on top of the plastic bag, then got to his knees to smooth the soil with his hands. The rain was coming down hard, collecting in Tom’s hair then dripping down his face and off the tip of his nose. Tom stood up, wiping his hands on his soaked jeans. As he looked down at the mound of Sparky’s grave, he wondered when he should break the news to Kim.
Later. He nodded to himself as he walked back to the empty house. Later was probably best.
Photo by AdamBindslev