I plunged my hands into the soil, breathing heavy from exertion and feeling my nail-beds dry more with every scoop. I could feel the dirt on my face, but continued my digging with abandon. Not big enough yet, I considered, as my hands did their work.

The smell of earth filled my lungs. I could feel the sting of decay in the scent, reminding me of times at my mother’s hip in her small vegetable patch. Her smile infecting me as we ran our hands through the rich, manure-perfumed ground. The texture and aroma of fresh sod always brings me back to her. How I wish I could hear her cackle at my girlish antics once again. But childhood disappears, and we move on. There is no going back there now.

A clump of clay somehow found its way into my mouth as I dug carefully around a rock in my way, intensifying the thirst I already felt. I spit it out as best I could and wiped away the excess saliva with my forearm. Water droplets were forming on my forehead, and I was beginning to wonder if I would ever make my goal. This would be so much easier with my gardening tools, I pondered. But those were far from where I was, tucked safely away in my shed at home. I dislodged what seemed more like a boulder after all my effort and tried to push it to one side. It was not easy to move in such a small area, and some dirt moved to fill the gap left by its absent. I coughed as more dust flew onto my face. This is taking too long, I thought with a bit of desperation. Maybe I should give up.

That wasn’t an option though. I had responsibilities I had to get back to, and that wasn’t happening if I stopped. I renewed my commitment to the task at hand and my excavation began again with increased vigor. I could feel a change in temperature in the ground. I must be getting close, I reasoned as my arms stretched to reach as far as physically possible. Cold air found its way to my face as I felt the relief of a job nearing completion. Music wafted down to me from above. “When I die and they lay me to rest…” Someone must be close by, I thought. I have to hurry.

Excitement caused my heart to race as my long fingers ached from the struggle to remove the last few inches of ground that blocked my way. My hand reached the surface, and I could feel the warmth of the sun for the first time in several months. “He’s gonna recommend you to the spirit in the sky…” I burrowed now with as much hast as I could muster, encouraged that the music was getting louder. I was attempting to make the hole big enough to crawl out. Just as I was sure I would finally be free, there was a deafening crack from far below me.

The sound was coming from all around me after that. Creaks and scrapes surrounded me, drowning out the music from above. The ground began to shake and with a sudden jolt, my body lurched and dropped as the wood below me collapsed and the red dirt moved in to fill the empty space of the room I once inhabited. I landed with my spine on a wooden beam with a thud, more soil piling on top of me. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t do anything but listen to the sounds of earth settling all around me. When they stopped, just before my last gasp of life, I heard, “Gonna go to the place that’s the best. Go to the place that’s the best.”

©2019 Nancy Lehmann

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