“Uh huh, well, sure, Daryl, if you want to get technical that’s what he said he wanted. But come one, he was maybe a half, definitely a quarter-sheet to the wind at the time and he’d already started going a little screwy. Started rambling on about ancient Egypt and watching Swiss Family Robinson on loop, fixating on the color of his neighbor’s cat.”
“I always loved that movie too,” said Daryl, “I thought it was really cool.”
Again Daryl speared a shovel into the dirt, rocked back the handle, and extruded another dollop of red clay from the dead man’s back yard. The earth broke wind with each shovelful they took, the soiling trying to suction itself still.
Stevie continued, “I mean, his mind was going by then. Maybe we didn’t know it at the time but that’s what the doctors told us since. Told you, told me. Just because he asked us to, doesn’t mean we have to. He’s not our big brother anymore, if you want to get technical.”
Daryl hopped into the knee-deep hole.
“Hand me that mattock, would you, brother,” asked Daryl, pointing to the axe-like digger. “And watch out, that’s poison ivy there running up that pole.
Stevie ambled over to the clothesline, then hesitated to approach it ungloved when he saw that it rested against the three-leaved vine. He nudged the orange-painted handle with his Converse and walk-kicked it over to Daryl, who nodded his head in thanks, took the mattock, and again wailed into the earth.
“Easy now, there’s no hurry here,” said Stevie.
Stevie pondered his brother’s intensity, wondering if he’d be able to keep it up until the pit was done or if he’d have to step in and take another turn. Going to blow a gasket, he though, he’s digging down as furiously as a living man stuck in a coffin would dig up. He pictured their fresh-dead brother, re-animated. He’d have one more day to amble off the slab at the mortuary, if he could, then he’d be stuck pretty good if he snapped back to life.
“Easy now, Daryl, no hurry,” he called.
Daryl stopped for a moment, panting. He pulled up the neck of his undershirt and wiped the sweat from his forehead, then leisurely swung the mattock about like a dance partner.
“One, two, three, cha cha cha. What do you think, Steve?”
Stevie stepped to the edge of the pit and regarded his brother.
“That mattock of yours is a lovely dancer, but I still think this is a very bad idea. And that in circumstances such as ours custom should be ignored.
Daryl raised an eyebrow in an exaggerated expression calculated to convey exasperation. Stevie had always had the forced contortion, and that it made his brother look like a rube.
“He told us himself,” Daryl stated, “clear as daylight. And he wrote the plan into his Will and Testament.”
“Yeah, but it’s — “
“— it’s our dead brother’s last wish, brother.”
Stevie shrugged his shoulders.
Daryl spoke. “He drew diagrams, christsake. And anyway I was asking about the hole, not the digger or the plan. I know how you feel about the Everett situation and I feel it too, but for christsake I’m tired of your tired harangue.”
“Our brother was not in his right mind when he charged us to do it.”
Daryl turned away from his brother and swung frantically against the earth for a while, hacking another foot until the iron chisel-head scraped against the shallow bedrock.
“Guess that’s as good as it gets,” said Daryl as he reached his hand toward Stevie. Stevie clasped both hands around his brothers and pulled him up from the pit.
“I guess so,” he agreed.
The men stood over the pit for a moment, each a little weary about honoring the next step of their dead brother’s burial wishes. Stevie was a softie, and Daryl was no cool killer.
“You lock up the tools,” Daryl suggested, “and I’ll start the latticework.”
Per instructions, they laid a layer sticks over the pit, then sprinkled a blanket of Autumn-damp eaves over the thin shell. Stevie eased out his leg and prodded the trap. “You think it’ll work?” he asked no one in particular, though he and Daryl stood shoulder-to-shoulder, “I think it’ll work.”
“Yeah, me too,” said Daryl, “me too, I think it’ll work. Though I kind of hope it doesn’t.”
“But we’ve got to try, right, you’re sure?”
“Our dead brother wants to be buried like a pharaoh with his neighbor’s cat, that’s what we’ve got to do. A little strange, sure, but we got to try.”
Stevie agreed, “we’ve got to try.”
Each of the pair opened a can of tuna with their dead brother’s old Swiss Army knife and set them upon the trap. They could hear the cat Everett scratching at the other side of the redwood fence — in a moment he’d investigate, and they’d rain terror upon him. They sat atop the picnic table, feet resting on the long stained bench, nervously tapping the butt ends of their wood dowel spears against the loamy ground.
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