Digging Up the Past
Steven E. Wedel
Levi pitched the shovel aside and stood up. He reached behind him with his right arm, his only arm, and held his back as he stretched to relieve the cramping. Digging the hole hadn’t been easy. The on-going drought made the ground as hard as cement.
The sun was setting. The old house on the horizon was only a haunted black silhoutte. No one lived in the house any more. The farm was leased to a tenent who grazed cattle on the land, leaving the house to slowly decay. Levi didn’t care.
He squatted beside the small grave and brushed dirt off the lid of a pine box.
“Twenty-three years,” he whispered. “Long time.” He cleared dirt away from the box. There was no moisture, not even this deep. The dirt smelled dry and dusty. Levi snorted to clear his nose.
Getting the box out of the ground would be tricky. “Shoulda wore the damn prosthetic,” he mumbled. Using the shovel blade as a wedge, he dragged the box into the high brown grass. “Gotcha.”
He knelt beside the container and pulled a hammer from his belt. Years of continued farmwork after the combine tore away his left arm had made him adept at using tools one-handed. Rusty nails screamed and emitted tendrils of reddish dust as he pulled them from the lid.
The nails out, Levi sat quietly. The lid was about to fall off. The hammer slid from his dusty fingers. Levi reached for the lid, then stopped. He heard himself swallow. His fingers trembled. With a sudden flick of his wrist he flung the lid aside.
His father had thought the whole affair melodramatic and took part only after an argument with his wife. The bones were gray and hard in the deepening gloom. Very carefully, Levi lifted the partial skeleton out and held it before his face.
It felt no different than the bones of cattle that had died and decomposed on the land. The long bone of the forearm was smooth except for some pock marks.
“Worms been at me already,” Levi said. “Damn worms.” He was shaking. The tip of his index finger rattled and fell away from the rest of the skeleton. Levi winced as the particle hit the ground.
The joints—fingers, wrist and elbow—were stiff and did not move as he held the arm; they had rusted like any other piece of neglected farm equipment. The severed end was ragged and sharp. Levi remembered his father cursing as he bound his son’s gushing stump with the same red handkerchief in which he blew his nose.
“Coulda died,” Levi told the passing wind. “Worms coulda had all of me.”
He put the arm down and stripped off his shirt. Another deep breath. Levi raised the skeletal remnant of his childhood until the ragged edge butted against the rounded knob six inches from his shoulder.
“I’ve outgrowed it.” He tossed the bones back into the box and reached for his shirt.
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