We climb the mountain in moonlight. Kagan leads with his impossibly long legs. I have my little shovel, the one I carry everywhere like other girls carry lipgloss or tampons. You never know when you might need a good shovel, when you might curse yourself for leaving yours behind, for not thinking contingencies, worst cases, opportunities.
The city lights fade as we climb; the air gets clearer. Gone is the staleness of bodies breathing and sweating en masse. We sit, and Kagan offers me a cigarette. I dig a hole by his foot and ask to bury his shoe.
“Weirdo.” He shoves my shoulder teasingly but hard enough to make me topple.
My butt skids on gravel; dirt rides up my cutoffs.
He laughs, watching, then his voice turns serious. “You prepared?”
“Always,” I say, though I know he’s talking condoms and I’m thinking of my shovel.
Pop calls it a trowel, but that doesn’t give it the weight it deserves. Things don’t get what they deserve. That’s something I learned early.
Back in grade school, I’d stuff my shovel in my jacket, wander the back fields at recess and bury all matters of necessity: rocks, shells, bottle caps, rings, cards, letters, promises, friendships, betrayals, neglect, loneliness. As I got stronger, the holes got deeper, my memory sharper. No need to leave markers anymore. I had a map of the underworld filed away, the epitaphs like a song.
Kagan dips a finger into my cleavage like a measuring stick, and my nipples stand at attention.
“Everything’s sticky in this heat,” he says. He draws his shirt over his head and wears it like a bridal veil. His muscles flex hard against his bony chest. “Someday we’re just gonna melt. Spread like butter over this mountain.”
He picks a wildflower and slips it in my hair, its petals dewy, despite the night. I wonder how a flower came to this barren mountain, whether I deserve it, or it deserved to be picked.
I keep lists like other people keep diaries. All the things I need to bury, in order of priority. Pop’s bad back, his lost jobs. Check. The way Ma laid into him for eating too much, drinking too much, for taking up space. Check. The way Pop cracked and laid back into her, and now everything’s gone silent and still. Check.
I spread out my arms, cool earth on my back, gravel biting my naked legs. “You’d do well to confess your sins to me,” I say. “I’ll bury them, if everything goes right.”
He takes a last drag, snuffs out the butt underfoot, then springs like a fox. In an instant, he’s straddling my hips, my one arm pinned, drawing pictures on my stomach with a fingertip. “What is it?” he demands after I stop squirming.
“How should I know?” I dig a shallow hole with my free hand, grope about for a rock.
I bury everything alone. That’s the way it should be. A space for everything and everything in its space. When something makes it into the ground, to dust, it needs to own that land. Take responsibility for its own hole.
“Close your eyes,” Kagan says. “Try again.”
He lifts my tank top, runs a finger along my bare midriff, body calligraphy, sure and unburdened, the way I always wish I could dig.
It’s a Chinese character. I’m certain of it. “Luck,” I whisper.
He leans down and kisses me hard on my neck, against my throat. “A plus,” he shouts tipping his head to the moon and laughing like a hyena. In a flash, he’s on his feet, bounding the rest of the way to the summit.
I roll onto my side, pull the shovel from my back pocket, and mark an X in the dirt where his groin pressed into mine. It’s shallow and uncompromising. I have the urge to dig a body-sized hole. They’re so satisfying: the toil and sweat, the ache in your muscles the next morning. I want it bad, the way some people want to connect at the hip. I want everything to have edges, to be packed away, the whole earth tucked inside itself, the location of Everything, a landmine underfoot.
Instead I take a scoop of dirt and fill both front pockets, spit and rub the shovel clean. It gleams in the moonlight, reflecting sticky bangs plastered against my forehead, the emptiness behind my eyes. I whistle a shrill note, and Kagan turns to me, fists pumped against a starry backdrop.
Nothing gets what it deserves. No one’s keeping score, deciding what stays, what goes, what thrives, what wilts. Everything’s a whirlwind of chaos, ugly weeds growing wild, storms destroying pristine neighborhoods, the separation between over and underground decided by the mere slice of a knife.
“Whaaaa!” I scream, a war cry, brandishing my shovel like a weapon and sprinting up the mountain. When we meet, it’s not without violence. I’m on his back, my arm snaked around his neck, feet locked about his waist. Kagan hooks his wrists beneath my calves and spins. We turn and turn until we fall. He’s laughing. I might be, too.
“You ready?” he asks. It’s only a whisper.
I reach for the wildflower in my hair, the virgin petals so delicate, like velvet, like the wind.
“Always,” I say.
I thrust my shovel in deep, and start to dig.
Notes from Guest Reader Kate Finegan
I love a story with layers, and ‘Buried Deep, Buried for Good’ has those in spades. The sexually-charged trek of two adolescents up a mountain in the moonlight becomes a way in to uncovering what we bury, admitting what we cannot forget, and questioning what we might deserve. Dakota Canon has built a story that grows and morphs with each rereading.