That morning after work, Eli lay in his bed thinking of drinking straws, and all the things you could build with them. His sense of imagination wasn’t good. So instead, he kept picturing piles and piles of white straws with pink stripes and bendable necks. They kept multiplying in his mind, which was okay. Even that was better than the children. But then, there it was. That’s all it took. Just the word brought their faces back, and their teeth were sharp, exposed behind their chewed, cut-up lips.
He burst out of his bed. He hurried out to his backyard, where the hole was now as big as a basement. It could have devoured his small little trailer, it was so big.
He didn’t have it in him to keep digging. The strength wasn’t there. But he had to. It was the only thing that would stop him from imagining the faces. So he dug. Slowly. Pacing himself.
“Could I stop at three?” he asked. He didn’t know who he was asking, but the question was valid. Could he shovel three scoops at a time and stop?
He tried. Stabbed, scooped and flung the clump of dirt over his shoulder. Stabbed, scooped and flung. Stabbed, scooped, flung.
Eli stood there, his hands clutching the shovel’s handle. He tried to calm his breathing, his nerves, but now he felt as though the piles of dirt might fall over him and bury him there.
I can’t stop. I can’t do it.
So he went on until the pain was too much, which was better than anxiety, and the hole grew deeper. Which was fine, because this would eventually kill him. He would never finish the hole. He would die before he would see the bottom.
What the hell are you digging anyway? What is your purpose? What will you do with all this dirt?
He knew those questions. They were all false. Even if he did come up with a purpose to his digging, he would always know it for the lie it was. He was digging because he was digging. He was digging because he wanted the faces to stop. There wasn’t a larger scope, a deeper meaning to this work. There was no redemption at the end of this act. He would just have to keep going. This wasn’t an obsession. It was consumption. He wondered how long before he tore a muscle.
I hope not long.
Why he prayed for this harm, he had no clue. But he welcomed whatever physical pain came of this. He invited it. Begged it to come.
Only the rising of the sun came, and he finally reached the point of exhaustion that would bring him through sleep: in one end and out the other, without any trail of cut-up children’s faces in between.
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Genre – Short Stories / Literary Fiction
Rating – PG13