A Grave Digger in Search of a Body (Jennifer Semple Siegel)

(This allegory from 1993, based on a dream, addresses the three Yoga principles (or gunas) of creation and for creating: tamas (inertia), rajas (activity), and sattva (light and clarity). This story was part of an editorial in Onion River Review, Fall, 1993: Volume 1, Number 1. It has been edited and gently revised).

A grave digger digs a perfect hole in an idyllic, flat spot shaded by a grand old oak tree.
Not too close, however.
It would never do to have tree roots invading the quintessential grave site, coiling around the future tenant, a young boy who is expected to die as a result of a tragic accident.
Just as the grave digger scoops out the last shovelful of dirt, word comes that the boy has turned the corner and is expected to live after all. She feels a touch of excitement: the possibilities…!
The grave digger climbs out of the hole and assesses the situation: now that time is no longer a factor, she decides to shore up the walls with grade-A bricks, specifically choosing gray because artificial structures should blend in with the environment, and the soil in this cemetery tends to be a grayish clay.
She fabricates a clear tent over the hole and builds a series of pipes to direct water away from her masterpiece.
She spends months (mostly evenings, weekends, and holidays) on this project, grading the sides and leveling out uneven spots, mixing the mortar just so – neither too wet nor too dry – and placing each brick in its place, in harmony with every other brick. Just to make sure that nothing filthy or contaminated leaches through the wall, she applies a clear water sealer. After everything has dried, she scrubs down the walls with ammonia.
Then she waits. And waits.
Coffins arrive at the cemetery and are buried in other graves. Mourners, peeking into the grave digger’s masterpiece, come and go, but no one chooses the perfect grave site for their loved ones.
Years pass.
She can’t figure out why anyone would pass up such a perfect spot, so she spends her life savings hooking up spotlights so that no one can possibly miss the perfect spot shaded by the grand old oak tree. Then she hires a popular cleaning service to give the hole another thorough cleaning, this time with powerful industrial cleaners not available to the public.
What could possibly go wrong now?
Alas, she waits and watches as the adjacent sites around the idyllic spot slowly fill.
Meanwhile, out of habit more than anything else, she continues maintaining the open grave, no longer thinking much about filling it.
In fact, by now, she has grown rather attached to it and wonders what would happen if someone really did come along and take it.
One day, many, many years later, as the grave digger climbs a ladder to change a light bulb in one of the spotlights, a short, rotund bald man, sixtyish, flop hat in hand, approaches her and clears his throat. He is attired in a dapper tweed suit.
She stops and, forgetting about the bulb, steps down from her ladder, slowly, for she has grown quite old and arthritic. She sets the bulb onto the grass and wipes her sweaty, veiny hands on a rag. “May I help you?” She stuffs the rag into her back pocket.
“I’ve come to apologize,” the man says, shuffling his feet.
“What on earth for?”
“Well, you see,” he says, nodding toward the grave site. “I was supposed to go in there. I was just a lad of ten when my bicycle hit the side of a train. I wasn’t supposed to make it through the night, so my Ma –” Here he becomes choked up and begins weeping. His hat slips out of his hands and drops to the ground.
The old woman puts her arm around the man. “There, there, now. It’s okay.”
The man takes out a handkerchief and blows his nose. “I’m so sorry you got stuck with –” he points at the hole – “THAT!”
“This is what I do,” she says, picking up the hat and returning it to the man. “So there’s nothing to forgive.” She gestures for him to leave. “I have work to do now. It’s a matter of time…” She picks up the bulb.
The man stands frozen in place.
“Nothing more to see here.”
“But – I…”
“Time grows short.” She points toward the cemetery road. “Go, now.”
Shaking his head, he shuffles away, his shoulders drooping.
On the back of his bald head is a long scar, s-shaped, stretching from his crown to his neck.
We all carry wounds…
Turning away from the man, she climbs the ladder and changes the bulb.
She drops the old one – it makes a soft thud on the soft grass but does not break – and brushes her hands together.
She slowly climbs down and shimmies her way into the hole.
She pulls the rag from her pocket and begins wiping down the wall.
“Soon,” she whispers into the void.

Onion River Review, (1993:Volume 1, Number 1)


(857 words)


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