It was a hot day in July when I returned home from the vet’s office. The oak trees shaded the yard, casting a cool canopy of shadow and gloom. The still air was dense with humidity, thickening the blood coursing through my veins, increasing the wretchedness that consumed my body. Codie was wrapped in a black plastic trash bag, his furry, fox-like, puffball tail lolling languid out the opening. I hadn’t thought ahead, I wasn’t prepared for this day, and when it came time to take him home, I had no vessel within which to whisk his limp body away. The vet had asked if I had brought a blanket for him. A blanket. A simple piece of fabric to wrap him in, swaddle him like the beloved faithful companion of mine for nine years of which he deserved this little shred of dignity, but in that emotional state, I had not thought ahead. Instead he was placed in that black trash bag in the most unceremonious of fashion, unfitting for the caliber of companion he had been. I carried him myself to the rear of my Jeep Cherokee, the slick plastic and limp body difficult to hold, awkward and unwieldy.
I found myself on that stifling day, in the front yard of my house, pondering with an absence of true rational thought, just what I would do with my beloved’s fluffy corpse. Oh, he looked so alive, except the absence of vigor and animation, like he had fallen into one of his deep sleeps that old dogs are so accustomed. I was alone and didn’t have many gardening tools, and frankly, was at a point in my life where I didn’t care if the lawn was five feet tall or well manicured, so that translates to not owning a shovel. But I had a pickaxe—because why not own a pickaxe but not a shovel–one of those ridiculous impulse purchases at a discount tool store, the price so good I couldn’t pass paying only 12 dollars. So I set to work, with my yellow fiberglass handle pickaxe and a wide pine board, digging into the dry dusty soil.
At an acute, ninety degree angle of the house, was a garden that I had shown infrequent care and attention, but with stupid optimism always assumed would flourish. In this agricultural space many plants had met their demise, placed here only to shrivel and rot months later. My green thumb was, and always is, a death sentence for the survival of plants. I see beauty in flowers and shrubs, I adore Japanese gardens and bonsai, I stroll through parks and admire the architectural design that went into creating such a beautiful space, but, I care little to aid and further the growth of plants in my own garden, hence the perpetual corner of shaded wilting and browning. Here, in this spot, the only bit of soil I knew might be deep enough for my task, I chose to bury Codie.
The house was a small house, the size of a shoebox atop a grand hill that overlooked the Androscoggin River. The driveway so treacherous, throughout the winter my vehicles effort to climb that steep grade was thwarted by the icy conditions, sliding backwards in precarious and uncontrollable fashion, even after it had been plowed. The yard was a postage stamp of burnt grass and acidic soil, due to the atmosphere from the monolithic and numerous oak trees that towered overhead, leaching all nutrients from the soil. Their leaves and acorns blanketed the forest floor in a thick stratigraphy of tannic acid decay. The soil of the yard was dusty, thin, like parchment paper stretched atop fine grit. And beneath all this was granite ledge, in many spaces only inches below the surface. The landscape surrounding the house was dead or dying, a perpetual wan, the green blades that did grow, wispy, thin, and frail.
The pick axe sunk into the soil. A thin veil of dust shot up from each strike and floated in the stifling air, only to become a thick mud that caked my drenched skin. Tears of saline dirt trailed my cheeks and choked my mouth as my tongue licked my lips for moisture. Codie lay atop the bag, wrapped in a blanket I removed from the house, tongue dangling to the side, an abnormal countenance for my regal companion. I stopped, and closing his mouth, moved the pink, dry muscle behind his teeth. With each swing of the axe, I moved little dust and removed it with the pine board as I raked the dirt from the forming hole. Even in this garden though, there was a limit to depth, and I hoped it went deep enough.
With each swing of the pick, I expected a twang as I cringed in anticipation of forged steel striking granite, sparking, and reverberating up the handle into the bones of my body. It took longer than I thought, and that telltale sound of metal on rock came through the dirt as the blade scraped against the rough surface.
The hole became larger, longer, wider, but the depth remained the same. I fooled myself by not measuring it first, and chose to live in oblivious bliss of its ability to meet the function I required of it, until it came time to place him in his final bed. When I was satisfied, I stood up, and using the handle of my tool, measured the depth.
Three feet, was my guess, and that isn’t much. When you think about it, you want to bury a corpse far beneath the earth. I’m not worried about disease, or bugs, or smell, but, the truth of the matter is, I didn’t want to wake up in the middle of the night to the noise of some animal digging up my beloved outside my bedroom window. I just couldn’t deal with that. But here, in the deepest spot in the yard, I had a shallow grave of three feet.
Judge me, don’t judge me, but this is what I had to work with.
There was, and is, another image that has always crept across my thoughts from time to time. The house was eventually sold. Another family purchased it, and, well, my dog is buried in a grave of only three feet, in the garden of all places. I can see it now. The fresh, silver, gleaming spade head sinks into the first shovel full of dirt. The second. The third. And with that fourth, a shred of black plastic comes up with the dirt. Its thin, unnatural shine fluttering in a breeze, as if waving to the new homeowners, trying to capture their attention, alert them to what’s below. And then, they see it, a white stick in the dirt. No, it’s not a stick. A bone. Oh. It’s a bone. This was probably where people dumped their garbage back when. But then with each sink of that spade, comes up more and more. Each bone laid out in mystery and wonder of the circumstances behind the skeleton they have unearthed. My poor Codie is exposed.
As far as I know, and for my peace of mind, Codie is still in that black plastic bag, atop that hill, wrapped in his blanket, buried only a foot underground.
Wait, what happened to three feet? Right, well, Codie was a husky malamute mix. That means he was broad chested. The hole was three feet in depth, 36 inches. Once you put a body in there, the depth changes. So, he is only a foot and a half from the surface–if you want to be technical about this. Yeah.
I kissed his cheek one last time, tears streaming down my face, and covered him with dirt using that board, one pull at a time.
Codie was my first dog, and I loved the time I spent with him. He was a quirky dog—aren’t they all. He ate mink oil, plastic tub and all, without any bowel issues. The first night I took him home, he ate a stick of butter and the foil wrapper right off the kitchen table. Foam containers for chicken breast were not off limits, no matter how many times he vomited up that yellow puddle of crystalline ooze onto the floor. He ate two cats in his lifetime. Yes, two, and yes, ate–I did not condone or agree with this practice, and the circumstances surrounding these were odd themselves. There was the time he scared a raccoon so bad, the poor creature clung to the window screen on my house for hours, while he watched it through the window. There is so much more. He was kind of a hellion.
Knowing Codie, he is under that dirt, waiting with mischievous anticipation of the owners to sink that shovel in the dirt, for one more surprise. In the end though, I’m selfish, and I don’t want the new owners to enjoy him like I did. So, before they decide to test the mettle of their green thumbs, I’ll go back there some night under cover of darkness, and with shovel in hand, poised under their bedroom window, move one spadeful of dirt at a time, digging into a shallow grave to bring my dog home. It’ll be easy to remove him, as long as I don’t tear the plastic bag.