A Mansion, a Coffin
A story about digging graves
The mounds of dirt piled high as some of the tree tops, their dark-auburn mixed umber hues standing out like the bent knees of slumbering giants, in stark contrast to the greenery of the lawn, and the rustling leaves. The trucks continued to bring more in, a seemingly ceaseless caravan of removed earth, the wind stealing back what it could in brown tufts of dust.
Nearby, the mansion stood silent and still, as any building should, but shrouded in an air of strange solemnity, its large front windows bathed in reflections, but lifeless as the eyes of a corpse that needed a loving hand to close them. People in yellow hardhats walked to and fro, holding up
instruments to survey the site, rolling and unrolling large sheets of paper, amid the thundering roar of diesel engines and giant wheels kicking up shredded bits of grass for the breeze.
Troy Mallick listened to the chatter over the walkie, chewing on a mint-flavored toothpick, watching the preparations with a sense of awe-struck cynicism. He looked at the mansion, a building most people he knew would kill to live in, and he felt a cold hand stir the hairs on his neck. This was beyond the levels of human extravagance he had grown accustomed to. The
yellow strips of tape across the door, cris-crossed in an “X” said: POLICE LINE, DO NOT CROSS.
Merrill Landis was a younger man than Troy by twelve years, but someone Troy had learned to trust more than most, swapping stories while sweating their shirts through in the summer sun, digging graves for strangers. He walked up to Troy, where he stood in the shade of a large elm, brushing dust from his jeans and hands.
“Well, this is something else isn’t it?”
“You think his body is really still in there?”
They both looked at the mansion. The sunlight gleamed in the grooves of the front columns like tiny rivers of gold. From behind the building, a back-hoe reared its toothed steel bucket head, hydraulic mechanisms whirring loudly along with the clunky shudders of steel on steel as it maneuvered back down for another load.
“Why us do you think? This is more than we’ve ever been asked to do.”
“We buried his daughter. Four years ago. Said we did a good job, very precise.”
“There’s not much to it really.”
“I guess he thought otherwise.”
“How much do you think this place is worth?”
Merrill didn’t have words to respond to that, just whistled, removed his hardhat and rifled his hand through his sweaty matte of hair. He crouched, resting his knee on the hardhat, and picked a dandelion seed from the ground, holding it up by the stem. A gust of wind scattered half the seeds from the stalk, carrying them away from him, to wherever. He sighed and blew the rest of the seeds from the end, tossing the empty stem back to the grass. In the distance, the beeps of a dump truck signaled another load of dirt being dropped.
“What do you think his kids think about it?”
“Doesn’t really matter. They fought it, but a will is a will. A man decides the fate of his own estate.”
“So, we’re really going through with it, huh? Burying him in his home, with all his belongings, like some kind of Pharaoh.”
“You can see, can’t you?”
Troy motioned to the mounds of dirt, the trucks, the multitude of men taking measurements and directing the traffic.
“Yeah, but it doesn’t really seem fair does it? Have you ever owned a swimming pool? Ever slept on a mattress that didn’t twist your back into knots by morning?”
“No. Not yet.”
“So, maybe we see what’s in that house before we bury it?”
“Merrill. We don’t rob graves.”
“Shit, I know. This just feels different.”
“Damn. You’re right. If he was my dad, I would never forgive him. Who’s he think he is, Charles Foster Kane?”
“From that movie. The richest man in the world is unhappy because he didn’t have a childhood. You know. Rosebud?”
“No. Doesn’t sound like my kind of movie. I don’t like that depressing crap. I like action. Bruce Willis killing terrorists.”
“That figures,” Merrill said, smiling. He was pulling up blades of grass nervously with one hand, slightly embarrassed at his suggestion earlier. He nodded toward the mansion.
“Why do you think he did it?”
Troy plucked the toothpick from his mouth, flipped it around to get the mint from the other side. He rubbed the heel of his hand against the stubble of his chin, making a bristly sound. He thought of his daughter’s face, the way her smile could knock all shadows from the room.
“I don’t know. Let’s go see how the south wall is coming.”
“Sure thing, boss.”
He helped him to his feet. They walked from the shadow of the elm, into the bright green of the yard, where the sun beat down on their backs like an abusive parent. Merrill strode over the other blossoms and weeds in his path, paying them no mind, bees buzzing restlessly near his feet, scattering more seeds to the wind. In the distance, another truck pulled away, lowering its bed as it drove, a large brown cloud hovering about its rear wheels, exhaust spewing toward heaven.
The mansion’s lifeless eyes watched them without emotion, a coffin waiting to be sealed away from the world, whispering jealous thoughts into the ears of the gravediggers. They had much more work to do before the sun went down.