A Hole of My Own

WHEN MA DIED, I went underground. I needed to be by myself. I needed to sort things out. So I dug a hole and crawled inside.

I couldn’t stand all the somber people and their empty words.

“Oh, Danny. I’m so sorry.”

“How are you doin’?”

“You help your dad now.”

I didn’t even know these well-intended swarms. Before the funeral they infested the house — ladies cooking and cleaning, men gathering in the den smoking and drinking. Lots of whispers and sidelong glances. I was suddenly a stranger in my own home, moving through a bad dream I couldn’t wake from.

The day of the funeral Lu came home from New Jersey. Aunts and uncles and cousins came. Grandma and Grandpa came, too. I was glad to finally see familiar faces with sincere smiles, to find some warm arms to lose myself in. But they all left as soon as we buried Ma.

The days following the funeral were silent. No one talked. Not a word. Since Dad broke the news, Jay-bird became my shadow. He wouldn’t leave my side. He was as lost as I was.

But I didn’t care. I needed to be by myself.

Not even Jay-bird was paying attention when I grabbed the shovel and raced to the river. There was a spot high on the cliffs where I liked to sit and sketch. I could see the dam to my left and the bridge to my right. Below, the rapids foamed white in the fast-moving, muddy-brown water. This was where I started to dig.

I dug and I dug. I dug until my back hurt and my arms ached. Then I dug some more. When I ran into roots too big to slice through, I snuck home and got the saw to cut them out.

Down, down I dug.

My hole became a tunnel. My tunnel, a hide-away. My hide-away, a sanctuary — dark, damp and earthy smelling. I spent the night there with Reuben, and no one noticed — not Dad, not Annie, not Paddy or Bull. Not even Jay-bird. After we buried Ma, nothing was ever the same again.