Burying Dead Things
“Je-je-jellybean won’t move,” she said in between chest rumbles and strangled snot.
He nodded. What could he say? Dead things don’t move. Not on their own.
While his parents slipped away to celebrate their fifteenth wedding anniversary— he was eleven then—he stayed overnight at his uncle’s single floor house. His uncle had bought the house after coming back from Vietnam and, though prone to bouts of heavy drinking, he was the family favorite of his nieces and nephews. Most family outings found him centrally located, playing games of tag or badminton with the children or grilling chicken. He had often daydreamed of staying at his uncle’s house and exploring the overgrown backyard and shed, having only been able to make cursory excursions into it previously.
When his girlfriend arrived home, he explained the condition of Jellybean while the ten year old’s tears ran freely onto the floor, forming a small puddle on the parquet around her tennis shoes. He sipped on a fresh mug of tea that he had made after helping the girl into a new outfit, the old one sopping wet, though the new outfit was nearly as soaked through now. They agreed on a burial ceremony for the following day, and he was delegated the jobs of coffin maker and grave digger.
They looked like dried up fruit at first, but the shapes were so odd that he couldn’t figure out what kind of fruit they might have been. Though dried out, they were not dehydrated and still retained some fleshiness. They sat in a mason jar on a top shelf in the old food pantry his uncle had installed in the shed. He was shaking the jar around when his uncle finally woke up and found him.
It was easy enough to tell that the uncle felt embarrassed, his cheeks flushed cherry. Instead of letting his uncle’s brief replies to his entreaties for answers to the mystery of the mason jar stand, the boy pushed harder.
“Why are you even in here?” his uncle asked gruffly.
He shrugged. The boy asked, “What are they though? Are those prunes? Mom always says that prunes are gross, and those things look gross. Should I try one?”
“No. Don’t ever even think about trying one,” his uncle told him.
The thought of his nephew gulping down one of them finally convinced his uncle.
“You can’t. They’re ears.”
His uncle spent the next thirty minutes explaining that in war, soldiers had to kill the enemy and sometimes they did things they weren’t always proud of, but you have to do that because that was war.
“A lot of the soldiers did this kind of thing,” he explained. “Keeping a part of the enemy.”
The uncle took the jar from his nephew’s hands and looked at its contents through the glass. “Like a trophy,” his uncle said.
The boy had trophies.
Thirty minutes later his uncle agreed to bury the ears in the garden, partially through some kind of blind trust that doing so would eliminate the need to explain this story to his brother and sister in-law when they came to pick their son up.
Jellybean received all the necessary honors of a hamster. As he put the wooden box he had made for the small hamster down, he admired his handiwork. It had been years since he had touched nail to wood, hammer to nail. Really the process of making the coffin had been almost therapeutic for him and he had decided, while creating the furry creature’s casket, that he would begin to do woodworking again. He did not know why he had ever stopped. They all three shared the chore of shoveling dirt on top of the casket.
“Goodbye, Jellybean,” the small girl said, holding back the tears with all of her ten year old strength.
“Goodbye, Jellybean,” he repeated.
Not knowing what else to do after the ear burial, his uncle kicked dirt over the “grave.” The boy looked up at his uncle, waiting for some kind of words of wisdom.
“Let’s go get a burger,” was all his uncle would say.
After returning home, chock full of French fries, cheeseburger, and shake, his uncle made up the bed in the guestroom and put him to sleep. He stayed awake for a little while reading comic books and eventually he fell asleep on top of the Silver Surfer.
He woke up in the dark, maybe late at night or early in the morning. He was not quite sure why he had woken up, but then he heard it outside. He looked, and there his uncle was outside, digging up the mason jar. He decided he would not say anything to his parents. Dead things, he decided, should stay buried.
“Why did you put that big potted plant over Jellybean’s grave?” his girlfriend asked.
He shrugged while sipping on his cup of Earl Gray. He was contemplating what kind of woodworking project he would start later that day.
“I just wanted to make sure he stayed buried.”
His girlfriend gave him a quizzical look but didn’t ask anything else. She went and made herself a glass of tea before joining him at the table for breakfast.