KYSO Flash
Knock-Your-Socks-Off Art and Literature
Issue 11: Spring 2019
Flash Fiction: 1,000 words

Burying Them Deep

by Kelli Fitzpatrick

From my kitchen window, the bodies look like a large pile of reddish-brown manure. The old maple is in pieces, an explosion of stringy cream splinters that were part of a living tree just hours ago. Now they lie soaked in last night’s rain.

I pour boiled water over a tea bag just to wrap my hands around the mug to soak up its warmth. Josie is asleep on the couch, tuckered out from hours of crying into my sleeve. She has always adored anything with fur or feathers. She’s only ten, and I worry her heart is too tender, that it will get crushed like a robin’s egg on a busy sidewalk.

But she has a kind of strength I covet—she always knows what’s right.

Last night, once Josie dozed off, I peeled away my rain-soaked clothes and stood in the steamy shower, waiting for my skin to accept the heat. It never did, so I sat sleepless in front of the tube, watching Andy Griffith solve all the world’s problems with a grin and a good deed. At daybreak, I phoned Keefer. He said he’d bring the loader over by mid-morning. I still don’t own one, because the barn needed a new roof first.

Keefer also said he has an offer for me to consider.

I don’t want to give up yet. But I can’t control nature. That storm blew up suddenly past midnight—no time to herd them to the barn. All seventeen head sheltering under the tree, electrocuted instantly in a crack that must have woke half the county. Lord. Almost a year feeding and caring for them. Just burned away like morning dew.

I wouldn’t let Josie see them, but some absurd part of me wants to pay last respects to these cows, so I pull on boots and step into cold air. Crossing the yard, I see her, the Siamese cat that showed up last week while I was feeding the barn cats. No collar or tags, but her coat is silky. Must have been someone’s pet. What’s she doing wandering the wilderness alone? Wherever she’s from, it’s nice to have her trotting along at my side. She slips under the fence as I enter the field.

Close up, the cattle could be napping—their rusty hides show no signs of the strike. But the scent of burnt flesh hangs like a cloud of gnats. Twisted around one cow’s legs is the American flag from my pole out front. Must have torn loose in the storm.

A flag drove me to Michigan in the first place, the one they draped over my buddy’s casket. James was in the wrong place at the wrong time, like most of the soldiers in Saigon. After the funeral, I cashed in my Pentagon pension and moved us to the middle of the Mitten, bought the smallest farm I could find. Making food for people had to be better than making death.

With a growl, my neighbor’s yellow CAT loader crests the hill, bucket bouncing and creaking. He leaves the diesel engine chugging and climbs down, same Peterbilt hat and green snap-front jacket as always. His step slows as he nears the carnage.

“Shit, Tab. All of them?”

I nod. “They liked to lay together. Probably...felt safer that way.”

Keefer kicks a dirt clod. “Well...least the ground is dry enough. We shouldn’t have trouble burying them. Did you have insurance?”

“Yeah, but it won’t cover half of my investment in them. I should’ve cut down that tree when I bought the property, but it was the only shade in the pasture and I thought, well, I thought they deserved something nice.”

The cat rubs my pantleg, depositing a swath of silver hair in the denim weave.

“This won’t be glamorous work,” Keefer says. “I can fetch Peter, or you can stay—”

“I have no experience with a loader.”

“I know.” He hooks his thumbs in his jean pockets. “I actually wanted to talk to you about that.”

I try to beat him to it. Say that I’ll accept his offer and sell the farm. I know it’s the smart thing. I took a risk, tried to accomplish something, and lost. Just like James. I try to tell Keefer I’m done.

But the words stick in my teeth like raspberry seeds.

My neighbor adjusts his hat over prickly white hair. “This is a close community. You don’t have to go it alone. I haven’t kept cattle in a while, but Eldon Wellings has. Lynnette and I could help you with crops, least till you get settled.”

I lean back on my boot heels, burying them deep in the dirt. My dirt. He doesn’t want my land. He wants me to stay. A burden that seems as heavy as those carcasses. “I can’t pay you for that, Keefer. Not now.”

He shrugs. “It isn’t like that. It’ll work out. Maybe you can help Lynn in the garden when squash is coming out our ears. Or tutor Peter so he passes his damn algebra class.”

I blink.

“All I mean to say is,” he meets my eyes, “if you want, someone around here will always have your back.”

Suddenly, the cat bounds away, across the field, weaving through reeds. Great—one more departure I can’t control.

I draw a cold lungful of air. Josie’s tears form a stiff salty patch on my sleeve. Through my feet, I can feel her tiny heartbeat in the house, the cadence of James’ laughter, the pulse of electricity that shocked and blessed this ground—the gathering warmth in my chest. I don’t know how long I’ll stay, but whatever grows on this farm will be fed by more than just me.

The screen door slams and I know Josie is awake and running out here. This time, I won’t hold her back.

I look to the loader that waits to plunge into earth. “Is there room on that thing for three?”


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