Turning the Earth Over

Sleep and then awake, fumbling for the light, reaching over the bedside feeling for a Chekhov, a Carver, or where is that Koestler anyway?  Finally I grasp the Chekhov.  His words are a spade in the dim light, turning over the thawing earth, cutting the worms, replenishing the soil for a new seed and then I stop reading.  The flying dream comes to me and I momentarily recall it with all the warmth emanating from a flying dream: sleep exhilaration and then I jump off the edge, dropping, floating, bobbing down the outside of a skyscraper.  Finally, joyfully I land upon the city sidewalk.  I beat my friends who have taken the elevator.  We walk across the street and I interview for a job and ask the HR woman, who is blonde and then black-haired and we have slept together years before, if she thinks being able to fly might be useful for the job responsibilities?  She says yes, probably, but she needs to consult her boss.  The hierarchy must be notified about a potential employee who can fly.

I hear my father calling me.  He is lying on his bed, his leg swollen red and angry, with the open wounds slowly soaking the sheets with black blood. “Will you kill Pea Eye for me?” he asks.  “I can’t bring myself to do it.”   She is a female with thick, dark-grey fur, the kind that makes her seem expensive and unavailable.  She is not, of course, she only seems that way.  In fact, she is one of the most loving and faithful cats I have ever known. She is a walk-on, like all the other cats around our house.  There are Old Sport, Gravy, Puss, Mr. President, Eddie, and Beka.   When my father goes out to feed them, they dance around him like the Paris Ballet, turning pirouettes on cat toes; raised paws slightly curving into the circle.

Pea Eye has a cancer in her right eye.  It has eaten away most of the eyeball and you can now see into the bone socket of her skull.  My father keeps it doctored with antibiotic salve and for a few months she remains in good humor.  She would still nuzzle my legs, wanting a scratch around her ears, but over the last few weeks, she has finally taken a turn for the worse and has stopped eating and drinking.  When we touch her she hisses.  “She’s dying,” my father says.  “She is in pain.  Just take a golf club and whack her in the head.  She’ll go quick.”  Like a good 12-year old that’s on the golf team, I nod.

I go to my closet and select a 7-iron, my favorite club, out of the bag.  Pea Eye is in the backyard, skinny and weak, lying asleep in the sun.  I put the head of the club just behind her neck and look down at her, envisioning a thin-skinned Titleist.  She rolls over and with her one good eye, looks straight up at me.  I reach down and lightly stroke her belly.  She is warm and begins to purr.  I have not heard her purr for a long time.

Back in my father’s bedroom, I watch him doze.  I sit beside him for an hour or so, reading and watching his irregular breaths.  When he finally wakes, he tells me about his dream.  He was on the beach wounded and some of his friends were there, most of them dead in the mountains, but they were somehow alive, smiling over his body.  I tell him I could not kill Pea Eye.  “That’s fine.  I understand, but if she crawls under the house to die, you’ll have to go get her or else she’ll stink up the whole place.”

The next morning I get up early and go outside.  I find Pea Eye just beside the crawl space opening.  She is dead there next to the small hole that would have led her into the darkness beneath the house.  When I tell my father about finding her body, he lowers his head and weeps for a few seconds and then so do I and pretty quickly I go back outside and take her body into the woods behind our house and bury her beneath a Live Oak that is maybe 200 years old.

I am turning the earth over like a Chekhov play or Carver poem.  There I am…and had I known what I know now, I would have called all of the life and goodness in the world down into that shallow hole to sleep and dream with Pea Eye.

She deserved it and so did my father all of those years and dreams ago.  Those kinds of things come to me now, unexpected, dwindling in the night, and I am a lucky man.





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