You drop the last shove-full of earth. You pat the pile, this small grave, trying to even it with the rest of the yard. It won’t look even for a few days, maybe a week, but the grass will grow back. You thrust the blade beside the grave, the yard soften by the steady rain. The drops land on your shoulders and head as you rest your chin on the shovel’s handle. You cough and blame it on the rain.
Your wife and daughter stand around the pet grave, looking down in silence. Your wife holds a black umbrella, chosen over the blue with regards to the situation. Your daughter looks like a toy inside her yellow, plastic raincoat. Your wife looks to you, nods, and you nod back. It was her idea, supposed to help the child through the grieving process.
“Would you like to say a few words?” She puts a motherly hand on your daughter’s shoulder. Bending with her knees, she remains dry.
“Yes,” your daughter speaks quickly. “Snot was a good frog and friend. He always waited for me after school. He may not have been a cat or dog, but he could jump really far. Was that good, Mommy?”
It was you who found the frog dead in its dry aquarium. Snot, the croaking lump of green, had become a lifeless lump of green. You coughed into your hand before handling the frog. When you showed it to your wife she told you how important funerals can be to children, that it gives them practice. You just shrugged. When your daughter came bouncing home from school, dripping from the weather, you went to find the shovel. It was your wife who explained the circumstances. She was always better with the emotional kind of stuff.
“It was beautiful, honey,” your wife says, still ready to hold your daughter in a tight embrace. It could have been the rain, but you thought you saw tears. The two discuss something then hold hands. Your wife walks back to the house while your daughter, the daughter to both of you, skips.
You pat the mound with the shovel again. She was right. It turned out to be good practice. You cough, harder this time. Dry breath hits your knuckles. Inside, a light comes on. Your wife and daughter appear as silhouettes, retrieving bowls, spoons, and the ice cream from the freezer. Instead of putting the shovel back in the garage, you lean it against the outside. They’re small and will need a doctor to find, but you already feel the out-of-control cells conquering the pink lumps that are your lungs.
Bennett Durkan is a graduate of Stephen F. Austin, where he earned a master’s in English. His poetry has appeared in Psaltery & Lyre, The Red River Review, FIVE2ONE Magazine. He also won The Piney Dark fiction contest for 2013.