by Jared Smith
When spring came the three white boys finished digging the pit out beyond the dead apricot tree where the indian liked to wander. They covered it with planks of old wood and brush and limbs cut from the tree. They checked it every day for a week until Easter morning when they stood at the lip of the pit looking down at the dark curled figure, only a year or two younger but so small and simple they figured God's curse on his kind must work its way out from the inside.It was the indian's third morning in the hole, kept warm through the two previous nights by pissing in the dirt and then pasting the warm soil across his arms and chest. In his delirium of fear and hunger the three dark shapes against the blood red sky seemed to him the very spectacle he had been seeking: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Then the tall one spoke:
Hey. Retard. Looks like your faggot dad's finally left for good. Guess he couldn't get enough man love around here.
Down in the hole nothing moved. The fat one picked up a rock and tossed it in.
Maybe he's dead.
He ain't dead, the tall one said. Not yet anyway.
That night the youngest of the three boys turned into bed and shut off the lights and lay there looking at the clock for two hours before he got up again already fully dressed and crept down the hallway past his parents' bedroom and into the garage where he had hidden the blanket and flashlight and the two small jugs filled with tap water. Twice he nearly started back for home. He had never been out in a night so dark and he wondered if that's how the indian felt all the time. When he got to the pit he heard him crying, so he moved back a few steps and then walked forward again, this time whistling so that the indian would hear him coming.
He tossed in the blanket first, and then the jugs on top. He turned off the flashlight and stood there waiting to hear if the indian might say something. The bright red ball of Mars burning hard in the sky like the eye of some deranged cyclops. He remembered the shovel and turned on the light to find it setting against the trunk of the tree. He picked it up and carried it over and slid it down carefully into the hole. He caught the indian's eye with the light.
Tomorrow morning we're going to whip you. For what you said you still love your faggot dad.
Still the indian said nothing. The boy switched off the flashlight and set it down into the hole as well. He turned to leave and then he heard a whisper and he turned back and crouched down over the black pit.
What's that you said?
He's not my real dad, the indian said. I'm not born from him.
That don't matter, the boy told him. Queer runs deep. You got to find out where it started from and cut it out. For no unclean thing can enter the house of God.
The boy stood there waiting in the dark, but he knew the indian wouldn't start digging himself out until he was gone. So he turned back and headed for home.
The next morning the indian stood shivering in the morning cold by the gas pumps near the highway. He was covered in dirt and kept himself upright by leaning against the propped shovel. An old man in a white cap that said GO FISH in red letters eyed the indian while he gassed up his trailerless cab. He went in to pay and waited until the traffic cleared out before he walked over and handed him a donut. The indian took it and ate it quickly and he handed him another.
What's your name, son?
Joseph, he said.
Joseph. You lost?
The indian shook his head.
Waiting on somebody?
He shook his head again.
Going to a shovel convention?
The indian looked at the shovel he was holding. I want to go home, he said.
Which way is that?
He pointed toward the horizon.
Well, the old man said. Let's go then.
The indian woke up a few hours later with the truck stopped and the old man hunched over him, peeling down his underwear. He kept his eyes closed and reached for the shovel. The old man saw it coming and fell back through the open passenger door where had been standing. The uplifted shovel grazed the ceiling of the cab and fell clanking onto the roadway beside the prostrate lech. The indian jumped out yelling for help and then he saw where he was, nothing but sage and creosote to the horizon, where in the falling afternoon light a line of red mountains waited like a huge jagged blade. He pulled up his pants, picked up the shovel and ran out into the wild, the old man swearing at him from behind.
For two days he made his way up the mountainside, stunning whatever he could, squirrel or bird or snake or rabbit, with the slap end of the shovel and then beheading it with the shovel blade. The pines were bleeding with sap, and after a few tries he was able to work it out by using his right hand as a kind of scoop and then smearing the sap against the bite of meat in his other hand. On the morning of the third day he stood on a precipice looking out over the next valley, where he gazed on a stream running down the empty rock face to form a pool glittering in the dawn as if skinned in gold. He made his way down to the water, stripped off his clothes and waded in, closing his eyes as the cold water rose to his crotch, armpits, shoulders. He put his head under the water and conjured up the image of Christ he had been made to look at so often in church: handsome, gentle, white; and the face turned to him, and he heard a voice saying Set thy house in order. He got out of the water and scooped up two handfuls of dirt and scrubbed his crotch raw. Then he put on his clothes and wandered over the bluffs until dusk, when he came through an arroyo to an old clapboard church with the windows knocked out and the walls scarred with bullet holes. Behind the church was an indian cemetery, the names spelled out in worn white granite and a small carved cross atop each headstone. Here he quietly and carefully prepared the setting as he had seen the sacrament prepared by the white boys in church. He grazed the shovel across the dirt, and with his hands removed every rock and other infirmity, until he had ready before him a small kerchief of earth. From his pocket he took a leftover bite of meat and wrapped it in mountain grass. He sat down at his place and intoned what little he knew of the blessing on the sacrament, and then he partook. He felt the host blanching him down to his very core, clean as Christ; and he said, Here I lay me down the sins of my fathers, and he laid back onto the purified earth, and he slept.
Jared Smith lives in Utah with his wife, Sarah. His stories have appeared in FRiGG, American Drivel Review, and Like Water Burning.