The Gravedigger´s Son
By Dave Rosewood
The tip of the spade pierced the dry earth.
The next thrust was at a right angle to the first. Together they formed a corner in the soil.
Yuri bent over and examined his work.
“Hm. Not quite square, but pretty good,” he said to himself.
Yuri took three large steps to the south.
A second thrust.
“That´s much straighter,” said the young man.
Yuri took one large step to the east.
He took three large steps back to the north.
The young man leaned against the shovel and admired his work.
“Ah, that looks just the right size.”
Yuri started digging from the final corner working his way towards the middle of the figure.
A pile of soil started to form to his left.
“Well, one is bound to hit a stone along the way,” he mumbled.
Yuri worked the tip of the spade all the way around the stone. The digging tool finally found its way underneath the blockage. He scooped up the stone with the blade of the shovel and deposited it on the opposite side of the soil pile. A bead of sweat ran down Yuri´s face. He paused and wiped it away with the back of his hand.
He now found himself ankle deep in the hole. He laid down and stretched his body across the cool earth. With his arms to his side and his legs straight there was still a good bit of space between him and the edges of the excavation.
“This will be the perfect fit. Father will be so proud.”
The gravedigger´s son stood up and continued with his work.
The sun was high overhead. The young man looked to his left and noticed the mound was now as tall as him.
“Time for lunch,” he said as he exhaled.
Yuri climbed out of the hole and in a few strides, he was at the large oak tree that stood nearby. He sat down on the ground and reclined against the trunk. The ridges felt pleasant on his back. He twisted right, then left, then right again. The tree scratched an itch he couldn´t quite reach.
One hand rubbed the other trying to work out the small aches. There was a little soreness in his back but he felt good about the progress that had been had made.
The gravedigger´s son reached behind him and picked up a cloth sack. He placed the sack between his knees and untied the string that secured its contents. First, he pulled out a hard brown lump. He took a bite of the lump which was followed by a dry cough. Yuri reached into the bag a second time. He felt something cool and smooth. The young man removed the flask, opened it, and took a swig.
“Nothing better than washing down bread with liquid bread,” he chuckled to himself.
Yuri chewed and swallowed unthinking. When he had ate and drank his fill he rose and made his way back to the hole.
The gravedigger´s son picked up a wooden ladder and examined it. It was old but sturdy. Still up to the task. He lowered the ladder into the excavation site. He turned and backed down into the earth.
Yuri climbed the ladder and grabbed a long iron rod. He lowered it into the hole before climbing back down. The gravedigger´s son grasped the iron rod at one end and thrust the bevelled edge downwards. Finally, he found where earth and stone met. The pointed edge of the bar worked its way around the stone´s boundary until there was a clear separation between it and the soil. He pried upward then he pried downward. The soil loosened from stone and stone from soil.
Yuri squatted down and grasped the heavy object with both hands. He started to straighten his legs but the rock was pulling hard back towards the earth. He wouldn´t give up. Finally, with a grunt he stood up cradling the great stone to his chest. His legs wobbled under the weight of the boulder but with one big heave he pushed it up and out of his excavation site. HIS excavation site. It landed with a loud THUD on the south edge of the hole.
The gravedigger´s son inspected his work. The top of the excavation was level with the top of his head. Just right.
“I AM the perfect height for a gravedigger´s son,” Yuri laughed to himself.
He heard the tramping of horse hooves and the squeaking of wooden wheels.
Yuri grabbed his shovel and digging bar and climbed up to meet his guests.
The plump friar sat on the right side of the wagon´s bench. His eyes were closed, his head down. The caretaker sat to the left of the friar and held the reins in his hands. Behind them in the bed of the wagon sat a pine box that was about the length of a man.
“That is a fine resting place. Your father would be proud.”
“Thank you, caretaker. And how are you friar?”
The plump man in the brown robes shook himself awake.
“Yes, I am well my boy, truly blessed.”
“Well Yuri shall we start?” questioned the caretaker.
The gravedigger´s son grabbed a pair of straps and laid them next to the excavation site about an arm´s length apart.
“Looks like you thought of everything Yuri” said the stout holy man.
“Yes friar. This is my first excavation and I want it to go perfect.”
The caretaker made his way to the back of the wagon and unstrapped the cargo. He pulled half of the length of the box out from the wagon bed. Yuri waited for the caretaker to pull the box a bit further, then grabbed the end closest to the wagon. The two men carried their cargo from the wagon to the excavation site. When they reached their destination, they sat the box down on the straps. As the sun was sinking into the western sky the two men lowered their cargo into the earth.
“Did you bring the holy water friar?” questioned the gravedigger´s son.
“Of course, I did Yuri. If it got any holier it would be wine!”
The holy man laughed and his big belly shook. Yuri and the caretaker started laughing with him.
The caretaker made his way to the wagon and returned cradling an armful of blossoms.
“Here Yuri. On the way I picked a bouquet of wildflowers. Toss them down into the hole and they´ll deaden the clods as they fall.”
Yuri took the bouquet. One by one he tossed the flowers down onto the box until it was mostly covered.
The holy man stood at the north end of the hole and cleared his throat. Yuri and the caretaker took their cue. They lined up on the west side next to each other facing the opening in the earth.
“We gather here today to celebrate the life of Boris son of Borja. We consecrate this ground so that the dearly departed might return safely to his maker.”
The friar pulled a jar from inside of his robes. He removed the lid and dipped his right hand inside. With his fingers he flicked water into and all around the excavation site.
“The flesh to the earth and the spirit to the father. Does anyone have any words?”
The caretaker took a step towards the resting place. He stood with his hands crossed in front of him.
“Boris was a fine man. Honourable. He dedicated his life to preparing final resting places for his neighbours and friends. He will truly be missed.”
The caretaker took a step back to stand beside the young man.
“All are dust and turn to dust again. Now let us go from here with peace and understanding of the Heavenly Father´s eternal plan. Amen.”
“Thank you, friar. Thank you, caretaker.”
“You´re welcome Yuri. Do you need any help finishing up here?”
“No thank you caretaker. I started this and would like to finish it by myself. It is my first excavation after all.”
The friar and caretaker nodded and slowly walked to the horse cart.
Yuri waved at the two men as they departed. As he heard the squeak of wooden wheels fade into the distance, he turned towards the mound of earth to finish his task.
A single tear rolled down his cheek.