A man with a shovel opened the screen door. He walked in the path of light from the door for fifteen steps before he handed the guy standing at the edge of the mowed field the plastic bag. Their shadows went deep into the dark woods before they got digging. They didn’t say anything.
The woman waiting inside the house was organizing the deeds for property of a Monopoly game. She was thin with stains on her dress. She poured a sip of beer into a glass before filling the rest with tap water. The cigarette in her mouth, not lit, was becoming soft and soggy. It was her plan to improve her health. She was saying that to her husband, Joey, just before he went out to get some air, taking the shovel with him. She told Joey, even though they don’t have everything, she wanted to be able to enjoy it. What’s health without money, she had said before. But not now, not with the new leaf she was turning over. She called for the cat. Looked over to the untouched milk saucer on the floor.
When Joey returned he placed the shovel outside the door. Kicked his shoe heels against the top wooden step and turned when the echo of it went out over the long mowed field. It all seemed much bigger at night. Not much stars breaking the haze. What looked like flashlights coming for him, was nothing to worry about. More early October fireflies in the tall reeds, for god sakes.
“I can’t find the card for Baltic Avenue.”
“Use a napkin.” He sat in the recliner, looked at his fingernails for dirt.
“Have you seen Pockets? He usually comes when I put cream out.”
“Are you going to smoke that or just waste it?”
“All I have is skim milk. Maybe he don’t like skim milk.”
“Let’s start buying the regular stuff again and get off this kick.”
“You want to be the race car or the top hat?”
“Whatever. Roll the dice for me. I’m gonna close my eyes a bit.”
“There’s no card for Pennsylvania Avenue.”
“Place is too damn small for pets, anyway.”
He liked her at the table. Could picture, when he closed his eyes, the stuffing of the red cushion of the chrome chair she was sitting on bursting at the strip of duct tape patching. If he could keep her on the medication he might be able to put in some overtime. Gonna buy her a new kitchenette set, that’s what he was going to do. Switch out the warped wood screen door for an insulated aluminum type. No need for that pet entry flap letting rain in. Mosquitoes too. It had been a rough summer, with the flies and the bugs and her pocketing the pill under her tongue and spitting it out into the dirt near the clothes line. He found the pills because the ants liked them. When he got down on his knees he counted two weeks of the blue tablets.
“I’m going to buy the railroad.” She counted out money and placed the bills in the tray, put the deed in the wide pocket of her house dress. Then she cupped the dice and rattled them. “Your turn.”
He was thinking about the depth of the hole they dug. The kid from the next lot, Flathead, had gotten spooked out in the woods. Was talking about aliens and UFOs. Joey was more concerned with the jig-saw of trouble nowadays when it came to animal welfare.
“We didn’t abuse it on purpose,” Flathead had said. He was looking up at the sky. Big autumn clouds rushing by, blanking out everything. He was out of shape for an older teen of his age, hair combed straight up and waxed. “I didn’t mean to run it over.”
“Did you strike into a rock?” The shovel had made a spark. The twang echoed.
“Electrical currents and magnetical fields,” Flathead leaned again on the shovel to take a breather. “I don’t like it out here. I don’t know why you made me come. You could’ve just put it into a plastic bag and tossed it in the can. Pick-up’s next Thursday.”
Joey stood there and looked at Flathead. What use was it, he thought, for someone who dubbed himself with a nickname such as that. The kid’s elderly parents hadn’t a clue what this boy was up to, or the group he was running with. He took the shovel.
“Consider it taking responsibility for one’s actions, intended or no.”
“You said yourself the cat had a tendency to sleep at the space between the tire and the dirt. You said yourself it was a matter of time.”
Joey just dug, his foot pushing down on the blade top and scooping the loose fill to the side.
“You wind up getting abducted by an alien spacecraft and then you’d be wishing you dumped it in the can. Wow, look at that, a shooting star.” He gulped. “Some kind of lights.”
“Give me the bag.”
“Ain’t you going to open it? That’s no coffin, a plastic shopping bag.”
Joey put the dirt back and pounded it down with the flat side. Got a handful of leaves.
“We’re done. You can go.”
“I ain’t walking out of here alone.”
“All right. Just don’t mention nothing about the cat to my wife, would ya?”
“You’re going to tell it run off, I bet.”
At the edge of the field Joey kept walking and waved. “Regards to your folks for me.”
“Hey,” Flathead called. He looked behind him, the fireflies, off out into the woods behind him. “You still want me to come and pressure wash your place? I’m renting the machine on Saturday, so Sunday I got it free, like I told you. I’ll do it cheap.”
“Just don’t mention nothing about the cat.”