Well, in a story at least. My story The Hole was recenly published in Pasatiempo, a magazine distributed with The New Mexican newspaper. Here it is:
The reason it sticks in my mind is because it was the first time I ever remember thinking about death.
I was four, almost five. We lived at 74 Peacock Crescent on the edge of what was then called a council estate because we didn’t own the house; we rented it from the local council. It was about six miles outside of Nottingham but might as well have been a million. These days people there own the homes and drive cars. But in them days we did neither.
Behind the hedge that formed the bottom of our garden was open land. Peacocks lived there, lending their name to our street. It was a nice name, unlike the one chosen for the dead-end street that would soon replace the openness. It would be called Smithy Close because at the far end, impossible to see from our house, was an older cottage and workshop that was home to one of the few remaining Blacksmiths in the area. A smelly, fat man who chewed tobacco and spat it out in large bloodstained lumps. Even as kids we knew he wasn’t going to be around for long.
But that was many months ahead. When I was four, almost five, the land was still just an overgrown field with big birds when the workers arrived. First, they cleared the bushes and small trees and, presumably, moved the Peacocks to safer ground. Then they started digging deep trenches to bring in the water and sewer pipes.
Whenever my mother was distracted I would put on my little red rubber Wellington Boots and venture through the damaged fence and wander out like some bold explorer into this new, disorderly, ravaged space. It was irresistible. Specially looking down into the holes they dug into the red-brown clay that gaped like fresh wounds in the earth I once thought so impenetrable. What lay beneath was something I’d never thought about. Maybe it was a dormant desire to get beneath the surface that got me into so much trouble.
I approached one of the trenches. Last night’s rain had emphasized the redness of the clay and there seemed to be areas where rainbows of bright colors had appeared on the surface of the exposed earth. They were the kind of gasoline rainbows I’d later read about in The Catcher In The Rye but for now they were just another new sight waiting for inquisitive eyes.
Well, the eyes got too close. And the feet too. I went sliding down the slimy, sheer side of the trench, landing with a soft squelch on the three-foot wide floor. I sank in the oozing, glue-like clay up to the tops of my now invisible Wellies.
I stood there, planted like a tree with two trunks. I couldn’t move. The suction of the wet clay prevented me from lifting my feet. When I tried, I simply pulled my foot from the boot and had to slide it back in rather than getting my sock covered in mud. Somehow being stuck with my boots seemed preferable to escape without them. Not that I could have climbed the walls of this slippery grave.
There, that was it. I remember thinking that this was like a giant grave. I’d never seen, or even known, a dead person at that time in my life but people ended, that much I knew. And I began thinking that this might be where I ended. It seemed a little too soon to me, that I was meant to have many more years of exploring other fields further from home than this one. So I started to cry.
I stood there crying softly to myself. At that age, your life doesn’t flash before your eyes because you have precious little life to recall. Instead I was thinking of all the things I’d never do. How many times had my dad said to me something about doing that “when you grow up”? I knew there were many reasons I wanted to grow up. Girls for one thing. Even in those early days I had already noticed that I liked girls a lot more than I liked other boys. And I was pretty damn sure there was more to explore in that direction.
I stopped crying for a while and looked up. Where I had taken the sky for granted I now saw my rectangular section of it with new wonder. It was beautiful. For a time, I felt very calm.
Then the fear returned. I started to cry again. Louder. I cried for quite some time. Then, like a monster from one of my storybooks, a figure appeared on the edge of my grave.
The man jumped down into the pit. He made an even louder squelch than I had. His boots sank a few inches into the clay. He reached down and lifted me up, one hand beneath each armpit. With a soft pop I came out of my Wellies and into his firm grasp. It was only now I realized he was our neighbor, a man we didn’t particularly like according to my mother. But here he was, jumping out of the sky to my rescue.
It was only as he handed me to my mother I saw that what to me was a bottomless, sticky grave was nothing to a grown man. I was taken into my mother’s embrace as he climbed effortlessly up the side of the hole.
I continued my tired sobbing. But it was not because I was in my mother’s arms again. I was crying because of the sudden knowledge that I’d been saved but my Wellies had not.
They are down there buried in the mud to this day. Waiting.
©2011 Dave Tutin
From the upcoming collection of short stories In Them Days.