We started by burying something small, a feather from a dead sparrow we found by the porch. We didn’t think to bury the sparrow. Lucky’s mom made him turkey and cheese one morning for lunch, and he brought me the half-eaten sandwich. He said she should have known better, he hated turkey. Our moms had been in the same playgroup together when we were babies. I once overheard my mother on the phone saying that Lucky’s mom always showed up in high heels, smelling of cigarette smoke and whiskey. We were now ten and both small for our age. His mother hadn’t changed.
We buried the sandwich next to the feather, a water oak standing guard. But Lucky began to misinterpret the point of the burials. He seemed to want to bury the things about his life he didn’t like.
“This is for general sorrows,” I said. “The things that hurt all children. Not just you.”
There was an argument to be made in favor of the items Lucky wanted to bury. Wasn’t neglect something we’d all experienced? And none of our parents really understood us. They’d gone too far from where they’d been.
But I stood firm on the rules for our burials, so Lucky snuck to my house during the night and buried things on his own, surprising me each morning with little mounds of soil dug up in the corner of my front yard. It was a pretty spot near a small grove of pines, where Mom hung a hammock in summer. Dad noticed the mounds and wondered aloud if our yard was being overtaken by moles.
Lucky’s mounds got larger. I was afraid it meant he was unhappy—that things at his house were growing worse. Finally, I got the little shovel we took to the beach from the garage and went out to the water oak. Maybe if I could dig up Lucky’s sorrows and put them in one place, one grave, they’d add up to something. Perhaps a specific problem would assert itself, begging for an answer, one that we could then solve.
I stuffed my hands into the earth. Underneath a layer of pine straw, my fingers sifted through sandy soil. Deeper down, I felt the earth grow cold and thick, turning to clay. I dug and dug and dug and found nothing there but soil and the dead things within it. It was as if Lucky had buried the ideas of things that hurt him rather than the things themselves.
The next morning on the bus, I said to him, “What is it you’ve buried?”
He mimed sawing into his chest and pulling out his heart, then held out his empty palms.
Flash judge Tara Campbell writes: The imagery in this story is enchanting, with an ever-growing number of objects representing sorrows to bury, and a narrator increasingly concerned about how his friend is stretching the rules.