The Buried

It was 3 AM and I was digging a hole in the desert.
Christa stood next to me.
In the torch light, she was a fidgety monster patting a bundle in her arms.
“Is it done yet Tess?”
Her voice was gritty in the smooth silence.
“Almost there hun, you just hang on.”
She went back to poking at the swaddle and cooing in delirium.
“Uh-huh, I’m so sorry baby, I’m so sorry. Momma’s gonna try and make this better you hear? I’ll be better next time. I’m so sorry.”
I’ve been here three times before; digging holes for Christa in the desert.
You could call me a good friend.
Dependable. Complicit. Fucking insane.

But I know if I was so inclined to bury my secrets, Christa would be right there next to me, getting the dirt under her nails.
“I’m done Christa. Hand her to me. Don’t you worry now. I’ve got her.”
“You lay her down gently Tess. You be good to my baby. Oh God, I’m so sorry.”
Covering it up was always quicker than digging it out.
We laid a little stone as a kind of marker, knowing that even in the daylight we wouldn’t know where we’d been.
And that was that.
Christa was always quiet in the car after and I’d look for something upbeat on the radio. This time it was Volare by the Gypsy Kings.
The horizon filled with fresh orange.
I’d slept all of two hours and a full shift waited for me at the hospital.
Christa looked peaceful. She was going to be okay.
Our homes crept up in front of us. We were neighbours and had been for twenty years.
I guess you could say she was the family I chose.
She hugged me before she got off from the car.
Like always: no words, just a desperate kind of grip.
I headed towards the kitchen door, trying to avoid the toys the kids just refused to put away.
I never was any good at discipline. Oh well, they grow up too soon. Plastic trucks left out till after dark won’t even matter then. Christa doesn’t even have this now.
Zack was already up. Two coffees on the table, and the toast in the oven.
“I kinda prayed you wouldn’t hear her call this year.”
“You know how it is Zack, she isn’t well.”
“Damn right she isn’t. And you aren’t helping either. Same damn thing every April 3rd. Next year this time we’re going to take a vacation.”
“We’ll think about this then. Right now, I need to get some steel in me. Did you sweeten this?”
Zack made his exasperated face and passed me the sugar bowl. He looked as tired as I felt and I knew he hadn’t slept since I left with Christa.
It’s been four years since she’d lost her baby to SIDS during a family camping trip out in the desert.
That funeral was the most heart-punching I’d ever attended.
And Christa really got dealt the cruel cards. A cancer scare did away with her ovaries. There would be no more after Sarah.
But she seemed to just take it all in and channeled her energies towards her doll-making work. It was like she had a little light in her again.
Until that late night bowel-freezing call to my house a full year after Sarah died. That was the first trip out. You tend towards acquiescing when there’s a hysterical best friend on the phone, going bat-shit after midnight.
I know this isn’t healthy, but for now, it keeps her going.
Eventually, her therapy will kick in.
And we’ll stop burying dolls in the desert.

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saaleha

I am a writer and photographer (look up my work on www.shootcake.com) based in Johannesburg, South Africa. I have an MA in Creative Writing from the university currently known as Rhodes. My writing accolades include winning the 2014 Writivism Short Story Prize and the 2020 Ingrid Jonker Poetry Prize for my debut collection, Zikr.

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