A scratch of land

I have buried misbehaving roosters and calves that came out wrong, but I have never buried a husband. It felt queer, feeling sad for him. I knew he was wherever he was supposed to be, and that I put him there, but something about a burying that brings out a sorrow you didn’t know you had, something that pulls the crippled yearning out of you. A pile of dirt beside a naked patch of ground gives some finality to things. Jeremiah, it didn’t have to be this way.

The burial was at the flat scratch of land next to Wilkinson’s homestead. Properly fenced and mended, it was even sparser than the surrounding acres. Thomas Weatherby from Poke Methodist did the service, said nice things about Jeremiah, and was given charge of maintaining the grounds. He kept it nice and trim, tossing the dead flowers and replacing them with new ones whenever the occasion prescribed. He was a trim and dour looking man, with clean iron-gray hair and a ramrod posture. I don’t know if he was a preacher or even a religious man, but when it came to death and the digging of graves, he was the man who was called upon.

I am sorry for your loss, Charlotte,” he said in his reedy monotone. “Life is hard without a husband. Will you be moving on?”

It was a thing I had hardly considered. I knew I could not maintain the farm on my own, but I had not thought of any options. The bank still had papers on the land, and the crops were withering. The soil was almost exhausted. I was resigned to stay put until I was forced out. There were no options, other than back-breaking labor that I was not prepared to endure.

I don’t know yet, Thomas,” I said.

The land is a hard thing,” he said. “Some things are easier to plant than others.”

If that was his dry humor, it fell flat, and was buried alongside Jeremiah.

I’m a good housekeeper,” I said. “Maybe another man will come along and want me to clean for him.”

He looked like he was considering it for himself, but said nothing. I really didn’t want to clean up somebody else’s mess. That did not turn out so well the first time around. Did it, Jeremiah?

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