Fiction: “All His Empty Show” by Lancaster Cooney

In the initial stages I’ll admit to thinking it a gift. Even entertain the premise that the good Lord had come down from the mountain and stamped out a patch of earth directly. But this would not be how I’d come to understand it. You can never truly know the land. Never digest the nature of its offerings.

She was not always screaming, though she never gave me words. Mostly I’d just remove the grass to prove her still there. That my mind had not fractured. She had a mouth as wide as a bear-trap that slammed open in a mechanical way. And though this was nearly all that was revealed, there was no mistaking who she was.

At risk of the neighbors I could only allow a moment before replacing the earth. Not more than a divot really, watching each time as she choked back dirt and stray grass. On occasion I’d try and speak to her, peel back that patch real slow and careful, but she’d catch her breath, gain her bearings, and go right on into hollering. I couldn’t help her, you see? She was gone, every nuance of existence, her entire colony.

As I said, at first it was all shits and splendor, come home from work and there it was, the first item revealed. Not sure what triggered it really, but I got to thinking about one of those old wooden rocking horses I had when I was kid. Swear half the day that dude kept popping back into my mind. I could see where the paint peeled along the crest. Feel those nubby wooden handles in the palm of my hands. Even summon the back and forth play. Eventually though we had to go and pitch that odd-toed ungulate. A split forged itself where the fetlock came into contact with the sled. (Nothing so sad as an eight year-old boy watching while his beloved wooden-equus gets jammed croup deep into a heavy duty trash receptacle.) And just as I had seen him last, so would he present himself upon our reunion, only planted instead right there in the scalp of my lawn. I fetched a shovel and brought the ancient beast from the ground, laid it to rest on the kitchen table frozen in mid-gallop, a look of exasperation upon its face. Into the wee hours I sat and stared at the thing, unable to wrap my head around any sort of sensible logic. In the morning I awoke a mists a litany of Bud Tallboys and gutted pizza rolls. The rocking horse was gone. A pyramid of ash was all that remained. I pinched a sample between forefinger and thumb and wriggled it out like a pot enthusiast loading a joint.

For nearly two weeks no other items appeared. Until one spring evening ….

I was sitting on the back deck listening to the ballgame. Early humidity had settled upon the city, thick as cobwebs. And perhaps that’s where it stemmed? The moment was right. Whereas the horse had come when I was not at home, the second item showed no reluctance, as if it wanted me to see, breaching the surface of the grass like the dorsal fin of a shark and ducking back beneath before finally parking it not ten feet from where I stayed. I looked from side to side, wanting someone to witness, but there was no one available. My approach was slow. Unsure. I knelt down in the grass and tore away its blades. And there jutting out from the soil was the brim of a ball cap, maroon and smelling of sweat. With no accessible tools I dug my paws into the earth and extracted the head wear in the manner of a stubborn root. It popped free and the teeth that tightened and loosened the back made that awful plastic tearing sound.

My father wore the hat. Placed it upon his head the moment he returned from work. Pulled it down real low so you could hardly see his eyes. On occasion he’d let me wear it. It was the same cap the players wore nearly every night on the television, save for the color was less that bright red of a newly severed artery and more the color of less oxygenated blood. Not to mention the emblem, that sharp mouthed C residing just above the bill was less the white of chipped bone and more cigarette stained yellow. The stitching losing hold, frayed. “First major league ball club,” he’d say. As though this was information he’d never before offered. His stories always came in twos and threes. Something I would later miss about him. Without much thought I placed the cap upon my head, pulled it real low, and just as my father often had, I slept in the thing. In the morning I rinsed my hair and watched the black sooty water run down the drain.

 

She died on a Wednesday, which seemed to me an awful day to die. Hospice came in and let her die in her own bed, allowed us to bypass all the bells and whistles that come with a hospital death. That sick smell you can’t get out of your nasal cavity. White hallways. Florescent bulbs that turn everything in the room jaundice. Our spaniel Roughie laid out across her torso in some futile attempt to pin the soul down. She hollered out. Spoke of that which was not there. And then she died. I never got into the logistics. Hardly see how it matters. But somewhere along the line a decision had been made, or not been, and these were the results, the death of a proven creature.

Now I’ll admit it was a low thing to do, but I got rid of that dog. Nothing too awful, drove out to the country and found a well maintained farmhouse and dropped him over the fence. It was my belief that he’d be all right, you couldn’t hardly look at that sweet little face and not do right by him.

After nearly a weeks’ worth of deliberation, I knew what had to be done. Once unearthed, all the other items had returned to ash. Surely she would follow suit? I went to the garage to fetch a roll of duct tape and shovel. I worked aggressively and without emotion, stripping the silver tape from its roll and spreading it from cheek to cheek. Same with the eyes. I could not bear to look at them directly, instead working in a peripheral motion, slapping the sticky cover over them. I told myself this was not my love, but instead sadness had invaded my little territory of the universe and punishment had visited me in the form of relived pain. Even still, when I saw the heave in her chest, tendons in her neck taught as piano wire, I began to cry. She was skeletal. Her skin hung. She breached the earth in limp reality; any possibility of movement was little more than a dream. And as I carried her across the lawn and into the house, I knew she would always remain with me, that nothing new was coming.

 

 

***

Lancaster Cooney graduated from Northern Kentucky University with a B.F.A. in Playwriting. His work can be found or is forthcoming at Alice Blue Review, Everyday Genius, matchbook, and Heavy Feather Review, among others. He lives with his wife, two daughters and pup in the Northern Kentucky area.

Image source: pinterest.com

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