Background/intro story for my character, Elias James. Along with this week’s topic of drunk.
The everyday workers in a big city don’t get enough credit. I always assumed that they just picked up leaves and worked on potholed roads and fixed cracked sidewalks. Some cities actually have guys whose entire job is capturing stray dogs. But the city workers do odd jobs too, like burying dead bodies that no one claims at the morgue. Sure, some cities just burn the bodies but not in the deep South. In the South everyone deserves a decent burial.
I watched a city worker bury an unclaimed body at 3:30 in the afternoon during a fall thunderstorm. It was a Friday so I’m sure no one wanted to work late that afternoon. The rusty yellow backhoe dug a nice muddy square into the earth and laid the fresh brown soil on a green tarp. Once the hole was ready the man in the backhoe beeped a puny horn and the other guy from the city, a supervisor I guessed, looked up from his cellphone and then over at me. The woman beside me was a social worker from the Department of Children Services. She was paid to show me empathy and concern over the loss of my mother. I was fifteen and I found it humorous that I could rob a liquor store and be charged as an adult but when my mother dies and leaves me alone in the world, I am a child in need of a hug.
We walked through the soggy grass to the edge of the grave. The man operating the backhoe had gotten off to fix a couple of yellow straps from a very plain looking box to the rusty bucket so he could lower my mother into the hole. The rain made the straps slippery and as he swung the box over the side one of them popped off and the box clattered into the hole. I didn’t look because I didn’t really care but I think the coffin landed on its side. The supervisor waddled over to the hole and looked down to assess the scene. He conversed quietly with the digger and I heard something that rhymes with “Fuck it.”
He turned to walk over to me and the rain picked up. Water poured off his translucent orange poncho and soaked his pants from the knees down.
“Would you like to say anything? Pray or anything?” He squinted at me from under the hood of his poncho and I could smell a hint of spearmint from his chewing tobacco. I shook my head, “No. She’s dead so I guess reminding her to quit being a bitch and a drunk is a little late.” The man maintained a serious face and I was surprised when he answered with, “Well son…shit happens.”
I couldn’t help but smile, “Sorry I fucked up your Friday.”
“No problem. Like I said…” He turned around and waved a hand up in the air sending spray of water across the grass. The digger obviously understood the wave and he punched up the throttle as the machine belched black smoke and swept a bucket of dirt into the hole. My social worker told me we could leave anytime I felt like it and to “take as long as you like”. I understood that to be about ten minutes from the way she was holding her purse up high along with her umbrella. She was not enjoying the rain. Or her life.
I remember thinking they should pay her more so she didn’t try so hard to make her job rewarding. She needed me to fall apart. To cry. To need her. I could tell from the way she constantly checked my mental status. “Are you sure you don’t want to talk about your feelings?” I was fine. A little concerned about what the next day would bring but more relieved than anything.
My mother was a terrible person. Well, not terrible as much as worthless. She drank constantly. Especially, the last couple of years. She didn’t talk unless she was bitching about something or screaming at someone. Her live-in boyfriend, Darrell, traded her booze for sex and the occasional fist fight. I’m pretty sure he is the reason she is dead but like I said before, who cares? Not the coroner or the cops. Not Darrell, in fact, he hasn’t shown up since I found her. He probably was afraid he would be responsible for burying her and if he didn’t get to fuck her again he probably wasn’t interested. Maybe he would OD on Xanax and Viagra in some shit hole alley somewhere.
The rain continued to pound and the dirt was filling the hole faster than I thought it would. I sat in the rain thinking strange things like “Do alcoholics need more embalming fluid or less” and “What are the standard burial clothes on an unclaimed body?” I thought about leaving my neighborhood. Maybe my new place would have less midnight shootings. Funny, I guess I should have known more about unclaimed bodies.
I gave the social worker the reprieve she was looking for. “I’m ready when you are.” She already had her keys out and started walking towards the car.
“What happens now?”
“You go into foster care and maybe you will get adopted into a permanent home.”
“Oh. My forever home?” I asked with a little snarkiness.
She has decided to stop caring. She replies,“Something like that.” It must have been 4:00.