Fiction: Burying Your Dog

Long - DogRead More: A Brief Interview with Nathan Long

 

You must start before your dog is dead.  Be of firm mind.  Think about the graves your father dug for your family’s pets when you were a child.  Think of the peace that will come not having her sealed in a plastic bag and taken to some unknown place.  Think of how she’ll enjoy being outdoors, forever.

Next, consider: Will the ground be too cold or dry to break? Are you strong enough? Do you have a shovel?

The hardest part is finding a place.  Unless you own a large lot, do not bury her in your yard.  There are the neighbors to consider.  And what if you later want to plant?  Finally, who knows how long you will own your house.

Consider a large park, with tress and hills, if possible.  Where was she happiest?  Where did she run freest?  Consider a place with a view, within a dog’s ear of a river.  But remember, you’ll have to dig without being seen.  You’ll have to carry her body there.  Finally, look for soft ground, away from large tree roots.  If you feel up to it, lie down in the spot and see how it feels.

When the time draws near, measure her, using a part of your own body.  Is she as long as your leg, from knee cap to foot?  Is she as wide as your forearm?

If you know she is dying, go there the day before, with a shovel wrapped in a tarp.  In case you get stopped, have several explanations for the shovel: you are digging for rocks, you are digging for gold, you are looking for artifacts.

Measure out the hole.  Then begin digging, dropping the soil onto the tarp.  As you dig, do not think of your dog, the way her nails clicked as she would run to greet you, how she would bark, so happy to see you come home.  Do not recall how joyful she used to be, once digging holes herself in the back yard.  Instead, concentrate on pressing the shovel into the earth, finding the edge of a rock, breaking through tree root.  Notice as you dig how the dirt changes from the color of coffee to the color of squash.

There might be large stones you have to unlock from the ground.  The handle of the shovel might be rough in your hands, the skin of your palm burning as it rubs against the grain.   You will likely start sweating.  Take off your jacket if you need to.   Take a moment to breathe.  Take in the scent of the sassafras root you’ve severed, how it mingles with the damp scent of the earth and your sweat.

When you have made a hole deep enough, cover the grave with sticks and branches, then the tarp, and dirt and leaves, so it becomes invisible.

At home, find a burial shroud worthy of all her years of patience.  Collect what she may like for the afterlife:  a raw hide, a poem, a cookie.

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The next day, after the vet has pushed the translucent pink fluid into her body, checked for a pulse, and left, pick her up in your arms.  If she has died naturally, feel for the pulse yourself.  She will feel like different animal, her muscles no longer resisting.  Place her on a plastic sheet, to catch the liquids she will release, and wrap her.

Gather her up and carry her to the place.  Do not think about what will happen if you are stopped along the way. […]


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Nathan Long’s work has appeared in various journals, including Tin House, Story Quarterly, Glimmer Train, and Wilde. His work also appears on NPR and in anthologies such as Strange Tales V and Surreal South. Long lives in Philadelphia and teaches at Stockton University.

Read More: A Brief Interview with Nathan Long