Alluvium

1872—Old Weston Tract
Gadsden, South Carolina


1.

The word was in the blood. Beating in four with the heart: Exhumation. The two diggers had their heads down and were not speaking—the man, the woman—and the man could hear the word so clearly, beating away, without which nothing was made, he thought, think of anything, dear God, anything but the hole you are standing in. And so the word, which sounded in him soft, and easy, as if the earth would exhale a body if he said it just right, if he spoke it like a spell. But he knew it would not come easy and they were only digging harder as the rain picked up and the river snuck into the lower field, moving quickly toward them, making the young sorghum wave as though a strong wind had just lain down on it.

He stepped off the shoulder and lifted the long handle away from his body to open a smile in the wet clay. He was getting it all confused now, forgetting what they were doing here. At one point they were just a man and a woman digging, pointlessly, in the rain on the cusp of a flood. And then he would see the cheap sandstone monuments lain crookedly all around him and he would remember and feel his skin grown tight and cool, a dark feeling passing over his mind. A body under his feet somewhere.

The father, if he were alive, would not care very much for him. But what does a body know? Is a body only sleeping? He was trying not to think about it, that’s all he was doing—he could hear the hardness of the Latin coming through on the opening. Ex. And then the softness would flow after, like the whites of an egg breaking. Humare. An incantation. A prayer. Give us today this body, this unsprouted seed, and forgive us our thriving bodies, our taking.

Claire had come that morning to get her father before the flood washed the lower cemetery off, the place where Adams and Weston allowed their people to be buried. Allowed. Think of that. Think of it now. And she had brought Lawrence with her that morning because she needed his help and Lawrence owed her. There was nothing he did not owe her.

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