Three Feet Deeper

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
An Irish grave digger fatally slacks off work.

Submitted: June 09, 2019

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Submitted: June 09, 2019

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3 Feet Deeper.

 

The Sun shined over the town of Mallow; cursing it with summer.

It shined on the town's old graveyard; turning the grass as brown as the stone of the ancient church. Neil Hickey, was becoming more and more ill tempered; it was hot and the grave he was digging was still only as deep as his knees.

He started cursing with every spade of dirt he shifted - under his breath at first - but louder as sweat started pouring down his sunburned face.

Sweat finally sprayed off his lips in a fine mist as he grunted an audible „Fuck!“ and threw the shovel into the hole.

Pulling the red handkerchief of his head (where it was supossed to be stopping the sweat running into his eyes) and wiping down his face and middle aged torso, he checked his watch and nodded „The Olde fiddle“ would be opening soon.

It‘s too hot for this craic.“ he muttered. Pulled his T-shirt on, ran his fingers through his thining hair and stomped out through the iron gate and cutting through the parking lot of the modern supermarket, crossed the road and came to the red and beige door of „The Olde fiddle“ just opened for Friday afternoon trade.

 

 

Hiya Maureen!“ Neil shouted a greeting to the empty bar as he strode in.

Alright there Neil,“ came a womans voice from somewhere behind the counter. She was checking the flasks underneath, she always checked the flasks just after opening; a habit that never ceased to bother Neil.

Should ya not be digging ol man Murrays grave then Neil?“ Maureen asked, her mop of black curls appearing above the counter. She was short so there was not much else of her in sight.

For the love of God Maureen, why dont ya open a window in here? It‘s right stuffy!“ was Neils reply.

I don‘t want the ghost of Mr Murray haunting this place now, he was a mean old bastard he was.“

Old wive‘s tales and superstitions Maureen, anyways, he‘s been dead now three days, his ghost is long gone, probably giving the devil himself all kinds hell.“

Jesus Neil!“ said Maueen crossing herself „Don‘t be saying that. But I suppose you‘re right, tis‘ stuffy in here.“

Neil, sitting at the bar, watched Maureen with more than casual interest as she reached up and opened the windows letting in much needed fresh air.

But you haven‘t answered my question Neil, ya finished?“

Ah geez...Maureen it‘s nearly 28 degrees out, I don‘t want to be joining Murray in his grave now do I? it‘s too hot for that craic now, just give me a drink now, I‘ll finish up when it‘s cooler.“

Right ya are.“ said Maureen sliding Neil a glass of cool black heaven.

She was actually, as always, happy to have him there, aware that he had not taken his eyes off her.

At two thirty, the afterwork crowd started trickling in, by three they were elbow to elbow at the bar. Neil, quiet at first, sitting at the corner of the bar, just listened to the barroom buzz in which the recently deceased Mr Murray featured quite prominently.

That mean ol man‘s gone paid his taxes!“ a womans inebriated voice cut through the din and her companions laughed.

It wasn‘t long before a slightly drunk suite sidled up next to Neil.

I know you,“ he said, pointing an unlit cigarette at Neil,

You work for O‘Connells right?“

Yeah“ said Neil,

You be burying Murray then?“

Yeah. Well we are the only funeral people in Mallow.“

You make sure to put him down real deep now, you hear. We don‘t want that mean ol bastard crawling out .“

Well I‘m busy with his hole right now, just stopped cause of the heat.“

Is that right….“ said the man waving the cigarette under Neil's nose.

His face was flushed and his words a little slurred, but his suite; loosened tie and all, gave him an air of respectability. Something only rich people could be; respectable drunks.

You just be sure to give him an extra t‘ree feet then.“ he said and turning to the bar, shouted over to Maureen;

See that our man gets t‘ree of whatever his drinking. Right?“ said the man pointing to Neil‘s empty pint glass.

T‘ree feet deeper now.“ he said confidentialy then left to go smoke outside.

Neil, watching him through the window wondered to himself. He knew Murray was not well liked, but the conversation he‘d just had, was truly unbelievable.

In all the years that he had been dealing with dead people (and some of them were right bastards) he had never experienced such fervor, such outright damnation of the deceased as he witnessed this afternoon.

It just didn‘t sit well with Neil, ol‘ Murray was unfriendly, unsociable, unmarried and just about every other -un Neil could think of, but to be so happy about a man‘s death just wasn‘t right.

I must talk it over with maureen, she‘s got the skinny on everything that happens in Mallow.

But Maureen was busy, the bar crowded and the punters thirsty. He would have to wait till she closed at five thirty, he always hung around during the two hour pause on fridays anyway.

Neil watched as the man flicked his cigarette butt out into the Sun drenched road and came back inside; his cheeks crimson and his forehead encrusted with fine diamonds of sweat. Neil signalled him over.

So why do you‘s hate ol‘ Murray so much?“ Neil said getting straight to the point. He was on his third pint.

The other man looked quizzicaly and uncomprehendingly at Neil; but waited for him to finish his long draught before retorting:

What‘ya mean?“ he said „We don‘t hate him…. Were just glad his dead is all“

Kinda sounds alot like hate to me.“

Well now, that mean ol‘…..well he…. Ya know...uhm? You just don't speak ill of the dead alright. You just make sure you dig his hole deeper.“

Right ya are“ said Neil.

The man wandered back over to his group of freinds leaving Neil alone at the bar again. The third pint was having an effect on him; waves of well being ebbed up from his feet; the sunlit pavement through the window began to shimmer, it was good to be alive, good to be out of the heat; he forgot about mean ol‘ misery Murray, and fixed his gaze on Maureen who was busy pulling another pint.

She‘s a fine woman Neil thought we should make it official sometime. Take her out, see what she looks like in the sunshine.

Maureen suddenly aware of his gaze said: „Don't ya be smiling at me Neil Hicky, I aint giving you no more drink.“

But Neil knew that his smile would get more than just a pint of Guiness if he wanted and the way she was stretching to reach the glasses made the smile on his face stay, sending ol'Murray's detractors from his thoughts, out into the cold, like an intruding roomate. His smile needed space and a little privacy.

Maureen flashed a smile back at him, a smile that said Later….Neil Hickey.

 

At five she rang the bell, telling the customers she would be closing for the afternoon. She ran the pub alone and needed the break. It was the nicest pub in Mallow, so the punters didn‘t complain; most had indeed already left.

After the last client left, Maureen locked the door and dimmed the lights and walked over to Neil: „Well now?“ was all she said.

Say,“ said Neil reaching out and touching her side: „Are those whales on your T-shirt or what?“

Her T-shirt was decorated with little pictures of various whales.

They sure are.“ replied Maureen „they sure are.“ Taking him by the hand and leading him upstairs.


 

It was just before re-opening time and Neil was helping her check the flasks, making sure there was still enough inside them all.

Neil finally asked Maureen about ol‘man Murray.

Why is everyone so happy to see him dead?“

Well you know he owns all those flats? Now they can get to buy them is all.“

Is that what all this fuss is about then?“

Yeah…. He never would sell, the ol‘ miser.“

Well half of them could‘nt afford to buy. Lets see what they think when a real bastard like O‘Connell buys them up. Oh well…… Thought Neil snapping a hose onto a flask of Guiness, he never could understand people.


 

The usual Friday night crowd started filling up the bar, as well as a large throng of „Wer‘e glad that ol' fecker is gone" revellers: louder, drunker and more generous with drinks than the afternoon crowd. The „party“ continued all the way till closing; when Neil came staggering out, boozed to the gills, but determined to get the job of digging ol‘bastard Murray‘s grave done and dusted before the morning.

I‘ll bury the fucker. Even if it fecking kills me.“ Neil mumbled under his breath as he stumbled through the dark cemetary. The drink and the intensified animosity of the evening customers towards „O‘l fuckface Murray“ had swung the feeling of uncertaintity in him towards Murray, into absolute loathing.

Yes… I‘ll get your hole dug. Tree‘ feet deeper. Even if it fecking kills me.“

He was right, he would dig the hole three feet deeper - and - it would kill him.


 

Neil stumbled down into the shallow grave, then reached out, grabbed the shovel lying on the ground and attacked the ground with short lived enthusiasm. The alchohol in his body eventually slowing him down, making him run out of breath, but he carried on. Spade after spade of dirt was shovelled out and over his head, until, finally it became impossible; the newly dug gravel would just come flying back down into his drunk cursing face.

That‘s enough then. T'ree feet deeper.“ Neil said out loud, throwing the spade, then himself to the floor. He lay there in old Murray‘s grave, his head spinning, his whole body feeling like it was slowly sinking under water. A feeling of loneliness and sadness started building up inside of him, compressing and squeezing out his eyes as tears. He had dug hundreds of graves, for all sorts of people; burying the young ones was never easy, that was for sure; he would always feel like a tightly sprung iron trap had shut inside, but the feeling usually passed after a few hours and a couple pints.

This time their was something different: to be sure he had been boiling with hate less than an hour ago, but the feeling was only transient, it had moved off someplace else, he now felt an overwhelming sense of unease. All the animosity and derision towards ‘ol Murray in the pub gnawed on his insides.

You didn‘t speak ill of the dead. You just didn‘t; and he had done his fair share that evening, mainly for free drinks. He was not a superstitious man, but suddenly the thought of being in Murrays grave filled him with fright. He tried to scramble up but kept sliding back down: he was too drunk and too tired. Eventually he just flopped to the floor, breathing heavily. As he relaxed and calmed down, he started thinking of Maureen; her black curls and freckles, her half moon smile. He started feeling better, the black, alcohol intensified dread lifted.

Ah Maureen….. they had been circling around each other for nearly two years now, he would bury Murray in the morning and then go talk to Maureen. God knows she could use some help with the pub. He lay down on his back and covered himself with soil, the feeling that he was underwater intensified, a feeling of deep peace, he slipped deeper down into the underwater depths and slept the indisturbable semi coma of the gravely intoxicated.

He dreamed of Maureen and the little whales on her t-shirt.

 

Mr O‘Connel; a portly disagreeable looking man with a rotund nose, started sweating. He was standing in the morning sun with Father Macquire -  who was unfazed by the heat. O‘Connel irritabily dabbed at the sweat on his forehead, he had been trying to get hold of Neil all morning: he‘s mobile went straight to voicemail and he was not home in his flat. By agreement with the priest they had decided to put Murray in the ground two hours earlier than normal; no-one had paid respects at the funeral home and nobody was expected at the funeral.

O‘Connel had called on the priest at 09.30 and said: „Let‘s just get on with it and bury the bugger before it gets to hot and we all die a flaming death.“

Father Macquire, who had a strong distaste for the blunt funeral director agreed none the less. It meant he could get an extra two hours on the golf course; the heat didn‘t bother him at all, the only problem was the missing Mr Hicks….

Ah go on then, I will give ya a hand then.“ said the priest, the thought of spending some extra time negotiating the dog leg on the 11th hole was just too sweet a prospect. Besides ol Murray didn‘t weigh more than his bag golf clubs anyhow.

And so Father Macquire and funeral director O‘Connel performed the shortest funeral service of their respective careers.

They lowered the coffin.

God rest his soul.“

Filled it in, patted it down and parted ways; father Macquire hustling to the vestry to get changed and load his clubs in his old Volvo; O‘Connel to the comforts of an airconditioned breakfast in the shopping mall; where he would ogle the waitresses and complain about the food.

 

Neil dreamt of the whales on Maureens t-shirt; he was stroking the blue whale on the bulge of her breasts, he was naming them all in his head, he had identified all of them except the one just above her navel.

It had a box like shape with round eyes. Ah..yeah….sperm whale….. But he didn‘t like the way it was looking at him. It slanted it's eyes and started growing in size,  massive - it blocked out the light opening its gigantic mouth, it turned and swallowed him down into the darkness.

Neil tried to scream as he tumbled down into the darkness, but the pressure of the darkness was too much; no sound left his mouth.


 

 


 


 


 


 

 


 


 


 

 

 


© Copyright 2019 Christopher Stand. All rights reserved.

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