He is digging with his backhoe and I am trying to dig with mine but we can’t dig down any at all even though we press hard on the backhoe buckets and try to scratch in the hard dirt of the wide part of the ditch where the water sits sometimes. He is using his hand to hold the rusted rivet in while he digs so that his bucket won’t fall off and when he talks I can see the his silver
and how did he get them? Don’t catch me looking and I bet they hurt and sometimes there is water in this part of the ditch but not this summer because it’s dry and there hasn’t been water in the wide part of the ditch since Huey saw the crawdad. We scratch the dirt some more and we act like we are dumping the dirt but it isn’t dirt only sand and the scratching sounds and my backhoe squeaking. Mine is not yellow like his but orange and he just told me today his name is John and I tell him that I have the dump truck too up by wellhouse and that it’s yellow like his backhoe and we start to try to dig again. Across the gravel road I can hear frogs and Momma says there is a spring down there somewhere but I can’t find it. Maybe we should get the man holding the stick that walks around to find it like he found where to dig the well and I say we should go down where the frogs are making sounds and see if we can find soft cool mud to dig in but John says no we should dig here
I can hear Momma with the hoe chopping at the hard dirt, chop-chop-chop and when she hits a rock the hoe rings out like a bell. The dust clouds up around her feet as she continues to work the clods. The brown dirt runs with the sweat on her arms as she bends over to pick up the spud, using her thumb to rake the dirt off before throwing it in the basket.
but we ain’t getting any deeper and I can see him try to dig harder with his backhoe by using his hand to cup the scooper and hold the rusty rivet in and I see the silver teeth on the top and bottom of his mouth and they hurt me down to the bone when I look at them so I try not to look at them but I do. Jake walks by and stops to scratch his ear and where do dogs get their water when the ditch is dry? Momma always says the Lord provides and John tells me he had a dump truck before he moved here and he will be going to school with me and I say that the snow cone man comes by sometimes and you have to listen for the song on the speaker and I hope he comes by it’s so
and John tells me they dig for gold in places and that we can find some if we just dig deeper but we ain’t digging any deeper. If we do find gold I will buy a mini bike because I am tired of praying for God to turn my bicycle into one. I guess that they dig for silver in the ground and maybe that is where they got it to make his scary teeth and he tells me he has a road grader that is orange like my backhoe but the blade fell off and he don’t know if he brought it with him when he moved here or not. The snow cone man always plays the same song on the speaker but he ain’t coming today. He might still come because the sun is still up but we ain’t dug down any at all. Them frogs are still making noise by the spring that ain’t there but where does the crawdad Huey saw go when the water is gone? I don’t know but if we find gold we have to split the money so we shake hands and John says where he lived before someone had a go-cart but it didn’t have a motor and one tire was flat but they took turns pushing each other in the yard. His yellow backhoe has more rust on it than my orange one and he says that if we keep digging we could dig all the way to
and when he says H-E-double-hockey-sticks I can see that he has the shiny silver teeth in the back too and they make me hurt and I try not to look because they scare me
Daddy killed a snake with that hoe. It was in the Spring because I remember the yellow daffodils and the smell of the grass. He chopped the head clean off and hung the snake over the fence and he said not to touch it until after sundown. Was it a good one or a bad one, it doesn’t matter.
but he still keeps flashing those evil teeth at me and he ain’t the only one who knows a bad word
so I say
and he don’t say nothing else but here we sit with the grass itching my legs and no snow cone man and no cool mud or water and no digging at all when his Momma whistles from down the road and it’s a big whistle like when people do it with their fingers in their mouth and John says he has to go and he picks up the yellow backhoe and holds the rusty rivet in then smacks the dust off his shorts and says he has to eat supper but he will come back tomorrow to dig and when he walks down the road he turns around to wave at me and I can see him
About the author:
Mark McLain loves to write short stories about the South. A seventh-generation Tennessean, he is a graduate of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and enjoys spending time with his family floating the Hiwassee River and hiking in the Appalachians. He has work forthcoming in Mulberrry Fork Review.