Christmas, 2001 / No. 7
Art by Ian Phillips
Ian Phillips

My mother buried me with a handful of flour. He will rise, she said, and threw the shovel over the fence. Then she went inside and began to sing like a lizard.

No. Though her mouth was empty of soil, she didn’t sing. And anyway, how would I know, buried in the backyard with a handful of flour?

Underground, everything was different. The worms bickering in the dirt, the millipedes cracking droll and ironic jokes under damp rocks, the yapping and slobbering of dogs burying their bones. My mother was silent, went to bed, pulled the covers over her head.

Was she feeling guilty? Do guilty-feeling people climb into bed in high-heeled shoes? Do they ignore the hammering of truant officers, of Boy Scout leaders, of can-he-come-out-to-play friends? Even Grandma, with her armful of cake ingredients, gave up knocking, went to the next daughter down the list.

The morning splintered as night threw a champagne glass full of dew into dawn’s empty fireplace. A millipede cracked a good one about an ant, and my mother got out the shovel. She had forgotten the eggs, the milk, a few other things. There was brightness for a few seconds until mother filled the hole.

It rained all that day. I could hear the raindrops thrumming, the earthworms irritated and cranky, heading for the surface.

My mother shouting on the telephone, railing against world history, built-in shelving, politics, the ocean. She’d lost her eyes in the ocean.

Not her actual eyes. Here I’m speaking metaphorically. Or I would be speaking metaphorically if my mouth weren’t filled with soil. Let’s just say it’s like when I said her body was lithe and spiteful as a lizard’s. The ocean had pulled her bones out, washed them away like driftwood on the waves.

There was a boat.

Small, wooden, propelled by oars. Don’t ask what was in it. If I was so clever, would I be a living bone buried in the corner of the yard?

A recipe maybe. A child. An extensive Julia Child video collection. All of history rolled up small then baked in a bread to escape detection at the checkpoints.

Why is it dark underground? Why are there no birds? These are the mysteries. I’m just buried.

The next day there was sun. The world was warm and I began to rise. I pushed away worms, squirrels, broken teacups, swing sets, patio stones, and barbeques. I was a vast loaf and the rec room became dark in my shadow.

Maybe I have exaggerated a little. In truth, I was no garage-sized loaf, but a bread slice, large as a bedroom wall, and I made the birds cower. The sky was light and tawny through my translucent body, and my mother, peering from beneath the covers, noticed the change.