Digging Holes

Someone made the suggestion that I write some damn fiction every once in a while for my blog, since that’s all I ever want to talk about. I thought that wasn’t such a bad idea.

When I sat down to do this, I immediately thought of my high school days, when the coolest man I know passed out photocopies of old pictures he found at yard sales and estate sales and said, “Tell me about the subject.” So here I go, doing a cheap imitation of that exercise with Googled pictures. It’s not great, and it’s not meant to be… it’s just meant to allow me to write fiction. I’ll try to do this maybe once a month.

– – –

“That damn Alexander,” hisses the man in the red hat, as he picks up his pail and his shovel and storms out of the house, letting the screen door clatter against the frame behind him. The dregs of yesterday’s work slosh around in the bottom of the pail, urged by the man in the red hat’s exaggerated steps. STOMP STOMP STOMP through the tall grass and down the hill, where green fades to grey in mounds of gravel, he makes his way to the hole.

Standing with his dusty rubber boots just a toe’s slip away from falling in, the man grimaces. He takes off the red hat, rakes the back of his hand across his forehead, and puts the red hat back on. “Always leaving me to pick up his slack, that damn Alexander,” he mutters under his breath, before neatly hopping down into the hole.

It is only a few feet deep, but the day is still young. If he keeps a steady pace, he can dig several feet before lunchtime. Then wouldn’t Alexander just feel silly? It was his idea, after all, to take the job in shifts, and if he can’t be bothered to come back for his own share of the work, then he won’t get the fruit of the work either.

The man with the red hat pushes his shovel down into the murky mud, which he then slops unceremoniously into the pail. Each shovelfull reminds him of the first — just a week ago, when he and Alexander were walking along, and saw an old woman with her half-smoked cigar dangling from her wrinkled lips, her skirt hiked up in the summer heat. She waved her cane at them as they passed, shrieking after them until they begrudgingly came back, and then, with a glint in her eye, told them of the job of a lifetime. He was not one to be taken in by a strange story from a senile woman, but when she showed them the hole itself, just a few feet deep but seeming to have an air of mystery about it, he could not shake the feeling that her story was right.

And what a story it was. This hole, the old woman had boasted, liked to fill itself back up overnight. It would fill itself up to 90% by the next morning, it was told, and so if a body really wanted to dig a bigger hole, a body could. But you had to be persistent, the woman said, and the hard work would speak for itself.

Now, for whatever reason, this old woman wanted a well dug right at this very spot. It was never cleared up as to why she wanted a well in that particular spot, but she was very adamant that the spot was very important. And she was willing to pay good money for the job — that you could be sure, for her bony fingers pulled several gold coins from her pocket as she spoke. Once the correct depth had been dug, she said, she knew what to do to keep it from filling back in again.

The two men both needed the money, and it did seem likely that the well would not be as hard to dig as the old woman let on. So they agreed to the job, and the old woman, ecstatic, agreed to let them stay in the cottage adjacent to the hole until the job was done.

Very quickly the men realized how very much the old woman had not been lying. In the first day they dug 10 feet down, and by next morning the hole was only about a foot deep. Frustrated, the men kept at it, digging deeper and deeper into the ground, until one day, the man in the red hat awoke to discover that Alexander had not gotten out of bed for his shift. Jumping up and waking him, the two men managed to nearly catch up on the time lost; but alas, the very next day, the man in the red hat awoke to see that the bed next to his was empty… And the shovel and pail were still in the house.

imageSo now, the man with the red hat tries to be as persistent as he can, filling the pail and emptying it over the side of the hole, and then filling it back up again. It seems to him, however, that at this rate he may never dig the well. At least not while he still has his sanity, for the sun is beating down something fierce.

Furrowing his brow, he keeps at it, not willing to admit defeat just yet; but by lunchtime, the man with the red hat is very tired indeed. Tired of the work, and tired of the loneliness that he feels, digging himself deeper and deeper into the earth.
At lunchtime, he climbs out of the hole, slumps back to the cottage, and enters, collapsing in a chair and eating some stew that the old woman has left for him. Exhaustion seeps into his body, and he relaxes his muscles for just one moment, and  before you know it, the poor man has fallen asleep in the chair. By the time he awakes, it is morning.

Dismayed at his foolishness, the man with the red hat hurries to the window and looks out at the hole. He can see that the hole is now, once again, only a few feet deep.

He closes his eyes for a moment, doing the math and wondering if he can make up for lost time. Any headway that he may have made is erased — he is back to square one.

Suddenly the man with the red hat begins to wonder if maybe the job of a lifetime will literally take him a lifetime. Sighing, he stands, and trudges outside, where the old woman sits, her nearly-finished cigar an instrument of emphasis as she twitches it in her mouth: “You are not digging,” she says sternly.

The man in the red hat does not reply. Instead, he drops the shovel and pail beside her, and quietly walks away.

The old woman turns in her chair to stare after him, STOMP STOMP STOMPing down the dusty road. A twitch comes to the corners of the woman’s mouth, and she pats her pockets, as if to confirm that her coins are still inside.  She now allows herself a full smile; for while she can see the man with the red hat departing by the road to her left, she now looks up ahead on the right and sees someone else approaching.

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