photo by Julie Eger
She was born to bury things. She hauled away the dead. Birds fell out of nests, lying hard and stiff on the ground with bugs crawling on their opaque eyes. Calves were born dead, dragged to the middle of the field, gone the next day, not a hint of hair or bone remained. The cat left dead mice, or at least parts of them by the back door, entrails teeming with sugar ants. Grandma poured bleach on them, and even so, she had to bury the guts in the driveway.
The summer she was seven she followed her brother as he entered the edge of the woods with his new BB gun. He had already shot holes in the burn barrel, the garden gate, the box elder tree, and at last left a hole in the corner of the kitchen window. Mama was furious.
“Take that out to the woods!”
And he did.
Ellen followed behind, and saw it all. Saw him kneel, cock, pull the butt of the gun into his shoulder. He leaned his head sideways. She heard the pop. She looked where the barrel pointed. A blue bird tumbled to the ground. Her brother’s fist shot into the air.
He ran to the bird, and his body went rigid. His back shook and she heard him sob. He threw the gun into the black berry patch and ran, swiping at his eyes with his sleeve.
“No, oh no.”
When he was gone Ellen slipped from behind the oak tree that had hidden her from his view and she walked to where the bird lay, limp in the sand. A fly landed on it. She touched the feathers with her toe. The bird rolled over and she saw the BB in its eye.
That was the first time she became aware of death, its reality, her own mortality, even though death was always all around her. This was departure of spirit, a whisper given to the wind. There was pain in her chest as she opened the ground.