Original Literature: The Grave-Digger

©Wikimedia Commons; Image credit: Markus Schweiss

It was three days ago when I first saw him. At first I was unsure – there were so many people I didn’t know that day, he could well have been another unfamiliar face, and yet something about him struck me. He looked with sadness at the grave of my great-grandmother, as if he could see through the crowd of people swarming around the open pit, until his eyes met mine, and he scowled with unusual malevolence, and turned away, using the spade he was resting against to dig a fresh pit with striking vigour and force. I followed his work, half-listening to the priest’s eulogy, until the grave-digger’s head was beneath the line of earth as he delved deeper into the crust of the planet, preparing the eternal bed for another unfortunate soul, parted from their life in some unknown manner. Throughout the rest of the service I watched the hole, but he did not proceed from it, nor was he inside when I left the graveyard, following a path that passed close to the open pit. His spade was leaning against the rugged wall of the cavity, but the oily-haired man – the author of the profound statement before me – was nowhere to be seen. The strong smell of dirt was punctured by the acrid odour of musk and oil-cloth, emanating from the greasy garb of the grave-digger, filling the void of his absence as if he was present but moments ago.

It was eight days later when I saw him next. I had occasion to visit the grave of my great-grandmother, in a circumstance I now forget, when I passed by the space of the hole – newly filled with earth and mounted with a handsome headstone – and felt somewhat relieved and disappointed that my acquaintance – for he could hardly be called a friend – was again absent from the post I had associated with his person. Upon turning a corner in the vast cemetery to my great-grandmother’s plot, I was momentarily stunned to see the man glaring intently at the message on the headstone. When he turned around and saw me he slung his spade over his shoulder, and casually slunk into the dark shadow cast by the impressive church. Too shocked to call after him, I approached the grave of a dear relative, my disbelief doubling when I discovered the defacement of the stone – ‘beloved wife, sister, mother, grandmother, and …’, great-grandmother had been crudely removed by a sharp implement, and a presentiment of dread passed over my already weakened heart, as I prepared myself for the erasure of my existence, as my relation to the person beneath my feet would now no longer be remembered by any passer-by. I reasoned that the priest might have some knowledge of the man who seemed so interested in my great-grandmother, and so I approached him with questions, to which I received no certain answer. The holy man, long associated with my family, expressed surprise at first, followed by worry expressed in his pale countenance, finally replaced by something I could not quite name, as he turned from me and receded into the nether-regions of the church, ignorant of my calls.

It was a day later that I saw him last. I had been deeply troubled by the goings-on at the grave and the church, and had asked several of my fellow mourners whether they had seen the grave-digger at the funeral almost two weeks previously, yet none had. I resolved to visit the grave once more, to see what could be done with the ruined headstone, when I saw him in the florist, behind a stack of white lilies, staring at my face with murder in his eyes. As I turned he quickly darted out of the shop, but I had felt the eyes burning into my skin, and the cold heat of hatred sent a shiver to my soul. Upon approaching the site of such terror as I had never before experienced or believed from another, I laid down the flowers, and again underwent alternating feelings of trepidation and liberation from earlier worries, and I resigned myself for several hours to the torments of grief and mourning. As the sky darkened, I was aroused from my state of melancholy, and decided to take a trip by the adjoining woods of the cemetery, where I knew there to be a pleasing brook which often lightened my spirits in such a suffocating place of death and bereavement. This was unfamiliar ground, and I soon slipped and fell for what felt like several feet. As I regained my feet, I realised too late that I had fallen into a hole, a freshly dug grave, far too deep for me to climb out of without assistance. After calling until my throat was raw, I decided to sit and wait for morning. Sleeping on the cold, damp ground, I was woken by the steady patter of mud on my face, and as I rose to call out, my mouth filled with the soft, sticky texture of earth. I raised my eyes to the heavens in a state of desperate supplication, only to see the cruel sneer of the grave-digger, blocking the light of the sun with his slick head, and blotting out my existence with the steady sweep of his spade. The last thing I heard was his whistle as he walked away from the pit, and the smell of musk and oil-cloth clung to my nostrils. My tears were absorbed by the dirt that surrounded me, and as I closed my eyes, I thought of the grave-digger, and what a lonely life it must be.

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