“Mitzvah” was selected for THE BODY microprose shortlist.
Snowflakes land on the mound of dirt piled atop this shovel, adding to its weight. The dirt is heavy. I forgot my gloves. The wooden handle is cold. My left hand holds the neck, steady, while my right hand—the same fingers that reached into your open casket and touched your stiff, empty belly—rotates the shovel.
The dirt is not soft. It’s filled with rocks. They scrape and scatter across the lid of your cedar box. This is a mitzvah.
The rabbi sings.
Y’hei sh’mei raba m’varach
l’alam ul’almei almaya.
I do not understand the words. They still stitch through my spine. Gravediggers step forward. Three strong men. They work. Dig, lift, throw. Dig, lift, throw. One works harder than the others. I watch him through snow and tears, watch him tuck you in one last time. The ropes of his muscles digging, lifting, throwing, until the grave is no longer a hollow. Now it is a low mound.
“Thank you,” I say to him.
He doesn’t answer. Doesn’t turn. Doesn’t acknowledge.
I can’t blame him. He has his own burdens.
In another world, he turns to me. In another world, he unzips his coveralls. In another world I strip out of my funeral clothes and climb against his skin, the barrel of his body, the refuge of his heat. In another world I feel the sheen of burying you coat his skin and smudge against mine. In another world, I burrow into his chest, lick the gift of it, lick his sweat, lick the salt of all the weight of you transfigured here into hot liquid.
But I am in this world. I open my mouth, and all I taste is snow.
Daniel Elder is a 2018 Lambda Literary Emerging LGBTQ Fellow and the Non-Fiction Editor for Nailed Magazine. His essays appear in The Rumpus, Entropy, Portland Review, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Gertrude Press, and more. His fiction appears in Maudlin House, BULL, and the Ghost City Review. Born and raised in Jackson Heights, Queens, he now lives and writes in Portland, Oregon, with his cat Terence.
Artwork by: Evie Shaffer