Care of Saint Peter
The old man been digging since day before yesterday, when that clean-pressed feller knocked on his door and handed him a Betsy Ross table cloth, all folded up with hotel corners, and told him, “He was a good kid.” He keeps on saying it’s for the horse. Lamed out since last summer but the old man just didn’t seem to want to get around to going through with it—taking her out back behind the barn and putting one between her eyes, sending her out to the Great Pasture in the Sky.
I swung by to split a case of suds and see how he was holding up. He wouldn’t get outta the hole long enough to crack one of Milwaukee’s Best his own self, so I popped a can open for him and handed it on down. Beer sweat mixes in with the soil, makes mud on his hands, “I never woulda thought to see you breaking your back digging a hole for that old nag, was never much good to you anyhow. Hasn’t put in a lick of work around here going on a year now.”
The old man looks half folded up himself, bones about ready to give in on him. Cracks on his palms don’t close up anymore. No sense offering to lend a hand. Some jobs a man gotta do on his own. He stops now and spits tobacco juice out through his front teeth, watering the soil red. “Don’t matter, she’s earned a rest. She was the only one, you know. Shiftless, lazier than hell and an attitude to match, but she was the only one. She’s earned a rest and damned if I ain’t gonna give it to her. Least I can do.”
I sip cold, warm my tongue up. “They ain’t gonna let you put him in there you know,” I tell him. We both know what we’re talking about. “They got special places they put ‘em, keep ‘em all together, out in Arlington. Part of the deal. Honor really, if you wanna think about it that way.”
Old man looks at me then the horse. “What you going on about now with ‘him?’, you see a pecker on her? I s’pose you wouldn’t know what one looks like anyhow.” I leave it lie. He tosses the spade up outta there and climbs on after it, walks on over to the screen door and into the house. I sip cold. Comes out a minute later with his arms full up: the kid’s old .22, chewed up baseball that ain’t been touched by anybody but the dog since the kid quit senior year to be a shit-spreader like the old man, the worn down old Carhartt he sewed a Hell’s Angels patch to when he was trying to fix up that bike he bought off the junkers outside Baraboo.
“What’s all this now?” I ask him.
He tosses the whole mess into the hole. “Care package,” he tells me, and grabs out a couple cans then throws them down in there with the rest. His tongue slips on the mud. “Some holy water for Allah, in case he runs into him.” He picks up the spade and starts paying postage, one shovel of dirt at a time
Angus McLinn is an author of fiction from the Upper Midwest who currently resides in Brooklyn, NY. He was a finalist for the 2015 Boulevard Short Fiction Contest for Emerging Writers, and his work has appeared in Blue Monday Review, Those That This, Visceral Brooklyn, Tempered Magazine, Tiger Train Magazine, Marco Polo Arts Magazine, the 2013 Saint Paul Almanac, and Songs of my Selfie: An Anthology of Millennial Stories (Three Rooms Press, 2016).