When I Am Laid in Earth

He had heard the trap snap shut; having never set one before, he did not know what sound to expect, but there was something about this particular snap that let him know what it was, and as he jolted from half-sleep with acid in his throat, he was aware of something having ended.

When I Am Laid in Earth
Photo by Avinash Kumar / Unsplash

He had heard the trap snap shut; having never set one before, he did not know what sound to expect, but there was something about this particular snap that let him know what it was, and as he jolted from half-sleep with acid in his throat, he was aware of something having ended.

He padded downstairs, the light from his phone strobing the walls. The light burnished the mirror in the hall and threw twisting shadows. He pushed the kitchen door open.

To see it, he’d have to get on his knees, onto its level, to peer under the unit under which he’d set the trap. He knelt, his knees sticky on the tile. The grouting was rimed with muck. He placed his palm against the cabinet. He shone the torch underneath the unit, but he could not look. He stood, then walked back from the unit and reached behind himself to click the light on. He scrunched his eyes, rubbed them.

He knelt again. At church, as a child, his least favourite part.

Why do we kneel? Because this is the holiest part. Don’t you know? This is when the bread becomes Jesus.

Becomes Jesus?

Yes, and the wine his blood. So you kneel, because you’re not saying you can’t take a little discomfort when he was hanging up there, by nails, are you?

On his knees, the floor hard beneath them. He must look under, and he knew at some point that he would, but getting from now to then seemed impossible.

He died for you, you know.

For me? But he died before I even existed. Like thousands of years ago. How could he have died for me?

All time is present to God.

Not just knees now, but palms. Down. One, two.

Look.

The trap had moved. In the grainy half-light under the unit he could see its white plastic base, but not much else. It had moved from where he originally set it and now it was further back. He got back up. He touched his back, near the sciatic nerve, flinching. He took the small broom from its corner and squatted down with it. He pushed the handle under the unit and tried to position it somewhat behind the trap. But the angle was too tight and he knocked the trap against the wall. Somehow, he felt the softness of what was attached to the trap. The broom dropped with a snap.

She would not want to be woken up. There was a fragile, squinting edge to her whenever he did. Sleep was sacred; he knew better.

You need to go to sleep. And you must tell me if you have any impure thoughts.

Yes.

You will tell me. I’ll know if you don’t.

Yes.

He was lucky to have found her. He had not wanted the traps, could not bear to kill a living thing, but she had insisted. I will not have that in my house, she’d said. There is no way I will have that in my house. Four years, they had been together. Four happy years. Her name was Cecilia. She was very beautiful. She had standards. She had her ways, and one of those ways was not being woken up.

He must find a way to deal with it, like a man.

He fetched a coathanger. The angle of the thing should be just right, then he could pull the trap out. He tried not to think about what was attached to the trap. He pushed the coathanger under the unit and swished it along the tile until it met the trap. He hooked the curved edge around the base of the trap and pulled. There was some resistance, but then he was able to draw it out.

The mouse was a small crescent of brown-grey. Its eyes were small black beads that reflected the light from the ceiling, but there was an absence of light within them. Its tail was thin and brittle. Its feet were small commas of pink. It was so small.

The trap had crushed its neck almost flat.

He sat back with the trap and the mouse between his knees. It must be got rid of. He remembered the instructions on the packet the traps came in. One click to dispose of the kill. There had been a small pictogram of a mouse falling into a waiting bin. He looked at the trap. Sure enough, there was a small red lever that could be pushed to open the trap.

He picked up the trap by the edge furthest from the mouse. The mouse’s body bent in on itself and dangled backwards. He tried not to look at it.

He opened the front door and crept outside. In the distance, a car alarm blared. The streetlamps sighed a pale amber light that pooled onto the pavements beneath them. The moon was big and red in the cloudless purple sky.

He opened the bin. It was full. He would have to place the mouse on top of a bin bag. This was not ideal; he had hoped to get the mouse fully out of sight. But he could not let it be seen. It must be as though the mouse never existed.

You can’t take that back, now. You lied to your mother. You should have told me the truth. How could you keep that from me? You don’t have any secrets from me.

He released the trap and the mouse slumped onto the bin bag and lay there. He closed the bin and went back inside. Inside, he washed his hands.

You’ll have to tell the Priest about what you did. If you want to be clean. You are in mortal sin. You know what that means.

He went upstairs. When upstairs, he stood on the landing. He could hear Cecilia snoring from her bedroom. He thought about going in and lying behind her. Perhaps he wouldn’t wake her if he was very careful; he could just edge in, holding the covers between his thumb and forefinger, and feel the warmth of her. Perhaps.

But no. He would be better off in the spare room until she was feeling better. It was best to give her her space at times like this. He had dealt with the mouse. That was a positive. In the spare room, he lay down on the futon and pulled the old blanket over himself. The light dribbled in from behind the thin curtains. He closed his eyes.

I know that you didn’t tell the Priest.

I did.

You think I don’t know what goes on in that bedroom. And in that head of yours. I am trying to save your soul. I know, I know.

Every time you sin, he puts a noose around your neck. The devil does. Did you know that.

The mouse will not have moved. It will not have moved because it cannot. And it cannot because of what he did. Coward. Should have killed it himself if he wanted it dead.

Impossible. Such thoughts. Impossible to have done. Only way to kill a mouse is with a trap. Get it over with.

(But I did not want to kill it at all.)

He could hear Cecilia snoring. She let out a blaring snort, then there was silence. Then she started snoring again. He lay there and listened to her snoring.

He got up. He went out to the bin and opened it.

Inside, the mouse lay, nestled in the black bin bag like in a shroud.

He picked it up with his bare hands, held it gently, cupped. It was a little warm thing.

And when he got into the back garden he set it down on the patio with reverence. He got the spade and he dug a hole by the thin light of the motion-sensor light. Soon he had cast the spade aside and was scrabbling at the earth with his fingers, and he was sweating, and he pushed his earthy fingers through his hair and he could smell the earthiness of himself.

They had put her in the ground to the fanfare of that loamy smell. When you go, it is dark and deep. Nothing, just the dark. Just you, in a dark hole. Why is that not a comfort to anyone? To be safe, in the dark, with the earth for company.

Laid in earth. Gently, now. So gentle. And let the first clods fall on the sleeping face. Those eyes, they are the night. There are galaxies up there, and in there. Each reflects each. Something twinkles as the earth falls.

Later on, he gets into her bed, smelling of the earth.