- Ulan Bator
Grant says when he was thirteen he dug up a grave on a dare. It took him three hours, shoveling in total darkness. He couldn’t risk a flashlight. His best friend watched from the wooded side of the cemetery gate, unable to climb over for fear of the dead.
A whistling autumn wind batters the trees, flings rain-soaked leaves at the bedroom window. We lie naked in my twin-sized bed, our bodies pressed together. I tell him to stop calling me buddy, that I’m not a child. He squeezes my fingers between his big knuckles. His hands are calloused and sandstone gritty to the touch. Someone’s daughter, he tells me, of the body in the coffin. Someone’s little girl.
He’s made a life of digging graves. Not a life he would have chosen. But he says proudly that not just anyone can do a job like that.
It gets into you, he says. It gets personal.
All Grant does is operate a machine. A machine isn’t personal. A shovel, on the other hand, he says—personal.
I ask him if one day he would teach me how it’s done, how to dig a grave, but he doesn’t think I’m cut out for it. He thinks I’m too apparent to the world, that I show my heart like an open palm.
As I fall asleep he tells me, in so many words, how one day, when the earth has converged as one great and dissonant city, cemeteries will bear the last remaining pockets of silence. A nice idea, to think that we might return to what we’ve buried.
The sun is hidden. We walk the park in the falling snow, along a circular path. The hills have been erased by fog. We walk close to one another, closer than friends, and I think that if we were to pass someone, anyone, in the snow, I would see in the person’s face a faint recognition of all that we have tried to keep a secret. Grant touches me only in my apartment, or behind the tinted windows of his 4Runner. Today I reach for his hand, and of course he dodges me, slings a fatherly arm over my shoulders. Hey [End Page 114] buddy, he says, but not a word more, and I am put in the always awkward position of having to plough the conversation forward. The snow collects on the bare poplars, on our hair and coats. I want him to touch me, under my clothes, here.
At the far end of the park is an empty playground with a merry-go-round, seesaw, a short metal slide, and monkey bars that Grant can reach up and grab without having to fully extend his arms.
I ask about his house. His wife. He looks to the fog rolling through the trees, seeking answers outside himself. I ask about his son.
Grant lifts me up to the monkey bars and I pull myself on top to sit cross-legged. I look down at his thinning hair.
Tell me one measly thing, I say.
Our breath fogs out of us. An orange salt truck growls down the main road. Then a black car. Grant watches the car until it’s out of sight.
Tell me about your son.
At first he objects, bitter faced and sighing. But then he begins to tell me more than I ever could have expected, as if the subject of his son—unlike the subjects of his home, his wife, and his past—was of such great fascination to him it could not be held down.
He says his son is like Alexander the Great. The globe in his bedroom is covered in pushpins. Each nation stuck by a different colored pin, according to ease of conquest. Blue is a cakewalk, yellow is difficult but doable, and red is an equal, such as China. He’s got a bit of a mad streak. He sleeps with a baseball bat.
I reach down between the bars and run my fingers through Grant’s hair. He jerks his head away...