Burying the Johnboat, fiction by Sam Slaughter

Mary stood on her porch with a shov­el rest­ing on her shoul­der. In her oth­er hand, a tall­boy of Miller High Life began to sweat in the sum­mer heat. The sun was up and she’d over­slept, the hang­over punch to the head too much to deal with at sev­en a.m. when she should’ve got­ten up to send Mil­ton off to day camp. He got up, though, and went. Mil­ton knew not to both­er his moth­er some morn­ings. He’d eat two cold Pop Tarts and walk the mile to the bus stop where the YMCA bus would pick him up.

The night before, Mary had moved the trail­er hold­ing the john­boat into the yard. It sat there now on the crest of the hill behind their trail­er. The dull green hull sucked in the sun­light like a hun­gry kid. She’d come up with the idea one of the many nights at the bar, suck­ing down two-for-one vod­ka ton­ics while what amount­ed to the town’s eli­gi­ble bach­e­lors took turns slid­ing their rough hands up her thighs. Mil­ton was at home, asleep. He slept hard and long, always had, and she nev­er wor­ried. He had a peashoot­er to use if it came to that. But who’d want to break in, any­way? What were they going to steal from her? Her ex-hus­bands col­lec­tion of Atlanta Braves trad­ing cards? Go for it, just don’t touch the booze or her child.

Some­where between her third and fourth of the night, she real­ized she should do some­thing spe­cial for Mil­ton. His birth­day was com­ing up and she hadn’t planned any­thing yet. He hadn’t said a word, but he nev­er did, so it’d be up to her to fig­ure it out. Mil­ton had loved the boat—he always loved going out on it with his father—so Mary decid­ed she should do some­thing with it. She’d build him his very own play place. Like at the McDonald’s out on the high­way, but with­out the oth­er snot­ty kids that made fun of his Good­will clothes.

The boat had been her ex-husband’s pride and joy. When he left, though, he’d left in the night and with lit­tle more than his .22 and some clothes. He’d tak­en the bot­tle of John­nie Green Label, too. Mary had known that when the time came she wasn’t going to be lucky enough to keep that. No one had want­ed to buy the boat—a hole had rust­ed through near the bow—and so it sat next to the trail­er for months. She’d sold the engine for parts. Mil­ton climbed on it when he played and Mary always wor­ried he’d catch a foot on some­thing and cut him­self wide open.

The dirt gave way eas­i­ly and Mary found a rhythm almost as soon as she start­ed. Push, pull, toss. Push, pull, toss, sip. Push, pull, toss. As she sipped, she watched clods roll down the hill.  Mary hadn’t thought about how deep to set the boat. She stared at the hull and imag­ined it mov­ing, slid­ing out of the space in a rain, Mil­ton on board and crushed when it hit the bot­tom of the hill. She couldn’t have that. Mary real­ized too that the deep­er she dug, the less of the boat she’d have to see. She imag­ined that, with every inch she obscured by dirt, one more mem­o­ry would be for­ev­er cov­ered.

She wouldn’t have to think about the first time they’d had sex in that boat or the first time they’d gone noodling togeth­er or how he had pro­posed in the mid­dle of a lake in that boat. She’d been so tak­en then, but now couldn’t help but see how stu­pid the pro­pos­al was. How could she say no? They were in the mid­dle of the lake, there was no one else around, nowhere to go, noth­ing to dis­tract from the sit­u­a­tion should she have declined. Mary fin­ished the beer in her hand, crushed the can, and tossed it into the boat. She’d get it lat­er.

Mary worked steadi­ly, paus­ing often enough to sip that the six-pack she’d bought was gone before too long. She’d swing by the gas sta­tion before she picked Mil­ton up for some more. That’d be the first sur­prise for him, she’d be there to get him. He wouldn’t be expect­ing that, that was for damn sure. He nev­er said any­thing about it, but Mary knew he had thoughts about her involve­ment in his life. She didn’t take him to things like his father had done. Even at eight, she knew he had those thoughts. Prob­a­bly the same ones his father had had.

After a few hours—Mary had moved onto what was left of a bot­tle of Aris­to­crat vodka—she’d shaved a shal­low grave out of the earth. All she need­ed to do was get the boat off the trail­er and she’d be done. Then she could go grab a beer at the bar before Mil­ton got to the bus. That beer was impor­tant. She didn’t want to lose her buzz, she’d worked to hard for it.

The boat was eas­i­er to move than she thought. It land­ed in the hole with a crack and a thump and Mary adjust­ed its posi­tion with a series of kicks. Good. It was in a good space. She stepped inside and jumped up and down, slam­ming her feet into the floor to help it set­tle. Each jump sent a vibra­tion through her boots and up into her body. She found her vision slow­ing, her eyes not keep­ing up with the move­ment of her body. It felt good. Damn good. Mary jumped again, push­ing down as she land­ed. She was going to pound it into the ground. She jumped again. It would not come up. Again. She would not have to see it from her porch. She jumped again and again and again as the sun began to fall behind the tree line.

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