You're seven, and the two neighbor girl's father is standing in the back yard talking to your dad. You listen to them talk, two deep voices blending in the cool spring air. They are standing in front of the tool shed, next to a big wheelbarrow.
The screen door clacks when you step out, and the men stop talking as you tromp, barefooted, through the grass and look over the lip of the wheelbarrow. You see a mess of blood matted fur, and a single glassy eye that stares up at the clouds. Denver, the neighbor's basset hound.
"I found him over by the road," says the neighbor, "It must have happened in the last hour. He was at the house when the girls came home from school."
You nod stupidly, still staring at the dog. You'd been on the bus with the girls, your neighbors, and had watched the dog run up to them as they'd walked up the road towards their house.
"They went shopping with their mother," the man, Mr. Woods, continues, "I don't want them to see him like this."
"Sure," your dad says, "take him behind the shed."
Mr. Woods grips the wheelbarrow's handles and pushes it down the yard, disappearing behind the shed, right next to the gap in the barbed wire fence that grant you and the girls access to Mr. Baily's pond and cow fields. You hear the shed doors creak open, thump closed, and look up only when a large, warm hand drops down on your shoulder. Your dad hands you a spade.
"Here," he says, hefting a mattock over his shoulder, "Help us."
You take the spade, feel the grain of the shaft in your hand as you follow him around the shed to where Mr. Woods is waiting. The two men take turns working with the mattock, tearing great chunks of grass and red clay out of the earth. They stop ever few minutes to let you use the spade to shovel out the loose dirt and rock that settles down at the bottom of the hole, and then tell you to dig around the edges, making it wider or longer, before again laying into the ground. When they finally stop the hole is nearly as deep as you are tall.
Mr. Woods takes Denver out of the wheelbarrow. The dog's head and tail dangle lifelessly in his arms and settle at odd angles at the bottom of the hole. The neighbor man takes a moment to turn the dog's head as though he was just sleeping. You think about all the fun times that you've had with that dog, realize that those time are over, and feel a pinch in your gut.
The men are standing by the tall pile of red dirt, looking at you. You realize that they're waiting for you to help fill in the hole. The tool had seemed long and awkward when you'd been digging, but it slides into the loose dirt easily, and you find yourself holding a spade full of dirt over the unmoving dog. For a moment you entertain the fantasy that Denver will jump up and run off into the field.
Your dad says, "Nothing for it, son." And you let out a breath that you didn't even know you'd been holding.
"I know." You say, and turn the spade over.
Later, by the well spickett, when you and your dad are washing the dirt off of your hands and you can hear the sound of frying okra coming out of the open kitchen window, you ask, "Why'd you and Mr. Woods have me do that. Why not Rebecka and Carrie?"
Your dad looks down at you as he wipes his hands dry on an old towel. "Because", he says, "every man needs to know how to dig."