by Hannah Kidder
First Place: *The Albert Davis Fiction Award*
The woman stooped low. She cradled the dead raccoon in her arms before laying it into a sack that hung from her shoulder. She finished her round of the neighborhood, finding a flattened squirrel whose tail had fallen off. There was also what she guessed was a crow, but it was hard to tell. She brushed down the feathers and her thumb dipped into its skull. Maybe it was a young raven. It went into the sack as well. She walked to her house, careful to hold the sack in such a way that it didn’t bounce against her hip too hard. She walked into the backyard and closed the gate behind her.
Her spade scraped away small chunks of dirt. The sun had begun to set by the time she finished the carefully-squared hole. She laid the raccoon in and pushed handfuls of dirt over him. She patted it into a mound and topped it with a small rock. Sitting back on her heels, she wiped her forehead with the back of her hand. The squirrel and what remained of the crow got their own graves and stones too. She brushed her hands on her pants and stowed her spade and sack.
She padded through the back door into her kitchen and filled a glass with tap water. Dishes were piled in the sink, spilling onto the counter. The window above the pile was dirty and smudged, but she couls still see the rocks in her yard. Some had words marked at the surface where she had painted their names. Others were blank, names forgotten to the bleaching sun, lying on grass where the graves had flattened and grown over. She sat at the kitchen counter. In another world, he’d be stooped down beside her in a garden of flowers, not bones. She looked at the small silver frame that held a picture of a newborn baby. Pinned to the wall next to it was a newspaper clipping: “Local woman mourns loss of child in house fire. No remains found.”
Her baby was ash, long-lost to the wind. She looked out of the window again and wondered if he was there. The mud she stomped off her boots, the sand in the park. She pictured her son with the raccoon, swaddled in the dirt.