Taking Care of Joseph by Linda McLaughlin

Linda Duncan Mclaughlin

Photo: linda mclaughlin.Linda lives in the West End of Glasgow with a grumpy cat and understanding neighbours. She completed the MLitt in 2010, winning The Glasgow Student Short Story Prize and The Gillian Purvis New Writing Award along the way. This gave her a taste for Masters' degrees and she's now completed an MA in Television Fiction Writing at Caledonian with the added bonus of a Script of the Year prize. She's now ready to launch herself on the world with a novel-in-progress, numerous short stories and a portfolio of TV scripts. Run for cover...

Taking Care of Joseph

The worst thing is the earth falling onto his eyes.

    You could maybe stand it if he had them closed, but he's lying there looking up at you out of his wide open eyes and you can't deal with it, you're imagining the feeling of it the whole time. You know it's stupid, you know he can't actually feel it hitting his eyes, but it's totally creeping you out... you stop shovelling and straighten up. The cold of the ground seeps up through your trainers. There's no sound except for Liam's breathing and the chunk of his spade - but you can tell there are loads of things sitting in the bushes, listening, watching, you can feel them there. You can smell them. You can smell the earth, rich and sweet with leaf mould. And you can feel the sweat in your back cooling into ice water, and the bite of a blister in your palm. You wait for Liam to notice that you've stopped, but he keeps shovelling.

    'We have to turn him over,' you say, eventually, your words whispering into mist in front of you.

    'What?' He doesn't look at you. Keeps working.

    You say it again, louder.

    'We have to turn him over.'

    'What the fuck for? Shut up and keep shovelling.'

    'No, we have to,' you say, and you grab hold of his spade as he swings round, reaching for another load of dark earth.

     'What the fuck is wrong with you?' His voice is a whip. 'We have to get this done and get out of here. We don't have time for fannying about.'

    You slide your hand up the shaft of the spade to his arm. You can feel the hairs under your palm. They feel warm, prickly.

     'No, it's just the way he's...' you have to make him see, but you have to be careful, too. '...We have to turn him over, I can't explain, we just have to do it.'

     He stares at you. His eyes are blank, but you see the red marks appear, flushing his cheekbones. You can feel the muscles worming and snarling under his skin, and you're thinking he's going to push you away or maybe even batter you, but you keep hold of his arm, look into his eyes deep as you can.

     He breaks it first, looks down at Joseph lying all skew-whiff in the trench. Then he laughs, blows out his breath that way he does, whooshing the hair away from his own eyes.

     'Alright, you daft bitch,' he says, 'if it'll shut you up and get you shovelling again...'

    He does push you then, but really gently, and you don't mind that. He steps into the hole. You like how he's careful not to stand on Joseph as he slides his hands under him and flips him over onto his face. The earth you've piled on top goes all underneath his body. It'll take ages to cover him up again. But it's better, it's not so creepy when you can't see his eyes, the gleaming of them. Liam climbs out and rubs his hands down his jeans to shake the dirt off. He smiles at you.

    'There, happy now?' he says.

    He's breathing really quickly. He looks at you, and the look strikes hot, deep down in your belly, like he's beaming it straight into you. He leans over and gives your face a stroke. Some of the dirt sticks on your cheek and you reach up to wipe it. You look at its darkness on your hand, lift it to your nose. This has been on Joseph, and now it's on you. It smells alive. You think about tasting it, flicking your tongue into its dark crumble. Things have been in it, living in it, crawling through it, leaving their trace. God's in it. God's in you.

    You look up at Liam and he's staring at you again, but you can't read what he's thinking. You suddenly want to fuck him, so badly that you almost fall. And he knows. He always knows. He grins at you, picks up his spade, and nods to the one at your feet.

       'C'mon, then. We need to finish this.'      He begins to dig again, and the sparse moonlight flickers over the bright white of his t-shirt, the dark gleaming of his hair.

    By the time the dawn comes, Joseph will be all covered up and sleeping safe. Then it'll be just you and Liam again, and that'll be good. That'll be the best. You pick up your spade and push it into the warm, living earth. Start to shovel.

(performed at The Lit Parade, 13th June, 2012 by Linda McLaughlin - part of Glasgow West End Festival 2012)

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