Ten year old Chastity sat cross-legged in the dust at the edge of the giant gravel and dirt pile that was destined to fill the muddy trenches in the so-called roads of the Catalina Mobile Home Park, engaged in excavating a complex network of tunnels, ditches and caves, in, around and through the dirt pile with a tarnished silver spoon. On the ground by her knee lay a bent butter knife. Chastity only wanted to dig. To China, preferably, like her Nana said she just might one day, but anywhere would do, really. Anywhere that wasn’t here in front of Nana’s ugly double-wide, where her brother Buck and his friend Sammy, both thirteen, both mean and nasty, circled her and the dirt pile on low-seat neon-splattered bikes, chanting, Chastity’s got tities, Chastity’s got tities, Chastity’s got tities
You best shut up, Nana yelled from the doorstep, put her cigarette down, covered the cordless with her hand. You best not make me come off this porch.
Dig, dig, dig. Chastity jabbed up spoonfuls of crumbly earth and used the quartz and agate pebbles she found to mark miniature switch-backed roads up and down the dirt pile. She reached her arm deep into the current cool, damp hole and pulled out a stone with the weight and heft of a marble which she then chucked at her brother’s front tire, hitting one of the spokes and sending up a trail of dust as it skidded, skewed, on the other side.
Why you little. Buck slammed the brakes and twisted the bike and stared at his sister, then at Nana. Come on, Sammy. He took off towards the line of mailboxes. Let’s bail.
These kids. Nana hoisted her body up off the step with one arm. Chastity Ann might go live with Della now. She’s getting to be that age. Nana was talking to her own younger sister, great-aunt Mae. Great-aunt Mae said something that made Nana snort as she took the step down to bare dirt. Her arms shook like Jell-o. Dig, dig, dig. First Chastity had heard of it. Back to her mama. She was carving terraces and irrigation trenches, like she’d learned about in fourth grade, down from the caves she’d dug mid-pile, where she imagined her cave people might live, with their clay pots and flint knives. Her cave people would be lucky. Her cave people would grow ample crops with their abundant irrigated water supply to feed their many, many children. Dig, dig, dig.
What if I don’t want to go live with mama? The words just came out, soft, but not soft enough that Nana didn’t hear.
You hush, now. Nana swatted flies. It gets time for a girl to be with her mama.
Not a very good mama. Nana ignored this last part.
Anyway, Nana said to the cordless as she waddled around to the spigot to turn the hose on the petunias. I already done raised the mama.
Dig, dig, dig. Fresh water from the hose that Nana held, cordless kinked between her neck and fat shoulder, showered down on pink petunias, interspersed with dandelions and pokeweed. A faint rainbow glowed in the mist.
Chastity said, Shoot me some water, but Nana didn’t hear. She blocked the hose with her thumb and shot an arc of water over to a stunted evergreen.
I can only give what I can give, you know? Nana spoke in a hushed, serious tone. Person’s only got so much they can give. Chastity gave a theatrical sigh.
Nana, she said with force, Shoot me some water.
Without a word, without looking, Nana shot an arc of water away from the stunted evergreen, across the tufted patch of crabgrass, past the petunias to the base of the gravel and dirt pile where Chastity sat. The water from the hose fell in heavy, splotchy drops. Mud and dust splattered on Chastity’s bare legs, and where they fell on the dirt pile made little muddy craters. Nana turned towards Chastity and then she stumbled on a crack in the sidewalk. She almost dropped the cordless but didn’t, twisted around and righted herself and the stream of water lurched and sprayed wildly, across the front of Chastity’s t-shirt, up the side of the dirt pile, carving catastrophic trenches through the terraces, washing away the quartz and agate marking the switch-backed path, pooling in the mouths of the caves and tunnels where imaginary cave people lived their happy, happy lives.
Nana, she cried, stop!
These kids I tell you, Mae, Nana said to the cordless. I’m the one falling down, they’re worried about digging in a mud pile. Nana used her thumb to build the pressure on the hose and sprayed a sharp stream at the top of the dirt pile. Specks of mud flew everywhere, into Chastity’s hair, on her face and arms and wet shirt. Nana kept spraying and walking towards the pile, tssk-ing into the cordless at what great-aunt Mae was saying. When Nana got closer, she took her thumb off and let the water fall in a steady, thick dribble, all over the world that Chastity had built. There you go, girl, Nana said, and Chastity scrambled backwards and got to her feet. You too old to be getting dirty, anyway.
Chastity watched Nana use the hose to spray down the dirt pile, rinse flat the terraced sections, wash away the rocks, bury the silver spoon, flood the network of tunnels and caves. The dirt became waterlogged and heavy and the whole pile seemed to melt, falling flat, caving in, crushing any little thing that might have taken up residence within.