When Bernadette Dishwater was seventeen she was walking out in Luck’s End forest, and suddenly she had a vision. She felt herself stepping on her own chest, as she walked through a small clearing. It was similar to that spine-tingling feeling often referred to as somebody ‘stepping on your grave,’ except that it was very clearly on her front, a tingling of flesh and sudden tightness of breathing. She stopped and turned around. She knew at that moment that she would be buried there, deep beneath the sparse grass and leaf mold and roaming tree roots. Later that day, when she got back home and the sun had set, she looked in the moonlit birdbath and asked her reflection when she would die. August the third was what it said back to her.
Well, she didn’t know what year her reflection meant, and technically it could have been that year. In fact, she was pretty sure it was going to be that year, otherwise it presumably would have specified another. So the next day she went out and started digging her own grave. After all, nobody else knew where she was supposed to be buried and they would put her in some horrid cemetery with the other corpses lying close. Out here in the woods there would be nothing but tree roots and worms to bother her.
It took her two days to get the grave how she wanted it. A nice clean square, a pile of dirt conveniently placed by the side so that they could cover her over with ease. She didn’t particularly want to die, but she knew it had to happen, and on what day, and she might as well be prepared. She lay down with her arms crossed to test it out. It was perfectly sized, but too shallow. She’d be dug up by badgers and foxes, she knew it. So she started digging deeper. And deeper, further than six feet, she cut a ramp into the side so she could get out again. She stole her mum’s wheelbarrow and used it to cart out the soil and stones, up the ramp and into the ever-growing pile beside. The deeper she went, the more tranquil she would be, she knew it.
On August the third she kept digging for most of the day, like she had done for her entire summer holidays, but when the sun set she lay down with her arms crossed at the bottom of the pit. She’d dug her grave about eight foot deep by this point, a slow slog through the stony, clayey soil, stopping to chop off errant tree roots here and there. When she woke up in the morning, she was still alive. She’d tried to stay up, but fell asleep shortly after the moon passed across the little window she had looking upwards. She didn’t bother digging the next day.
But yet the next year, and indeed every year after, she would look in the mirror and, was it something about the lighting at that time of year? Each year she would look in the mirror and remember she was going to die, and when and where. When she started work she had less time to go out and dig, so those long summer days with the pick and shovel were, eventually, limited down to one day; the day itself. Today as she has done every other year, Dishwater will head into the woods and cut her grave ever deeper. She begins by touching up the entrance, making sure the ladders and ramps are safe, and then she starts the pump; about twenty years back she hit the water table. She clads the innards of the shaft as she goes, making it water tight, at least for the night, so long as it doesn’t rain. She always falls asleep after the moon passes overhead, and, so far, she has always awoken.
There’s been the occasional walker pass by as she works, the occasional dead animal found in the pit, the occasional journalist pestering her about why she digs there, but for the most part Dishwater’s time out in the woods is peaceful, meditative. With age seems to have come a more forthright approach to life; whereas before she kept her activities from her family and other comrades, the elderly Dishwater has talked about her grave to many people and papers, on the condition that they don’t reveal its location to anyone else. She only digs for an hour or so today, her work mostly confined to maintaining rather than gathering depth; she’s in her eighties now and too frail to work for too long, although paradoxically, she says that building this enormous construction has kept her active and young, has kept death at bay.
Other festivals happening today:
- The Festival of the Drunken Monkey
- The Hopeless Festival
- Littoral Features Day