The World by Night

The Iowa Review - - NEWS - An­jali sachdeva

Sadie was six­teen when her par­ents died, and the gravedig­ger told her he would charge her less if she would help him. Typhoid had killed so many peo­ple in town that he was tired of dig­ging. “Can we do it at night?” she said. Her skin could not weather long hours in the sun, and in the glare of day she would be nearly blind. He agreed, and so there they were, twi­light till dawn, shav­ing sliv­ers of hard-packed earth from the walls of the graves. They had the coffins low­ered by morn­ing, and the gravedig­ger looked at Sadie’s flushed face and said, “Go on and get in­side now. I’ll fin­ish this. I’ll do it proper. You can have your own ser­vice tonight.” “Aren’t you afraid of me?” she said. She’d been want­ing to ask all night. When she was tired or ner­vous, her irises of­ten jumped back and forth un­con­trol­lably, as though she were be­ing shaken, and she knew they were do­ing so now. It un­set­tled peo­ple, and more than one preacher had tried to cast spir­its out of her, to no ef­fect. The gravedig­ger looked at the earth for a long time, the pits with the bod­ies rest­ing at the bot­toms. “I saw an­other girl like you one time, at a freak show in Abi­lene,” he said. “White skin and hair like you have, eyes like I never saw, al­most red. They called her the devil’s bride, but I think she would’ve liked to’ve been mar­ried to a good man, tend­ing chick­ens and bak­ing bis­cuits just like any­one else. Any­how, you’re a fine dig­ger.”

Now Sadie is twenty and it is June and her hus­band Zachary has been gone for two months, south­east across the Ozarks and maybe far­ther, to look for work. She is not afraid of be­ing alone for a while. She was alone for two years be­fore she met him and thought she would spend the rest of her life that way. It is sick­en­ing to think of that time, and just to know he will come back sooner or later is enough. She sleeps in the sod house through the bright hours of the day when most women do their chores, saves her work for early morn­ing and dusk. When the dark has set­tled, she walks across the prairie, mak­ing her way by scent and feel. She finds some clumps of grass that smell like onion, oth­ers like sweet basil, oth­ers cov­ered in sil­very down that tick­les her fin­ger­tips. As the days pass, she saves up things to show Zachary when he comes home: A patch of sweet black­ber­ries by the side of the pond where she

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