This piece contains: a shovel used to kill a mouse. An image of this mouse is projected on the surface of what killed it, and a subsequent shadow is cast beneath it. The shovel rests at chest height.
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One day I was moving some flag stones around and I noticed a mouse in the middle of the grass. This mouse was moving around with what looked like a broken neck or back. It could move its arms and face but its head was at a twisted angle. I could see it’s chest moving so rapidly that it’s breathing became a serious of irregular shutters rather than a rhythmic respiration.
I stood for a moment looking at it and realized that I was going to have to kill it. I had accidentally dropped a stone onto the little animal. I didn’t want my dog to eat it, or for it to stay on the grass in the sun and slowly die from trauma.
I went in the garage and looked at all the tools hung on the wall. I didn’t want to use a tool that communicated malice or did any obscene amount of damage to the body of the mouse. I guess I wanted to find a way to kill it that represented my situation as a domestic with an impending ethical imperative. To kill a mouse well.
I chose the shovel. Nothing too powerful like a sledge hammer or maul, and nothing that might not do it quickly enough like a soft wooden beam. I thought about the spade, but it seemed too mean looking; flat, sharp, and square. The shovel had a rounded unmistakable shape and form that clearly communicated its utility with grace. And I guess I thought it fitting that the same tool I used to kill the mouse could also bury it.
So I walked with my shovel over to the twitching mouse, and took one long look at it. I gave a short sigh and raised the shovel over my head. I brought the shovel’s gently curved side down upon the body of the mouse with all my strength.
The shovel made a loud, dull pounding sound muffled by the soft grass beneath it. Before I raised the shovel I felt a quick shock through the handle. For a moment I though that any subtle movement or vibration, however small, made by the mouse would travel up the handle and into my hands. I thought it might be a final message from the mouse, (or the universe,) thanking me for efforts.
Then I lifted the shovel and I saw the mouse twitch again.
With a much quicker, fully resolved movement I hit the ground again with shovel, this time as hard a I possibly could. I felt bad. I had wanted to make it quick for the little creature. Instead I had cause a moment of shared anxiety between species.
When I raised the shovel I found a perfect impression of the shovel on the ground. In center of this reliquary was the body of the mouse. Flatter than normal with its head twisted to an unnatural angle, as if it was frozen looking up at me. It was beautiful. I knelt down and felt the smooth impression I had made with the shovel around the body of the mouse. This impression placed the mouse, face turned to sky, in what looked like lopsided ventricles of a green grass heart. I buried the mouse where the dog couldn’t reach it, and where my wife wouldn’t plant anything.
There is a moment that comes with killing anything when a being transforms into a result. The being becomes an image that is the result of another being’s actions. Even when the body looks exactly the same as the moment before its death you can still see that it is no longer alive. A body just looks dead, with no real legible changes save its non-breathing. This is true despite the fact that inside a body, once the heart stops and it “dies” there are still millions of cells living and functioning, and will continue living for some time until their energies find a new state.
Every time I have seen anything killed or die in front of me, I am always taken aback by this transformation. From one second to the next a body goes from projecting a “livingness” to an inanimate. It looks the same but feels different. This change is humbly miraculous for its finality, haste, and plain visibility.