Creative Nonfiction: Diggers

by Emily Conner

There was the time my brother buried me inside a cardboard box in the closet. We were playing, and he said, “This will be a good place to hide,” and he cleared a space among stuffed dogs and puppet bears and the clown with a zipper, a shoelace, and buttonholes but no buttons. I climbed in, eager to make myself secret, and he covered me well, then closed the cardboard lid and dropped another cardboard box on top.

The wait was dark, leaning back with knees to ribs like the baby I wanted and worried for at four. My eyes adjusted to nothing, breath dampening the small space around my head, humidifying the air, breath like from the machine we filled with water and medicine and plugged into an outlet for our asthma at night. My face collected the dampness in drops, my heartbeat thumped in the pelts, and heat spread through the clown’s soles.

I couldn’t push the other box off my box and I couldn’t yell, or I didn’t want to do either in case we were still playing.

Eventually my mom found me, pale and wet, and she pulled me out ragdolled. She might have been crying. My brother stood behind her, his face red and terrible. Later he told me to never speak of it again, or he’d kill me, he swore. Outside the bedroom window, the backyard dogs were burying their bones.

Emily Conner lives in Alabama, where she teaches, writes, and grows vegetables. Other small essays have appeared or are forthcoming in the Bellingham Review and Devil’s Lake.

The “creative” of the creative nonfiction genre has always intrigued me. What is “creative” about “Diggers”? What might the brother’s version of this story look like? Or that of those backyard dogs, burying their bones? I think that in this piece, the question of creativity has to do with compression (appropriately enough!). I remember very vividly certain details about the afternoon I wrote about in “Diggers,” and the “creative” work came about, in part, through stringing those details into narrative by incorporating things that only might have been present in this specific, contained instance—like lying next to the clown doll, my worries about having a baby, and, of course, the backyard dogs burying their bones. I compressed early childhood time into that one moment, choosing details that felt most appropriate and tonally accurate. As for how my brother would tell the story: I’m not allowed to ask.

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