Built To Last

Ryan Dunham

“Samson, what are you doing?”

I haven’t even stepped inside the hole, and Bertha is already admonishing me.

“It’s fine, baby.”

“No, it’s not fine.” She’s looking for the shovel. “It’s our backyard.” She’s looking for the wheelbarrow.

Four years ago I built a scarecrow. It was a cross-dressing clown. Bertha didn’t get it. My clown e-lude-ed her. Maybe she didn’t understand that it was a clown. Maybe she didn’t understand that it was cross-dressing. I never painted its face. I never gave it sexually distinguishing anatomical parts. It looked potato-faced. It looked androgynous.

“Yeah,” I told her.

Bertha stands on the hole’s precipice and looks for China (or is it Australia?). She doesn’t wave. She doesn’t bridge the cultural gap with a small gift or token. She just gazes deep into the hole I’ve dug. It’s so deep she can’t see the bottom. It’s so deep it piques her mind with existential questions like Why? and Who? and How Much?

Three years ago I built a statue. It was a monkey selling cotton candy at a minor league baseball game. I had to annex the neighbor’s yard to build it.

“Why did you buy Casey’s house?” she asked.

“I need the space.”

A more pertinent question would have been, “Do you really need to build the diamond and the dugout and the parking lot and the highway and the oceans and the Earth and the solar system and the universe and Time and God Himself?” not, “Why did you build this?”

“It completes the picture, baby,” I would have told her. “Yeah.”

Bertha sits on the ledge and kicks her heels. She digs her own holes inadvertently, two tiny eyes of darkness, the debris falling into my abyss. She doesn’t say a word. She doesn’t hum a song. She’s silent.

I sit down next to her but she ignores me. She’s looking for the backhoe. I try to embrace her but she slides out of reach. She’s looking for the excavator.

Two years ago I built a shopping mall. No one came because I refused to build a food court.

Bertha would yell at me, “Why would you build a mall without a food court?”

And I would tell her, “Bertha, baby, we have a Macy’s and a Sears.”

But she wouldn’t hear of it. She needed her cheeseburgers. She needed her free samples of Asian cuisine so she could call herself “cultured.”

Bertha’s on the other side. She’s three hundred and sixty degrees away. I beckon for her to come back but she’s motionless. She’s looking for the thousand years of wind. I wave and hope an incandescent smile can be seen from where she is but she’s stone as a rock. She’s looking for the meteorite.

Last year I built a pyramid. Unlike the Romans, or whoever it was that built the originals, I built mine by myself. I used limestone, marble, claystone, dolomite, ironstone, and quartz, and Bertha yelled at me. Told me I blundered worse than the Greeks (I guess I was wrong).

“You should have used gneiss. And only gneiss,” she said.

She was right. God weathered my creation in only a few weeks’ time. I should have called Greekland.

Bertha raises her hand like she’s in class.

“Yes?” I say/ask.

“Um, Mr. Weir?”

She doesn’t say anything else, but I know what she’s thinking. She’s thinking, “How did you do it? How did you create something that can’t fade away? How did you prove your awesomeness?”

So I tell her, “It’s a hole, baby. An idea. It can’t go anywhere if it doesn’t exist.”

And she dives in.

No thud. No clunk.


Bertha’s rockin’ out in China. She’s groovin’ in Australia.

I feel like I should dive in after her, but I don’t. I feel like I’d be better off if I did, but I stand up and step back. I feel like I should start filling the hole, but I can’t seem to remember what I did with all that dirt.

RYAN DUNHAM is currently a PhD student at Ohio University in the Media Arts and Studies department. He also has a B.A. and an M.A. in English: Creative Writing from Binghamton University. Ryan is a huge deadhead, but Phish keeps trying to convert him. He would only eat Chicken McNuggets and Sour Patch Kids as a child. Things have pretty much stayed the same.

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