Digging Up the Past


Digging Up the Past



Stephen texted that he would be in town for a night and asked if I wanted to meet up for a drink. I said of course. Before leaving my apartment, I looked in the mirror. I noticed a dark glimmer in my eyes and I realized I would finally ask Stephen why he killed Mr. Mayhew in middle school all those years ago.

Stephen was never actually accused of anything, but it wasn’t hard to know where to cast the blame. Tom Mayhew, our eighth grade science teacher, was found on the football field on a bright April morning with a pair of lawn shears through his chest. For years, Stephen had run a neighborhood lawn mowing and yard service business. The shears were his.

We all knew the investigation was a sham. Stephen’s uncle was chief of police and had looked the other way. To this day, the murder remained unsolved.

I got to the bar first. It was a classic dive. A stale beer odor was only partially masked by the smell of burning grease wafting in from an unseen kitchen. The lights were dimmed. Chandeliers adorned like tarantulas hang from the ceiling, blending into a thick grayness that created a sense of perpetual midnight.

Stephen greeted me with a big smile and bear hug. “It’s been too long,” he said, easing on to a stool.

He was wearing a suit and, I had to admit, was wearing it well. It was strange to see him like this, so confident and polished. So grown up. In my mind he was still that shy, murderous boy.

I wondered how he could live with himself after what he had done. Did he do penance and try to atone for his sins? Did the guilt eat away at him, crawling under his skin until it grounded every sensation, every thought? Or did he suppress the memory and somehow distance himself from it as though it was someone else who had taken the shears that day? I wondered whether it was possible to make yourself forget doing a thing like that.

 After ordering my third beer, it was time. “I hate to bring this up,” I said cautiously, “but why did you do it? Why did you attack Mr. Mayhew back in eighth grade?”

He looked at me, puzzled, holding my gaze without blinking. It was a look of solid confusion and I could tell he was struggling to reply. But it wasn’t a look of guilt. A small doubt burrowed into my mind, growing and becoming stronger, tearing apart my memories, searching for the truth, digging for the black coal of anger and impulse that I had hidden, buried, and ignored for so many years.

I got lightheaded and the room started to spin. The tarantula chandeliers crawled on the ceiling and a soft white noise, like a low engine hum, grew in my mind until it blocked all sound in the bar.

I saw his lips start to move and I knew what he was going to say. “But John, we all know it was you.”


Michael Degnan 


Michael Degnan writes from Portland, Maine. His short fiction has appeared in Every Day Fiction, The Drabble, and 101 Words.


  1. it can be argued that the act of writing is digging up the past. for what it's worth i say we learn little from history.

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