Mom used to make fun of me from the kitchen window—“you digging to China?” Then she’d cackle with everyone in her bridge club like Muppets in a gallery and I’d go back to digging with my little plastic beach shovel, not meant to upend an entire manicured lawn, but doing a decent job of it. I got deep enough to hide my kneecaps. Shit of it is, dad would fill the hole in every week or so. Pack it in really tight too.
“A man needs a good lawn,” he’d say in that way that meant there was nothing else to say.
The thing is, I was digging to China. That’s where Li Zhao was, my pen pal from our third grade assignment. I wrote him every week and he wrote me back. We talked about all the cool things—mac and cheese, monster spottings, Mario’s latest rescue. He was the only one who never made fun of me.
But he stopped writing in fifth grade. So my digging took on added urgency. Clearly Li was in trouble. Or maybe his parents were even worse than mine. Or maybe he’d already dug half way and I just had to get through the other half.
“You’d have better luck sprouting wings,” Harriet, mom’s bridge club attaché, said. But I hated heights, flying, even floating. Awful. Keep my feet on the ground. I couldn’t even jump. Which ruined my dad’s plans of turning me into a professional athlete and earned me more laughter from classmates when I cried during gymnastics in PE.
Nobody laughed at me now. I had a crew, a city ordinance, the whole shebang. It was the perfect set-up. Fix a pothole. Sure, I’ll fix a pothole. But in the meantime I’ll show that aging hag and her seemingly immortal bridge club that I’ll make it all the way to fucking China through the core of the earth.
Collect call from Shanghai Ms. Butterwell, yeah, imagine her face when that happens. I am now. Her face looks kind of like this deep black hole into the earth anyway.
I mapped it out, you know. If we dig straight through from here, we’ll pop out just outside Shanghai. Li Zhao was exactly halfway across the world. Now, I haven’t figured out how to deal with the core and the mantle and all that molten mumbo jumbo, but one scoop at a time, that’s what I always told myself as a kid and that’s what I tell myself now.
“We’ve hit bedrock,” Benny tells me.
“So hit it back,” I told him.
He nodded. They don’t know what we’re doing here. I told them city wants us surveying for abnormalities. Total horseshit. So they think that’s what we’re doing, the city thinks we’re here fixing a pothole, but in reality, I’m rubbing my mom’s face in it, that decrepit witch.
When the jackhammers started up again, I reveled in the faces glaring at me, mostly wondering where I was digging and why it had taken me five weeks. I’d show them too. When I found Li Zhao, we’d go straight home. We’d upend mom’s bridge table and we’d tell her how wrong she was. About everything.
Josh Sippie lives in New York City, where he is the Director of Publishing Guidance at Gotham Writers and an Associate Editor of Uncharted Mag. When not writing, he can be found wondering why he isn’t writing. More at joshsippie.com or Twitter @sippenator101.