Grave Expectations (488 words) by @UncleSpong

"I can't do it, Steve. Look at my hands. They're shot to buggery." Paul's hands are trembling. He's been pounding away at the earth all day. "Can you finish it off?"

He is knelt before the freshly dug hole like a veteran pilgrim, a mix of earth, gravel and fibrous roots neatly mounded behind him. Night is chasing away the last vestige of dusk and the temperature is plummeting. He's regretting wearing his new jeans – a bargain purchase from TK Maxx barely a month ago which are scarcely recognisable beneath the mud. His black t-shirt, Ramones logo and all, is dripping with perspiration. Soon it'll be dark and they'll have to rely on the sodium orange glow of the streetlight 20 feet away.

Steve strides forward and his newly-lit Benson escapes the clutches of his lips, tumbling to the ground and nestling in the soft long grass where it dies a lingering death. "Bollocks!" he grunts, deadpan.

"Hurry up," urges Paul, a few decibels too loudly. "Someone might see us." Paul never could gauge the volume of his voice; great for getting served in a crowded pub on a Saturday night but utterly embarrassing at weddings and bar mitzvahs.

"Christ almighty, it's your fault we're here at this ungodly hour. If you'd listened to me this morning we'd be out of here by now," Steve reminds him.

Paul sucks in the cold air, his eyes opening wide at the frigid chill of his cold breath passing over the extra strong mint in his mouth. It almost hurts. But he knows it's nearly over. He passes the pick axe to his companion. Taking the wooden handle his right hand, Steve swings into the deepening pit, sending a shower of sparks into the dark gloom as the metal hits stone. He swings again, and this time the stone breaks. Soon the hole will be deep enough. He pauses for breath and straightens his back

Paul is stood behind him, twitching, animated, ruffling his hair with the palm of his filthy hand. "Fuck's sake, man. Will you please just get on with it? We haven't time to dick around," he barks.

They stagger towards the white double doors of the van, only one of which is fully open. Steve checks his iPhone. "No sign of the boss," he confirms.

"Good. Must be running late."

"Give us a hand then," says Steve. "You can't expect me to do this on my own."

Paul reaches into his trouser pocket and pulls out a stanley knife. It's blunt but not enough to prevent him slicing through the black plastic and gaffer tape, releasing an earthy smell of decomposing matter.

"One, two, three…" And with a giant heave, the silver birch tree slides from the Transit and sits upright in the hole. "Is that the last one?" asks Steve.

"Aye. Thought we'd never get it done," Paul replies. "We'll plant the rest of them tomorrow."

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