The Arrangement

Timothy Collins was not the rarest person to see in the hardware store. What was odd, the cashier thought, was the sudden regularity of his visits. He seemed to be wearing out his tools at an incredible rate.

As the town’s gravedigger, Mr Collins was expected to be ready to dig graves at fairly short notice. But, as the newspaper had joyfully proclaimed yesterday, the small town of Orwey had seen no deaths in just over a year.

So it was very odd for Mr Collins to be regularly replacing his tools. The cashier asked if someone had passed away. The reply was said with soft surprise, as though it was such an obvious answer that he had to think of how to phrase it.

“No, not yet”

The cashier assumed someone must have taken ill and decided not to press further. Mr Collins looked tired, but certainly seemed to be in good spirits. He did not, however, take his receipt.


The butcher was the first to see Timothy Collins digging in the park.

During a slow period of the day he looked outside and at the park opposite his store, his eye caught by the only figure not moving through the space. Watching, he saw the repetitive motion of the gravedigger lifting and depositing dirt beside a large tree. As he stared, he saw Tim straighten up, pressing a fist into the small of his back. He looked over his shoulder, straight into the butcher’s shop and waved jovially. The butcher was waving back before he realised that in the bright sunshine, Timothy shouldn’t have been able to see into his relatively dim store.

He returned to work, having been oddly reassured by such casual demeanour.

On his way home that evening, he walked through the twilit park with feigned innocent intent. He saw the spot where he had seen Tim digging earlier and noted that it was not, as he had feared, big enough to be a grave.

As he approached the spot where Tim was now digging a second hole besides the first, he called out.

“Hi Tim. What’re you up to?”

Turning with a smile and wiping his forehead, Tim called back, “Just the usual, how’s your work going?”

The butcher was thrown for a moment

“It’s fine, all fine. Business as usual. But, uh, why are you digging in the park? Don’t imagine anyone’s allowed to be buried out here?”

“I’m just doing as requested. If anyone has any issues once I’m done, they’re welcome to fill them in. You’d best get home to the wife now, I imagine she’s keen to get that joint in the oven”

The butcher remembered the package wrapped in paper he held in the crook of his arm and nodded. He’d ask around about who had requested park-side graves later. In the setting sun the holes looked deep and as odd as the job was, he had no right to stop him.

He hurried home, a path elongated by having to continue walking through the park, then circling around to meet his usual route.

The butcher’s wife greeted him happily. After she listened to his recount, she reasoned that since Tim had never said the holes were for graves that he must have been hired to dig up some tree roots or something similar. This was a good enough explanation that when the butcher counted five holes in the park the next morning, he simply wondered what might be planted there and continued his day.


The retiree was not as easily mollified.

When she saw Timothy Collins digging in her front garden she was immediately incensed. She strode down the garden path, towards the man so rudely trespassing on her property.

“Timothy! Just what do you think you are doing!”

Timothy paused. That had not been a question.

He turned with an oblivious smile and replied casually, “Just doing my job, almost done now”

“On what earth is your job to go digging in people’s gardens?! just because you’ve no graves to dig doesn’t mean you get to go practising on private property!”

Timothy turned around as though surprised.

“I’m sorry, I thought this was supposed to be dug here. I’m sorry about the confusion. I don’t have time to fill it in now, but I promise to come back next week and re-fill it at no cost to you”

“And what about the grass? It’s going to take months to regrow!”

Timothy frowned, knowing that she needed this to be as inconvenient to him as possible to be calmed down.

“I’ll make sure to put the most expensive fertiliser down there, at no cost to you. The grass’ll grow back as fast as you could like”

“Well, that’s something” She sniffed. “Still, I don’t know where you got the idea to go digging in my garden”

“Must have gotten some wires crossed with a different home-owner”

He climbed out of the hole, which was not as deep as he would have liked, and dusted himself off. The retiree watched as he packed up and left. She noted that the hole was too small to be a grave. Perhaps it was deep enough and wide enough, but it was about half the length it should be.


It was a week later that the police came to see Mr Collins at home. He was sitting in his front yard with a cup of tea and a worn shovel lying on the grass beside him. He had taken off his shoes for the first time in weeks and his calluses were bright red. Still, as he relaxed and watched the police come up the driveway backlit by the sunset, he smiled blissfully.

He raised his mug in an informal greeting as he watched them exit the car and take a large berth around the mounds of dirt beside the driveway.  Without asking, one of the two police sat on the chair opposite him. The twin set had never had dual occupants before, he thought.  He was so used to being alone that he had to consciously change his usual spots around the house, or he would wear out his furniture unevenly.

“Mr Collins. We’ve come to talk to you about the trespassing”

Mr Collins nodded, taking his cue from the young policeman’s posture to lean forward slightly, as though suddenly interested.

“I know you’ve promised to make it right and no one’s complaining as long as you do so. But you were seen last night digging along the canal. That’s council land. This whole business is dangerous and needs to stop”

Mr Collins set down his tea and smiled.

“Well, I understand your concerns and for what it’s worth, I’m done with my digging now”

The standing policewoman didn’t look convinced and spoke in a much firmer tone than the other officer, “People say you’ve told them you were asked to digs holes around town. Who’s been paying you to do all this?”

“Oh, it wasn’t just around town. I’ve got some new ones here as well”

Mr Collins gestured at the holes beside the driveway of his isolated home.

“They’re the last ones I needed to dig”

“But why? Why is someone paying you to dig holes around town?”

“They’re not paying me. Anyway, I can promise you I’ll fill them in as soon as possible”

The policeman looked surprised.

“You’ve been doing this for free? Why?”

“Because I was asked nicely. Anyway, you had better get going. Your radio is going off”

Mr Collins gestured at the car, where desperate, crackling voices could be heard even at this distance.

He smiled politely as the policewoman started walking over the the car. He watched as she stopped, slowly collapsed to the ground and curled into a ball. He heard her ball up her limbs so tightly that she broke her own ribs. He had been almost right on the placement, but he would need to nudge her into the hole.

The policeman stood now, trying to rush over to his partner, to the radio, to the car, down the driveway. It didn’t matter. He fell precisely where he should have, his convulsions and staggering putting him square into the small grave.

Mr Collins walked over, holding the worn shovel.

“Like I said, I’m not getting paid. I agreed to make room for when they move in. In exchange, I get to be a part of the new neighbourhood”

He smiled as he sat beside the shaking form in the hole.

“Don’t worry, I’m not burying you alive. I’m not that fast”

He watched the sunset as he waited for the convulsions to stop, then began filling in the first of many graves.

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