No, she said, it has to be deeper. If I go much deeper, he said, we’ll hit a water main or something. So you hit one, she said, and then we course-correct. But we still have to go deeper. It’s almost like you expect to find something in the dirt, he said. It’s not dirt, it’s soil, she said. Soil is an ecosystem. If we place undue stress on the bacteria and fungi, the soil will reject it. Reject it? he said. How? I’m not a pedologist, she said, I just know a certain depth is required to shield it from the elements. And from scavengers—those critters will get at anything. With this, she headed back inside, leaving him on his knees in the sun-blasted garden, sweating amid the wilted zinnias and pansies. He excavated another half-inch of soil then pitched the trowel aside, deeming the work he’d done sufficient. The hole was just large enough to accept the box, a simple mahogany jewel box with stainless steel hinges and an unreliable clasp, spoils of years-back antiquing. There was a keyhole lock, but the key required was long misplaced. He wedged the box into the hole and filled in topsoil around it, sprinkling blades of grass on top as if decorating a cake. She returned as he was patting down the heap, making a show of it—consoling the soil through undue stress, as it were. Did you go deeper? she asked. He confirmed: deep enough. They lingered in the garden for a while longer. The solemnity of the moment, and their uncertainty as to what weight should be lent to its solemnity, was counterbalanced by their shared desire to get out of the afternoon sun.
The following morning she found it hard to get out of bed, afflicted with a sudden and severe melancholy for a trip she’d taken across India with her cousin, more than a decade ago. Toward the trip’s end, they’d visited Agra to view the tomb of I’timād-ud-Daulah. Her cousin, an architecture major, had marveled at the gateways and parterres, the inscriptions and chhajjas, the marble and onyx and sard. But she herself was most taken with the porphyry cenotaphs centering the mausoleum’s interior, honouring in absentia the parents of Nur Jahan, the emperor’s wife. The feeling while facing these vacant memorials was that one of weightlessness in the presence of long history, but also of gloating: within time’s flow, those who dwelled in the present stood as victors, however temporarily, over all those who’d come before. It was, in a way she couldn’t quite articulate, almost the exact inverse of how it had felt, however briefly, to be pregnant.
He spent most of that day managing various cycles of futile communications at work, finally arriving home bearing a crushing post-commute headache. He found her seated on the living room couch, legs folded beneath her, back rigid, shoulders square—a posture he didn’t think he’d ever seen her assume. He asked, with some wariness, how she was doing. Then he noticed the mahogany box on the coffee table, among crumbles of soil. Its lid was open, etched with claw-marks. There was nothing inside. I told you, she said. I told you it had to be deeper.