The Sweetest Potato (short story)
A short story about the burial of a sergeant murdered by his own men in a time of militarism.
You have to dig deep for the sweetest potato. It hides, you see, knowing that only the patient worker deserves its gift of sweetness,” my brother Bolodoy once said. But this was not a time of sweetness. “You have to dig deeper, so the dead can no longer hear the living, not even when they walk over the grave, ay, the dead must have no reason to turn,” the gravedigger Pay Inyo advised. He insisted that, down there, the dead might still want to identify the footfalls if they hear them. Dig deep then, dig deep. But the sergeant’s grave was shallow. Perhaps I wanted him to be forever turning but among the sweet potatoes, where I had dragged his corpse. Their sweetness will temper his decay and wash his palate, so the sulk can ease from his lips and the red in his eyes can be starched into whiteness. I let him hold my hand, it seemed for a long time. I promised to bury him, but his grave will be shallow. He will hear our village noises forever. He will not forget. For the enemy, salvation is provisional. It was 1987, the year of the total war. Purge the countryside of communist insurgents, the government had decreed. Purge even their dreams.