one last scratch
for the veterinarian –
a fighter to the end
one last scratch
one last scratch
for the veterinarian –
a fighter to the end
When I said I’d walk a thousand miles for you, I didn’t think there’d be so many bridges. You know I hate bridges. I’ll miss you.
I met her in an art gallery and fell in love. Somewhere near The Persistence of Memory, she melted into the arms of another man.
Daren swiped his credit card through the reader and pushed 8-7-1-5.
The screen read, “Incorrect PIN. Please try again.”
He frowned. That had to be the right number, and he tried it again with the same result.
He had one chance left and tested 8-5-7-1. The bank’s computer canceled the transaction. He took a quick look over his shoulder; several others waited in line behind him.
“I’ll have to think about my number for a minute,” he told the girl behind the counter.
“Okay,” she said absently, and turned to the next customer.
Daren walked away from the counter and stood by the newspapers as he pondered the number puzzle. It was becoming too much trouble for a pack of cigarettes. He turned the numbers around in his head. No, the number had to be 8-7-1-5. He’d used that number hundreds of times. He could see himself doing it. Push 8-7-1-5 and…
He took a deep breath, and his PIN came to him as he exhaled. He got back in line. The cashier still had the cigarettes sitting by the register. At his turn, he swiped his card and pushed 6-2-9-4, and the transaction went through.
Daren walked out and got in his car. He opened the cigarettes and lit one, inhaling deeply.
Six years and I’m still trying to dial her phone number.
It wasn’t Daren’s only automatic response; ten minutes later, he walked into the bar with no recollection of having driven there.
Two roads diverged in the woods, and Warren could not tell which one his errant dog had taken. There had been a frost the previous night; it had hardened the ground against footprints, and the leaves seemed equally trodden upon.
Warren was unconcerned. He often came to these lovely woods with his little dog. They belonged to a friend who lived in town and didn’t mind people stopping by. In the summer, the woods had been filled with monarch butterflies, flitting from one tuft of flowers to the next. With the approach of winter, of course, they could not stay.
He stood and listened to the sound of the trees as the wind flowed gently through their bare branches. His right hand, of old, unvanquished habit, clenched around an invisible mate, and then it tightened into a fist.
Warren had often brought Amy here. They stood in this spot and held hands, admiring the birches and the phoebes and each other.
But Amy had gone back west to care for her ill mother. And across the distance, as so often happens, she had met someone else and never returned to Warren or the woods.
Warren had ambled the city’s streets late into the night after that, beyond the furthest city light, numbly exploring the vast reaches of the growing desert place inside himself. At times his heart burned; other times it was as though ice had taken over. But he eventually returned to the natural world; he had already given up love and the future he had wanted, and even though the birds’ songs would never be the same, he refused to give up his precious walks in the woods.
Never mind that, he told himself with a sigh.
Night began falling fast. Warren whistled once, and then again, as loudly as he could. A bark answered him, and he looked down the left trail. Robert raced into view; he danced upright for a moment before coming to a stop at his master’s feet.
“It looks like it might snow,” Warren told the dog. “I’ll have to take you in tonight.”
Warren led Robert back toward the edge of the woods where the car was parked. They came to the short rock wall that Warren’s friend tried in vain to keep in repair. A squarish rock lay on the ground, and Warren was almost certain it had been on top of the wall when he and Robert first passed by only an hour before.
Warren opened the car door; Robert jumped in and went directly to the passenger seat. Warren slid in behind the wheel and started the car.
Robert looked out the window and yawned. Warren scratched the dog’s ears.
“Only a few miles to go, and then you can sleep.”
Margaret busied herself with her knitting. When the dark green sweater was finished, she would send it, along with some other homemade treats, to Paul Jr. He could wear the sweater under his army uniform and be just a little warmer while he strove to make everyone safer.
At the rap of the door knocker, Coral, the family’s cat, leaped off the couch and trotted into another room. Margaret set her knitting aside.
She picked it up again hours later, long after the army men and then the Rev. Hauser had gone. She had done her work so well, but it had been fated to be wasted.
She took up her scissors and snipped the yarn close to the sweater. The ball dropped to the floor, and as she went toward her bedroom she kicked the yarn out of her way. She folded tissue paper around the unfinished sweater and packed it away in a shirt box.
The young man had been gone for months; he was out of Coral’s thoughts unless she walked past his bedroom and caught his scent. All she knew was that she had a new toy, and she played with it all night.
“A squid! A squid!” the children screamed.
“That’s right,” their father said happily. “Your very own squid. Go ahead and jump in the pool with him. Have fun!”
The three youngsters squealed their delight. They peeled off their clothing and jumped into the swimming pool to play with their new pet. Soon the squid was wrapping them in its long tentacles and swirling them around in the deeper end of the pool.
“Martin! A squid?” Alice asked.
“He’s a genetically altered 10-footer,” her husband said. “Just the right size for the pool and the kids.”
“But what if he harms the children?”
“There’s a 96-percent safety rate with this model. At least that’s what the salesman said. And even if something goes wrong, that’s what the backups are for.”
Alice couldn’t argue with that, and together they enjoyed the wonderful family moment, watching their three children – Annie, 12; Ron, 9; and Ben, 6 – splashing around with their new friend.
Alice’s concerns were eventually borne out, though, and Ben was heartbroken when his parents had some people come and take away Neptune the Squid.
“But he never killed me!” Ben sobbed. “Just Annie and Ron, and they were mean to him. He loves me!”
Alice rubbed her younger son’s back. “I know, honey, and Daddy and I are very sorry. But activating the backup clones of your brother and sister – and having new backups prepared – was awfully expensive, even with insurance. We can’t afford to keep doing that. But we’ll get you another pet. A walrus, or maybe a seal. Something the geneticists have really perfected.”
Needless to say, nothing can truly take the place of a beloved squid in a boy’s heart.
since April’s loss
every day is
We are storytelling creatures, we humans. Our sentience notices our mortality and mixes with our fear and so we tell ourselves lots of stories about death.
We tell ourselves that the unjust are eternally punished in either darkness or flame. This is especially popular if the unjust are beyond our reach in this life.
Even more important: to stave off our personal dread of the trip each of us must take alone to Hamlet’s undiscovered country, or to console ourselves that the parting we now make with a loved one is not final, we tell stories about a Valhalla or a Heaven, where we and those we love will yet live and enjoy peace and plenty.
When a beloved pet dies, we may tell ourselves a story about how our furry family member has crossed Rainbow Bridge.
As a storyteller, I could probably come up with something good along these lines. But my stories would be no less wish fulfillment than these others. I am increasingly convinced that the only stories to be told at such a time, the only true stories, are those the mourners hold in still-living memory.
Today, I mourn, and I think this is no time for other stories or for the flights of fancy I create.
The more-than-year-long run of one new piece of fiction a week ends here. Grim, tearful reality now rules as we grieve for a wonderful little dog we knew for almost two years. Perhaps there will be more to say about this later; perhaps the stories I hold of him will work their way into other stories that will then be more true because of the sharing. And perhaps we’ll get back on track next week. For now…
how empty the yard
without him –
our well-loved Archie
"Honey? You really shouldn’t be upset," Alice said on the drive home. "Second place is quite good. I know it’s not as good as being the big winner, but it’s still very good."
"Yes, that’s so," Rodger agreed tightly.
"You should be proud of what you achieved tonight," she continued, lifting his trophy a little and trying to cajole him into a better mood. "I’m certainly proud of you."
"Thank you, dear." He said nothing else, not wanting to take his mood out on his wife, and both were silent as he turned the Packard off Main Street and onto Sixth. Finally, she spoke again, broaching the topic.
"You think he cheated."
Rodger was quiet for a block at 25 mph. "I shouldn’t say that he did because I certainly have no proof of that. It is obvious that none of the judges thought he cheated, and it would be churlish of me to suggest it. ‘Sour grapes,’ everyone would say."
"I’m not accusing him of anything. It just seems … convenient. That’s all."
Another block went by silently.
"Amy’s birthday is in three weeks," Alice said. "She had wanted him for her party. Now, though…"
"Get Buttons the Clown, instead. She’ll like him."
"I’ve heard Buttons is a lush."
"Oh, I’m sure that’s just a nasty rumor started by a rival clown." He paused. "But if you’re concerned, we could have the party in the morning, just to be safe."
"All right, dear."
He turned another corner and pulled into their driveway. Amy was across town with her grandparents for the night and the house was dark. Rodger made no move to get out and Alice waited patiently.
"Alice, it’s just that … well, am I the only one who thinks it’s just a little strange? After three years of winning, I just lost in the city bridge competition to a man who entered for the first time. A man who, in his day job, bills himself as ‘Myron, the Magician Magnificent’ and whose specialty is sleight-of-hand card tricks."