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: : : A man : : : A dog : : : And What These Taught Me Of My World

When we brought Dorian home for the first night, I had trouble deciphering who was more frightened in our group, him or Maura or me. Motherhood is not something to take lightly, and responsibility hung thick in the apartment, having now been prepped and readied for our new Dachshund puppy. And there was no way of predicting that this little lopsided walking dog log would be such a catalyst for the monumental change coming, and the inevitable damage that followed.

After peeing everywhere but his designated training pad, Dorian slept smoothly the first night through, nestled softly between Maura’s inner thighs, bleating. I think Maura cried a little too.

For the next two weeks, Dorian was a phantom in the house. I would search under tables and chairs and couch cushions with little success. And when he was finally found, like a bird from an open cage, he would bolt away into the bedroom closet, hopping up one shelving tier, laying shaking, scared, and immobile atop Maura’s sweater pile. “What a pathetic mess.” I would stand there, hands to hips, watching this tiny Dachshund make a god damned fool of himself, probably as well, pissing on my favorite hoodie.

Eventually, we became buddies. I would steal his pink rubber toy, vaguely moist with odorless saliva, and we’d chase each other about the house. Dropping to the floor I could hide my head in my knees and he would bury the sharp edge of his nose into the flank my thigh, searching for a face to commence licking, like he would some instinctual badger meant to be snoop out of some hole. I loved him. His little body, his little quirks. In the morning he could be found at my feet on the shower floor, soaking wet and shaking, but just wanting to be near me. ”It’s alright buddy,” I would tell him, and I would mean it completely. I have, in my life, been on the shower floor in such a way over people too.

Maura never took my last name after the marriage. I still do not know why. Like little foreboding clues of our future I guess, fate is a juggernaut when it runs, and in marriage it is always running towards you, instead of away. When we fought, she took to slinging her wedding ring at me from across the hardwood room, screaming. I once had wine thrown in my face. Frightening fights from frightening people, that is, the type of people we became around one another. She would drink to yell at me; I would drink to not listen. The juggernaut grew near. Sometimes she would say, “When I leave you, I’m taking the dog, just so you’re not surprised when I do. He’s mine, ya know.” The words would roll from her mouth so casually, as if, packed up in moving boxes within herself, there she already lay, along side her heart and her possessions, so far away from my needs.

I do not have a child, but there in Dorian I started to understand the love of small things that are able to love you back. Dorian was strong, and independent, never requiring the leash. But in him there was tenderness too, a codependency I recognized within myself. A need of touch, of love’s daily bread- the promise of I Do, without the anxiety of it. And as Maura and I drifted, we both saught solice in this little Dachshund, who’s simplicity and child like love could never imagine dividing himself in half over us, as Maura and I ourselves did. 

I miss Dorian. I miss having a dog. Simply that. I miss having that routine example of what love might be like without fear, without greed, without even a scrap of remorse. A love willing to go dripping wet and sopping into whatever world as long as it keeps them near. 

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microfictions - #2

"Alex, who's Jonathan?"

"Jonathan? He's my friend, mum." 

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microfictions - #1

"why, why Kevin?"

"because... because she wants me to marry, Lionel". 

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The Girl without a Voice

"Wake up, Nohemi!"

"Wake up, the sun has already gone to the farm and you are still drowning in your dreams, how am I supposed to feed you when you won't work?"

"Nohemi, you had better wake up before I call your ancestors! Nohemi! Nohemi!"

Her eyes looked at the sun cursing her for reaching the farm early. How could she ever compete with the sun when she came and went as she pleased? The woman called out her name and Nohemi walked out of the room. It was 7:00am.

Her brother had already gone to school. Her Uncle had gone to work. He had taken his bicycle and umbrella and tucked his trousers in his grey socks before riding off. Nohemi looked at the woman and smiled. "Good morning Auntie, how did you sleep?"

"What is so good about the morning Nohemi? Uh? Tell me, do you see other girls in their houses right now? Nohemi, a woman works from dawn to dusk, we have backs that do not break and hearts that do not relent! And you, what do you have? Tell me, who will want to marry a lazy girl who buries her head in books? A girl who reads but cannot go to the farm before sunrise? Is that what is so good about this morning?"

"I am going to the farm Auntie."

"You say you are going but I do not see those feet moving!"

"Yes Auntie, forgive me."

"Do I look like the forgiver of sins?"

Nohemi walked to the door. Her Auntie let out a sigh before saying, "you had better come back before noon with some maize cobs."

She looked at the sun then turned her eyes to the two people on her left. She wondered how it was so easy for the earth to swallow up people but not the signs that read "born.... died...."

Her Mother, Nohima, never yelled. She often told her that there were beautiful worlds in books and if she could be read, listen, love and learn from them then she would be a strong woman. She put one foot in front of the other and headed to the farm.

 

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Sharing Needles

my father said they had been his fathers. His father found them in a secondhand shop, and thought it would be funny to buy them. He loved music, and had a very specific brand that he bought religiously (early batch Shure Hi-Fi), but he thought it would be ironic to have a box of crappy needles. And here I thought hipsters were a recent innovation. Before he left it to be forgotten in the dust and trinkets of the mantle, he used one. Just once. The first time he and grandma danced. The sound was so beautiful, the timbre so perfect, so warm, so inviting, that he took the needle out as soon as the song was over, put it back in the box, and locked it away, swearing that these needed to be saved only for the most important of occasions. The box hadn’t been opened again when it had been past down to my father, and grandfather made him swear he would only use them when absolutely necessary. My father gave them to me when I graduated college. He had never even opened the box. records were already something for special occasions in his mind, and the legend of these needles had been what he grew up with. He had never found a day that it was worth using them, not the day he got married, not the day his son was born, and not the day his wife died. I held them in my hands as my daughter cried in the next room. I hadn’t slept in three days.

      I set up the turntable on the floor of her bedroom as she sobbed at me through the bars of her crib, smashing her rattle against them like an infantile felon. I grabbed a record at random from my grandfathers collection and dropped the needle. it cut a thick groove through the old vinyl, nearly through to the other side. The speakers gave nothing but a heavy roar, like waterfalls around the next turn of a backwoods path. Both of us in that room were asleep before I could laugh.

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Where's Daddy?

"I don't want to go." I stated as my mom packed up my belongings and placed them in the car. "It isn't fair. Don't I get a choice in the matter?" I whined to my mother who looked as if she had been crying for some time. 

 

"Honey, you just have to trust me. You are too young to understand this and... and I just need you to do this for me, okay?" She cupped her hands around my face and kissed the top of my head. I studied her facial expressions. She was pained. She was hurting. The scarf she had worn across her neck for the past week was slightly coming off and I could see a purplish stain on her skin.

 

"Hey, mommy?" I asked her.

 

"Get in the car, sweetie." She was stern and panicked. I would have gone into the car once she answered my question.

 

"Mommy, what is that on your neck?"

 

"Get in the fucking car now!" She yelled at me in front of the neighborhood. The people that were walking on the street stopped and looked at her. She was frazzled in a sense. Anyone who looked at her could tell she was going through something.

 

I did as I was told and got in the car. My mother sped out of the driveway and didn't talk until we got on the freeway. "I am sorry for yelling at you. It came out of a place of anger. Just know that I love you."

 

"You never answered my question, mama." My mother looked at me with a scared expression on her face. She was speeding too. I didn't know what was happening. One moment, she was tucking me to bed and told me that everything will be alright. And then the next moment, she tells me to get all of my things and hurry. She rushed me out of the door and made me go into the car. She never let me sit in front though, so this is a plus!

 

"Oh, I fell down the stairs. Don't worry about me though. Everything is good now." As soon as she finished, I could hear police sirens turn on. I looked to see police cars chasing after us.

 

"Mama, I'm scared. Where's Daddy?" I asked her. I started to cry.

 

"Don't talk about him, baby. Everything is going to be alright." She kept driving. I was so scared.

 

"But I want Daddy, Mama."

 

"Can you please pull over to the side of the road?" The police car asked us.

 

"Honey, I want you to close your eyes for me, okay? Can you do that?" Mother asked me.

 

"Yes." I closed my eyes.

 

"Okay, don't open them." My mother turned on the radio and blared the music so I couldn't hear the police sirens.

 

I did as I was told. I heard a noise through the music that sounded somewhat like a crash. And in that moment, I felt on top of the world. It felt like a roller coaster ride. I opened my eyes to see where we were and all I saw was water. We were going closer and closer. And I turned to look at mother. I watched as she pulled a gun out and she shot herself. I turned back to the water and then everything went black.

 

The black dissipated and white emerged. I saw father standing in a line of people. I ran up to him.

 

"Daddy!" I yelled as I reached to hug him.

 

"Oh no. Oh no, this isn't happening." Suddenly, my father started crying.

 

As he was crying, I looked at where I was. There were big pearly gates in front of us. Mother was no where in site.

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The Sad House

We live in a house rued with chaos and full of damaged miscellany belonging to broken people. Everything we touch and own is both mortal and doomed: game systems nonfunctioning and doors broken and unexplainable dents in the wall. Sometimes the light bulbs shatter or an iPod shuts offs permanently or the children stomp on laptops. Movies get scratched and will skip if you press play and wires are scissored and buttons jammed. Beds no longer hold up, knobs are wobbly and someone always drops the whole roll of toilet paper in the toilet. My mother locks the fridge with a chain so we’ll have food to eat. And for god sakes, if you love something, don’t leave it unattended.  

            Yet somehow we have learned to coexist with the abjection that rives at our sanity. As the days pass, we continue to outlast our possessions, to dodge the same fate of ruin that other items here have succumbed to, will continue to succumb to. It is not just inanimate objects at risk but all things as a whole.

            It’s not a fact you realize immediately. The house looks like any other on the outside. Paint chipping and a bare flower tree on the front lawn and lots of bottles stacked and bagged in the backyard, because my grandmother sells them. Sometimes my grandmother brings in discarded items, old and broken things, many of them useless, and it all seems to pile up, with us unable to start fresh in the midst of all these old woes, and at night you hear clicking and scratching inside the walls, not rodents but old selves begging to be let out.

            Our backyard is bigger than most, an attribute rare of many houses considering it’s New York, but our grass doesn’t grow and mostly the dirt looks dehydrated and barren and the concrete used to be cracked until we fixed that. A lot of weeds mob along the gates and my mother tries to grow tomatoes or carrots but those never get very big, so she brings in plants to try and lighten the atmosphere. “I don’t want to harbor other people’s agonies,” she says, when she goes on a cleaning binge to try and make things feel good. Everything is swept and scrubbed and the plants are showered with attention in hopes they’ll perk up and lend us some life. She talks to them and tends to them and waters them diligently, but the plants always die. I don’t think it’s any fault of hers; this just isn’t the kind of place to try and foster life. And so, instead of greenery to make the house seem more inviting, we kind of just have these oversized wilting leaves hanging around.

            Eventually she gives up and buys vases of fake flowers instead, that look blooming and fresh all year long but somewhat stale. Sometimes looking at them reminds me of my mother wiping the table one morning, muttering, “Happy anniversary, my foot.”

            “But Daddy brought you flowers.” I nodded at the bouquet on conceited center display.

            “So what?” she said, frowning. “He’s not here, is he? He buys some flowers and they look nice, but what use is that? What meaning do they have if he leaves as soon as he brings them and in two days they’re already drooping? Flowers aren’t gifts. It’s just money to waste.” She sighs.

            I sigh, too.

 

            Inside, the chairs askew or a portrait uneven and things on the floor and nothing to eat and televisions blaring. In the hallway, mountains of shoes scattered on the floor with no foot to match and big buckets of unread junk mail and bags of things we don’t need (“but eventually they’ll be useful,” Madre insists). There are piles of: dishes in the sink, clean and unclean clothes in large heaps downstairs; some smell like fabric softener and others murk in grim, stinking corners. Only bill collectors call to say hello and I’ve been reading last week’s newspaper without even realizing it and my mother sits in the den trying to decipher the puzzle of the lottery so that maybe today will be the day she wins.

            Downstairs always smells like smoke because my father has a room for his cigarettes even though he said he would stop and we’ve begged him to quit but we are only daughters, and the floor is cold in the winter so you have to wear two pairs of socks and two pants and five shirts and a sweater and some gloves. The cold is unbearable. Everyone hovers by the radiator or the electronic fire place and drinks hot chocolate until we’re out of clean cups and we’re still head to toe in goose bumps even so.

            “Are you okay?”

            The house feels oppressive at times. On certain days you are so caged in by the noise—where all the cohabitants seem to be bulging, ubiquitous manifestations of pollution, clogging the space with anger and tension. The washing machine in the basement rattles and violently shuffles all day long spitting clothes out, taking them in, rinse and repeat. We keep: changing outfits, faces, trying to look good or right and it’s so difficult for us. Everyone screams at each other, whether it’s to not change the channel or to use the computer or don’t eat the last snack, who was it—not me! You’re lying! I hate you!—and then crying, crying, always somebody fighting or hurt and it’s so bad and you misbehaved in school or you’re late going because what is even the point and everything is useless and everything hurts so we keep crying in the sad house, we keep crying until we don’t know why we feel anymore.

            “I’m just tired.”

            “You’re always tired. All you do is sleep.”

            Our gloom lives among us as an unseen presence, silent and passive, a concentration of melancholia that strokes our cheeks goodnight. Melancholia sits down to dinner but doesn’t touch the plate. Melancholia makes the food taste wrong and turns the hot shower water lukewarm to cold, and is responsible for restless nights and tells us we are worthless. We agree with Melancholia when he advises we argue amongst ourselves or cry long hours in bed or throw tantrums. We thank Melancholia for taking away our control and making victims out of us. He has given us our fractured dispositions—my tears and I are grateful, and my sister’s panic attacks are a blessing, and my restive brothers are so fortunate to have Melancholia know our mother well enough to strike her with bouts of irritability and dissatisfaction until she’s too fed up to bother managing them or us. Melancholia sleeps besides me and hogs the covers. He watches us, always and carelessly. I cannot recall how long he has resided here, but I cannot recall how life went without him.

            This is why everyone takes as long as they can to come home. Sometimes coming I take the long way or miss my stop on purpose and do whatever I can to distill my arrival. If there is ever an open invitation to go anywhere else, to do anything else, I am available. I am ready. I wish the train ride was longer, though. I get home too soon.

            “I know. I’m going to lie down.”

            “You don’t want any dinner? It’s almost done.”

            “Not really. I’m not hungry.”

            Always last to walk in is Father in the evenings with his suitcase, always on the phone, talking to a client or company or family or anyone but us. Just a few minutes before he comes in, Madre leaves for work, and if you are like me you’re always the first to kiss her goodbye just in case. After she’s closed the door and locked it behind her, you can stand there for a minute and smell the ephemeral whiffs of her perfume.

            “Are you sure?”

            I don’t see much of my father because I’m usually upstairs playing this game where I pretend I’m an only child. It involves closing the door and blasting music and fooling around on my cell phone instead of doing homework. Sometimes I wonder why have phones when no one calls or no cares and I’m always so tired. Too tired to talk or to write and I come here to cry because I know this is the best place for it. It’s hard to feel good on the inside; the house is so heavy with sad, all my tears are here, and I am so overwhelmed.

            “I’m fine. Goodnight.”

            In my room, which has two windows, not enough light shines in. The bedroom is too small and cluttered with unread books and incomplete journals. I scatter my clothes wherever they land once taken off.  I try to keep comfortable. Often relaxing involves stripping down until you’re nothing but your skin. After that, everything kind of stops and you just have to breathe slow even if the air feeds you dust instead of oxygen. You walk in and the world outside—its breeze and freedom dead here. There are crumbs everywhere. The bed is unmade. The carpet has not been swept in days. Melancholia doesn’t care, and gladly seeps into the mattress and pillow where I lay to rest my mind and body as I try to still the spinning inside of me, and for a brief moment there is solace, short-lived but welcome. And in the twilight, the curtains flutter not with bright wind but little gusts desperate and forced, like dry heaves from the mouth of a cloud.

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A Stranger's Life

            I’d done a lot of traveling in my life, but I’d never liked traveling by air. Airports made me nervous. I’d been born and raised out west, my closest neighbors half a mile down the road and a mountain as my backyard. Everyone seemed to press in on me as I sat at the terminal, hours until my flight left. It didn’t help that I had my little girl with me. She was four months old, and her mother had left us.

She wanted to give her up for adoption. I said no. She signed rights over to me and I hadn’t seen or heard from her since. A middle-age woman across the aisle looked at me like I was diseased, not-so-discreetly pointing at me to her fat, austere husband, muttering something that looked like “no wedding ring.” She wasn’t the only one. I tried not to care, hugged my daughter closer and kissed the top of her head.

 

            “Grandma and grandpa will be happy to see you again,” I said to her, bouncing her a little. Tears threatened as reality came rushing back to me. My mother was the reason for us going home. They said she had months still, that she was fighting off the cancer. They were wrong. It happened fast. “Grandpa anyway,” I said, taking a deep breath that shook in my chest. That was a lie. She grinned, reaching up to grab my chin. “We’re gonna’ be okay, sweetheart. We’re gonna’ be fine.”

 

            Hours later, when the sun had finally come up and the airport was busy, I had exhausted myself of feelings. I looked around us, trying to decide who was going where and what for. The businessmen were easy to spot, always in black suits or khaki pants and collared shirts, cell phones glued to their ears if they didn’t have a Bluetooth. One of them sat where the judging couple had earlier and he looked as exhausted and beaten down as I felt, sagging as he sat in the chair, briefcase all but forgotten on the ground.

He looked mid-sixties, should be retired already, like he should be home with his family, if he had one. I couldn’t see his ring finger, not that that meant anything, I reminded myself. I hoped whatever he was going through would be over soon. I hoped his business trip was over and he was going home.

           

            Then there were the college-age kids. The girls always put on extra makeup and dressed a little sexier, on their way to meet boyfriends if they weren’t already with them. I caught an interested look now and then which quickly disappeared when they spotted my little girl. I thought back to college, to those short years chasing sex and a degree and myself. They say it’s the time to find yourself. I guess I went to the wrong school or took the wrong classes. Still, I’d had fun. I couldn’t say I’d been happy though. I wondered if those girls were, if the guys with them treated them right. Probably not, I thought. Don’t be that way, don’t judge. You don’t know. Still, it was true.

 

            The hardest to look at for me were the families. The mothers and fathers with their children always looked haggard and annoyed and impatient. I wanted to walk up to them and take them by the shoulders. I wanted to shake them and tell the father to stop checking his email and the mother to stop talking to her friend, to pay attention to their children. I wanted to tell the children to listen to their parents, to be good to them.

One family had three little girls, triplets but not identical, I couldn’t think of the word. Paternal? Fraternal? It didn’t matter. All three wore a different pink dress and the father was chasing them around a bench, laughing.

The girls squealed and giggled and shouted and some people shot them dirty looks for being loud. The dad paid no attention and the mother watched from a distance, smiling like the sun was shining just for her. God, I wanted to hug them and ask them both how in the hell to do all this. I wanted to know how you made a family work. I wanted to ask them what their lives were like and where they were going and how the hell to be happy. Looking around at all these people, I wanted to live anyone’s life but mine just then. I didn’t want to hate my daughter’s mother for leaving. I didn’t want to be going to bury my own. I didn’t want to have to face my father, who fought with me, told me I should give my daughter up, that I was a fool. I wanted to be anyone but me and I closed my eyes hard, kissing her head again.   

           

            “We’ll be fine, sweetheart. I promise. I’ll take care of us. I promise.”

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Bastards

            I looked back at my mom and it hurt. She was scrubbing dishes in the yellow light of her old kitchen. Mom went grey early because of me. It could be argued it was my dad’s fault. Part of it was, but Jesus, I was a bastard. Not literally, they were married see? But I was an awful child and she tried and tried and tried to make a good man out of me, but I was just so angry all the time.

            I went out to the porch and looked out over the forests, the mountains, lakes and rivers that I’d spent my childhood running away to. I watched the sun go down, the sounds of the sink and dishes clattering and soft footsteps coming through the screen door and I could feel her occasionally looking out at me, frowning. All her life had come to was raising me, and I wasn’t turning out so great myself. I knew it too and the part that hurt the most was that I couldn’t make myself care. I was too scared.

 

            “Please don’t be like your father,” he said, not an accusation or a criticism. She was begging, tears in her eyes. “Don’t be that kind of man,” she said. I picked up my old guitar that I’d left sitting out on the swing at the end of the porch and sat on the steps, stringing a simple old song, the first I’d learned. I watched the blue of night force out the red and orange and yellow of daylight, the mountains darkened in the glare of the setting sun and I played my guitar. Stars poked out of the blue, blinking white and the birds went quiet, the insects too, listening to me play I guessed.

            “I don’t think I can do it. I don’t want it,” I’d said when she told me that. She reached across the kitchen table for my hand but I pulled it away. “She wants to have it, and she’d want me to marry her if I stayed around. I don’t want to marry her, mom.” She started crying then.

            “Oh Jamie,” was all she could say, hands over her mouth. Tears dropped onto the table and I looked away. I hated seeing her cry. I’d never really done a thing she wanted me to do. I played football instead of studying, went to the Marines instead of college, went into firefighting even after that, but of all those things she wanted me to do, I wanted this least of all.

            “I can’t do this mom.” She stood up and started the dishes, she couldn’t look at me. I couldn’t blame her. You’re a useless piece of shit, I thought, you really are. You did the one thing you said you’d never do. You became like him.

 

            I told myself that, over and over again as I sat there and played, played and played long after it was dark and my fingertips were red and the dishes were done. I looked once more at the shadow of that mountain. I’d climbed it a hundred times and more. I’d played this same guitar, sitting on top of it. If you could feel freedom in your bones and your blood, you’d feel it sitting on top of that mountain. That would all go away if you do this, I thought to myself. You wouldn’t be free anymore.

 

            I looked back at my mom. Then I thought of the girl.

 

            She’s a good girl. She deserves so much more than you, you son of a bitch. You’re about to let her become your mother, about to become your father, your worthless, nothing father. I thought of the day my father left. I was five and mom cried for a week. She cried a lot after that too. All the time still. I really was like my dad, good-looking, charming and not really worth a damn.

 

            But you’re not your dad, I said. No. No I’m not.

 

            I got up and went inside, leaning my guitar against the wall as the screen door shut behind me. Mom was sitting at the table, head in her hands, work-hardened, worn out hands holding a face that shouldn’t look nearly so old. I sat down at the table, looking down at my own hands as I spoke.

            “I… I kind of hope it’s a girl,” I said. She lowered her hands and looked at me. I couldn’t look back.

            “Why do you say that?” she asked, trying to pull her voice together.

            “We sure don’t want the little bastard to turn out like me, do we? We’re going to have enough trouble as it is.”

            “We?” she said hopefully. I looked up at her finally and wished I hadn’t, seeing that look in her eyes. I nodded.

            “Yeah, we.” She got up and so did I and she came and put her arms around me and I just cried. I didn’t know what I was crying for or why I hugged her back but I did and damn it all, I just cried because I was so scared that kid would grow up like I had and I just couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t walk out on him. I couldn’t walk out on my son. I couldn’t.

 

            “I love you mom.”