Breadcrumb #505

NICK PERILLI

At night, our grandfather walked along the canal. He liked to watch the local heron, standing statue still in the shallow waters waiting for a fish or baby turtle to cross their path. When our grandmother was still alive, she urged him to keep moving down the canal towpath to their destination: dinner and the movies or—usually—the movies without dinner.

Popcorn was their main course. Our grandmother passed two months after the doctor told them both they were eating too much of it.

"Don't bother the heron," she would say when she noticed her husband slowing. "He wants to eat and so do I."

"I'm not," he would say. "We understand each other." Then he'd stare into the heron's black eyes, standing as still as the bird. Our grandmother sat on a stone bench while he did this, taking in the fragrant air and listening to the crickets’ chirp in the tall grass by the abandoned restaurant on the other side of the water.

Most of all, our grandfather enjoyed interacting with random dogs.

Then he’d stare into the heron’s black eyes, standing as still as the bird.

"Don't bother the dog," our grandmother said when she saw one in the distance growing closer. Sniffing things. Dragging a tired human behind it.

"I'm not," our grandfather said when the dog stood in front of them, its tail rapping at its person's leg. Our grandfather knelt to eye level with the dog, so they could tussle together. "We understand one another." Our grandmother would shake her head but eventually crack a smile and pet the dog with her husband.  

As if by intuition, our grandfather knew the name of every dog before ever reading its tags with his aged eyes. This one was Jones.

They had a dog when we were young. We loved her but can barely remember how happy she made us, much less what she looked like. Some of us think her name was Olive with pointed ears. Some of us think his name was Oscar, with a happy face.

*

Our grandmother passed before a movie one night. Heart failure while they walked down the hill from their home towards the theater.

Nothing could be done.

The EMTs made her comfortable while she died on Silverwood Street.

Our grandfather sat on the curb with a neighbor’s dog named Lando, staring into the forested dead end of the street. They understood one another. Before Lando licked his face to break his stare, our grandfather thought he spotted his wife of fifty-three years sinking into the trees with a pack of friendly dogs surrounding her. The image edged out of his mind as grief crawled inside.

He missed the movie.

*

During the nights after, our grandfather still walked along the canal with the intention of going to see a film. It wasn't the same without his wife, but he could stand and watch the heron for as long as he wanted, now. He could pet his neighbor's dogs for as long as they tolerated him. He could sit on the bench where his wife sat, breathing in the air and memories for as long as they would last in his delicate skull.

A year after our grandmother passed, he was strolling by the green water on a Tuesday night. He couldn't find the heron, but the remains of a baby turtle lined the trunk of a fallen tree in the liquid dark. It rained that week, so the canal was bloated and full. Its surface reflected the stars in such a way that they appeared purple with nebulas strung between them.

Up the towpath, several dogs without any humans happily trotted towards our grandfather. They all understood one another. A collie named Juniper, a corgi named Porker, a hound dog named Gordon. More followed. A dalmatian named Mark, a great dane called Diane, a shiba inu known also as Diane. Even more. A pittie named Otto, a husky called Nanook of the North, a retriever known as Paul, a shaking chihuahua named Francis in a little sweater.   

"What a pack," our grandfather said, kneeling in the gravel to welcome the dogs, all ranging in age from puppies to adults to seniors. The puppies tripped on their paws. "Silly!" our grandfather said to them. "You haven't grown into your mitts just yet."

The pack trotted; they galloped; they ran to our grandfather as if he had just arrived home. They licked his face and pawed at him to play. He tussled with all of them, joyously laughing into the empty night. A chill ran ripped through the air as more dogs piled on top of our grandfather. Through the rare gaps between them, he saw another pup moving at a deliberate pace towards him. The other dogs settled in a semi-circle, panting in unison.

She was golden hued, with pointed ears and a happy face. She moved close enough for him to see. She had the outline of a skull painted over her face, but it was her.

"Scavenger!" our grandfather said. A voice resonated in his head. Scavenger’s voice. The exact one we made up for her when we were much younger and actually visited our grandfather.

It's time.

“I missed you.”

I missed you.

The dogs piled on our grandfather again. They grabbed hold of his collar and khakis with their teeth; they began dragging him away from the theater—away from the canal. Our grandfather struggled at first, screaming for help on the empty trail. No one heard. He wrestled against jaws in the dirt and gravel, clutching at trees, grass and park fixtures to stay where he was until he realized it didn’t matter where he was going. The dogs dragged him up the trail’s concrete steps, ascending above them and away into the night, their yips and barks and pants fading like the light in the bad streetlamp by the bench where our grandmother used to sit.

Scavenger followed the pack, her happy eyes swallowing the world around them. Beside her, our grandfather caught vision of a young woman he once knew for almost sixty years wearing skull paint on her face and scratching their old dog’s ears.

They understood.

As our grandfather watched the canal grow distant, moving through the membrane of our two spheres, he saw the heron picking at the bones of a fish on a log. They stared at each other, until the heron lost sight of the man.

• • •

Breadcrumb #505

GARY GLAUBER

There’s a vague sublimity to the whole endeavor.  
We could be anywhere or anyone.
Vacationers on rented time, casting reckless shadows.

Our boredom defines us like generational motto.
The last original movie was made thirty years before.
Everything animated has been updated to live action.

We are waiting for someone to bring our lives to action,
to remind us that friends are not merely extras,
actors for hourly hire eager for the security of work.

Together we explore sideline concepts of beauty
as related to a sad nearby water park.
We fear our own laughter while waiting in line.

This is a dark cloud of discovery:
your hillbilly past, my parental abandonment,
yet we toast our childhood challenges together

and float down what they call “the lazy canal,”
a twisted backwoods Fellopian nightmare
with trance music piped in.

This is as close to nature as we’ll ever get.
Our own natures as well,
though we both like watching the weather.

It’s a seasonal pilgrimage
undertaken like some Ambien incident,
forgotten instantly, except for the heat.

We’re the new artificial wilderness,
substance formed via connected stories
that vanish like meaning after a day.

In the end, there is nothing left
but two contiguous bodies
watching cloud formations

as they turn into messages
that foretell of a prescient world
where everything suddenly matters.

• • •

Breadcrumb #504

ELIZABETH SIDELL

Yellow connects to blue. My forefinger and thumb slide the two colors together and create a green seal across the Ziploc bag.

Yellow and blue make green.

I know the bag is closed.

I will suffocate her with a Ziploc bag if she does not die naturally but continues wheezing out her sound like that of a balloon letting out air through a very tiny hole. I read about this in a random article years ago. A couple’s dog was fatally hurt while they were camping. It was in so much pain. They would never make it to a doctor in time.

That's option one. The most humane act for my cat. Her consciousness is more in dream. She wouldn’t know. She is suffering too much.

Option two: Shoot her. Quick and painless, but-- my daughter is playing with Rainbow, her favorite My Little Pony, in her room with an open door. How would I explain mommy shooting kitty, why we have a gun? I would explain the action’s humanity. But, “Mommy, what is humane?” Here humane is synonymous with a violent act. Jocelyn’s father didn’t believe in guns. No argument, just, “Joan, I don’t believe in them.” Joan said in the same tone as when speaking to our daughter.

If he were an animal he would be an amoeba, something without vertebrae.

When Jocelyn was two years old she couldn’t pronounce “W” and Wendy the cat became Dee Dee the kitty. After studying for the LSAT I would sit on my back porch smoking my one allotted cigarette. For five days Dee Dee had been sitting at the bottom of the stairs as if waiting for me. On a particularly lonely night, I walked down the steps and picked her up as if I did that every night as if she were already mine. She was light enough for me to carry in one hand. Dirt had turned her white fur ashy and her left ear had a small tear at the top corner as if she had been wearing an earring and someone got mad and tore it out. I fell in love.

I don’t believe in love at first sight. With Al, it was mutual loneliness, a psychological decision. I would learn to love. Loving Dee Dee was not a decision but a surprising inner need to protect and take care of. This is called love.

Dee Dee’s head lays forward between her two paws as if contemplating and every few minutes her head arches back as though struck by profundity. She inhales one-two-three breaths through her dime size white nose and her head falls, weighted with the knowledge she found from above.

We aren’t ready.

A tiny earthquake of breath converges the orange and white striped fur like laced fingers and I think she has stopped breathing. I can throw away the bag. Her body shudders and she exhales and I exhale and we sit together in silence. Death drools from her mouth and mounts itself on her left paw. Drool is a sign of nausea. Signs of sickness and dying are: not eating or drinking, hiding in corners of rooms -- in Jocelyn’s closet between the polar bear stuffed animal and a unicorn, anywhere that is away from me. This is called distancing. A human distances herself to make it easier to let go. She is protecting me. I know she is dying, I feel its devastation.

My vision oscillates around the room tallying what is hers: grey felt mouse dirty from my broom rather than play, scratching pad drowning in fur while torn cardboard pieces lay soundless on my ivory carpet. I need to know she existed after her body becomes ash. I will not manically throw her memory into the dumpster as I did with my ex-husband or my first feelings for my daughter.

I need to know she existed after her body becomes ash.

“Is it time, my love? Are we dying?” I lay my chin next to her face and her fur is soft like Jocelyn’s skin, and her breath smells old, kind of rotten and determined.

I twist the plastic bag in my hands as if to twist out an answer. “You must tell me if you can wait until morning. A needle will be much better than a bag” I don’t know. I press my lips to the back of her head. My blonde hair drapes her back. Silver highlights fade the blonde just as mortality fades her eyes.

I whisper, I know we are dying. Her breath comes out heavy.

Still, I need to be told. A flaw of mine. My fatal flaw if someone were to play a character of me.

“You’re mad at me because I should have told you. You should have known, Joan. You’re in this marriage, too.” Al said this as he finished packing up his clothes to move into his friend’s place on the north side of the city. He hadn’t been home in days and when he returned I was working on the computer adding numbers or something.

“What happened to you?” I said this as if he were only late for dinner or from picking up Jocelyn from daycare. Disbelief pulled his shoulders and arms down and he spoke to the floor, “Didn’t you know we were breaking up?” I knew but I had to be told. Some things you have to be told.

“The love for one’s child erupts from the mother’s heart because the child is hers and she knows she loves her without being told.” When Loving is not Second Nature: A book on Postpartum Depression, what you are not told.

My love for my daughter was not as quick as it was for the cat.

I was nervous. I couldn’t latch on to my daughter as she did to my breast. I thought I was unique. Maybe I was a cat person. I imagined her drowning or choking on a small piece of plastic and in that imaginary situation I could not evoke a need to protect. I prayed for my breasts to stop lactating, I didn’t want her so close. When my Al handed her over to me in the hospital I wanted to give her back. No one writes in On Parenting how some mothers initially don’t feel love or that the anxiety over wanting to hurt her baby has a name. She learns this condition’s proper name from a magazine article: Postpartum Depression. “It is real. A mother will learn to love her baby.” When I read this article it was too late. I had reached the liking stage.

If Jocelyn were an animal she would be a sugar glider. Sugar gliders desire closeness and bond easily.

Jocelyn’s hair has darkened from blonde to strawberry blonde like mine used to be. She is in the lowest percentile for height and her legs are thick but strong. When she is thinking she bites her bottom lip and peers through me as if I am glass. She is like me. I feel love in that.

Dee Dee pushes her head into my hand as I stroke her nose. Languidly she pulls away, lays her head between her paws, a new familiar behavior. Grief cramps itself in my stomach; it is the same pain felt while giving birth.

Dee Dee’s sounds have been overtaken by death’s quiet and my cries hush as I wait for her first words, we are dying. Let’s wait together until morning. Put away the bag.

Jocelyn asks the disorienting questions children do- why? They expect us to have answers. I don’t have a list of answers. After a thousand or so whys the answer becomes because: Because I don’t have the answer. Because, I don’t understand the question. Because -- the answer hasn’t been updated in my parent handbook! Because, I’m tired of why.

“Why am I afraid of spiders?” Her question last night in response to Dee Dee’s going away. Going away a euphemism for dying.

“Do you want to say anything to her?”

She was in the bathtub. I think she has grown because her feet nearly touched the end of the tub. Her little ponies’ faux pink and turquoise manes soaked under the water. Jocelyn washed the shampoo out of their manes instead of looking at me as she would when asking a question. Eventually, their hair will fall out and she will lose interest.

“I stepped on it outside. It was moving and then it stopped.”

She wasn’t asking why she was afraid of a spider but why she killed it. Before I could think of a new because she was grabbing hold of my arm and stepping out of the tub. Already she had forgotten the question.

Jocelyn has joined me on the floor and mimics my lotus position. Her hands are veiled in blue paint and her fingers are a powdery deep yellow as if they had been playing with pollen. Earlier in pre-school Ms. Delir had them finger paint. Ms. Delir is too young to understand this activity was a bad idea. Later, I will have to convince Jocelyn to wash off the paint as she cries, “It’s my art, mommy! It’s mine.”

Jocelyn touches Dee Dee’s head gently, as though touching a butterfly, leaving yellow dust. Dee Dee with her tabby stripes and yellowed forehead is being prepared for death.

“Why do you have a bag?” Jocelyn reaches to pull its corner out of my fingers. I slap her hand. She is confused. Tears fill her eyes. She blinks them away because she knows by the seriousness of my gaze and my grip on the bag, and Dee Dee’s unfamiliar wheezing, to be a big girl. I pick up her hand and my own closes entirely around it as if she never had a hand. I kiss her fingers as my tears fill in the spaces between our skin.

“I’m sorry, momma.” She whispers. I know she understands. I know because she is not crying. She is brave for me, protecting me. I feel my heart swell, as it is described in books, and I know I love her more than I ever have before.

Dee Dee is not responding to Jocelyn’s touch--rolling onto her back, her head tucked in, belly outstretched to be pet. Dee Dee will be leaving in the morning and Jocelyn will be spared death. Tomorrow night I will find the bill from the vet stating the patient as Dee Dee, a shorthaired tabby, eleven years old. I will use the blue star magnet Jocelyn bought me on a trip with her father to hold up the receipt on the refrigerator.

If I were an animal I would be a feline cloaked in long fur like a ragdoll. Fur being safer than bare skin. I would like to be a cat and know what she is thinking.

Dee Dee arches her head back, one-two-three quick gasps. I have tucked the bag under the couch cushion. Her neck lowers and her eyes close and she rests her chin in the space between her crossed front paws. It is midnight. Jocelyn lays her head in my lap. The three of us will wait until morning.


Breadcrumb #503

CINDY TRAN

I stepped into the lamp-flooded night to watch my dad smoke
and stood in the driveway, in the long middle of his shadow.

It was spring. A smaller shadow hopped. I ran after it,
laughing, a bunny, a bunny! I ran back to my dad

and asked him to help me catch it. He went
inside and came back out with a cardboard box,

oily from bobbins, throat plates, and stop latches.
Together, we ran down our street, chasing a
long-eared

shadow, lit by living room lights. I looked inside the box and the
bunny looked at me. What should we name her?

伊是兔. It doesn’t need a name. I named her Bunny
Rabbit, thinking I was clever like my dad, who once
said

he named me 美華, true, familiar, and foreign to him. At
home, the lights were off. And in bed, I heard the night

bite into a cigarette at the stove. I heard Bunny Rabbit
scratch the cardboard as if to dig down—I turned to my side

and hoped for a different name. Six months later, she
died, but I didn’t know why or how except that its teeth

grew so long, it looked like a baby brown
walrus sleeping on its side. When I told my dad
the 兔

had died, he shrugged and stamped out his
cigarette by my mom’s rose bushes.

• • • • • •