Read Bruce’s latest at A Story A Day. Best thing I’ve read today.
A word we had not seen before
a misprint, to be sure
appeared in the fifth paragraph of a story online
like a dog
that had wandered in to a stranger’s house
through the wrong doggy door
and would soon be on its way
from across the river
you began to point at me
and mouth words
of which I could not make out
over the rapids
you put a finger to your heart
and made an introduction
I did the same
you flapped your hand in place like a fan
and rolled your eyes
I nodded my agreement
and pointed to my umbrella, which was attached to my blue and yellow chair
and put your index finger to your head
I took out my sunblock and pointed at it, looked in your direction and furrowed my brow
you shook your head
I made like I was going to throw my lotion over to you
we began to play a game of air tennis
I smashed a serve that swooped over the water
and onto your end
your return sailed over a white water raft populated entirely by Asian-American college students and when it reached my side
it bounced and skidded a little
until I picked it up out of the ground and sent it back your way
we went on like this for a few more exchanges
until I finally dumped a ball into the river in mock exasperation,
and you raised your hands in triumph.
I motioned to you as best as I could
that I was going to find a way to get over to the other side
to say hello
For as long as I can remember the mockingbirds had been making a fuss over our daily path through the woods behind the mustard yellow house. Neither my old dog or myself paid them any mind. I don’t even think Madge registered their complaints these last few years, what with her hearing on the wane.
And yet every day we walked brought with it a fresh protest from the miserable peckers. One day, about three weeks ago, the old gal’s body just punched out on her without notice. Madge didn’t even have time to cushion her fall, landed with an ugly thud. It all reminded me of a pinball machine someone had unplugged. Those birds just kept jeering us, eventually dancing around the body in a way. I could have destroyed the whole lot of them right then. I could have squeezed one until it was no more. Then done another.
The sea swallowed her
And next pretended like it hadn’t ever happened
Maybe it hadn’t
Everything else stripped from us
it had become
One who made his opinion known
A silent wake meant sleep
A menacing wave a foul mood
like the one that took Karen from St. Louis
We read into warm currents
we no longer thought of rescue
The ocean was all we needed
It was work
It was friendship
It was beauty
It was family
It was pleasure
It was pain
It was music
It was all
Alone in the backyard
remembering a night similar when
17 years before
only one year married
the moon was a similar shade and we
were up on the roof
for an hour and a half
telling each other knock knock jokes.
and playing thumb wars
emerging from the house’s sliding back door
retainer in his mouth
wants to know if I can read him The Hungry Caterpillar
“Daddy when’s it gonna be over?”
“Daddy when’s it gonna be over” I repeat back cruelly
I finish off the last few drops of sauvignon blanc
I hold my gaze on the moon
wishing he would go back in the house
“Daddy, why’s the moon red tonight?”
“Because it got bashed, and now its bleeding.”
“Is it gonna be alright?”
“It’s not looking good, boy.”
In aisle 7 of the pet store, Annabelle’s dog, Roger, a golden retriever, began to bark at a bullmastiff sniffing the cheapest brands of dog food on the opposite end of the aisle.
“Quiet,” she told the dog. “No.”
Roger normally lived with her ex, Alan – Annabelle had given him their dog as a kind of consolation prize after they split up for good, and they had both agreed that Thea should live during the week with Annabelle, and on weekends with Alan.
Alan had had to take an emergency business trip, and he said Annabelle was his only option on such short notice. “I can’t stand to board him,” he’d told her over the phone.
Roger stopped barking.
“Good dog,” offered Thea, in a light blue dress, her blonde hair tied in a ponytail. She scratched his neck, and put her head close to his face. She squealed when Roger gave her a sloppy kiss. The mastiff barked at them, and Roger growled back.
“Ranger, no more, you hear me?” the mastiff’s owner ordered, yanking at the leash and causing it to rattle.
“You too,” said Annabelle, locating the enormous Iams bag and grabbing a fistful of it with one hand. As she did so, she felt the leash move through her other hand as Roger lunged in the direction of the bullmastiff, and then stopped for a moment, as if, surprised at his new freedom. The mastiff’s owner didn’t even see Roger coming, and before anyone could react, the two dogs were tearing off bits of flesh and fur in the dog food section.
In the scuffle, the mastiff tore the ear off of Roger. At the sight of this, Annabelle, grayish blonde hair, sunglasses on her forehead, began to shake and she didn’t stop. Thea was bawling now, with her hands interlaced around Annabelle’s left leg. Annabelle stood like that — Thea hanging off her, the bag of food against her chest — until a squat, gray-haired woman in a dark blue sweatshirt grabbed up the little girl, darting out of the aisle, and out of view.
With a weary eye on both dogs, the owner of the mastiff grabbed up his dog’s leash again, and pulled him out of the aisle — effectively putting an end to the carnage. Roger was left to collapse onto the floor, finally registering the pain.
A curly-haired man in a store-issued blue apron scampered into the aisle and when he saw Annabelle’s state, he took the Iams from her. Annabelle began to sink down as soon as he did, as if she had suddenly lost her life preserver in the ocean. The man put his arms around her to prop her up, and for a moment she thought she was in Alan’s arms moments after he had told her that he thought they should stop living in the same house. Then her eyes shut and her brain switched off.
When she came to, Annabelle was lying on a dark brown dog bed. Her feet hung off, and her pocket book was beside her. Almost immediately, her thoughts returned to her daughter. Sitting up now, she noted a pot-bellied man in a Nets hat applying a cloth bandage to her deformed dog, but she did not see Thea anywhere.
“She’s right outside,” said the man caring for her dog.
Annabelle pushed herself up by her palms, and tore out of the aisle. When she got to the registers, she slid a few feet on the tiled floor. Stopping to regain her footing, she now could see immediately outside of the entryway of the store her daughter in the arms of a woman she had never seen before — the automatic doors opening and closing before them.
She jogged toward them, and the woman handed over Thea. Annabelle did not feel the frigid January air on her cheeks.
“Thank you. Thank you,” she cried, placing her hand inside the lady’s hand while clutching a little too tightly to her daughter.
“Mommy, is Roger okay? Is he dead?” asked Thea.
Annabelle kissed Thea forcefully on her ear, making a squeaking sound.
“Are you okay, honey?”
“I’m fine. Roger is hurt, though.”
“I know, honey. I know.”
It was one of those terribly, terribly sad cases of death. Marjory couldn’t cope. When Harold died, she couldn’t face it. She told none of her friends. She hid the body in a box in the garage and locked the door. She never went back.
For days, weeks, months after the death she wore black. On the rare occasion when she ventured out, mainly for groceries, people commented that they never saw her these days. “And we never see your husband shopping with you.” She told no one why, although once she broke down in public. Those who saw surmised that something was quite, quite wrong.
“Oh for God’s sake,” said her husband, Lincoln. “It was only a bloody canary.”
Bruce Goodman lives in New Zealand. He’s old and flabby. He used to write plays for the stage, but now potters in the bog blog, http://bbgoodman.wordpress.com, mainly just for…
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At garage sales
I go straight to the carton of second-hand books
I always look for The Writing Life by Annie Dillard
determined to own every copy
I enjoy seeing it in its many guises
to map its evolving look throughout the years
the other day I sat down to read it
after six or seven years
It seems the prose is evolving too
because it struck me as a little too oh-I-don’t-know
in a way I don’t remember.