52|250's Third Quarter Review

Week # 36 – Animal behavior

Luck by Catherine Davis
Josh’s Deer by Stephen Harutunian 

I teach ninth grade English in Vermont, just south of the Champlain islands. At the faculty holiday party, a colleague told me that her eight year old asked Santa for a cell phone. That reminds me, I said.

It was Fall. Before class, Josh asked me if I wanted to see a picture of his deer. (Josh is short and fat with scraggly yellow hair. His face is red. He can’t read. He wears his clothes too big and a camouflage duct tape hat. He reads magazines about dirt-bikes.)

You have a deer? I said

The one I shot, he said, taking his phone from his pocket.

I said they didn’t used to allow phones in school. And phones didn’t used to take pictures, either.

You don’t want to see it?

You’ve already shown me, I said. He knew it was a lie. And though I wanted to, I couldn’t let him down. Alright, I said. Okay.

He gave me the phone. The deer’s head like a slab of meat on the grill grates in the cab of his father’s pick up. Red Chevrolet. Calvin pissing on a peace sign.

Looking at the picture, I felt Josh’s pride.

I’m gettin’ the head for my birthday in August, he said. I’m gonna hang it on the wall in my room when we move to Fletcher.

So why take a picture? I asked, handing him the phone.

I dunno, he said. Why not?

Lionel Richie Runs Things by Len Kuntz 

In the same way gang leaders run cartels from prison, my wife’s cat ordered our lives from the dust mote space beneath our bed.

We called him Lionel Richie. When I’d say, “Here, Lionel Richie, here,” it hissed. Lionel Richie hated the name Lionel Richie. He also loathed me.

Once, I just asked my wife outright. “If it came down to me or LR, who would you pick?” She feigned an immediate case of stomach cramps, gritting her teeth as if passing a kidney stone, and so I thought, there’s my answer.

I tried to convince myself that killing an animal was different than actual murder. Cats didn’t have souls or driver’s licenses. They didn’t pay alimony.

Still, Lionel Richie was a crafty critter.

He foiled every plot I had—sniffing out poison in the whipped cream, the bowl of milk; not following me out to the deck to look at pigeons twenty stories below; not coming into the bathroom where I’d filled the tub and was waiting with rope and anvil.

I got the dart gun from a taxidermist who said the sedative was “hardcore.”

When I raised the rifle, Lionel Richie yawned. I told him I wasn’t kidding. I said, “I’m going to burn you in a smelter.”

As I squinted down the sight, the beast flew at me, gun blasting off.

Now I’m without one eye.

While I’ve been recuperating, though, Lionel Richie keeps me company. I hear him hum beneath our bed.

Bride and Groom by Tina Barry 

At the flea market where we buy candles shaped like fairies and soap that wafts patchouli sits a man in a wheelchair. He wears an old black tux, shiny at the elbows, and his gray hair has been styled and sprayed into a fragile tornado. On his lap sits a Chihuahua wearing a bridal outfit—veil and all. No one seems to notice the couple, except us. We can’t stop staring at them staring into each other’s eyes, so much in love.

Strings dangling from the sky by Doug Bond 

It had been this way for me for some time, their following always hooked about the edges of my shadow. It is Jacobs himself who later at the gallows shows me the white tusk of the boar.

In darkness flight was breathless, strong fisted. The moon had lifted high above the canyon, chaparral cloaked and rock strewn. I followed down a switchback and took into a run, coyote yips clipping up from the river bed flats. Four or five or maybe a dozen, impossible to gauge, with the sound of my boot strikes filling the silence between their hungry calls.

The razor branches began to take their toll and in time I joined their chorus tangling and crying like a giddy voiced schoolboy hauled to the floor and striped raw about the shoulders.

My legs wouldn’t stop, my hands reached out as if invisibly tethered to strings dangling from the star pocked sky. The trail ran out into nothing more than a tumble of sage and the foul, brackish silt of a sulphur spring, ruinous to my plans for further travel.

First light before dawn I am waked by the bristling of a low shaggy figure picking among the dead wood of the dry creek. Instinctively, I take to the lobbing of sharp edged rocks but in my present state of lassitude am too slow to recognize their target, and watch in helpless despair as the creature bucks straight in upon me.

Lunkers by Michael J. Solender 

I never ate a lunker though I caught a bunch of them. Jimmy says they’re dumb fish and I laugh ‘cause I can’t imagine such a thing as a smart fish. Jimmy laughs too, but probably not for the same reason.

He always laughs when I laugh. I think he thinks it makes us better friends. Mom says to have him up for supper sometime, I don’t even need to ask her, just bring him. I don’t ever bring him to supper though.

We’re friends and all but we’re just me and him friends, we’re not the kind of friends that you bring to supper.

His pa cleans his lunkers. Then they get the triple dip. That’s what Jimmy calls it. First flour, then beaten eggs, then cornmeal. Jimmy says they go into bacon fat after that and he eats ‘em with collards or turnip greens.

He says his pa don’t talk too much since his ma died and I can’t help but think what it’s gonna be like for Jimmy when I go off to town school next year. He’s two years behind me and he’ll still be at Silver School.

While we’re walking home from the lake, Jimmy stops and asks me if I wanna have supper at his house tonight. He says his pa asked him to ask me.

I look at Jimmy for a long time and don’t say anything. He looks like he’s gonna cry and then I start laughing.

He starts laughing too.

Rats by Beate Sigriddaughter 

Already uneasy about so much, especially her weightlessness, she happens to read about an experiment where rats were raised with regular electric shocks. They lived.

She remembers a boyfriend who gave her honeysuckle blossoms, but always only ones that had fallen off voluntarily, not ones deliberately plucked. He spoke once of the horror of trying to explain in the clinic that the doctor had ordered only one side for shock treatment, not both. The medical staff only sneered an impatient “yeah, yeah” into his petrified face.

Back to the rats. When they were grown, their cage doors were opened to cages in which there was the same amount of food, but no electric shocks. The rats were allowed to move from one cage to the other freely. They explored the new situation. Then, one by one, they returned to the devastating comfort of the familiar shocks.

She wants to cry. She talks to her husband instead, tells him about the rats. “It’s so sad,” she pleads.

“Yeah, yeah,” he says, looking up from his computer screen. “The way they use those rats in labs.”

“That’s not it,” she whispers. “What’s sad is that they returned to the pain.”

“Oh,” he says. “I thought you were sad because you cared about the animals.”

Her energy freezes, expands into silence, a thing she knows well. She aches for the wrong reasons.

Lying Down With Dogs by John Riley 

The baby screen wedged across the bedroom door is there to keep the dog out. At some point the decision was made to bar him from the room, although little of value has been left in the room he can damage. He is not a destructive dog and knows to not dirty the floor or to jump on the bed. I know why he whimpers from our side of the gate. The bedroom’s large windows face west and this time of the year buttery afternoon light spreads across the floor and drifts up the walls, which slowly change from freshly painted white to soft yellow. If he was allowed to stretch out in the light, on the deep-blue and brown and rust-red rug that came from another country, I would join him in the room and stretch out beside him. As he slept I would sleep too, and while the other people left the house to spend their day outside, we would rest together until dark, when he will be hungry and I can watch him eat.

Back to Wk #35 – Loose connections
Forward to Wk #37 – Border town

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