It was getting dark. The millennium was about to turn over and under the shadow of the second Bush administration the clinic would be shut down. We sat, waited for her name to be called, for her to be taken into the back to sit on that crinkly paper, scratching at her thighs.
I was walking yesterday evening down a dirt road winding along Maine’s infinite shore. I was looking west, toward the setting sun, and didn’t notice the doe on the east side of the road until I was right next to her, practically close enough to touch. Deer do this sometimes, allow you to get surprisingly close even as they remain piqued, ready to run.
The cappuccino machine whirrs, clicks and sings. It sends out a deep hiss, a musky sound, as resonant as something from the throat of a big cat. The air is sugar-scented, the trays are loaded with bite-size confections, aspic red jellies on circlets of biscotti, dabs of meringue, blobs and swirls of chocolate.
the hum and purr in my elbow when my phone’s on the desk at work and a text comes through. the thrill in my veins when i see your name on the screen. every time. my thumbs tapping letters, punctuation marks, spelling out our own version of shorthand, scrolling for bitmojis, and gifs, racing with yours
Out in public, you tell your colleagues that the two of you have become “close friends.” That you are strictly platonic confidantes. That your connection is akin to a brother/sister bond. That your conversations are equal parts vapid college anecdotes, light-hearted work gossip, and generic commiseration. That even if there was more there, you don’t even find each other attractive.
Lonely tantrums. Eyelids. Adhesive bandages. Mother says that you have taken a course. Mother says that you can intubate a man and shake his stomach back into its sac. You sent her a copy of your stamped certificate.
I hate cats. At least I thought I did. I was in the midst of a whirlwind a couple of years ago, writing a book about Emily Dickinson, who also hated cats. Seems her kid sister, Lavinia, had a whole kingdom of cats, and the poet found Lavinia and her cats as vindictive as King Saul. I had other reasons to look at cats a little aslant.
Then I gave what was left of my heart to a losing battle, knowing the end of the story before it began. Terminal: years or months or weeks. My parents worried that it was too much for me, all those hours of driving and the hours spent sitting by her bed. I took the heart from my chest when it became too heavy to carry, and kept going.
It’s best to wear a hardhat when feeding barred owls. There is always one asshole among them who will dive bomb your head. Maybe it is the same one each time and that fucker just has an attitude problem, or maybe they take turns. It’s hard to tell.
The only thing he laughed at was a plastic fan we bought from Ace Hardware on clearance because that summer was blistering. We moved the fan into his bedroom where it ran all day and all night. The fan made him flap his arms as if he believed he were a bird.
Some suggested voice-to-text software. “I don’t write that way,” I explained. They shrugged their shoulders as if it were an excuse. Words come out of my fingers differently than my throat. Sentences surprise me. Ideas are more organized. Words flow instead of spilling over each other.
Unlike my mom, who’s always telling me I’m beautiful, the doctor diagnoses my flaws as readily as I do: acne, flaking skin, dark caverns under my eyes. She recommends fillers and laser treatments. The fillers aren’t approved for under-eye use because if she hits the wrong artery I’ll go blind, but she’s never had that happen. The laser will leave bloody bruises that last a week.