Flash in the Pan
A Quarterly Posting at Tiny Lights
by Gretchen Clark
I am told to wait in the car while my mother stays inside the one-story building that smells like floor cleaner and fur. The car is sweltering. Sweating in my yellow jumper, I punch the buttons on the radio, watching the neon orange needle jump from left to right. I roll the sniff and snot marked windows up, down, up. I'm playing with the rear view mirror when I see my mother push through the glass door and head towards our car. She is alone, no dog, no Max trotting behind her. Her face is red, splotchy and her green eyes look liquefied. "Where's Max?" I asked. My mother doesn't say. She slides the car into drive; gravel parking lot crunching underneath us. Max's leash—my answer—lies lifeless on the passenger seat.
His death brings a surprise trip that afternoon to the toy store. My mother says I can pick anything under twenty dollars. I find what I want in a wall of plush animals at the back of the store. I pick a small stuffed dog with brown black fur, black nose and coffee bean-colored eyes. "You're sure?" my mom asks. Yes, I nod. The clerk smiles as she hands me my purchase in a red plastic bag.
In my room I take my new dog, my puppy-by-proxy, out of the bag and brush its synthetic brown black coat, look into its sewn face, kiss its fake leather nose and pretend to see Max looking back at me with those plastic hazel eyes.
Years later I will be the mother. I will have to put a pet to sleep while my daughters are distracted by a friendly three-legged dog in the room next door to me. I will be the one to see the eyes of an animal bloom black with the end. I will be the one that leaves a vet hospital with an empty animal carrier. I will be the one that cries all the way home. The road a salty sea of street and sky. I will be the one to send my husband to pick up the plaster memorial paw prints the vet has made us as a memento of an animal loved. And lost. I will open this tissue paper wrapped gift once, tracing the paws that walked on my bed, across my kitchen counter, into my heart.
Gretchen Clark co-teaches three creative nonfiction classes online at text. Her work has appeared in Flashquake, Hip Mama, Foliate Oak, Word Riot, Skirt as well as other publications.
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