A tin of mixed nuts sits beside me. I’m digging in it to find the cashews and avoid the pecans, to which I’m allergic but not so much that the dust imperils me. I get lost for a silly few minutes in the label’s grammar. “Less Than 50% Peanuts” sounds wrong; shouldn’t it be “Fewer Than”? And who eats those peanuts, anyway? I scatter them to the birds.
I walked through the First Friday crowds with a friend last night, studying the purple-haired girls and the torn T-shirts of the artists sitting on the sidewalk. I took the business card of a man whose mock anime held no appeal for me. He offered it, telling me that he could do anything I wanted. I doubted that but it seemed rude not to tuck the little square of contact information in my bag. It dropped out later when I took out my phone. I felt that I owed the man a penny.
On the sidewalk next to a display of jewelry, we ran into Jake and Angela, who leaped to their feet to give hugs and ask if we’d been to Ruthie’s gallery yet. We started there, I confirmed. Angela and I moved away so I could meet her sister and look at the jewelry which the sister was selling on a card table. I touched a pair of earrings made from what looked like washers. I fell into a reverie about my son and a little plastic box full of nuts and screws which he called “tools” and kept under his pillow, back when he slept in a toddler bed on the first floor.
Now the only being which sleeps in the house other than myself is the old dog. I’ve made a little safe place for her under a wooden coffee table in Patrick’s old bedroom. I find it difficult to believe that this is the same room which I decorated with Mickey Mouse for my son in 1993 when we first moved here. Other than the table and the dog bed, the room stands practically empty. An old chair that I got for five dollars at an estate sale in 2008 sits next to an eight-inch square table which seems to have no purpose in life other than holding a small lamp and the remote control. I watch television in here some nights, listening to the strains of the Food Network theme echo off the bare walls. Occasionally the dog whimpers in her sleep. Her voice fills the room, unmuffled by the vanished trappings of my existence.
As I drank my coffee on the desk yesterday, an unexpected memory assaulted me. I found myself back on the old screen porch trying to lure my toddler into the house. A swarm of locusts had battered through the torn screen on the far side and cornered his cat. She huddled beneath the angry buzzing horde, growling, swiping at their fluttering bodies. Patrick cried and begged me to save her and then threw his body across the few feet before I could stop him. She leaped into his arms and clung to his pajamas. He screamed, Open the Door, Mommy! Open the Door! and then the three of us tumbled back into the living room: the cat screeching, my son sobbing, and me flailing to wrap my arms around them both.
I slammed the door as the cat loosed her grip and darted under the couch where she would stay for hours. Patrick fell asleep on the floor with one small arm slipped into the dusty cavern where his cat cowered. I let him be. A knight in shining armor deserves his rest.
When I got home last night, after ten, the dog stared reproachfully through the chain link. I said what I always say, Go to the back door, Little Girl, I’ll let you into the house, and walked up the driveway. I passed the pet cemetery and the spot where that old cat had finally died, with me crouched down holding her and begging her not to go. I had promised my son that none of the pets would die before he graduated from college. She made it to September of his senior year. She drew her last breath with my arms around her frail old body. I cried when I called my son and confessed that I had let him down again.
Dawn has finished reclaiming my neighborhood. Everything looks clean, blessed by the night’s rain. I see my son’s last remaining pet picking her way through the grass out back, checking for strange smells. I tap on the window. She glances over her shoulder at me, briefly, standing still. Then she turns her back and continues her circuit around the rain-drenched yard.