by Josh Price
“My mom took me there,” I say, pointing at the picture of the happy mouse; much taller than the people standing beside it. They are all standing beneath a sign written in flowing script that I recognize but can’t remember why.
The other people at the dinner table all look at me, faces surprised like I’ve just said something important. The little girl next to me smiles, brown eyes blinking. They all have familiar faces, some young and some older—no one as old as me.
Everyone is looking at me. I scowl, flushing with embarrassment. Everyone looks down like they’ve lost something. They aren’t the ones who’ve lost something.
“Where’s Pippa?” I say, my throat catching. She’s my dog; my little three legged monster. She never saw the car coming that day, but she’d had a good life after.
I was outside looking for her in the twilight—in the fog of my thoughts where memories hide. I just wanted to find my dog. These damned people brought me back in the house. Sat me down at this table like I was some child.
“Where’s Pippa!” I shout, but it comes out less than that. I slap the table and it barely rattles the dishes full of food.
Commotion. I don’t know if I’ve caused it, or one of the children. The faces look at each other, and then go on talking as though I’ve said nothing.
“Who’s Pippa?” the little girl beside me asks. Her little face looks up at me, afraid. It makes me sad for her, because I feel afraid too. The voices around me are talking, but it’s just noise, like on the cartoon with the white dog and the little yellow bird I watched when I was small.
“Pippa was his dog, baby,” a woman says to the little girl. The woman is another face I know. I can’t figure out why.
I want to know why the woman said was. A flicker of fear.
I want to know why I feel confused all the time. I don’t know how to talk to them; I was never good at that.
I want to go to my shop, work on things unfinished—be left alone to think on what needs to be done. But I’m not at my house. My house is smaller than this one.
What can they possibly do with all this space?
I smell turkey, but I’m not hungry, never am anymore.
There’s a giant tree in the corner covered in flashing colored light. It doesn’t seem real. Two boys argue in front of a giant screen full of people killing each other. A movie. No; the boys are playing a video game. There weren’t games like that when I was young.
I stand up to get a closer look, but a strong hand grabs me by my elbow. I try to shake free like a bird in the grip of a predator: a large someone in my peripheral vision. They seem angry and I assume it’s with me. The strong hand drags me down a hallway to a small bedroom that isn’t mine.
There is a single bed in the middle of the room. I hear a switch flip, and a light on the nightstand beside the tiny bed comes on. There’s nobody waiting or sleeping in the small bed—no one could fit in that bed to sleep beside me. My wife is not in the room and neither are the dogs. No one is reading. There is no one to snuggle up to here.
A list of names flashes through the fog in my head, Emily—Shadow and Max and Oreo, Toki and Ludo and Ollie.
“Where are Emily and Pippa?” I say, with no size or shape to my words. They float from my mouth and fall to the ground. The strong hand guides me to the small bed and sits me down. A face that is my face bends down to meet my eyes. I’m afraid like a child. I hate being afraid. I hate being a child.
“Dad,” the man who looks like me says, “They’re gone, remember?” I don’t (won’t) remember. My fear opens and I fall into it, air gone from my lungs: I remember.
I remember my wife’s funeral. I remember taking Pippa to the vet to be put to sleep; she was so old by then, those strong back legs doing all the work for so many years. They just gave out one day. That was that.
Where is everyone I love? Why am I alone?
I stand up, clutching myself.
Someone with a gentler touch is helping me out of my work clothes, but when I look down, I’m wearing sweatpants and a tee shirt. I’m embarrassed: I don’t need help putting on my pajamas. I try to shake free—and this time I do—but that strong hand comes out of the shadows and grabs me by the elbow again.
I pull away, but this person is so much stronger than me. That can’t be right; I worked with my hands all my life. I could beat anyone at the bar at arm wrestling. I was to be feared at the pool table. Now all that’s left is fear, and it’s mine.
The gentle hand grabs me again when the strong one lets go. A name dances on the tip of my tongue and is gone.
I hear laughter in the other room. There is nothing for me to laugh about anymore.
The woman pulls the covers back on the little bed, and I feel my body being led towards it. I don’t want to lie down: it isn’t my bed. But I feel so tired.
The pretty woman tucks me in like my mother used to. I want to ask her questions, but questions are exhausting, and answers are fears come to life.
The man leaves and the woman sits down next to me, barely fitting on the bed. She leans down and kisses my forehead—a snowflake of assurance melting when it touches my skin. She reaches to turn out the light, and I ask her to please leave it on.
For Pippa and Emily
“Goodnight dad. Sleep tight.”
“Don’t let the bed bugs bite,” I remember to say.
My daughter smiles and I know her again.
Josh Price lives in California with his wife and dogs. South Florida Poetry Journal, The Daily Drunk, 365 Tomorrows and F3LL Magazine have published his work; he has forthcoming flash with The Los Angeles Review. Visit him on Twitter @timepinto.