The last thing she says, like there hasn’t already been enough crud rubbed in my face, is “Glory, you were such a lion when I met you.” I commence counting in my head, as you do. Twenty years of co-habitation less one five/seventh of a week.
“You can’t fire me, honey, because I quit,” I squeak out, and then I take Pavlov and drive while the grief is colonizing my whole entire body. Already as I tear past centre town I am nothing but a sad vulturepecked bone cage.
My first stop is the pet store because I—at least—still care whether the hound eats tonight. I slouch while points accumulate on my PetSave customer card, envious of the zitpocked cashier’s ability to procure employment. I hear Pavlov outside whining at me through the cracked passenger window.
“He’s too domesticated to know it,” I say, “but I believe that if I didn’t give him his kibble, he’d eat me.”
The kid peers into the till like it’s an oracle. He slides a ragged dollar bill at me across the counter and says, “In my experience, hunger erodes every relationship.”
“You got it, punk.”
I commence belly-roaring ten miles down the road, Pavlov cowering.
“Beagle,” I say. “It’s just—Oh, goddamnitall,” and then a sluice gate opens and I can’t see.
I did not know I could cry like this.
I turn the windshield wipers on for irony and then I’m laughing and crying. How that can convulse a person! I pull over east of the city outskirts, where every mocking object seems to foretell my puny extinction.
“I will piss on you,” I yell. We get out, Pavlov and I, and we urinate our fucking hearts out.
For ten minutes I lean on my car, contemplate the broody cumulus while Pavlov first scents my puddle, and then beetles down Road 6, nose quavering at some future, until he is gone. Behind me the hydro poles reference Golgotha, that unholy crucifixion. All I can think about is the way Cindi used to drag her fingernail down my torso. To receive this benediction was all I required back then, everything real about it stuck right in the body. I hear the thinnest, strangest voice screech out, “I loved you.” It is my own voice.
I get in the car and drive slow until I spot Pavlov. He has found a waterhole somewhere and his wet joyousness infects me. “Take a page, Glory,” I say aloud. “Take a goddam mutherfucking page!” What follows in the car is a sober telepathic oath, which I give from my brain to Pavlov’s, our heads bowed and touching. Henceforth, I vow, I will say yes to what the universe offers. Henceforth, I will be capacious in my acceptance of the random occurrence.
I will regret this within fifteen minutes of driving, from the moment I swerve to the soft shoulder and the hitchhiker yanks the back door of my sedan open, sitting so hard the vehicle jounces.
“Where you headed?”
“Metchicoma,” he says, adding that he is on a pilgrimage “of sorts.”
I have never heard of this place but I nod, and drive.
After a time, he scoots to the middle of the car, leans over the seat. I tell him my name and he says he is pleased to meet me, says his name is Ted.
“Glory?” he says, fiddling with his rucksack. “I wonder if you’d like,” and now he holds a deck of cards between the dog and I, “a personal Tarot reading?”
He proceeds to draw a card.
“We’re in for it,” Ted says. He is holding a strange card between his fingers, waving it at me. “The Hierophant,” it reads.
“I do not believe in that shit,” I say, because I do not.
“Glory,” he says, “Keep your eyes on the road and I will tell you something.”
I glance from the rearview mirror to the road and back. I want to gather in precisely what the universe has offered up to me. It is a tubby, short, middle-aged, Tarot-reading, greaseball of a specimen. He is wearing a seersucker shirt and a pair of matching shorts that are sized too small at the waist. He is perspiring, his blonde hair slicked back with product from a different epoch.
“This here card, I’m about to explicate, is foretelling a grand transition for you. It suggests a mentor in your midst—me, I’m assuming, and Malinda Carmichael, one must surmise—,”
“Eyes on the road,” he advises, and it is true, my gaze has strayed to the mirror and to the card, its purple-enrobed character.
Ted barks for me to brake so that I near jump out of my skin. I turn my eyes to the road and slam my foot down pumping hard because if I don’t I will kill this pretty young thing, this most tangible ghost.
“Malinda!” Ted yips. He grabs the back door, shoulders it open, gathers this girl up in his arms for a bear hug, and yanks open the driver door. “Climb the hell in, Malinda!”
She leans over, pets Pavlov, then smiles at me. “I heard so much about you, Glory,” she says.
“What the fuck?” I say. “Really?”
“And Lord, am I famished,” she says.
She reaches for Ted’s rucksack, pulls it onto her lap and commences to dig. “There must be food,” she says. “A bagel or a vegan protein bar.” But what emerges from the canvas bag, all gangly and awkward, is the tiniest fawn. It’s like a toy, except it gambols to and fro along her bare legs, making her giggle.
“Venison!” screeches Ted, his face resting on the front seat.
Pavlov tracks this two-inch creature with his eyes, then paws at it in some vain attempt to hold it still. It skuttles along the front seat, frolicksome, tucks into the warmth of my crotch, and gives me the big eyes.
“Glory and I are vegan,” says Malinda. How does she know this?
The dog settles between Malinda and I, stretches toward the deer for licks. The fawn, for its part, quivers and peers up at me for reassurance. I wonder if it will grow. Maybe all deerlings start this size, and what do I know of nature?
Malinda smiles at me, then recounts that she and Cindi know each other from the gym, and that it is between ellipticals and showers that my history has been divulged. “She told me the entire fragmented woeful tale,” says Malinda, “from your sunny salad days to your abysmal, darkening now.”
My life is thus spread in all directions, and I see the inevitability of my marital implosion. I recall Cindi in our downtown kitchen, dismantling the whole of our lives together in the soothing, robotic monotone I know she cultivated for precisely this annihilation. Throughout her diatribe, an enigmatic bluebird watches me through the kitchen window—its beady glare hovers into my mind now as I press to accelerate.
“The deer can be a sacrifice, then,” says Ted.
Malinda finds a strip of tofujerky in the glove compartment and begins to gnaw. With her mouth full, she says, “A sacrifice of the setting free kind would be okay, I guess,” and then she adds, “Y’all are tailgating that motherfucker, Glory. You best pass.”
“Sunday driver,” Ted hurls out the window, as I edge past on the right.
The disgust on the driver’s face is not lost on me. The young girl in the passenger seat—the driver’s daughter, I reckon—horks a fat one at us. I watch it vibrate on the windshield before scattering. I breathe for the count of nineteen, real slow, but it is no good. Overwhelm has populated me from my heart to my toes.
“Ted,” I say. “That wasn’t funny. If you want to stay a passenger in this vehicle, you need to keep an indoor voice.”
“Yes, sir,” he says.
“Thank you,” I say, and look over at Malinda.
She is grinning wide and pointing. “Is that a Piper or a Twin Jet or a Boeing-What-Have-You?”
I pull to the side and so does the car with the spitting girl in it and then the pilot also stops. All is heat and swirl and nonsense for some minutes, and then a tall, glamorous man steps out of the cockpit. “Hola,” he yells, when he has ambled close enough to be heard.
Not one of us so much as nods. We just stare as he comes closer, a kind of rural god in a serviceable three-piece suit.
“You ain’t headed to Metchicoma,” he says, “because if you are, you ain’t no more.”
“Damn,” says Ted. “What seems to be the trouble?”
“Hellfire and damnation,” says the pilot. “Hop in. I will take you to safety.”
“Hoorah!” says the spitting girl.
“Deus ex machina, well, I’ll be damned,” says Malinda. “I thought that went out of style in the Renaissance!”
There is a magnetic draw toward this and—except for me—we all begin to shuffle toward the aircraft. I stand and witness Malinda and Ted and the occupants of the other car shake hands with the pilot. Envy sprints through me. The pilot is magnificent in his skin. I wish I had a plane.
A text arrives as a vibration into my groin. I pull out my phone and notice, as I do, that Malinda and Ted are pulling their phones out, too. The text is from Cindi, and reads, “I can’t find Pavlov anywhere.” When I look up, I see Malinda and Ted nodding into their phones and texting back. Then, one by one everyone disappears into the plane.
“Crap,” I say.
Pavlov bounces out of the car when I open the door. The little wee deer leaps into my cupped hands. The aircraft rumbles past, and I wave goodbye.
I love you, little wee deer, I think.
I slam the door of the car shut, and cross the road. Sometimes, nothing can be so beautiful. I stare into it, let its annulling orange seep right under my skin. This is what it feels like to be not. When I look down, the deer is curled asleep in the palm of my hand. Pavlov is sitting at my feet, panting, staring out at the beautiful nothing. I can’t hear the aircraft any longer, and even the birds of the sky and the scuttle-creatures of the earth are administering to this silence.
I walk into this landscape and any barrier I meet I skirt or climb. When I can no longer see the road or my car, and I think it’s safe to do so, I set the deer down and hold Pavlov, for he is prone to chase the things that move. The deer unfurls. I watch it take in the long view, then shy first this way and then that. Before long I am merely watching a space.
“Pavlov,” I say. “This is it, fella. This is the end.”
He cocks his head and his ears perk. My groin is buzzing, and for a second I wonder if I am made horny by this enunciation and a kind of concern for my sanity pervades me, but it’s my phone, and Cindi has again texted me.
It reads: Bring Pavlov back.
“Remember Saint Francis of Assisi?” I text to her. “How all the animals gathered unto him?”
Pavlov never stops watching me, even as I sit, even as I lie on my back in those strange pastures. He does not move.
“Glory,” she texts. “Srsly?”
“How he must have felt when the creatures left,” I text. “How much fortitude that must have required.”
“I can see this is hard,” she texts.
I take, and then text her, a photograph of Pavlov. He is framed within the bluest sky you ever saw, and his tongue lolls perfect and silken from between his teeth. I curl into myself and cry a little rereading the text exchange. If I lie here long enough, Pavlov will certainly hunger and begin to feed on me. Our camaraderie will meet its limit.
The wind makes a different sound in each tree and grassblade it sweeps through. For some time I do not move and neither does Pavlov. For some time I listen to the way each piece of nature speaks to each other piece. Sleep comes, and so does waking. Pavlov has tucked into me and sits, watching and watching.
Judith Hoffman has shown installations, performances, and sculptures at many institutions, festivals, and fairs across the United States, including ArtBasel Miami and the Armory Show. She is the recipient of the 2016 TEMPO Portland prize. She currently lives in Geneva, Switzerland with her daughter. Find more of her work at judithhoffman.com.
Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer is the author of the novels All the Broken Things, Perfecting, and The Nettle Spinner, as well as, the collection, Way Up. Her short fiction has appeared in Granta, The Walrus, Storyville, Significant Objects, This Magazine and other journals. Please visit her website at www.kathrynkuitenbrouwer.com.