I was taking a long walk, the first day I had stepped out of the house in an unmarked direction, just a squiggly line on a trail map. I wanted to lose myself. My son had died a month ago from an advanced form of cancer.
A distant figure with an assortment of dogs.
Poodles and pit bulls. They jumped out of a grey SUV that had been abandoned in the stream; it was rusted and dented, a nondescript grey paint sprayed unevenly over its body. She stood in the water and collected fish inside a bucket, plastic red.
The dogs waited, but only after she had dropped a fish between the paws of each supine animal, did they begin to eat. They were bandaged and limped badly. Moaned. Maybe she was from a special branch of the ASPCA that cared for abused animals? I sat on a fallen tree trunk and watched them eat their dinner like a family sitting around a table. Buckeye trees blazed with blossoms of white candelabra. Stinging nettles lined the stream. An opera house of clouds formed in the sky billowing. Grey.
Everyone had told me time heals all, but I wasn’t sure that I would ever feel whole again. He’d been only nine, in and out of hospitals for two years. Different doctors had swapped diagnoses. In the end, he time-hopped seventy years and became an old man. We’d buried him. Brought his toys, the stuffed doggie with shredded ears.
I approached the dog-walker, wanted to ask whether the path doubled back to the canyon. Walking all morning, I felt tired. When she saw me, she barred my approach.
The dogs started to bark. Are they dangerous? She said they didn’t like strangers. How did the animals get hurt? She said I was making them skittish. She was dressed in a torn black sweatshirt and pants. Her arms were scarred. She told me to go away. I said I needed help. The dogs whined and slobbered, rolled on the ground. The animals turned into children, the poodles were the youngest, and the pit bulls became more like twelve-year-olds, stood near the stream with their rotten bandages and stink. It happened gradually, a hand appeared where there had been a paw, a tail dropped away. They licked their bandages with pink tongues and howled, not sure if they were human or dog. The dog-walker. I recognized in her eyes the vacant stare of another mother who had been unable to protect her children.
Lenore Weiss’s poetry collections form a trilogy about love, loss, and being mortal: Cutting Down the Last Tree on Easter Island (West End Press, 2012), Two Places (Kelsay Books, 2014), and The Golem (Hadassa Word Press, 2017). Her most recent poetry chapbook is From Malls to Museums (Ethel, 2020), and her prize-winning flash fiction chapbook, Holding on to the Fringes of Love, was published by Alexandria Quarterly Press. Lenore tutors middle school and high school students in writing and reading comprehension, and volunteers at Chapter 510 in Oakland, California.