New Fiction: “Simpatico”

This week’s flash fiction on Medium was inspired by a prompt to write about two people who have such a close relationship that they can almost read each other’s minds. I chose not to write about two people in love, but two coworkers who are strongly simpatico even though one is ambitious and the other is not. I hope you’ll enjoy reading “Simpatico.”

Random kindness

Last spring, Carolyn and I started running together every morning. Now that fall is well under way, it has been pretty dark when we get started. We run through neighborhood streets with infrequent traffic, and we keep an eye and an ear out for approaching vehicles.

This morning, during the warm-up walk part of our practice, a car slowed and stopped a few feet ahead of us. A young, black woman got out of the driver’s side. I expected her to ask if we’d seen a lost dog. It wouldn’t have been the first time someone stopped us looking for an escaped pet.

Instead, she said, “Excuse me. I drive past y’all every day, and I want you to have these.” She held out what I thought at first were two sparkly t-shirts.

“What are they for?” I asked. Given that it’s political season, I wondered if they were for a local political campaign. It would be an unorthodox way to drum up support, but whatever. I was wrong again.

“They’re to keep you safe,” she said, and handed us each an orange mesh vest with bright, reflective yellow stripes.

She doesn’t know us. Doesn’t know our names, our circumstances in life, nothing but that we are out before dark every day and that we might be in danger. So she did something about it.

Imagine if everyone were like her.

Everyone’s Buddy

A domestic long-haired tabby cat
Chubby Huggs, Spring 2020

Chubby Huggs came into our life in 2006 as a full-grown adult. A stray who nevertheless weighed in at nineteen pounds, he loved two things: (1) food and (2) everyone.

He was everybody’s friend. Pest control technicians, electricians, plumbers, painters, anyone who came to the house got mugged for attention. We often joked that if burglars broke in while we were gone, they would still be there when we got back because it was impossible not to pet the little guy, and he could never get–or give–enough love. Even people who didn’t like cats thought Chubby Huggs was something special.

He eventually slimmed down due to the combination of a healthy diet and his personal trainer–our other cat, PK, who was none too fond of the interloper. She chased his furry little butt around every chance she got. They had a love-hate relationship for years but eventually he won even her over.

When Carolyn had to travel on business, he would sit in her place on the sofa as if waiting for her. When she was home, her lap was his favorite place to be.

He hated one thing: small objects on the coffee table. Pens, coins, keys–he felt that the proper place for these things was on the floor. He allowed vases of flowers (because he could eat them) and glasses of water (which he believed were obviously there for him). Anything else was fair game to be swatted until it dropped.

Chubby Huggs died this morning. He had bladder cancer and last night it became clear that he didn’t have any fight left in him. Carolyn slept out in the living room to be with him. I couldn’t bear it and went to bed. She woke me at 4:30 to tell me he was gone. I feel so guilty for not being there.

Goodbye, little pal. I’m sorry. I’ll miss you.

On Grief

You wake up in the morning and you have a minute, maybe two, of ignorance. Then the memory comes. Data only at first, devoid of sentiment. You examine that data, emotionless. Clinical. It is a thing that happened. You remember feeling sorrow, but you do not feel sorrow. It is not part of you. You tell yourself that you’ll be okay. That there are no more tears to shed. 

Then it hits you, grief boiling out of you like vomit, bursting forth through clenched teeth. It shakes you. Strength leaves your legs. Your lungs turn to stone. You feel as though someone has seized you by the hair and plunged your head into water. It holds you as you struggle to breathe.

It passes. For a moment, then for a few, then for a few minutes. You breathe into the bottom of your lungs. A moment of clarity. You remind yourself that it cannot, will not last forever. And you think, I’m okay. I’ll be okay. Maybe not today, but–

It hits you again.

As if to punish you for thinking you could survive. You feel as if someone has plunged your head under water, then let you up long enough only to gasp for a single breath before pushing you back under. Over and over.

In Memory of Pookie

Pookie, hiding among stuffed toys last December

Pookie died last night.

Last month, her health began to decline. The vet gave us some medications that we hoped would ease the strain on her liver and kidneys. Although Pookie responded at first, it was clear that the medications weren’t working as well as we’d hoped they would. All day yesterday, she struggled to hold onto life but a little after eleven PM, her body shut down and she died.

Pookie liked to hide in a basket of stuffed toys on the bottom shelf of an armoire in our living room. She liked to ride Carolyn’s shoulder wherever she went in the house. She liked to mooch food–many of the pictures I have of her are of her sharing my lunch, eating from my hand. Words cannot describe how funny, brave, and loyal she was.

The house is far too quiet now. Even when she wasn’t vocalizing, she was around, doing things, making noise. Snacking, chewing on something, exploring. Fluffing her feathers, fluttering her wings. Sometimes she would wander around the floor, her tiny little talons tick-tick-ticking against the hardwood. The absence of those sounds is unbearable.

We’ll miss her forever.

The Best Bird

Pookie, the best bird

Pookie is a 28-year-old sun conure. She has been my wife’s constant companion for all of those years.

I met Pookie after Carolyn and I began dating in 2001. Pookie was nine years old then, and fiercely protective of Carolyn. Every time I put my arm around Carolyn, the little tyrant ran across the sofa in attack posture, her beak open and wings spread. Pookie remained suspicious of me the whole time Carolyn and I were dating, throughout our engagement, and for the first three months after we married.

One Saturday morning, Carolyn went out with a friend. While she was gone, I started playing my guitar and singing. I was a verse or so into “Lover’s Cross” by Jim Croce when I heard the flutter of her wings and she landed on my shoulder.

I thought she was going to attack me. I braced for a nip on the ear. It didn’t come. Instead, she rubbed her face against my cheek and made little, happy noises. I kept singing. She kept snuggling. By the time Carolyn got home, Pookie and I were best friends.

After that, Pookie had to be wherever I was. If I slept in, she would yell out her “assemble the flock” scream until I got up. One day she tried to stow away in my jacket when I was going to work. She ignored Carolyn if I was around.

Pookie’s crush on me ended after about six months and Carolyn reclaimed her position as first in Pookie’s affections. But I have been part of the flock ever since. She’s been the best bird to both of us.

Last week, Pookie started having seizures. We struggled to get her to take the anti-seizure medication that was prescribed for her. It smells awful and apparently tastes worse. But she seemed to be doing better until yesterday. Carolyn took her back to the vet and they took a blood sample. The vet called back with the results late in the afternoon.

Pookie’s liver and kidneys are starting to fail. She’s 28, which is very near the upper range of a sun conure’s lifespan. The vet told us that there are some other medications we can try. (Apparently these are formulated to taste better.) But she’s living on borrowed time. I’ll pick up the medications in the morning. We’ll take all of the time we can have with her.