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SmokeLong Quarterly

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As If a Bestiary Had Wings

Story by Michael Chaney (Read author interview) December 17, 2013

art by Justin Chen

Other dogs were still friendly to Buddy in the waiting room, though he was a polar crash site of pustulance and carbuncle. His brown eyes drooped to see beyond everything, even the scene that awaited us on the other side of fuschia smocks and posters of hopping dachshunds where the death room lay, more cell than room, as if emptiness could chase away the impression of it being an old utility closet, as if the dog’s grim reaper should hang in sundry, as if the mere addition of this horse blanket on the floor might cozy the blue liquid that takes forever to prickle his grey veins and heel them up, upper ventricle, up the column, upwards hind brain, and away.

When it’s time, they put another person in there with the vet. A professional petter. An Anubis priest. A watcher. She looks you in the eye as if you are not alone in this, as if her presence makes it official, this community of memory for the frolic and the nose and those mornings by the lake cracked open by the sun to the cycling chatter of locust. But this is not death. This is dying. And dying drives a crowded bus. The vet is saying something about her absurd syringe and the blue juice it carries, glass cleaner blue. The petter’s shiny eyes want a chorus of sadness, but hers will be a solo act today, solo and sotto voce. Buddy doesn’t need her, breathing slow into the faint grooves of her polyester lap. Buddy is not alone. There are other animals in here. A thanatology zoo. The petter’s fingers wrap Buddy’s creamy haunch, her pinky bold to graze that sore.

This is not like the mice found in the garage that dance on the lip of grandfather’s spade, as if it were hot, electric. He has made a hole in the dirt beside the tether ball pole and deposits them there as if he were planting hibiscus eggs. The petter’s eyes are an unpretty silver, wet machines, gunmetal and rain. Nor is this like Suzie, my grey cat who should have moved out of the car’s way but didn’t. It has been twenty years since she lay there, a limp towel sucked into the ocean uncaught by trammeled sandy hands too late.

Now the petter rubs the nose. Buddy loves that. Or is it the others, the sensuous rest, all that is beyond that makes a snout as if to smile? Behind the dish soap of her pharaoh wrapping hands and the dander salad of the waiting room other smells call out, a solid white cone of singing smells: plastic watchbands well worn, scorched popcorn fallout sifted onto smocks from the night before still carbonic, thorny; pondstone and duckbelly pungencies, oldball and goodbones, the leafpile and the place behind the barn, an index of grazings and hatchings, decades of the dead, a vital brine for those put down.

About the Author

Michael Chaney has been published in Hobart, apt, Storm Cellar, NANO Fiction, and Callaloo, and his work is forthcoming from Michigan Quarterly Review. He lives in Vermont, teaches English at Dartmouth College, and blogs about flash at michaelalexanderchaney.com.

About the Artist

Justin Chen started drawing when he was a little boy. His first piece of work was a red car in crayon, now he draws much more than that. After completed a degree in architecture, he is rediscovering his passion for illustration and graphic design. You can view his works at flickr.com/photos/jkhc.

This story appeared in Issue Forty-Two of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Forty-Two
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On September 1, SmokeLong launched a workshop environment/community christened SmokeLong Fitness. This asynchronous community workshop is happening right now on our dedicated workshop site. If you choose to join us, you will work in a small group of around 10-12 participants to give and receive feedback. Each Monday, you will receive a new writing task (one writing task each week) designed by the senior editor team of SmokeLong. The core workshop is asynchronous, so you can take part from anywhere at anytime. We are excited about creating a supportive, consistent and structured environment for flash writers to work on their craft in a community.