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Story by Christian Bodney (Read author interview) June 19, 2023

Art by Kat J

Mother cried for the finch, how it made a dying sound without making one, inside the mouth of our dog Wyeth. I suppose, in a way, Mother became the bird, feeling what it couldn’t say, and it was sad, not because it was dying, but because it wasn’t yet dead.

Our back porch was under construction. The kitchen double-doors were slightly ajar, windows open, and a thick summer breeze drifted through. Fruit flies gathered before the half-full mason jar of red wine. Mother was seated at her small kitchen table, smoking. Wyeth, wanting attention for her deed, whimpered and pranced aimlessly around the backyard.

Bitch, Mother said when she saw her.

How Mother cursed must have scared her, or how she stood up as she did, because Wyeth dropped the bird and hid. The finch lay there on the mulch, slack-jawed and staring.

We have to kill it, Mother said.

Mother’s boyfriend had brought Wyeth home from an Amish farm when she was a pup even though Mother told him not to. Mother gets mad because Wyeth humps her leg, never cuddles when she asks. Mother has to take care of everything and everyone, she says. When Wyeth dies, she doesn’t want another dog.

I have to ask: why is violence such a sexual word? It ohs. It hisses at the end. It feels like it will last forever. Vi·o·lence. It’s pensive, like the phonetically close violet: to be between the seen blue and the invisible ultraviolet. As if birth and death were the same thing.

We have to kill it, show it mercy.

I couldn’t stand there only to close my eyes and quiver. I couldn’t bear witness to what Mother would have had to do. I couldn’t imagine her having to do it. They say these are the moments when a boy grows up, and if these are those moments, I don’t want to be a boy and I don’t want to grow up. But I did. I learned what we do to survive: I eat dead plants and animals, fuck like a martyr, drink until scorn or grace. Hard to tell.

We have to kill it, show it mercy.

I picked up a brick. I swung my arm, as if it were a body part that didn’t belong, a growth that needed to be excised. There was a harsh popping sound when the brick pocketed the earth. We know the sound of so many things but what sound does survival make? It’s happening all of the time—I want to cup one of its moments, build a castle for it, play a game of telephone with it, to always remember how beautiful its voice is.

About the Author

Christian Bodney is an MFA candidate at New York University. He is currently working on a hybrid collection of linked essays/memoirs. He won the 2022 CRAFT Creative Nonfiction Award and was shortlisted for the 2023 DISQUIET Prize. He has work appearing in Hobart, Ninth Letter and Sonora Review.

About the Artist

Find more photography by Kat J on Unsplash.

This story appeared in Issue Eighty of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Eighty

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