Monday, November 18, 2013


November roared in like a beast, blowing a bitter wind and stripping leaves from limbs, filling gutters and forcing us into the car in the mornings. We sit there at the bus stop, a line of chugging vehicles with foggy windows and, when the bus comes into view, we spill children out onto sidewalks. They shuffle-run in new coats, filling the air with their white breath, hurrying into line and on board.

Then fall decides it's not quite done here, and the neighborhood is left with a half dozen houses with premature Christmas decorations, and me with dead mums and a yard full of leaves. 

That first week brought with it a lion's share of community grief, and I dance on the periphery of it. I know a guy, who knows a guy, and that guy died. I co-opt that grief and wear a maudlin cloak in solidarity. I wrap it around me out of ennui, and because there is a perverse pleasure in being sad when you're not actually sad. It makes you do things like cry over Joni Mitchell records and fantasize about how horrible people will feel when you die. I picture my grown children, wailing over my casket, wide eyed grandchildren sobbing over their Grandmère (I am assuming that one of the kids will marry someone French, it makes for a more romantic funeral).

I imagine this as I stand in my postage sized backyard, fighting a ridiculous battle with an endless pile of leaves studded with dog turds. I look at Shutup Roxy, hunched over in the corner, looking at me as she drops yet another steamer. She looks at me with cataract-white eyes and I feel I'm embarrassing her. I look away. "Why do you have to shit so much, bro?" I ask her. 

My husband has started calling the three year old, 'Bro', and I have adopted it. I have adopted it and expanded it, bastardized it brah, brahmin, brotato, broseph, brocephus. It is beyond annoying, and I can't stop. "Have a nice day!", says the woman loading my groceries. She is my mother's age, neat and trim, delightfully cheerful. "You too, bro!", I reply, and I can tell by the look on her face that this is likely the first time in her life she's been called 'bro'.

The dog does not mind being called bro. Two weeks ago, we felt certain that she was not long for this world. An injury to her already shaky hind end meant we had to have 'the talk'. She looked up at us from her bed, the heating pad tucked under her hips. "If she's not better by Monday, it may be time," my husband said. Shutup Roxy cocked an eyebrow my way. The next morning she was up, still wobbly, but considerably better. She made her way outside to the pile of dog shit leaves and did her business. Screw you, brah, she said.

The leaves are still there, waiting. My third degree grief is faded, already replaced by plans for turkey and pies and Christmas gifts yet to buy. Thanks, I give thanks, that I can shrug it off and worry myself with yard work and grocery budgets. I hold a pen that hesitates above a sympathy card for an acquaintance, unsure of what to say and how to say it. I write what comes to mind first and then reconsider - I reconsider it all. 

"So sorry for your loss, bro."

Thursday, November 7, 2013


The problem was, he couldn't seem to get it clean. Randall had hosed it off right away, of course; dried it with stacks of old towels and oiled all the pieces and parts. He cleaned it until his fingers tingled from the cold and the wash water froze on the hem of his pants. 

But here he stood, watching a single rivulet of blood trickle down the handle of the machine. Randall checked his hands and face for cuts and found nothing more than three days worth of beard and a dried piece of egg from that morning's breakfast, stuck to the corner of his mouth. 

He reached out and touched the cold metal of the handle, then held still and waited to catch the blood. It hit his finger hot and thick and he cried out in surprise. He balanced the droplet on his fingertip and brought it close to his face. He watched it hang there, suspended, and fought the urge to touch it to his tongue. He hurriedly wiped the finger on his pants, and went inside the house. 

That was the second day. 

On the third day, Randall stood at the back door, peering over his coffee cup at the machine on the edge of the woods. It looked exactly like it had looked for the past twenty years; heavy and cold and so faded that it blended into the oranges and yellows of the trees themselves. Off to the left was the dog run, minus dog, food bowl turned upside down. The squirrels and chipmunks and birds had eaten what had been spilled. Randall couldn't remember if the dog had been there eating when it happened and turned it over, or if he had knocked it over running to her. He did remember holding her in his arms, trying to stop the hole in her throat from gushing blood, and seeing a crow perched on the bowl, pecking at the food, it's black beaded eyes staring at him. The fuck you looking at?, it asked him. In his periphery had been the man, standing at the edge of the woods, looking stupid and drunk. 

That night, Randall heard the machine crank up. He flew from the bed, tripping over shoes and dirty clothes, running into the dark in his underwear, panic caught in his throat and trying to escape. Gah gah gahhh, it said. His feet carried him through the yard toward the trees while his brain yelled stop stop stop no sound no sound! His feet finally got the message and Randall stopped halfway through the long yard. The night was still and the machine sat dark and quiet, a great black hulk, sleeping. He stood there watching it until his toes went numb in the wet grass.

On the fourth day, Randall walked around the machine again and again. He looked under it and over it and in it. He saw no mysterious drops of blood, no stains, no sign of use. He crouched down low and put his ear to the ground and closed his eyes and asked the earth for answers. When he opened them, he saw it. A small square of red plaid cloth, caught on a blade inside the machine. It fluttered there, waving at him. How did you miss me?, it said. He saw it as a larger piece, with brown buttons and smelling of smoke and whiskey, hanging on the man in the woods. 

Randall took the square of cloth between two fingers, careful not to touch the machine. It was impossible that it was there, no fabric or man made material had gone in. Nothing that wasn't nature made had ever gone in, he was sure of that. He glanced at the circle of charred earth behind the dog lot. No, he was sure of that. He held the cloth to his face and smelled cigarettes. 

He set it on fire on the fifth day. He nearly set everything else on fire as well, and battled errant sparks with fire extinguishers and the great green garden hose while the machine sat blazing in the middle of it all. Within an hour, Randall had stripped to his underwear and boots and danced around the hot metal, his skin red and blisters boiling around his mouth. He kept it burning until nightfall, when the last of the embers faded but the machine still glowed. He slept in it's shadow, the garden hose wrapped around his body like a talisman. 

He was not surprised to find the pack of matches on the sixth day. They sat on top of the machine, red cover open, waving at him when he opened his eyes. RE-ELECT EARL REDWINE, it implored him, ABLE AND EXPERIENCED, it assured him. Maybe he ought to go in and call Earl right now, he thought. Call him and tell him about his dog and the man and machines that bleed and regenerate plaid shirts. Got any experience with that, Earl? 

He sat there all that day, staring at the machine. He ate pinto beans out of the can for his breakfast, and gin out of the bottle for his supper. He kept the square of cloth tied around his index finger, and rubbed it absently over his blistered lips. It was cold, but the machine had become organic; growing out of the earth, it swelled and pulsed and kept him warm. 

On the seventh day, Randall stumbled down the long driveway to the road, a piece of plywood under his arm and a scattering of nails held between his teeth. He hit his thumb twice with the hammer, cursing the first time and crying the second. When he was done, he stood back and looked at the crooked sign and smiled. That'll do it, he thought, and read the sign out loud - "Woodchipper for sale - CHEAP".