God we were small. Small enough to fear the barking barrage of our neighbor's poodle, Gypsy. That explosion of paws chank-chanking against the metal storm door, or that choked-off rush at the end of his chain, metal links grinding through the skin of the redbud tree. I'd walk by his house armed with handfuls of gravel.
My brother shined with his white-blond hair, the silver caps that lit up his two front teeth. He hadn't yet lost that slight defect of speech, saying boid instead of bird. I was half a head taller than my little brother, freckled and scrawny, hair a dingy brown that wouldn't lay flat no matter how much my mother dabbed at it with spit. We called the girl next door Robyn Egg. She never wore a dress, just sweatshirts and blue jeans. She fed the rabbits in her hutch clover and crabgrass. She nursed kittens from a bottle and wore her thick black hair just below the shoulder. We would peek at her through the slat wood fence and the climbing roses, and hide under the scratchy yews just to hear her sing.
I don't remember how it happened, Gypsy loose and one of Robyn's kittens treed in the top of a bush, hissing and spitting as if in pain. Gypsy scrambled near the base of the trunk, gnashing teeth, tearing up grass, knocking loose the gutter. I flipped the kitten free with a broom. Gypsy was on it in less than a second, shook it until it was dead, lost interest. I don't remember what the small thing looked like dead, but Robyn's face was all black tears, red welted cheeks, the look she gave me worse than the sting of my father's belt. Worse than a doctor's needle.
How old could she have been, fourteen to my five? She wrapped the body in newspaper and nestled it in a blue shoe box she tied closed with ribbon. We buried it near the cherry tree in back of the garage and sprinkled Rose of Sharon blossoms on the freshly turned earth. I burned with the fear that she hated me. For the three months it took for the grass to grow back, only my brother hid under the yews. Only my brother peeked through the fence. He was too young to know that death was something one could own. In my pockets I held it wet as sand. When I slept it was like an open window that made my throat raw, stole my breath.
Now I hold a photo in my hand. My brother is holding up fingers to the light. I am picking rose petals from the lawn, grimacing into the sun. Robyn's shadow falls nowhere in the picture. Behind us under the redbud tree, Gypsy, sound asleep, small as a mop head, soft as a kitten, pure and white as a pillow.
M C R
This work is copyrighted by the author, Brent Fisk. All rights reserved.