This Animal’s Return

Kate Finegan

Last night, after the officer said to stop calling, I took that gallon of ice cream you left — your favorite, maple walnut — and ate a solid third. You’d left a pack of cigarettes on the windowsill, one half-smoked in the ashtray. I put that stub in my mouth, whole, sucked and chewed, spat it on the floor, grabbed the pack and your lighter, took off walking. Walked and walked, smoked every one down to the filter. Came back when the sun sank low, and saw that pail of ice cream, melted on the table and smelling for all the world like sucking at an udder. I gagged then saw this crow tap-tapping at the glass door. So I took that pail of ice cream and put it on the deck, all melted, a treat. Sat at the table, watched the deck light click on. The crow returned, perched on the edge of the pail and leaned over, licked the ice cream from the sides then dipped his beak down. After a while, he toppled, flapped his wings and flew up, away. I went out and saw he’d drunk that soured sugar-milk down to where he couldn’t reach. My mouth was dry. I wanted more cigarettes.

In bed, I could smell myself. Nicotine and tar, smoke in my hair. I remembered how you’d get up in the middle of the night, every night, and pace. Maybe you didn’t don’t know, but I always woke up, listened to your footsteps, heard the door open and close when you went out to smoke. You’d come back, smelling of cigarettes, and lie across the bed from me ’cause I didn’t like the smell. But last night, I breathed selfishly, like the air was full of diamonds, and tried to trick myself into hearing your labored chest rise and fall beside me, an arm’s length away.

Today, the crow flew in at dawn, landed on the pail, opened his beak, and dropped stones from our flower bed into the sweet cream that by then was surely rancid, then flapped off again, and again, dropping stones by the beak-full until finally, he pitched himself forward, clutched the side with his little crow feet, and drank the ice-cream slush.

Well, I forced myself to make the five-minute drive to the store. I’ve been avoiding it, see, ever since I stepped into my shopping basket and squished all the grapes, popped the bags of chips and pretzels, and ran out without buying a thing. Your picture’s still up, but some kid with a lawnmower tacked a stack of cards to your chin, corners pointing to the gap in your teeth. I remember how you whistled whistle sometimes, when you talked too fast. Talk. When you talk too fast. Made me so mad, those cards, so I took them with me, stuck them under ice cream pails. I hope the words blur, the paper gets mushed and curled, all wet. I bought a case of cigarettes and two gallons of ice cream — strawberry, both of them, healthier for Gerald. He looks like a Gerald. I’d like to give him a monocle, just for show. I’ll put a dish out, twice a day, and sit and wait with the sun and a smoke for this animal’s return.


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