by Fabiana Elisa Martinez

Honorable Mention, 2021 Fiction Collections

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I will have to get a new leash for Piper tomorrow. She’s almost 60 pounds of strapping force, but that old leash was too long, too strong, and intended for a much bigger dog — one of those massive great Danes, not a golden retriever.

The house is decisively silent. I am grateful for the stillness and the heavy darkness that approaches and which I will not disturb. Everybody is gone at last. Even Piper will be spared this first night in the haven that encircles me with the warmth of its wooden beams and the severity of its stone walls. Next door, she will get from Mrs. Templeton all the forbidden treats that Brenda never approved.

I am glad the girls are gone as well. In sadness or in joy our daughters create too much noise. It would be impossible to savor this imminent peace that, in spite of their fears, I welcome with dry eyes and a wide-open heart. The youngest, Sandra, will call tomorrow from her dorm, too early for me, too late for her first class, without knowing what to say. She will have a deck of excuses to hang up soon, and I will be happy to accept any of them with the same delicacy as if I were selecting a lucky card from the hands of a magician. I am happy she is that busy. She will recover soon. This weekend will collapse under the trembling weight of exams, prospective jobs, and the curiosities of new loves. I know she is the one who swept the kitchen and emptied the trash cans as soon as it was possible. I am sure though that she didn’t make the guest room’s bed. By the look on her face when she came out of it, I knew Sandra had just realized that her parents had not been sleeping together for a while and they never would. She briskly corrected her assumption that she would stay in that room, where evidently her mother had slept the night before. She dragged her green suitcase too adamantly and announced she preferred to stay with her sister and brother-in-law at the scrawny motel close to the church. I didn’t explain. I didn’t have words left at that moment. The gathering was two hours away.

Lindsay was the one who made Brenda’s bed. That was the first thing she did when she entered the house. I am sure Sandra had shared her suspicions with her. But Lindsay is smarter and less naive. Since she left us, she never spent a night at this house again. She married early and used distance and calendars like trenches to avoid closer contact with us. Brenda couldn’t understand her daughter’s disguised evasion of parents who had deeply loved her. I could. Lindsay knew, perhaps even before Brenda and I did, that her mother would adopt the guest room and leave the master bedroom to her father in the generous unannounced manner of all broken marriages. Lindsay’s practical personality was my genetic gift to her. She doesn’t need to comment on everything nor does she beg for explanations as much as other women do. Our first baby decided to follow her father’s steps and be protected by his shadow. She surely loves cats more than dogs, the same as I, but never told her mother, and cherished all those golden retrievers that stained our carpets with daily perseverance.

What I don’t know is who tidied the master bedroom. Who made the bed that became only mine while everybody else thought it was ours? I don’t remember who helped me to get dressed for the ceremony, who drove me to the church this morning. The only words I remember are Mrs. Templeton’s when she took Piper by the collar and walked her sweetly to her house: “Poor little old doggie! Come with me, pup. Your master doesn't need you around tonight. He sure cleaned up fast, though..." She didn't think I could hear her, sinking as I was into my old chair and the tumult of my discovery, but I did. I was not the one who had cleaned up. Correcting her would have been inane.

I am at peace. The night around me is just the big mouth of a fate I couldn’t fathom but was about to pounce over us. My new future started last evening when I opened the door of the master bedroom, when I saw Brenda, and when my old life ended. This silence is different, I realize now. It is empty, it is pure, it is totally mine, like our bed. Until last evening, Brenda ruled the silence and filled it with hatred and blame, sparkled it with tears and molded it with the sledgehammer of her desolation.

I imagine this black mouth of tonight’s night will regurgitate me at some point. My old age will start along with my widowhood. When Piper dies, I will get a cat at last. Not tonight of course. Tonight I have a more important choice to make. Where will I sleep? Neither of the beds in the house is good for me. One is Brenda’s, the other, our bed, is underneath that beam.

I wonder who was the angelical hand who unhung Piper’s leash and took it away forever along with my wife’s lifeless body.

end of story

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