Sommer Schafer

My Little Pet

I opened the door that Sunday morning to get the paper, and there it was, perched on the marble bench I’d placed in the tangle of jasmine to the left of the door. It swiveled on its hidden haunches, tucked into a hairy round body, and looked at me with big brown eyes, long lashes stretching up to the sky. Its tiny nose twitched adorably, as if it were making sure I would be kind. Its long whiskers trembled. Well my oh my, I thought. I extended my arm cautiously, wondering, and it climbed onto my hand, its nails sharp, and up my arm where I nestled it against my chest and it buried its little nose into my armpit. My oh my, I thought. Aren’t you cute.
       So I brought it inside, not knowing what it was, never having seen a creature like it before, and went to the couch and carefully reclined against the leather back, warm from the sun coming through the sliding glass door leading to the backyard, my body still a bit stiff not wanting to disrupt or startle it. It burrowed further into my armpit, a beautiful ball of hair and heat, breath and heartbeat. I cupped its little body with my palm and felt its stomach bulging out on either side of its backbone, which made me think that even though I could feel the backbone like a string of tiny jewels, its tummy was plump and therefore it wasn’t starving. That wherever it came from, it had been treated well. But as I sat holding it, snuggling it against my chest in the warm sun, as if it were my little baby, I wondered whatever to do with it? It was clear to me that I wasn’t dealing with a cat here, or a small dog. Neither was it a large hamster nor a tame squirrel nor an unusually big-eyed gopher. It was all of the above wrapped into one strange, cute creature that seemed to only want my love and comfort, both of which I was eager and utterly delighted to give. I had been waffling for a long time about whether to adopt an animal from the shelter or not (for one could never be entirely sure what one would get, and since I was at work all day and lived alone, could I provide the home it would need?) and now the answer seemed to have been made for me!
       I cautiously carried it to the kitchen where, with one arm, I put out a bowl of half-and-half warmed in the micro and slowly, gently lowered my arm so it could walk down to the kitchen floor with ease. Now that it was down, peacefully lapping the milk with a little black tongue, I pulled a can of tuna from the pantry, opened it and forked it onto a plate that I placed next to the half-and-half. I smiled to see it eat the chunks of tuna gracefully, pulling small bites into its mouth as if it had etiquette. It also gave me time to see it more fully. A chubby, brown, hairy body. Not long-haired or short-haired but somewhere in between, though the hair on its rump was longer and skimmed the floor. A short, fluffy tail standing erect. Tiny, domed, see-through ears crossed by even tinier veins. A natural hunching of its back, like a hedgehog. Hairless, slender, three-toed feet. Long, curving nails. The tiniest, sharpest teeth I had ever seen. The biggest owl-like eyes fringed by astonishing, long lashes. A flat pink nose. While it was eating, I ran upstairs to rummage through the linen closet, for even though I am alone, I have collected great masses of blankets, sheets, quilts, and throws. I found the softest throw I could find, a faux sheepskin I had bought from Costco last Christmas, light green, a personal favorite, doubled it up and laid it on the foot of my bed. Back downstairs, I sat cross-legged on the laminate floor and watched until it had finished everything. When it was done, I carried it upstairs within the crux of my arms and laid it on the bed I had made for it, where it immediately burrowed down, digging its nose into the faux sheepskin, closed its eyes and went to sleep, emitting a steady low rumble from its chest that sounded like a more solemn and contented cat’s purr.
       The next morning I awoke to find it under the sheets, nestled between my chest and arm. When I moved and looked down at it, a hot, furry body of beauty, it opened its big eyes and rumbled and opened its mouth into the first smile I’d ever seen on an animal. The pink, hairless corners of its mouth extended and rounded upward, just like a human’s. It was so tender and utterly surprising that I just had to smile back, and we stared at each other, smiling and cuddling until I had to go to work.
       This went on for days, a week: tuna and warmed milk, its strange human-like smile, its low purr-like rumbling, its liking to take long naps in the sun on the wide, puffy arm of the black leather couch. I wondered where it would poop and pee, and at first opened the patio door for it, thinking it would want to relieve itself in my small fenced-in backyard. But it stood on the edge of the patio door, leaning tentatively into the outdoors with its nose twitching and stayed there until I said, “Not for you, huh?” and smiled down at it and slid the door closed. I bought a litter box for it and placed it in the downstairs bathroom but soon discovered it preferred to use the toilet. It would nudge the lid with its head, with just enough force so that the lid wouldn’t bang against the back of the toilet, lift itself up, and then perch over the bowl. Afterward, it would flush the toilet, spend several minutes licking itself, and emerge pleasantly from the bathroom. “Well aren’t you something!” I gushed after the first time, completely surprised, utterly taken aback. It gave me its smile and leaned over, and I let it crawl up my arm and burrow into my chest, as it liked to do. “Where did you come from?” I whispered in its tiny ear, and it seemed to answer me with the start of its strange purr.
       I was at first hesitant to leave it when I went to work. Would it be there when I got back? Would it somehow find its way out? The other secretaries at the firm could sense something that first day, wanted to know if I was feeling OK. So I said no, I might be a little ill, and left early. I rushed home and threw open the door, and there it was, curled up on the arm of the couch, fully ensconced in sunshine. It raised its head, smiled and then yawned, arched its little back, and slowly came to me. I foolishly burst into tears. I gathered it in my palms and brought it to my face to kiss it, three, four times. “I was afraid you would have found some way to leave!” I gushed, my nose beginning to run, and just for a moment, a split-second, really, I thought, this, this drastic emotion, is why I’m alone. The following days when I returned to work, the others commented on how well I looked. They wondered if I had done something new with my hair? A new facial lotion? And I thought, no, I am in love.
       It and I settled into a comfortable routine, and I soon started calling it, simply, Pet. Mornings, I found it nestled between my arm and chest. It kept me so warm and cozy that I regretted having to leave the bed to take my shower and eat my breakfast and drive to work. But it followed me; showered when I showered, making me laugh when it shook itself off afterward, causing its hair to stick out like soft porcupine quills; ate when I ate. At night when we sat on the couch watching TV, its body snug next to my thigh or on my lap so I could stroke it, sometimes I’d share my tea or wine or the bowl of chips or ice cream I occasionally allowed myself. When it wanted to go to bed, it would gently tug at the hem of my skirt or pants, just in the manner of a little kid, or simply place its hairless paw on my arm and look at me with its huge eyes, pupils large and black. I would smile at it tenderly, and it would smile back, and I would extend my arm, and it would climb up, one paw over the other, and nuzzle gently into my chest and let me carry it up the stairs to bed. And I would stare at its little body, curled up, its chest rising and falling with each breath, its flat little pink nose tucked into its paws, and I’d feel so lucky that out of all the doorsteps it could have chosen, it had chosen mine.
       One morning I awoke, as usual, with it next to me beneath the sheets, and, as usual, it was already awake staring at me with its large eyes and smiling its human-like smile, the edges of its mouth rounded and turned up in a manner that I admit now had always slightly unsettled me. I smiled down at it and caressed its back as I had gotten in the habit of doing most mornings, feeling its soft, squishy stomach under my fingertips and its backbone under my palm. As I caressed it, it did something it had never done before. Still smiling at me, it began to move its jaw up and down so that its teeth clicked against each other. Click click click they went, and it sounded like the scurrying of a thousand mice. Its jaw was moving so quickly that it looked more like a tremble, and yet its teeth came together so succinctly and precisely that I realized its jaw could simply move that fast, that precisely, up and down in an impressive blur. I smiled at it, thinking its strange behavior would soon stop, that didn’t each of us have unusual ticks and mannerisms? Certainly I had my share. Yet click click click went its teeth, and up and down went its jaw in a blur of hair and pink, and still it smiled. And when the click click click seemed to grow deafening and its jaw seemed to want to come unhinged, and yet it still persisted in its strange, wide smile and its unwavering wide-eyed gaze, I asked playfully, “Well, whatever is that for, you sweet thing?” It simply sank its teeth into the upturned, pale, fleshy side of my forearm. During the half second it took me to understand, I felt its jaw and teeth vibrating into my arm, going deeper, and then I shouted, once, and tried to shake it off, reflexively, with more violence than I thought I was capable of. But it hung on, so I shook it again and yelled “OFF,” feeling the pain intensely then. It wasn’t my shaking that did it, I understand now. Though I was shaking it and slamming it against the bed, desperate to get it off, already noticing the slow streaming of blood across my arm, it only let go when it was good and ready. It walked to its faux sheepskin bed, turned once, twice, and sat and watched me as I silently cradled my arm. I watched my blood flow into the cup of my cradling hand and then onto the comforter, which was the pale lavender one I had splurged and bought on sale from Anthropologie and which I eventually would have to throw away. And then I looked at it. It had puffed itself into a cozy ball of hair on its bed, and I could hear the soft rumbling of its low purr. It wasn’t smiling, but it seemed to look at me with tenderness, even as the blood crossed my arm and dripped onto the bed.
       In the bathroom I looked into the mirror. My face was an unhealthy white except for the pale blue half-moons under my eyes, which are always there because of my allergies. My hair hung limp over my ears. My pajamas were spotted in blood. The skin of my forearm was growing stiff from dried blood, and for a moment I was sure it had punctured a major artery, that I would bleed out slowly, that this would be the way I’d go, not by cancer or heart disease or dementia or stroke or any other sickness I had been sure at a young age would get me first. So I turned on the shower and let the hot water course over my body. I thoroughly washed my hair and soaped off my body with a bar of lemon soap and an organic washcloth I had bought from the discount rack at Pottery Barn, moving it gently over my sore arm. Once out, I toweled off and examined the bite. It had left a perfect imprint of its teeth in my arm. I counted twenty-five little holes, up and down, in two tiny half domes, upper jaw and lower.
       When I walked back into the bedroom, my white robe tied tightly around my body as if for some protection, it was there on the bed, not sitting waiting for me, but curled up and asleep. As I slowly walked across the carpet, noticing for the first time the softness against the bottom of my feet, it raised its head and smiled at me sleepily. I sat next to it, pulling the robe over my legs, and felt the edge of the bed lower under my weight. Mid-morning light was filling my bedroom. It and I were bathed in creamy light bouncing against the thick white carpet and the peachy walls and my white terry robe and the crisp white sheets; enlightening the whiteness of the light lavender duvet cover from Anthropologie, my blood stains already browned and dull. I carefully lifted my hand and made toward its tiny head, anticipating the feel of its little skull and hair and heat within the center of my palm. Would it bite again? “I forgive you,” I said as I stroked its head and followed the knobby string of its backbone, down and over again. It closed its eyes and rumbled. I ended my loving, my forgiveness, by tapping its little pink nose affectionately with the tip of my finger. These things happen, I thought. None of us is perfect.

And so began the rest of our life together, Pet and I. In the shower, sitting in the evening watching a movie, eating dinner (for I had moved its dish to the table so it could join me), vacuuming or dusting or reading, occasionally napping, it would simply become possessed for a few seconds and attack me. I began to wear only long sleeves to work and whenever I left the house, even for the Wednesday night yoga class I took at the community center, which I eventually stopped going to, preferring instead to stay with Pet and watch TV together on the couch. When it grew hot outside, I began to wonder if people would think I was odd, dressing that way, though I thought of my mother who had once suggested I keep my arms covered because I was so hairy, and so in this matter, though it was in no way connected, I consoled myself by, as usual, agreeing with her. My arm was covered with old scars and fresh bites: a horrifying collage of yellow bruises and stitch-like imprints in half domes across and around my arm up to the fleshy tendon where arm met shoulder and where Pet especially liked to bite and hang on. Its teeth could go in deeply there, right around that tendon and into my muscles and nerves. Yelling did no good, and pulling it only made it worse. I eventually found that if I squeezed its little body as hard as I could, as if I meant to pop it and explode its guts across the room, which I did at those times, I could make it emit a shrill squeal and, in so doing, force it to release its vice-like grip.
       This made it mad, though. In fact, the only times I saw it mad were when I squeezed it like I did to get it off, to kill it, to save myself, to stop the terrible, terrible pain. But it didn’t attack me then. It roused itself into a silent flurry of hair and teeth and claw; it moved so quickly I couldn’t see it, only the blur of its brown body that seemed to levitate into the room and take off, tearing around and around the room, throwing the pictures off the wall, leaving behind long, deep scratch marks in the paint and drywall, simultaneously relieving itself so that pee and feces flew everywhere, an open centrifuge. Every once in a while in the blur and chaos, I’d detect its see-through little ears, pale and veined; its stubby tail. It hummed like a miniature motor. It tore open the cushions of the couch, throwing stuffing and strips of black leather into the air. It assaulted the furniture, shattering the glass frogs I had collected in a display case behind the couch; threw framed photos into the air so they’d drop to the floor and crack (the sickening, deep sound of wood cracking; the shriller, slenderer sound of glass); the pottery I had made in classes at the community center, scattered across the laminate floor in pieces and shards, one of which pierced my bare foot a day later, drawing blood, for I had grown tired of cleaning up after it all the time. I left its mess for days until I mustered some will to clean, though a part of me wanted to see that mess, to leave it, so that I could see the evidence of its strong will, which, though it hurt me, I also revered because it was directed at me, and surely such anger indicated such strong love.
       During its “tantrums,” as I began to call them, it jumped from furniture to wall, and back again. With its head, it bashed the glass of my framed prints and posters; pulled out the prints and shredded them with its tiny claws; stuffed them in its mouth, closed yet working up and down, and ate them in a cinematic blur of jaw and hair. It circled the room like a dervish; it ran the walls by the power of sheer momentum. Many times it would pile the toilet with items and flush, clogging the pipes, making one of them burst one night, spurting water onto a spot below the hallway floor and runner so that by the time I noticed it the following morning, the floor had grown soft, and my foot had fallen right through, the broken pieces of the floor slicing up the thin skin of my ankle and impounding it painfully. But I had no desire to call a plumber, bring some stranger into my home who might wonder and judge, so I piled towels down there and forgot about it.
       When it calmed down after a tantrum, we met each other eye-to-eye on the floor, sitting and exhausted, it breathing quickly, its beautiful, round body inflating and deflating with every breath. When it breathed like that, quickly, ecstatic it seemed to me, I heard the puffs of air coming from its tiny nostrils like delicate music. And for those perfect moments, I forgot about the piles of its feces, one near my hip, one I had almost sat in, and the seeping puddles of its urine slowly sliding across the floor and finding passage through cracks below the baseboards; the pottery I once took so much pride in now shattered across the room; the walls crisscrossed with deep scratches; the gray stuffing from the cushions boiling over and heaving out like unrestrained profanity, as if the furniture now had a voice.
       After such episodes, we came to each other, and I begged forgiveness for trying to hurt it, kill it. And I wouldn’t be able to stop the tears, saying how much it meant to me, how much I loved it and appreciated it. It stared at me with its large eyes, lashes quivering. I welcomed it onto my lap, and it climbed up to my chest where I cradled it so it could snuggle once again against my breasts, nudge its little nose into my armpit, feel my heart still beating quickly from my excitement and fear. We comforted each other, and for an instant the only thing that mattered in the universe was us in the center of that destroyed room, the lights blazing against the darkness outside. After such comfortings it liked to give me one final bite for the day before we climbed the stairs and fell into bed, exhausted. And I came to expect it, even offering my arm or leg. It had moved on from my arms, which were too used for further bites, and seemed to find great satisfaction from the fleshiness of my thighs, the softness of my stomach. My pajamas were smattered in bloodstains, for only I and Pet would see them, and so what would be the use in de-staining them? And why?
       In the morning before work, if I had time and energy, I would duct tape the cushions, trying to stuff as much of them back together again. Pet would come softly padding down the stairs behind me, both of us refreshed and showered, and walk through the piles of its mess as if they weren’t there. “Wow, what a mess,” I’d say, and we’d smile at each other. After work I would clean up some more; wipe up the feces and urine; throw the broken pottery and glass and frames into a plastic bag and walk it out to the garbage can. My house began to look pleasantly clear and uncluttered, without the frogs and art and ugly knickknacks I had collected or that had been given to me over the years; the really not-so-great bowls I had thrown on the wheel; the horrible little sculptures I had thought were so good. The daylight streaming through the patio doors seemed to have more places to go, and the living room grew warmer and fuller with light. The scratches against the walls came to resemble intricate modern art.
       The nights became ours, full of passion and violence; at times cozy and warm, it purring against my chest; other times raucous and volatile, myself beholden to its rages and moods. One evening, a movie before us, a big bowl of popcorn next to us, it lazily climbed from my lap onto my head and ripped out a chunk of my hair with its teeth. The pain so startled me that I impulsively reached up and threw it as hard as I could against the patio glass door upon which it made a surprisingly firm thump. I jumped up, overturning the bowl of popcorn, which clattered against the floor, scattering popcorn, and braced myself. Instead, it lay with its back to me on the ground, and I feared I had done it this time. I couldn’t breathe; the room was chaotic with silence and TV. But then it came to, turned and stared at me with dark eyes. It got up and began to bash the glass door with its head, again and again, until a spiderweb of cracks and blood appeared. I couldn’t afford a new glass door. I reached for it and squeezed it with both my hands. It bit first one wrist and then the other, and I welcomed it, knowing it was the least I deserved. I threw it into the downstairs bathroom and slammed the door, holding the handle with both my hands, dripping blood from my wrists onto my slippers. I heard it crack the mirror; felt it pummel the door, whose bumpings and bucklings made my hands numb; the vibrations traveled up my arms and into my shoulders and head so that I seemed to feel its anger transferred from the door to inside myself, assaulting muscle fiber, synapse, bone. When I heard a great stream of water, I figured it had pulled off the faucet or destroyed the pipes under the sink, and when it had calmed down I opened the door and saw the water streaming from behind the toilet and under the sink; saw it licking itself placidly in the deepening puddle. I turned off the water and told myself that now, really, I should get a plumber.

Finally, my sister and mother came for a visit. They live nearby and like to come over every couple months or so when they have the time. We try to see each other more often than that, though, for coffee every Saturday morning at our favorite café in the middle of town. Since Pet had arrived, though, I had canceled.
       “I have a new pet,” I had told my mother over the phone. “I should be home with it until it’s used to my place.”
       “Oh lovely!” my mother had exclaimed. “A dog? A cat? How delightful!”
       “Well, it’s none of those,” I had said, looking at Pet curled up on the arm of the sofa, trying to figure out just what exactly it was. “Something different. A mammal. A small mammal that suddenly appeared on my doorstep. Can you imagine!” I tried to sound at once nonchalant and effusive, the way my mother approves.
       “For goodness’ sake! How fabulous! I can’t wait to meet it!” And my mother had laughed delightedly as she does.
       I had canceled for too long, though, and they were coming.
       The house wasn’t in terrible shape, but it had changed since they’d last seen it. I had done my best to clean up. I was still without water, though I had written down the names of several plumbers I had researched, the sheet of which was sitting by the telephone. I would probably call once they left, I would assure them. I just needed to pick up the phone. My urine was collecting in the upstairs toilet, though I did my best to use the toilets at work mornings and before coming home. I was only eating takeout, so the dirty dishes were minimal and stacked politely in the sink. For weeks, I just hadn’t gotten around to them. I lit a candle before their arrival. Lavender, which was meant to be calming. Why hadn’t I thought to light it before?
       I opened the door and there they were, wide-mouthed and smiling. My older sister is tall and slim, a yoga teacher and organic gardener, married to a skinny man who is a masseur. They take many trips around the world and, if I remembered correctly, had just returned from Namibia. She had on long flowing clothes and a necklace made out of wood and twine. My mother had always been a fashionista, “like a model,” she said someone had once told her, and she had on a wool jacket and slacks. She’d had her hair cut and styled recently, it seemed, and I noticed she had decided to go back to her lovely silver-gray with highlights, which made her look beautiful and wise. Her skin, as usual, was flawless, poreless and firm. I, on the other hand, had been taking a washcloth and soap to work, washing up in the bathroom there. I had developed pimples across my chin and forehead, and my hair was too oily. I had taken to chewing gum instead of brushing my teeth and could suddenly feel all that plaque against my tongue, wondered if my breath smelled. Yet I knew that if I could just figure out a routine with Pet that accommodated its surges in emotion, its needs, then everything would get back to normal again, including me.
       They took turns hugging me, my sister’s always tentative, as if she weren’t quite willing to give all of herself, my mother’s firm and exuberant, and then they reared back to look at me for a moment.
       “What have you been up to?” my sister asked half jokingly, half suspiciously. “You think you can just disappear?”
       “Here, some muffins.” My mother walked into the dining room and put a package on the table, the heels of her mid-ankle boots making a firm, confident sound against the floor. “And a latte.” She turned. “What are those?” She was then peering into my face, looking disapprovingly at my pimples.
       “I’ve been up to this!” I brushed her off somehow. I felt tremendously, unusually joyful as I jogged into the living room and returned with Pet, sitting regally in the cradle of my arms, looking out with its big eyes.
       “Ohmygoodness!” My sister immediately reached out to take it. “It’s adorable!”
       Pet let her, and my sister stroked and cuddled it.
       “But what is it?” she looked accusingly at me, as if I were hiding something from her.
       “I have no idea,” I laughed, feeling giddy, and covered my mouth because I don’t have the best smile.
       My mother took it, held it up to her face and gushed nonsense words. Pet seemed to be delighted. I hoped he would behave, just this once. It will be our little secret, I thought as I caught its eyes. Right, Pet?
       But as my mother led us into the living room, Pet against her chest, Pet began to fidget, and when my mother exclaimed into the room, “My!” Pet leaped from her arms and began to gnaw on the arm of the sofa, more casually than normal, yet still doing some damage.
       “Just a change, that’s all,” I replied, smiling but feeling a bit sweaty, leading the way to the sofa and loveseat, which were duct taped. “Simplifying.”
       Pet started gnawing quicker, started tearing up the leather at the arm and eating it.
       “This is interesting.” My sister was sitting on the sofa, running her hands along the tape. “I like it.”
       “And look how adorable that creature is, going to town on your sofa!” My mother settled down on the loveseat. She hadn’t bothered to take off her jacket and now started leisurely unbuttoning it.
       Had they noticed the scratches on the wall, the scars on my wrists and tops of my hands? Could they smell the urine from the upstairs toilet? Did they notice the water damage in the hallway, the water stains emerging from the cusp of the bathroom doorway? Would they notice anything?
       When they were settled, smiling at Pet’s destruction, while it was growing more energetic by the second, almost fully absconding into one of its tantrums, I felt a sudden urge of hopelessness and rebellion, anger, and I decided. I pushed up the sleeves of my sweater so I could show them my arms, pockmarked in thousandfold by Pet’s teeth; crisscrossed by overlapping, intersecting lines of dozens upon dozens of raised, white scars, an organic Jackson Pollock. All the way up to my armpits, onto the humps of my shoulders, onto the edge of my collarbones, discretely shooting up my neck.
       “Pet gives me these scars,” I said. “Not all the time.”
       Why was I so forthright, so honest? It had always been in my best interest to not be. Yet I felt like this was something they should know, my sister and my mother, because no one else did. That there was some compulsion in me, the root of which I don’t understand even today, to share some of my pain without having to admit to the fact of the word itself. That I had chosen to take in Pet, and even if I hadn’t chosen but felt instead that I was now forever linked to it out of duty and love and expectation and rightness, that I was still not quite sure about anything. Whether I deserved Pet or not. Whether I was capable of being adored or not, and what was adoration? Whether this was as good as it gets, my life. Whether I was being good or not; whether I had met expectations or not. Whether Pet was right for me or not, yet surely it was. That instead the question was meant to be the other way around.
       “Oh, aren’t those something!” my mother exclaimed as she looked at my arms; I held them out as if they were trophies a particularly humble child has been taught to feel too ashamed to show. “Make sure to keep them covered, though.” She quickly pinned me with a smile.
       “Love marks,” my sister said.
       “Love can hurt,” my mother patted my knee, gave it a little squeeze. Pet was going completely crazy then, running around like a miniature whirlwind, pooping and peeing, puffs of its hair occasionally erupting from the action like water from a blowhole, stopping momentarily to devour more of the sofa and the edges of the ottoman and side tables. So I did what I did those days when he was in a tantrum and I was just too tired to deal. I threw him outside into my small fenced-in yard. I grabbed and squeezed him and lobbed him out, quickly sliding the glass door closed before he could race back inside. But he had grown accustomed to this routine and didn’t want back inside, wouldn’t until he was done and good and ready to return to eat and sleep. My mother, sister, and I stood shoulder to shoulder then, looking out the windows at the backyard, and for the first time I think I really saw it.
       Pet had eaten and dug dozens of tunnels and holes into the small grassy yard. The ground was a heaving, boiling mess of dirt, roots, and overturned clumps of grass. When I had moved in several years ago, I had spent many weeks planting a beautiful variety of succulents along the grassless strip between lawn and fence. I had taken great pride and joy in those gorgeous plants; at the shapes of their thick leaves, their firm, soft buoyancy; how some were tipped with vicious-looking thorns; how others sent up to the sky from cradles of thorn-tipped leaves, unusual, long stems whose tips would erupt into astonishing flowers. And how all of that magnificence and variety took relatively little water and sun; how it was simply a matter of being connected to the earth. Pet had eaten through and upturned all of it; each plant now lay in various states of decay and position across the yard, in clumps in the grassless strip of dry, brown dirt. Each one looked to me, then, like little human bodies, some with legs splayed; others with broken necks, oddly angled heads; still others revealing miniature bones drying in the sun, black, soft flesh sinking into the ground.
       It’s absolutely destroyed, I thought as I stood there watching Pet enter one hole and erupt out of another a foot away, and again, and again; entering, tunneling, popping up into the air as if it had some force behind it.
       I wasn’t quite sure at first what they were; they had crept up so quietly and unprovoked, as if always having been there. They were tears. They felt crisp and sincere, refreshing even. It was my heart that felt heavy and uncomfortable, hiding inside. So I laid my hand on it and left it there.
       “Look at it go!” my sister said.
       “Such vitality!” my mother chirruped. “What a beautiful thing!”