Prologue: Summer 1967
Letting Rena die was the most horrible thing Maggie had ever done, and she had only
turned twelve the month before. Letting her die was way worse than letting her baby
brother fall off the bed seven years ago when the Avon lady came to visit. And
worse than last spring when Mama caught her at the incubator shaking that deformed
chick by its leg, jerking it back and forth so hard it’s a wonder the leg
didn’t twist right off. Maggie despised that chick, wanted it to die, but
her mother scooped it up. “Poor little thing!” she murmured. Slapping
Maggie’s arm, she yelled at her never to be cruel to animals. “Because
they’re helpless! And you’re bigger than they are.” Indignant,
she said how would you like it if somebody did you that way. Then she
told her to go outside and cut a switch. God in heaven, what would Mama do to her
She squatted in the shed beside their beloved Rena, who lay in the dirt and withered
grass of the floor, her body bloated. Hard to tell she was a poodle. Her hair was
shaved close to help keep her cooler. Even in the stifling dimness, Maggie saw her
tongue squished out between clenched teeth. Her lips were dry. Nearby was the water
pan, covered inside by a white film. Merciless, the heat pressed down and she felt
she couldn’t breathe much longer herself.
Poor Rena! How long since Maggie had filled the pan? A day? Two days? And Mama would
demand to know. “For heaven’s sake! Why didn’t you give that poor
dog some water?” Maggie knew she could only look down and whisper, “I
don’t know, I must have forgot.” And then Mama would yell, “How
can you be so stupid!”
If only she could remember. Was it Monday or Tuesday Mama told her to lock
Rena in the shed? Just for a few days to keep her away from the other dogs while
she was in heat. And while Mama arranged for a purebred stud. She wanted all her
dogs purebred so she could register them with the AKC like she did Rena. People
would pay more for those puppies.
Oh Rena, why did I kill you? I didn’t mean to—you were my
Epilogue: Fall 2012
After Daddy’s funeral, the four of them gathered around the dining-room table.
Each hesitated to sit in the old man’s chair. Though Maggie was tempted to
claim it as the oldest child, she decided it might not feel right to her siblings.
After all, she had been living clear across the continent for a decade now.
Nearly ten years gone since Mama had passed away on a cold day in February, and here
they were again, hung over from lack of sleep and stunned by grief. To distract
themselves, they began trading stories and soon slipped back to childhood. Jay’s
enthusiasm for embellishment and his skill at creating sound effects got them all
laughing in no time. One subject led to another, with something reminding her of Rena,
and she described how she found the body in the shed, the guilt she still carried,
and how Mama went to her grave downright disheartened with her firstborn.
Her siblings looked at each other in silence. Nate reached over sideways, gave her an
awkward hug. “You didn’t kill her,” he said, his voice solemn in a
Maggie’s sister, a mother herself, elaborated. “We were playing in the
barn, mixing anti-freeze with other stuff—which shouldn’t have been where
kids could reach them anyway.”
Jay added, “We put the pan in the shed to see if she would taste it. And then we
forgot to take it out. The white coating was chemical residue.”
The heat of the muggy old shed had rushed back, flushing Maggie’s face and
suffocating her once again. How could they sit there, breathing easy while
“For heaven’s sake, that was forty years ago! That’s water long gone
under the bridge.”
But her grief swelled and swelled, as black and monstrous as Rena’s tongue.
—A version of the prologue entitled “Parched” was published in the
20-year retrospective issue of Bricolage (Volume 20, Fall 2003), University
has served as copy editor and webmaster for Serving House Journal
since its inception in 2010. She is the winner of an Eric Hoffer Best
New Writing Editor’s Choice Award for nonfiction and a two-time nominee
for the Pushcart Prize in nonfiction.
Her short fiction and essays have appeared in Firstdraft, Bricolage, and
Serving House Journal, as well as the anthologies, Best New Writing
2007 and Winter Tales II: Women on the Art of Aging.
She and her husband Gary Gibbons have designed and built custom websites as a team
for eight years. They also share avid interests in sci-fi movies, flower gardens, and
keeping honey bees in the backyard.
Home from work,
Kelley greets Roxy,
her canine best buddy
was an aspiring artist and writer. A punster and jokester. An opus-in-progress
who made her exit as a brilliant epigram rather than the epic poem her mother
hoped she would become.
Three weeks after Kelley’s 31st birthday, an extra, previously undetected
electrical pathway in her heart disrupted her cardiac rhythm one last time—
triggering symptoms that had been treated as panic attacks for years, and causing
her sudden collapse.
Much of the writing and artwork that Kelley produced has been lost as well. SHJ is
proud to honor her potential by publishing two of the pieces that remain.
[You can learn more about her in
“The Fragrance of Levity,” written in memoriam.]