The Kindness of Animals

Photo by Quang Nguyen Vinh on

by James Cihlar 

issue 63

THE LIEUTENANT ADJUSTS THE BADGE OF THE ACTOR, touching his shoulder with care, while Esther Williams stands idly by, superfluous. They are making a motion picture on an island here with you, Xavier Cugat tells the audience at the Royal Aloha Hotel. A teacup Chihuahua dances in the palm of his hand, dressed in a feathered tutu. 
               My mother must have seen this movie. If she were alive, I bet she would say yes to all it purports, the saturated colors of the forties— mauve, chartreuse, ochre— the quantum physics of Cyd Charisse’s hairdo, the cha cha cha of Cugie’s big band. 
              My mother’s first pet after the divorce was a Chihuahua she named Pepe. He was a newly single gal’s extravagance. She got him before she knew she’d be saddled with five kids dumped on her by her ex. Pepe was a sensitive dog, with bugged-out eyes and tear-stained cheeks, but he adapted well to children. Once when I sat on the floor crying over a hurt finger, Pepe walked over and curled up on my lap. 
              As my sisters and I came home from school one day, he slipped out the front door. He dashed into the street and was hit by a car. We buried his stilled body in the backyard. I feel morose when he tells me adios, the blonde in gold sequins sings while leaning against the piano.
              After Mom came home from work, she dug him up and cradled him in her arms like a former self. He wasn’t killed by the car, she said, you suffocated him when you buried him. I don’t know how she knew that. We all have a foolish five minutes when we make mistakes, Jimmy Durante says to Peter Lawford.  
              Years later, newly out, I walked downtown with my queer friends, a passing carful of my former coworkers doing double-takes. I liked how my friend Tim absentmindedly traced the line of Alan’s shoulder blades with two fingers. Lieutenant, look, if it’ll make you happy, I’ll dance with you, Durante says to Lawford in the coppery glow of a candlelit table at the Royal Aloha. I didn’t really love my first boyfriend, who was kind of a jackass, but he was the best I could do in a rural college-town. I used to think I regretted that whole period, but now I know we don’t live long. 
             Say yes to the dog wagging his body with his tail. Say yes to the hound’s tooth pattern of moonlight on the surface of the hotel pool, the lithe forms of two movie stars swimming in the corner. Say yes to what comes after. When my mother calmed down, my sisters and I carried the dog’s corpse wrapped in a towel back to the grave and buried it, like everything we’d ever love.