Some people were screaming out on the street. I woke up
thinking: death. But it was
just three girls, yelling for what
seemed to be no reason. They were young, in uniforms—dark
sweaters, dark kilts, which looked darker against the pale,
bleached sidewalk, scattered with newly turned leaves.
From the window, in the space between where I stood looking
down, and where the girls walked, crying out, a fleet of blue
jays flew through the air, their bright cobalt wings
through the city’s dull scrim of gray. I wondered what to make
of this: the birds flying, the girls screaming, the fallen leaves
of the newly planted trees, stuck into cement with no hope of
growing. How did these trees in the park grow so large? I
wondered the other day while walking under them. How
deep are the roots and do they weaken the train tunnels below?
The trains fly by underground, imperceptible, except for their
sound and scent, rising up from the metal grates, where I saw
a group of children drop pennies onto the shadowy tracks below.
The act amused their mothers and agonized a whining dog, lashed
to a stroller by a leash. I wondered what our dog would have
done if he were here: lie close, most likely, staying watchful,
making certain no harm could come to anyone. Usually, no
harm came from wondering about him—only joy. But not
now—not anymore, for he is gone—just the other day, put
to sleep, which is the strangest phrase for the thing that happens
when the spirit leaves the animal’s body and flies…where?
This is my question: Where did he go? He left behind his
toy. Where did those blue jays end up? In the trees hung
with shredded plastic bags? And those girls? That, I know:
they went underground, taking the stairs two at a time to the dark
snake of the train that coils below us. Above the trees in the park,
the sky broke apart, the pure blue paired with ominous autumn
clouds, fat as the jackets everyone wears while waiting in line
outside the Cathedral, clutching their pets, eager to take their place
in their pew, from which they rise, bearing their beasts up to the altar
to be blessed. It happens every fall—I’ve seen cats in the chapels,
bright birds on the shoulders of the clergy, an elephant lumbering
around the apse. We never got to bring our dog. There wasn’t time,
or chance. Or hope. In all honesty, it wouldn’t have helped, born
as he’d been with some hidden flaw: destined to die too early,
unfairly. Or, actually, not die: sleep.
My parents that said he’d
carried his favorite toy into the room where it was done…
Where he was done in. But again: by what? And why?
We will always ask these questions, entertain every empty
ambiguity, comforted only by the few acts of mercy the world
affords us—like the body’s ability to sleep in such times, and
wake, as I did, to the girls on the street, who, it should be said,
were laughing. Laughing. I had been dreaming of our dog’s yellow
eyes, stalwart as embers; his lion-like paws, crossed, at rest. I had
not yet seen those birds—that welcome distraction of blue. No.
The girls woke me with their joy, even though my heart was broken,
wondering where our dog’s soul had gone, convinced that he was
lost—it was the one thing I knew for certain. He had to be lost. Because
I was—we all were—and, unfailingly loyal, he used to follow us
© by Nathaniel