by Susanna Space

She lay still like they do in the sun, but no twitch in the tail. Just a bump of the tire in the formless morning. Maybe a raven, I thought, the way two dark halves leaped in the rearview. Something about the anchored center, though, was off and I turned.

Cars churned past, burnt-fuel smell stamping holes in the cold black morning. A car slowed, a parka-swaddled woman crouched. Alive she said from behind silver hair. Might’ve been the first word she said that day, the first I heard and it was in my hands already, that sweater. A good label, hardly worn.

Together we placed the small body there, limp parcel beside my grocery bags. You are good to be here. Was that what she said? I was rounding the corner slowly now so as not to cause more damage, not to further disturb the tiny organs and veins, intestines popped open like honeysticks. I answered her growly moans, fighting the fuzzy hum of my Discount Tire treads, that good deal gone criminal.

And there it was, gray building in thin light. I had only ever driven past the place. Having lost faith in my hands I asked for help from a black-haired girl who put down her coffee cup. Puff of breath, she lifted that limp, mewing swaddle beneath the pinked sky.

Oh you are good the lipstick receptionist breathed, not to let her die in the road. Then the vet, her white teeth, papers rustling against the coffee machine shudder. There were choices. There were things she could do. Because soon the vet said. The pain of dying. All that unless.

The pines’ soft crowns blushed outside the windows. The coffee smell, my blinded dawn, that holy glow. And I said really what are the chances?

The pain will start soon she said. And right then I thought of my desk, lights still off that refuge.

And can I be honest the vet left to administer the shots, the receptionist’s blue eyes on mine, these people let their animals out with the coyotes the traffic she said, no collar no nothing. And I took it, absolution wedged between glucosamine pills and the Heartgard display.

Now it was up to the Humane Society, the government, applications and subsidies. As if I had a right. I was still making sense of the bump in the road, the visual. Still thinking about that sweater, my desk, the hushed keyboard under my fingertips as I left the building.

The sky had thrown off its tenderness. The steering wheel was so cold. I got in early even then.

Driving home at dusk I noted the fixed points: stop sign, yellow stripe, cleft curb. Counted the low roofs trailing down to the dry riverbed, black-barred windows, limp spectra of browns in the dying light. No collar no chip no nothing.

The sun withdrew its final strip of gold, my car exhaled its toxic cloud. I killed the engine, unlocked the door, lit a fire. Fell asleep to the piñon snap, hush of flames, smoke ascending the blackened chimney, passageway to the sky, evening’s last departure.