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Night Calls

by Robin Bissett

Tanya and I could never keep clean for long. It was late June when her cattle dog Herc escaped from home. We stirred up dust running along his favorite neighborhood routes and hollering his name. Every few blocks, we stopped to breathe, the cat-like screams of the wandering neighborhood peacocks rattling inside our bony chests.

While we were running, her long legs poured out over the dirt, like marks of a language I didn’t understand. I watched her, the way she took to the wind, and how the earth seemed to swell beneath her feet. It was during one of these stretches when I couldn’t look away that I tripped on a limestone rock, stumbled behind, and fell hard on my knees.

Then, Tanya was there. I wanted to cry because she must have heard me go down. She placed her palm on my forehead, and I wanted to cry even more. She looked me in the eye as she put her lips to my torn-up knee, her spit on my blood. We didn’t speak, but I grew flush and I felt better. I knew that if I had the choice, I would fall again.

We didn’t find Herc. Instead, we walked slowly on the way back to her house, our arms swinging side by side, rotating in sloppy circles but never touching. We were silent in our understanding, aware that something had changed.

When at last Herc returned home later that night with the shiny, empty body of a peacock in tow, we dragged him inside by his collar and locked him in his kennel, where he whimpered and quivered for hours. There were thorny sandburs stuck to his coat and buried in his belly and skinny front legs. “Bad dog, bad dog!” we clucked our tongues at him, avoiding each other’s gaze.

Later that night, we dug a grave for the dead bird in Tanya’s backyard. The peacock’s glossy turquoise and green feathers were crooked and sharp, poking into the brown dirt. Circular eyes ran along the top of the bird’s crumpled feather train, watching us as we worked. Tears leaked down Tanya’s face, leaving long streaks through the grime we wore like second skins.

Tanya, Herc, and those birds are gone. I look her up online sometimes, jump across the Facebook albums she has named by month and year. Tanya’s in love with a man with thinning hair and an ashen complexion. She is a dental hygienist. I, too, am far from home now, in a new city of my own. But if ever asked about my youth that is what I remember first: Tanya and those eternal dirt roads. I can still hear the ghostly evening songs of the peacocks, who cried out in the fading twilight as we ran, searching for what we had lost.

Robin Bissett is a writer, editor, and teaching artist from West Texas. She is an alumna of the University of Iowa's International Writing Program Summer Institute and a first-year fiction MFA candidate at the University of Montana where she serves as the Online Managing Editor of CutBank.


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