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"The Space of the Moment", short story excerpt

Wednesday 7/8/20

“There’s no such thing as a fisher cat,” our boy Ben says to me from time to time, as if I’ve forgotten, which I never do. “They’re actually called fishers,” he’ll add, “just like there are only jellies, no jellyfish, because jellyfish aren’t fish.”


We have a birdbath by the garage, and though it’s illegal in our town—on account of fishers occasionally eviscerating outdoor cats—I let Ben leave food scraps in the birdbath some evenings.


It’s a general inducement for fishers to come by, but we only get one. He visits late at night, when he visits at all. Something has bitten his leg, or it got caught in a beaver trap at one of the ponds where the beavers erect their labyrinthine dams, causing a whole row of nearby houses to flood. Then it’s okay to kill the beavers. The men hit them in the heads with a bat when they’re stuck in the trap, having gnawed away at a leg to get free without making it entirely through. Not all devotion will be enough. Especially if you’re on the clock.


But this fisher got out. That’s what I tell Ben. Nothing would dare take on our fisher. We have an infrared light above the porch. You can turn it on and see the animals at the bird bath and they won’t run away, as if it is the manner of light, rather than the plain presence of light, that feeds their concern.


Ben’s like my brother Ned. When Ned disapproved of something you were going to say—because he had a good idea what was coming out of your mouth next—he’d click his tongue before he started his sentence. Only when he wasn’t being serious. No click other times. Ben makes the same noise, but not when he’s joking—when he wants me to be okay. I’m not sure how much I thought about wanting my mother to be okay when I was seven-years-old. I remember a conversation we had outside my school. It was the end of the academic year. She picked me up on the last day. I think I stayed after because I didn’t want to go. The other kids were keen to dive headlong into the big, open, ringing chords of summer, had already begun. I would have told you I loved my teachers. They talked about books with me, and animals, and the fact is, you could have been a pretty bad person as a teacher, but if you talked about books and animals with me, I probably would have said that I loved you. Not to you. But to someone like my parents. “I love my teachers,” was something I repeated a lot.


My mom bought me these Return of the Jedi pencils, even though Return of the Jedi wasn’t going to come out for another year or two. But they had these pencils. Red and black, Darth and Luke fighting, and they just told you they were going to fight again, big light saber duel. That was so crazy in my view. She gave them to me in the car that day, kind of a “hey, welcome to summer, I hope you’ll enjoy doing your drawings and maybe find some time to hang with your mom” sort of deal. I made her explain it again, that you could get these pencils for this thing that hadn’t happened yet, wasn’t close to happening. I don’t think she thought about the pencils too much. The movie portion. She would’ve have just known that I wanted to write and draw. I told her—and I was as serious, I think, as I had ever been—that my focus would be on drawing animals that summer. Like my brother. Ned drew a lot of animals. They were good. He drew crayfish, which is why I caught them for him with my friends in the brook behind our house. Crayfish were hard to get right. The ones that died were easier to draw, he said. You could position them anyway you wanted. I was happy he could draw them better—that was important to Ned—but also sad that the crayfish could be positioned, given what that meant.


“Can I go on a hike with Uncle Ned?” Ben would ask when Ned came to stay with us. He seemed strong when he did. “Yes, he’s looking fit, healthy, his spirits are improving,” my husband Aaron said in bed at night. “The boy is good for him.” Aaron never called Ben “the boy” any other time. It was folksy and rustic. Like he had a guest spot on Little House on the Prairie, complete with thematic undercurrent that if you lifted some hay bales in the barn—we didn’t have a barn—you’d toughen up not only your body and your mind, but your state. Which is everything. The state you are in.