by Joseph Nieves
He doesn’t know where they’ve come from, but they litter the laminate wood floor in the kitchen. Before he realizes what they are, a few of them burst under his feet, become a paste. The urge to vomit compels him toward the kitchen sink, his feet reigning effortless disaster on more writhing bodies. The response is automatic. It happens before he can think of the other times, before the words “not again” flit across his thoughts.
Going backward, the other times include:
Last year, when his ex had found a bowl of yellow, congealed milk under his side of the bed, a green ring clinging to a spoon where it disappeared beneath the surface. This one she placed on his pillow before packing a bag and leaving their apartment for good. He washed the bedding, but for days found dead ones in the folds of his bedsheets, hardened like little grains of rice.
Before that, she found a coffee mug in a shoebox in the closet, told him she really couldn’t go through this again. He promised. But he’d promised after the half-eaten plastic tub of microwave chicken pesto penne on the nightstand, too.
Each time, he told himself he would get to it. He didn’t want her to clean up after him. But he gets distracted. He forgets things. And then he avoids them. He leaves the cap off the tooth paste, the milk on the counter. He walks away, lying to himself. He knows what will happen.
The first time was another life, a world with two parents, its axis shifting. He was seventeen. The dog, a rottweiler, had been thirteen. When the dog died, he wrapped it in an old blanket and waited.
Your dad will take care of it when he gets home, his mother said from the quiet of her private, ongoing desolation. His father stopped coming home weeks ago.
Days passed. The front door did not open. Outside the window, dark clouds gathered and spread on their side of the mountains. He went outside to find the air thick with the approaching monsoon. The lemon tree was dark and green and dormant, and the smell of the dog made his stomach drop. Flies gathered on the blanket, and as he approached, a hand over his mouth, he found them. Not on the blanket but emerging from the open end of the bundle. He had grown up with this dog. He had no fear of it the way other people did. He had watched the way other people crossed the street when his father walked him through the neighborhood, afraid of being torn to shreds by their family pet. A different kind of dread filled him for the first time, watching the first drops of rain fall and seep into the blanket.
He saw how easy it was for the smallest things to destroy you.