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by Steve Passey

The door is always opening and closing. Her kids, my kids, their friends. Kids coming and kids going. It’s so busy in here. I have to catch my breath, and she hers, before I can ask her what she wants for her birthday. She says,

“Weed and chocolate.”

I laugh and she laughs — we all laugh — then she says,

“No, seriously.”

She told me once, in a rare quiet moment, how her ex-husband brought home a puppy one day. It had worms, only one eye, and an undescended testicle. Two-thousand in veterinary bills for sure — if it lived. He brought it home to make him look good and because it cost nothing. The breeder knew what it would cost and he, a fool of a fool, cared nothing. From the moment he picked it up, it was her problem, and up to her to deal with the dog, the kids, and the money. No one had any money so she, a dog lover, a woman so kind that not even the junkies sleeping on the train-station platform would steal from her, she made him take it back.

Her kids bit their lips, not really understanding how she couldn’t just fix that puppy up too.

He made a great display of his annoyance at her then shrugged them all off. Fifteen minutes later he made a rolling stop at an intersection while making a right hand turn. He reached across to open the passenger door with his right hand and then, with the same hand, dropped the puppy out into the gutter, where it rolled over and righted itself. It sat up, blinked, and no one ever saw it again.

He drove away, bought some beer, and came home spitting and profane. At one in the morning the neighbors called the police.

She wonders if the kids even remember. She hopes they don’t, but then she hopes they do, because that is what it was like. Back and forth she hopes.

So yes, I think we can do this. It doesn’t have to be her birthday. The pleasure of small vices is in the incremental abatement of sadness, for even if a thing is in the past, it has happened and is, in a way, always happening. Perpetually and hand-in-hand come the trespasses of useless men and the nihilism of nature, running both forward and backwards to us. Always they come. But we can go into the garage and sit on lawn chairs with some Purple Kush and the dark chocolate she likes, and for sure some red wine too. We’ll drink it half-and-half with Sprite, like the old Portuguese people do in summer when the heat scours the Algarve and it’s too hot for even the petegos to fight, and we’ll ease on into the cool of the evening and then into the balm of sleep and we’ll not even need to dream.

Steve Passey is from Southern Alberta. He is the author of the short story collection Forty-Five Minutes of Unstoppable Rock (Tortoise Books) and the chapbook The Coachella Madrigals (Luminous Press). His fiction and poetry has appeared in more than forty journals and anthologies both print and electronic all over the world.