The sounds in the veterinarian’s office come alive. A Schnauzer puppy whimpers in the lap of a young woman. A European shorthair hisses from a soft-sided carrier. I’ve been in a lot of pain lately—but my human family needs me—so I put on a brave face and wagged my tail one last time. The entire pack is here with me today. The little one, Jenny, gives me a long hug, and I feel tiny tears fall on the back of my neck. The needle prick burns my leg momentarily before I fall asleep, staring into Jenny’s loving eyes.
Grace was born 21 years ago and is legally old enough to buy an adult beverage today. She graduated from high school, earned a scholarship, and is in her junior year of college. She’s already experienced her first kiss, her first love, and her first heartbreak. Raised by a loving mother and a man who treated her as his own, Grace is thankful for the blessings in life. Still, her birthday celebration won’t be that of a typical 21-year-old but a solemn remembrance of the father she never met—a firefighter who perished on the darkest day in American history.
Marcia smiles at the line of customers waiting to enter Marcia’s Murder Mysteries Dinner Show. Enthusiastic reviews exclaimed, “Very realistic show!” and “Delicious stew!” But before her recent idea, Marcia struggled to keep the lights on.
Today, business is booming. Besides, Marcia figures she’s providing a valuable service to the community. After all, New York City has the largest homeless population in the United States, according to HUD. Billing six shows Friday through Sunday, years could pass before she ran out of fresh bodies. Not to mention, her customers weren’t the only ones acquiring a taste for the savory stew.
The fire consumes wood like a hungry bear awakened from hibernation. The intensity of the heat causes me to recoil from its scorching anger. A crackle and pop break the evening silence; the ravenous inferno finds sustenance in its path. Room to room, floor to floor—nothing—and no one—is safe from its destruction. My wife, kneeling in the front yard of the home where we reared our children, watches history reduced to a pile of rubble and ash. I wipe tears from her cheeks and wrap her in my embrace, trying to remember when the kids visited last.
A 1950s pickup approached four ornate dining chairs alongside a rural road. Red velvet cushions accented elaborately carved legs. But the backs were too skinny, the seats too wide. The wood was stained slightly too dark, dulling the red fabric. A drizzle began as the chairs loitered along the road instead of gracing the fine dining room they seemed meant to inhabit. A block-letter sign leaned against the chairs: “FREE” in foot-high red marker. How long had they waited? Tomorrow morning when the sun rises, they would begin to smell and rot. The truck’s brake lights flickered, then sped away.
Ant wheeled his oxygen tank into the recreation room of the Palm Valley Assisted Living Facility. A television blared from the wall, “Human remains were found in Lake Mead this morning. Police believe the remains are that of a man who died from a gunshot wound in the mid-1970s.” He chuckled, recalling how difficult it was to get Vincenzo’s legs to fit into the 55-gallon drum. An orderly appeared in the doorway with a dark-haired woman.
“Mr. Russo, your daughter is here to see you.”
As he’d done since the lake started to recede, Ant pretended not to recognize Sofia.
I sat in the boarding area, chewing on a breakfast biscuit before my flight. A young man wearing a ballcap backward said, “Thank you for being a pilot. I’m proud of you,” and disappeared. My “thank you” between bites was unsuccessful. I found “Chance” at another gate and thanked him for his kind words.
“My dad was a police officer and took his own life,” he said. “You never know if your words may make a difference to someone.”
We took a selfie and said goodbye.
“Maybe I’ll see you again in this life,” Chance said as I walked away.