hen she opens the door her uncle is there. “Your doorbell’s broken,” he says, like it hasn’t been more than five years since the last time she saw him.
“I don’t have a doorbell."
“You really should get that looked at,” he says, pushing past her. She suddenly remembers the dishes piled everywhere, the laundry on the floor, the stains on the carpet. And then she remembers it isn’t the kind of thing he’d notice anyway. It’s all too obvious.
He stands in her front hallway, hands behind his back, bouncing on his toes. Wrapped in his grey trenchcoat like he hasn’t aged a day. It’s all so familiar that she reaches up to tug on her pigtails, before realizing she hacked them off years ago.
“How’s retirement?”She’s surprised the words come out as an attack.
He looks at her, as if the words she’s said have no meaning. “I’m always on duty.” Then he points at a photograph on the wall. “That man looks just like me.”
It was a picture of all of them with the Chief back when they were all working together. “That is you.”
“Don’t you think I know who I am?” He harrumphs a bit, trying to figure out if he should be offended.
There are pale shapes on the wallpaper where other frames had lived for years. The photos and degrees and awards, fellowships and doctorates. She’s torn it all down, one at a time. Like some kind of striptease of memory. This was the last thing left. One photograph. She doesn’t have the heart to take it down.
He’s still staring at the photo. “You were brilliant.” And his tone’s so soft she can’t quite be sure he’s talking about himself, or her.
“I’ll make some tea.”
“I can’t stay,” he says, wheeling toward the door and heading back outside.
She chases him down the front walk, weeds poking out from between the flagstones. Even now, as an adult, she has a tough time keeping up with his long strides.
The minivan is parked on the lawn. The red paint trim looks hopelessly dated, but at least it matches the rust spots. He’s rammed through her mailbox, a pile of flyers and magazines sprayed out over the lawn like a flock of dead birds.
He goes around to the trunk of the van. He starts fumbling through pockets. “Where did I put my—?”
“I’m sorry I never called,” she says, feeling guilty and angry at her guilt at the same time. He’s on his hands and knees searching in the grass. “I just…”
And she leaves it there. I just didn’t think you’d notice. And he doesn’t. He never did.
“Go go keychain!” he says, jumping to his feet and jabbing one finger in the air. They both wait several long moments. Nothing happens.
He kicks the bumper and the trunk opens with a puff of air.
Inside is an orange shape. Fur. Long ears. Stretched out stiff. There’s not even a smell. It takes her a moment to recognize it.
“He won’t wake up,” her uncle says.
Not it. Him. “No.”
“You were brilliant,” he says, turning to her. His words are so sincere this time, they sound like they’re welling up from her own mangled heart. You were. She sits down on the lawn.
He turns back to the dog. “Maybe you can wake him?”
“No.” She lies back in the grass, so long she almost disappears.
“Wowsers,” he says, bouncing on his toes again. “He must be really tired.”
She nods. The smell of earth. They’d bury him here. She just needs to rest awhile first.
Remember when you were a minipop, and you saw that film, you know, the one you loved that never had a sequel? Well, let's say it did. And it was just like you imagined it, only a little bit worse.