She ran to the bathroom, banding her hair into a short tail, using the mirror to pin the loose ends into place. Damn it. It’s three minutes until noon. Grabbing the pink toothbrush from the cup, she scrubbed the knotty film of cotton batting wrapped around her teeth, spitting into the sink. 

Fuck fuck fuck. Why am I’m so fucking hungry all of a sudden? she thought. Did I even eat today? She swiped a jar of peanut butter from the cupboard, on her way through the kitchen, plucking a small silver spoon from the drawer, tarnished and streaked from the dishwasher. Her mom was not happy about that. I ain’t got time for that shit, hand washing silver! she told her. And I’m not saving ‘the good stuff’ for a rainy day. I could be dead by then! 

Jules believed in the now. She believed in eating off the china and using the silver her mother insisted she have, ‘Just in case,’ she said as she unpacked it in Jules’ apartment cupboards. If Jules owned any diamonds (she didn’t), she’d wear them everyday too for no reason. She made it past forty and wasn’t dead. In her mind, that was reason enough. 

Sitting down at her laptop, jamming the spoon into the peanut butter, and shoving it in her mouth, she saw it was two minutes past noon. Late, but I’m close. Jesus, I still have my pajamas on. God, she thinks to herself, This must be how single parents feel. Completely strung out, as frayed as a peel of  dried bark, severed by a lightening bolt. Like every goddamn day. And for years at a time. Decades even! 

Oh, don’t worry, her mom said. You’ll never have kids. You’re not even married at this point, and you’re already…30…so…Well, I mean, she said laughing, stroking Jules hair with affection, or condescension, Jules was never sure, You can barely take care of yourself after all! 

She had resented the rebuff then, but lately had wondered. Maybe her mom was right all along. In her defense, Jules thought, their lives had been very different. How could either of them really know what it was like for the other person? The fact was, her mom grew up like a prized Persian cat in an upper class British family, and Jules’ own childhood in Woodstock, Vermont was more like the actual event in New York State long before she was even born. She grew up roaming the neighbourhood like an untethered dog, free to go where she wished, and she did. 

She was sure her mother regretted buying the pink bike with the tassels on the handlebars, Jules ‘freedom ride,’ but then again, Jules’ mom resented her father for dragging her to that God-forsaken countryside up the north in the first place, where etiquette was not recognised, let alone prized. Her string of pearls worn every day was all for nothing. As a teenager, whenever Jules felt particularly prickly towards her mother, she’d spit, “How are we even related? Did you take pity on the poor, unwed mother, your age, who followed you around, cleaning up after you in your own house? Was that it?”

Her mother would shake her head and cluck at these accusations, wondering how indeed did this anomaly spring from her loins? This unkept, wild child of hers, unmoored like a sailboat thrashing on the high seas. She kept trying to tame her daughter’s edges, but this was exactly how Jules liked it. Reckless, her mother thought. 

Swallowing a spoonful of peanut butter, Jules counted. Day five. The foster dog had lived with her for only five days. Now her own badinga had a fat shadow that following it around. Popper was black, swirled with patches of merle, short pointy ears on a squarish head. His neck was so cresty he resembled a foundered Shetland pony, green at the gills from hoovering his own weight in spring grass. His torso, wide like a fishing boat, looked as if he had swallowed a baby buffalo whole in a single bite, bulging like a squirrel’s cheek hiding a nut for a cold winter’s day. It was as if the buffalo’s thick coat oozed out of his every pore, big tufts of curly hair busting through his own puffer of down.

Finding  black and grey pinwheels all over the floor reminded Jules of of her last boyfriend’s beard, always shedding. Jules cracked herself up, calling them his “facial pubes,” as she held the  the scraggly strands by their tips, waving them in his face, accusingly. Isn’t this just perfect, thought Jules. I get rid of the boyfriend, only to have the canine version of him land on my doorstep. Oh, the irony of it all! She shook her head at the thought.

Popper had whined non-stop since arriving. He whined whether she moved around her apartment or was planted on the couch reading a book. He whined whether he was sitting himself, or lying flat, or walking around the neighbourhood block. Jules surmised, he even whined in his sleep, if it qualified as that. She just knew her own consumption of alcohol and edibles had tripled since Popper moved in. 

Aptly named, she thought. That’s all I’ve done since ‘Popper’ arrived is ‘pop’ edibles, swishing them down with cheap gin.

She couldn’t help but imagine prisoners of war tortured like this, their minds smashed into a million pieces, the dog’s whine a hammer, electric with anxiety and confusion, clacking its nails on the floor at their heels, without pause. 

Holy fuck. I’m exhausted, she conceded. Now I’m plugged up, too, she thought, getting pissed with herself. The fucking dog has plugged me up like a turd jammed in the P-Trap where the big intestine squeezes the hand of its mini-me. I can’t write here…I can’t write there…I got to be here…then I got to be there…but then I’ve got to get back again. Like pronto. Or there is. literally. piss. to. pay.

She heard her mother’s voice in her ear, wagging her finger. You have to think before you act, Jules! Being impulsive will get you in trouble, maybe A LOT of trouble one day. THINK! You’ve got to think, Jules! You can’t just do what you, when you want! But Jules, born headstrong and stubborn like a mule, had done almost exactly that. Rules, she thought, were imaginary lines, like pasture fences, that invited crossing. Mostly she got away with it, unscathed. Every now and then, she didn’t. 

It could be worse, Jules thought,her mind wandering,nodding on queue, Pavlovian, at the appropriate times in the zoom meeting. God, why do I say that? Why is this even a thing? Who coined this bullshit platitude? It’s about as useful as applying buttercream frosting to a stab wound. 

‘It could be worse.’

Yeah, she thought. It could. Once, it had been worse than this whining dog underfoot. Jules had a terrier with such bad separation anxiety, he chewed a chunk out of the steering wheel, and severed a couple of seat belts while he was at it.

In her parent’s car. 

While they were at church.

That time, her parents words lapped over one another, slashing across the phone line, hurling threats with spitballs of criticism about all of her life choices up until then. That’s how these things went. One isolated setback became proof of everything, of her, like examining a bug under a magnifying glass, ultimately setting fire to it. Her mother like to say, ‘One time is a mistake. More than once is a habit.’ Over time she edited it to add, ‘And habits are what lifetimes are made of.

And that fucking crazy dog. What a nutter. The fact was, Jules knew that dog was just like her, hopping fences and crossing lines. He had to be free. Jules snuck another spoonful of peanut butter out of the camera’s view. Leaning under her desk, she patted Popper, her shadow, on the top of his head.  

2 thoughts on “SHADOWS

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