By Elizabeth Brunazzi
The terrier found it before I did. He had started to play with it like a cat with a toy. I suppose it had just walked into the garage for the warmth and the black flies, so plentiful at that time of year, just before the first frost.
I don’t know whether the dog broke its front right arm, one of the ones like crabs’ pincers it uses to grab its prey. The appendage was folded up under it, and its long reedy body was turned on its side. It couldn’t right itself.
I remembered the one looking up at me from the white bathtub that year in Washington. It looked huge standing there, bright spring green in the white tub, a half a foot or so. Maybe it really was unusually large. This one seemed smaller, and I imagined it as older, too.
But the face was the same. The head and face and eyes that look so much the way we imagine extraterrestrial life. Somehow I think of these creatures, landing in bathtubs and garages, as the real ET’s, definite proof. An infinite number of life forms are out there, somewhere, coming and going, beyond our puny earth.
I decided it should have a dignified death and burial. I didn’t think of it really as giving it a fighting chance, as they say. I chose a plastic quart container as its chamber, a hospital room of sorts. I thought it would like the gentle, milky light through the translucent plastic, the cylindrical, tunnel shape. No right angles. No corners. I put it out under a huge Maple tree that was shedding its leaves, leaves big as plates, to die.
It turned out it was the night of the first frost but nowhere near a hard freeze. The sun was out, and it had already started to warm up when I took my coffee out and thought to check on it. It had turned itself upright but it looked quite stiff. I picked up a twig and slid it back and forth a few times. No response. No movement. For sure, it was dead, finally kicked off in the cold of the night. They say things just go to sleep in the cold. I picked up the container and took it back in the garage, put it on a shelf, to dispose of later, and forgot about it. I don’t know why I didn’t just dump it in the garbage container at the same time. It was a foot away from the shelf, and the washer and dryer.
When I went back down later to put in a load of laundry I glanced over at the shelf and the plastic container. It seemed to me the head was in a different position, that it was looking up. I waved my hand in front of it, outside the sepulcher. It lifted its spindly right back leg slightly. It was not dead, though undoubtedly near death, when I brought it in from the cold in the morning. The warmth had revived it. The injured pincer was still folded up at an odd angle to its body and turning yellow.
It had to eat. Everything has to eat. I thought I remembered that PMs ate only live prey. I decided to try some of the still freshly dead flies lying in such abundance along the window sills in my apartment. I scooped up three. I put one right in front of the PM’s head, and left a couple just outside the lip of the plastic tunnel, to tempt it forward and out. And I moistened a paper tissue, gently swiped it along its mouth, and left a trail of droplets leading to the flies. I imagined that it continued to look at me. It could see me. It knew I was trying to save it.
I checked it again, three times. The first time it had brought the fly up by its head, and the uninjured pincer. The injured, yellowing pincer seemed more correctly poised but useless. The water was gone, perhaps evaporated. I waved. It waved back. The second time it also lifted the right back leg it had lifted before, then the smaller, front leg. It seemed like progress.
PM had lived almost two days since I put it in the white plastic container and brought it in from the cold. The third time its head seemed slightly lower, but still erect, and the eyes a bit duller. The fly was still there by its head and green pincer. Uneaten. I took a spatula and tapped around it several times. At least it was still upright. It had not fallen over again. It was not on its back. The head still looked straight out of the cylinder, as if it could still see, what it had seen just before the end, just before the light failed completely, and everything went dark. It had seen me, for a time. We had made gestures to each other across time and evolution and species, across interstellar time. He is still there. Specimen, ornament, companion, teacher. The shell perhaps an image something like a photo or a hologram to remember him by. Maybe they did come to get him.
Elizabeth Brunazzi is a poet, fiction writer and translator. Her work has been published in reviews and anthologies in the US and France, including Mudfish, Clara Venus and Fulva Flava (Red Hand Press) Le Nouveau Recueil and La Traductiere. She was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. She is currently in Washington, D.C. where she will teach Creative Writing at George Washington University in the spring, 2009.