It was not dead but dying. They had been on the path for a mile, through snow bleating under their boots. They wore frozen air as halos. One walked a dog that nosed the rough, foraging icicles. One drank coffee from a mug. One was made jealous by the sipping. His cupboards were full of mugs with missing or mismatched lids and usable only as dribble cups. The aroma of coffee went ribboning by as they crunched along. All of them now condemned him quietly for all his Adam’s appling and all that promiscuous vapor, thick as medieval tapestries hung from clouds—hanging monogamously for Mr. Fucking Tidy Cabinets over here but not for anyone else—not even the damn dog, who would gladly trade any jake-ass hill of beans for a paw full of dash-and-go, that grey zipline taking chances with trees. Perhaps the squirrels chittered away their resentments by the time they got to that part? It was that part of the path that rose far above the road. It was that part that was high enough above the road that you could not hear the cars anymore. It was that part where you could look across the fence and power-line latticework, out across the road humming below, and you could hear the waterfall. All that was left was that part where everyone had to turn around and go back. Does anyone like that part?
Of course the dog smelled it first. Its owner was first to be horrified at the thought: fangs ripping giddily into it right there by the side of the path. And the bleating snow is such a precise documenter. And the dog did indeed go for it, seeing it lying there on an undisturbed pillow of snow, a dog offering. Its pink underbelly showed through its odalisque of sacrificial fur. The others noticed then too.
Their noticing came at that part in the conversation that is both awkward and profound. One had been telling about life and pain. He claimed to have found something in the telling that would make him see it all anew, as they seemed to in their frosted affirmations and woolen nods. It was then they all noticed. One pulled back hard on the leash. One spilled coffee. One laughed sneeringly at that. Another hung fire in his epiphany. All hastened forward, hatching algorithms with every step to calculate whether or not that small body—mammalian gray, cream, and ashes-to-ashes brown—was dead or alive. If dead then good. If dead, a correct silence is to be observed for the transformation before them of something once-living to something soon-dead. Flesh to fiction. But if dying, more was needed. Dying is dialogue, is it not?
It is and they know that it is because it was not dead but dying. There, by the side of the path, it stretched its little body as far as it could go, as if it had taken a nap and had been woken up by their approach but was still too sleepy to do its dash-and-go tango for the trees. So it moved its eyelids slowly instead. No blink is that overcranked. A sliver of frosted breath crawled out of its rotten blueberry lips. Had it seen those canines coming for it in that one, slow-mo, languid, half-closing eye? Because even the dog backed off after that blink, slow as old gods. Their mercurial herald: the last breath, a cone of frost. All of these things wrecked their wintery walk, so that only the crumbs of themselves were left scattered beside this dying on the path. There was no trace of blood, but noting the proximity to the road, they deduced an impact. And though they were only crumbs of themselves, they knew and they had to acknowledge that they knew, for the dying obey no metaphors. So it looked into their eyes in spite of the crumbs they thought themselves to be and that was enough. What else do dying eyes say? When you look into them, all you think is I’m sorry.
< originally published in Epiphany >