or, Mikey’s Last Night
I’m scared now.
Everyone is scared now — they’re scared of me because of something I did, and now they look at me with new eyes, and I’ve caught their fear the way I’ve caught their scent. I can’t hear Little Little crying anymore, but that’s because Big Lady and Little Little are gone. But I know that Little Little is crying, somewhere, and it’s because of what I did, and the memory of her crying is breaking my heart. And breaking my heart, too, is Old Lady, who is sitting on the fluffy bed and weeping. I love Old Lady; she gives me treats and rubs my belly and grooms my fur, which I love even though I pretend it kills me. And now the Old Lady is weeping for what I did, and that is killing me. I love the Old Lady, I have loved her my whole life, and now she is weeping because of me.
I can’t remember.
I don’t know what Little Little did that brought on the burning moment. Maybe she didn’t do anything. Maybe this was just something inside of me. Maybe it’s always been waiting to get out. Everything’s been so jumbled lately. Nothing’s been the same since the Big Ride. Patty and I love to ride, to get out into the world and see it rolling past the windows like magic. But this Ride was different, so long, so long. After a while it seemed like we had lived our whole lives in the car, escaping only briefly each day on the leash, jetting outside to do our business and then back, until that night’s motel and the tomorrow’s ride. And when the Big Ride was over, we were somewhere else, not home, not in our usual world. Somewhere big and open and dry.
We never went home again.
I don’t know why, but Old Lady took us away from Loud Old Man — which was no loss at all — but she didn’t go home. She took us somewhere else, even hotter, even drier. And then another Big Ride past all the world that we didn’t know, to somewhere that wasn’t home. Things are shaped wrong here. They’re not like I know at all. Things are too cramped, and too tall. The air smells different. But that doesn’t matter, because there was no Loud Old Man, and there are children — Big Little and Little Little, who takes care of Lucky and took in Patty and me. Big Little gives us treats when she thinks Old Lady isn’t looking, even though Old Lady is looking and just smiles. Little Little plays with us all the time. Old Lady is happy and so is Big Man and Big Lady. This isn’t home but it was even better.
But I did something.
Patty lies on her bed, whimpering and watching me, and Old Lady is weeping, and Big Little doesn’t know what to do. She holds Old Lady’s hands, and then she walks away, and then she runs upstairs, into the big house that isn’t our house. And then she comes back down and holds her hands again. They’re all so scared, and I want to waddle over there and nuzzle Old Lady and comfort her, but I can’t, because they’re scared because of me. I did something, something that made Little Little cry and bleed and Old Lady weep. Something that I know is wrong, that I knew was wrong when I did it, and I can’t take it back and I can’t make it right.
The burning moment just came.
I don’t know why I did it, I didn’t want to do it, I want so much to have not done it. The burning moment just came and it took me. My jaws and my teeth did what they’ve done my whole life, what they’ve made to do, what it’s right that they do. But just then it was wrong. The burning moment just came and Little Little was there at the wrong time and I did the most terrible wrong I’ve ever done. And now Big Lady had to take Little Little somewhere else to get made better, and Old Lady sits and wrings her hands and weeps, and Patty whimpers in her bed. I just lie in the corner, silent and heartbroken, my ears flat against my skull, my tail a dead weight, my world ending.
The burning moment just came and I don’t know when it will come again or what I might do then.
I meet Patty’s eyes and I can see that she sees in mine what I see in hers, what we both know. There is a Pact, a deal from time long before anyone remembers, and I have broken it. I have broken it in the worst way imaginable, and there is no walking home from that. I have taken these people that I love and I have made them cry, made them weep, made them hurt — I have made them unsafe in their own home. I am the proud descendant of a proud line of watchers and keepers, the eyes in the night who keep the hearth safe, defenders and companions. And tonight I am the danger, I am the menace, because the burning moment just comes and I don’t know how to keep it back.
I meet Patty’s eyes and there I see understanding of what must come. I meet Old Lady’s eyes and see there infinite sadness and loss, and I know she knows, too. I have broken the Pact and I might do it again, and worse. The walk from here leads only one way and it doesn’t lead home. The Old Lady loves me, and it will be the breaking of her heart to do what has to be done. But she loves Little Little and Big Little even more and it does have to be done, because the Family must be safe. Yet it will be the breaking of her heart and I wish, oh, how I wish that I could pad over to her and say to her, I love them too, I love them because you love them and you love me, and they must be safe. You must be safe, and I cannot protect you from the burning moment, because it comes and it takes me, and I don’t know how or when. I love them because you love them, so I cannot be here with them any more. I love them because I love you.
But all that escapes my throat is a low, mournful whine, a half-note that will have to convey all my shame and remorse and love. I cannot move to her because it will make the morning that much harder, for both of us. What comes tomorrow will put so much distance between us, more distance than there is in the world, and yet not so much as I feel right now. But when the sun comes, I know, Old Lady will be strong, for her Family, and will do what must be done. And then there will be peace — peace in the house, peace in me. The burning moment will never come again and I will never hurt anyone I love again. The burning moment will dissolve in the soothing wind and I will feel peace again, forever.