Puppy Tail

by April Murphy

We were inside when the dog was hit by the truck. There had been a loud SMACK! And then, a tunnel of noise and frenzied yelping as Prince ran around the perimeter of the house in panicked circles. We ran outside, too concerned to stop and put on jackets or shoes.

At first, there was silence. Just a truck stopped in the middle of the street and a few drops of blood in the snow. But Prince finished a last lap around the house and came barreling into view. A medium-sized dog, a mutty mix of German shepherd and boxer we’d picked up at the local pound, Prince was large enough to be difficult for us to catch any time. Now, he was nearly mad with pain and fear. My mother tackled him, nearly jumping on top of his black and brown body, and he stopped with a loud bark that shrilled upward into a squeal.

The dog was seizing, shaking with pain. Underneath him, underneath my mother, the snow was turning red. I ran over, reaching out my ten-year-old hands to smooth his face, but Mom told me to keep them back. “He’s hurt and scared,” she said. “He doesn’t quite know who he is right now.”

It was true. The dog’s eyes were glazed. They skittered back and forth, unable to focus on anything. His pupils skipped across our worried faces. He seemed locked inside himself, inside his broken body.

Even though I was afraid, I understood that kind of panic. None of us knew who we were then, my brothers and sister and I. The past few years had seen us, a family, break. We four kids waited five months in child protective services, three different foster homes, eating meal after meal of cold Chef Boyardee. We were split into groups of two, then three, and finally all back together again while the lawyers talked, and our parents fought. But then, suddenly, it was over.

When we got out, settled into our two new bedrooms and became experts at separating our lives between weekdays and weekends, nobody spoke about it. Instead, our parents talked about our changing bodies. We were getting longer, our faces leaner. We measured our new lengths on doorframes and in the jeans and shoes that no longer fit. I watched as my parents threw these things away, each trash day taking a part of the past with it. I went out each night after supper and reclaimed what I could, a shoelace, a broken picture frame. I hid these scraps under my bed like I buried the past inside my changing body, unable to stop things moving forward or understand what we were leaving behind.

When my siblings and I backed away from Prince, the dog who did not know he was Prince, I could see a bright red and bloody something hanging behind him. Something that was not supposed to be seen. Bone and blood.

It would be wrong to say that the tail was gone. It would be even more wrong to say that the tail had been mutilated. Instead, the tail looked as if it had been stripped away completely—cleanly. What hung there was a strip of bright red skeleton, the kind of thing I’d only seen in diagrams or cartoons before. Vertebrae lined up neatly in a row, tapering off until only a small point was left. The skeleton was beautiful and honest in the most terrifyingly real way; a secret revealed by pain.

I don’t really remember what happened next. I don’t know if it was the errant driver who found the rest of the tail or if one of my brothers had run off and returned with it. But shortly after we noticed the tail was half missing, someone supplied it.

The other part of the tail, the one no longer attached to Prince, looked intact. The fur, the muscle, all of it was neatly packaged together. Fluffy brown fur on the bottom, black fur on top. There was no blood. The only indication that the tail was incomplete was a hole in the middle, a tiny little circle, where the bone was supposed to slip in. In my hands, the tail was warm. Soft. From tip to base, it was probably about six inches long; slightly larger than my palms.

We later figured out that Prince’s tail had gotten caught in the back bumper of the truck that hit him; it had snagged and stretched, the truck pulling it off of his bone like someone taking off a glove. “De-gloving,” I would later learn, was the medical term for what had happened to Prince and it could happen to people too. The word seemed appropriate; as precise and clean as removing your hand from cold fabric, extracting the warm life from a fold of flesh. “Divorce” is also clinical in its most basic meaning; to separate. Its application is hardly precise.

Perhaps what fascinated me, kept me looking at Prince’s tail, was its lack of blood. Its sterility. As a ten-year-old, I thought I had a basic grasp of when things should bleed and when they shouldn’t. When things were alive and when they were dead.

When my father brought deer home from the hunt and hung them above the garage door, I knew they were dead. Their limp bodies hung from our rafters like toys with batteries taken out, the lights in their eyes extinguished like light bulbs gone dark. But when Dad cut their throats, the deer bled. The gravity pulled blood out of them, the red gushing and then petering out and over their flaccid tongues until the buckets he had placed underneath them were full. This mess was part of the ritual. They were the same buckets that my father used when he changed the oil in his truck. I remember how the remains of the grease gave the blood a slight metallic shimmer, little bits of rainbow when it caught the light. Something about this calmed me; made me think of the dead animals as more mechanical and routine. Killing them was like changing oil filters; it happened when it was necessary. The end of life was messy, but it could be contained.

Prince’s tail defied this logic.

The tail, the tail was still warm. It felt alive. It had, until roughly ten or fifteen minutes ago, been a part of my dog’s body. It had been attached to the little system that pumped blood through him, the way water flowed through the pipes of our house. Its removal was an accident, but its separation was so sharp, so instant and total, that its cleanliness unnerved me.

My mother said we were going to take the tail and the dog to the vet. The vet would be able to sew bone and flesh back together. Make the dog complete again. I found an icebox in the garage and filled it with snow, then put the tail inside.
I remember watching the car leave, hoping that Prince would be all right. I remember stepping over the blood in the driveway to get to the neighbor’s. It had already started to mix with gravel and slush, started to brown, bereft of its oxygen.

As I walked, I held my hands in front of me, flexing my fingers to warm them. I watched the tips curl inward and straighten again. Somewhere inside of them, I knew, there were bones. When my skin tightened at the knuckle, I could see it stretch against them. Everything in my body was built on their foundation, and just as Prince’s flesh could be torn, separated, it occurred to me that mine could be too.

Perhaps it had been. I knew my bones, knew the bumps where they didn’t heal just right. Knew that beneath my flesh there was evidence of what we never talked about, except when there were caseworkers taking notes. But that was over now. We didn’t need to talk anymore. That life was over.

I vaguely knew what was supposed to happen when life ended. Dad had taught me that you needed to get the blood out to save the meat. Mom inadvertently taught me something else.

Next to my mother’s house was a funeral home named “St. Mary Murphy’s” (no relation), which had a large parking lot that bordered our backyard. If you looked beyond the Frisbees strewn across the lawn, past the bikes and the bric-a-brac pieces of our play, you could see the black asphalt of the lot. It created a visibly concrete line between the world of the dead and the world that my brothers and sister and I lived and played in. This separation went along with my mom’s silence. Everything had its place; put it there and leave it.

Sometimes, when my siblings and I were in the middle of our games, I would stare across the lot at the faded yellow building. From behind, the funeral home looked like any other house in our neighborhood. My eyes would travel across the pale walls, the windows shuttered in a deep green, until my pupils stopped at the double garage doors. I knew that inside them, bodies were hidden. This was comforting to me, in an odd way. The skeletons in their closets were precisely what they appeared to be. Dead, goners. Their lives were over. They didn’t lie about any of it.

We’d lived next to the funeral home since my parents’ divorce. During these years, I often could catch sight of the funeral director wheeling a corpse, zipped up in a black body bag and laid on a steel gurney, from the hearse into the garage. Later, I saw the same somber man, dressed in a neat black suit, wheel the body out of the garage and up a ramp into the main building where the services were held.

I remember my guilty anticipation every time I happened upon these transitions. Someone had explained to me that the dead bodies were kept in a morgue, a refrigerated room, where they were treated with chemicals to keep them from decaying. These chemicals replaced the blood, kept the meat. At some point afterward, the bodies were dressed and painted, made up to look as close to living as possible.

Close to living was a concept I understood.

Nobody ever explained how this process of delayed death worked. I was told that the dead looked like people who were sleeping. In the absence of fact, I substituted scenes from horror movies or passages from textbooks. I imagined a corpse, always an old man half under a sheet, laid on a table with assortments of tubes. An exterior plumbing system that took up where the natural body processes ended, pumping substitutions through the deceased’s corporeal pipes like my mother sometimes put Drain-O down our kitchen sink, flushing out the mess into the sewers below.

For most of the time we lived by St. Mary Murphy’s, I had never seen a dead person. I would not see the inside of morgue until years later. But the dead were our neighbors. I stumbled across them from time to time.

When I caught the somber suit man pushing a black bag up the ramp, one end facing away from him with the rounded shape of a head, other end, two little hilltops of feet, my stomach dropped and my heart beat faster, the way it did when I watched R-rated movies at friends’ houses. It was the thrill of seeing something I wasn’t supposed to.

But it would be incorrect to say that this was all I was feeling. Deeper than the excitement, I can remember a tingle of desire. Of wanting something to happen, of wanting something secret to be revealed. The black bag was a mystery to me, but there was no way I could deny its existence. Even though nobody would talk about it, and everyone told me to ignore it, that I’d understand when I was older, they couldn’t make me unsee what I knew very well I’d seen.

My stilled breathing, my heart racing, these were symptoms of a greater need; I needed to understand. When the funeral director pushed the body up the ramp and into the parlor, closing the door behind him, I felt like I was on the verge of a great discovery that was denied to me. I tried to imagine what would have happened if the wheels of the gurney had hit a rock, if the body bag had toppled onto the asphalt. But I couldn’t.

I didn’t know what made the dead different from the living, and it scared me. If a dead person just looked like a living person who was asleep, could a living person just be a dead one that was awake? Could you survive if you were empty, dead, broken inside?

Prince’s tail, divorced from his body, didn’t technically survive.

When my mother returned from the vet a few hours later, Prince had been left behind. The dog would stay overnight and return the next day, she told us, with a sewed-up little nub. My mother informed us that the vet didn’t think the tail could be reattached and had instead decided to amputate the skeletal remains. Prince would live, she said, but he would just be a little bit different.

At the time, I thought this was cruel. I’d seen specials on TV that taught me medicine could fix anything. Taught me that if someone was born without half a body, it could be built. That if someone accidentally lost a hand, it could be replaced. That animals were not afforded these luxuries seemed lazy. As if medicine decided that animals, being smaller beings, were not worth the effort. That animals, unlike children, were not important enough to consider. Later, I would learn that some people amputated their dogs’ tails intentionally; they called it “docking.” It was a common practice. So common, in fact, that even today most people never question us about why Prince has a stub. They never wonder where the rest of it went. They don’t ask where the rest of our family went either. It seems like now it’s the families that escape life intact that you wonder about.

But, I have always been full of wonder. I couldn’t help but think about our family, the mystery of its different members and how we all connected, including the little furry one. Later in the evening after Mom returned, I went out to the car. On the floor, where Prince had lain, was a brown blood stain. It was a stain that would be on the carpet forever after that, even when my sister inherited the car when we were in high school. In the backseat, forgotten in all of the commotion, was the icebox.

I crawled into the car and opened it. Inside the snow had melted into clumps of ice and a sluggish slushy stew, but bobbing in the middle, waterlogged, was the tail.
I reached and grabbed it. The tail now was cold, soggy, but even though it had sat in water for the last few hours it had not yet begun to seep blood. Around it, the melted snow was still white-ish, clear.

I left the car, stealing into the garage. The tail dripped in my fingers. I knew that once someone remembered it was there, they would take it. Get rid of it. This waste seemed unacceptable to me. True, the tail was of no use to Prince anymore, but its inexplicable separation seemed to offer me something. Furthermore, I felt like it offered me something that nobody else would. Maybe this was a chance to learn secrets. Secrets about his body—and mine. Secrets about living and dying. Secrets that had never been explained to me.

In the back of the building, behind all of the bicycles and garbage cans, was a big white freezer normally reserved for popsicles and leftovers we never wanted to see again. In a moment of what felt like sheer brilliance, I threw it open, casting grey cardboard boxes and bundles of aluminum foil aside. When I felt I’d dug down deep enough, I carved out a little hollow for the tail and stuck it inside. It was secured; my secret. A puppypopsicle.

When I went inside that night, I was certain that I’d be able to come back to the tail in the near future. I didn’t know what I was going to do with it. I wasn’t sure how I was going to extract its mysteries, but I felt confident that profound discoveries awaited me. But I was ten. My passion for starting new projects was only exceeded by my inability to finish them.

When Prince returned to our house the next day, I forgot about the part of him in the garage. The dog was very much his usual happy-go-lucky self. Though he wobbled a little when he walked, his tongue lolled from his mouth happily. Around his head, he wore a cone like a lampshade. At the end of his back, Prince’s new stubby tail was darned like socks. I became fascinated with watching the process of him mend. The two sides of the seam slowly becoming one.

I remember how Prince’s skin started to regrow. It was pink, raw. Around the edges of the wound, little bits of scab lingered. But then, miraculously, the fabric of his skin began to patch up. At some point, the stitches were removed. Then, as if the other half of the tail never existed, the little line between the folds disappeared beneath black and brown fur. Prince never seemed to notice the difference. After the cone was removed, after the wound had healed, he wagged his tail just like he did before. But now, his joy or excitement wasn’t contained within the limb. Sometimes it seemed to me like losing the tail also left the dog without a border for expression. I would come home from school and he would greet me, and his whole back end would shake. When we walked him, his hips sashayed behind him in a sine wave.

A few months after the accident, when Prince and I were walking through the neighborhood, we happened upon a black cat, splayed on its side on a dark patch of sidewalk. The feline’s midsection was crumpled, toothpick ribs poking through the flesh on the chest. Prince lurched towards it excitedly, and I pulled the leash back.

Like Prince, the cat had been hit by a car. However, this cat had not been as fortunate in its wounds. I knew from the way the cat’s shallow breathing sprayed bits of pink foam at its mouth that this cat was dying. Its tongue hung flaccidly like the deer in the rafters. Its pupils were pin prinks. The eyes were not clouded with bewilderment. They stared ahead without seeing me, fixed on something I could not see. Whether or not it was in pain, I had no idea, but it made no noise. The cat would die soon.

The street snaked around me, trees cutting off the view of the neighborhood. It was around early sunset and no cars were coming in either direction. No adults. There was a rising chill in my legs and I felt unsure. The stillness, the quietness of the cat seemed to me an implied acceptance of its death. But this was a death left in my hands and I didn’t know what to do.

Prince began to whine, pulling against his collar and trying to approach the cat. I tied him to a nearby mailbox. I didn’t know if the cat sensed his presence or mine, but I didn’t want him to scare it, to make its situation worse. Prince whimpered and wagged his hips, but there was no way he could reach the little bundle of cat.

I had knelt, not knowing what to do. There were pebbles on the concrete, and they dug through my jeans and into my kneecap. I reached out, hands shaking and palms sweaty.

Beneath my hands, the cat’s breathing had quickened. Its eyes were closed, though I could see little bits of white between its eyelids. The cat’s tongue spilled out of its mouth and onto the grass.

My own tongue seemed incapable of forming speech. It slugged across the bottom of my mouth. Without knowing why, I began to recite a “Hail Mary.” The prayer seemed appropriate because it included the phrase, “Pray for us at the hour of our death.” But, before I could even get to “full of grace,” the cat stilled.

Its broken chest stopped rising and falling. The eyes remained slightly open, but they did not move. It died.

I think I was startled by the suddenness of it. My body stiffened, then without my telling my legs to do so, they straightened and I stood. My mind quaked. The cat, in front of my eyes, had changed. It had gone from living to dead. Its stillness, sudden and irreversible, had settled like the changing numbers on a digital clock. Whatever force or electricity animated the cat had left, leaving behind a void that seemed impossibly empty. Its time had gone.

Prince whined from the mailbox, and I walked over, untangling his leash. I yanked him after me, walking back towards the house. I wanted to put as much distance between me and the cat as possible. Prince followed, eventually overtaking me. We walked quickly, his hips swaying in front of me, the fat beneath his fur swaying in little waves until it rested at the little nub at the end of his spine. The stitches had settled under his fur; he was loping along happily, a survivor.

I stared at his tail. My eyes traveled up his back, resting on his face. Prince was pulling, excited. His tongue splashed out from between his teeth. His soft brown eyes were bright, roaming across the sidewalk, taking in the houses as we walked. I marveled at how alive he was, how undeniably full of energy. Complete.

When we got home, I climbed over the pile of bikes, navigated around the overflowing garbage cans. Someone had put errant toys on top of the freezer, but I knocked them aside. My hands, my body tingled. I needed my answers. Whatever secrets were to be had, I needed to know them.

My fingers burned as they dug through ice, but eventually they reached the bottom. I burrowed through popsicles and leftovers until I found the little hollow I had stashed Prince’s tail in. It was still there, forgotten by everybody else but me, and frozen into a stiff little stick.

When I took it out, I turned it over in my hands just as I had done months before. It was intact, fur and muscle. It had dulled, somehow grayed, but the flesh had still not begun to decay.

I tried to think of what to do. My hands began to hurt, so I set the tail back down in the freezer, where it rested on some leftovers with an unintelligible date scrawled on them in my mother’s handwriting. On the few occasions where leftovers were rescued from the freezer, Mom usually brought these inside and set them in the sink. This seemed a logical course of action for me to take too, I figured. The tail would need to thaw.

When the back door slammed behind me, announcing my entrance to the household, I hid the tail behind me. I didn’t expect anybody else to understand what I was doing, when I understood so little of it myself. But luckily, nobody appeared. No sight of my two brothers, my older sister, or, my babysitter, Shannon. Mom was at some Catholic retreat.

But that was where my luck ended. As usual, the kitchen sink was overflowing with dishes. They towered above the steel borders of the sink, layered and stacked in precarious angles.

I set the tail on the floor and tried to transfer the plates and cups, bits of leftover food, the whole cesspool onto the counter. Each movement was sloppy, frenzied. Every gesture resulted in a crashing landslide of whatever was around it.

“What are you doing?”

I turned around just as the babysitter walked through the kitchen doorway. Hastily, I tucked the tail behind me with the heel of my sneaker.

“Dishes,” I replied.

Shannon was nearly sixteen; she had been our sitter since before my parents’ divorced. She had the experience of handling the four of us through wrestling matches, snowball fights, and refused bedtimes. I knew by the way that she was standing, hands on her hips and chin cocked to the side, that she was not buying that I had suddenly had a helpful change of heart.

“Really?” She said, walking over to me.

Her hand reached my shoulder and pushed before I could steady myself. I fell, slightly, then caught my balance a few feet away from where she was standing over the sink, looking downward into the maze of dishes. She dug through a few of them, a cursory search. They clinked against each other. I held my breath. The tail was only a few inches away from her feet.

Drawn by the commotion, my sister appeared in the doorway. Though Lorene was older than me by a year, I had outgrown her by a few inches. She was still smallish, with thin limbs and even though all the kids in my family have pale Irish skin, on her it looked sickly. Lorene’s voice, like her body, was still childlike.

“What’s she doing?” she asked, pointing a tiny hand in Shannon’s direction.

“Nothing,” I replied loudly. “She thinks I don’t know how to do dishes.”

Though the four of us kids had alliances that shifted with whatever game we were playing, Lorene was pretty consistently on my side. Across the kitchen, I bobbed my head at the door exaggeratedly and mouthed the word “Leave.”

Lorene stared at me.

I bobbed my head harder, and added some frantic hand movements LEAVE.

The clanking of the dishes stopped, and Shannon, satisfied that nothing was amiss in the sink began to turn around.

My sister, clearly not interested in whatever directions I was trying to give her, looked across the kitchen at Shannon. Then, she pointed and screamed.

“It’s a mouse!”

Shannon jumped backward, arms flailing, trying to catch dishes that crashed onto the floor. Then, when she caught sight of the black mass of fur on the floor, Shannon began screaming too. She grabbed me by the shoulders and pushed me across the kitchen towards my sister.

“It’s not a mouse!” I tried to tell her, digging my feet and trying to hold my ground. But she didn’t hear me. My sister was too busy screaming.

Shannon flung me at the kitchen door just as my two brothers were piling through the other side of it. Prince was tangled between their legs, barking either because his ears hurt from Lorene’s high-pitched screech or because he was ready for excitement. Shannon had grabbed a broom from behind the refrigerator.

“It’s not a mouse,” I yelled but Shannon still ignored me.

“What’s not a mouse?” One of my brothers asked.

“The mouse.” My sister stopped screaming long enough to reply.

Across the kitchen, Shannon poked the broom handle at the pile of fur now surrounded by bits of plate and broken glasses. It didn’t move. She poked it again. It rolled a little, but otherwise remained still. It did not run. It did not squeak. It did not do anything anybody expected a mouse to do.

Shannon stared at it for a moment or two longer and then said, “April.”

My brothers and sister ran out of the kitchen, with Prince scampering after. I wanted to run too, because of the way Shannon said my name. It was the voice she usually reserved for telling us that we had to stop wrestling, someone had gotten hurt. It was the voice that came right before she shut off the TV, telling us that we could absolutely not watch an R-rated movie, even if our parents weren’t home. It was the tone that all adults have when they are telling you that you’re in trouble, that you’ve done something wrong.

“It’s not a mouse,” I said.

“I know it’s not a mouse.” Shannon poked at the tail, again. “What is it?”

I tried to think of something I could tell her, but I couldn’t. My face began to turn red and suddenly, for the first time, I became acutely aware of how unusual and unexplainable my actions were and I felt weird and smashed open, like all the broken things in me were visible, my growing body torn apart to reveal the broken kid I still felt like I was inside.

“What is it?” she asked again, this time turning to look at me.

“Prince’s tail.”

Shannon’s face crumpled up in confusion. Her eyebrows lifted in the same puzzled manner they did when she sometimes helped me with my math homework. Like she had to read the problem again before she could remember what equation we needed to solve it.

“I kept it,” the words sputtered from my mouth. “I put it in the freezer.”

She stared at me, face smoothing out as her eyes got bigger.

“It was empty and warm and dead but not,” I continued, my voice suddenly breaking. “There wasn’t any blood, there wasn’t any mess. I wanted to know why there wasn’t any mess.” Tears escaped and I could see her face again, her mouth hanging open. “Please don’t tell my mom.”

Then, something in me, the last little bit of control I had, cracked like one of the plates on the floor, like one of the ribs in the cat’s body, and I could feel the seams in my bones the way I could feel a storm that was about to break. I lost it.

My body convulsed with my sobbing. I heaved between my cries. Tears flowed from my eyes and mixed with snot running from my nose. It was the kind of crying that I knew I wouldn’t be able to stop no matter how much I knew crying didn’t solve any problems, no matter how big a girl I was growing into and away from the child I was. I just cried.

At some point, Shannon put down the broom. She walked across the kitchen and picked me up, sinking to her knees, holding me against her and smoothing my hair until eventually, my ragged breaths stopped and I was limp in her arms.

“I won’t tell your mom,” she said, unwinding herself from me when I’d calmed. “But you have to get rid of it, okay?”

I wiped my nose on my sleeve and nodded. I walked back across the kitchen and picked up the tail. It was still cold, stiff. I headed out the back door, letting it slam behind me. The sound woke me, made me feel steady.

At this point I knew that the tail needed to be buried, but I didn’t know where. All the places I saw didn’t look right. There were no trees or fences. No big rocks to mark a spot. Our backyard stretched like a vacant lot, empty except for a small concrete area behind the garage.

But to bury the tail here, I thought, wasn’t right. I started to look beyond our backyard, past the black border, to the parking lot of St. Mary Murphy’s. The home of the dead.

I wandered across the black expanse with a rising feeling of despair until I came to the ramp by the garage. I had never noticed it from my room, but in its L shape sat a trashcan. It was covered and grey, similar to the ones we had in our garage on the other side of the backyard; the places I had rescued shoelaces and picture frames from.

I took off the cover and, with a final look at the tail, dropped it inside.

The sun had just set and against the blackness of the parking lot, the sky was a purplish blue. I looked towards the end of the lot, where the headlights of cars passed by on Main Street. There, next to the outlet, was the sign for St. Mary Murphy’s, a name spelled simply in tidy black letters.

I thought of the cat. I wondered if somebody had found it by now.

“Hail Mary, full of grace, our Lord is with thee…”

My footsteps filled pauses of the prayer as I walked across the parking lot. I thought about my old life, about the bones and the memories that were buried inside of me.

“Blessed art thou and blessed is the fruit of thy womb…”
I crossed the black line of the asphalt, flexing my fingers, open and closed, feeling the surge of blood in them, aware, that they moved at my will.

The backdoor of my house slammed behind me as the prayer ended, “now and at the hour of our death.”

Prince, the whole of the back of him wagging with delight, greeted me inside. I knelt down beside him, putting my arms around his neck, relishing the warmth of his breath as he covered my cheeks in sloppy kisses, washing away the salt of my fears with his kibble and bits saliva. Behind him, I could see the broken dishes scattered across the kitchen floor. Deeper in the house, I could hear the voices of my siblings and Shannon. I knew that there were answers I would have to give, halfhearted and half-articulated explanations.

As I held Prince, I felt like the questions I had, that had driven this whole mess into being, didn’t matter. Whatever mysteries about death I’d hoped to answer by looking at the pieces of it that were left behind didn’t seem as important as the fact that we, for the moment, were both alive. Whatever stillness awaited us, whatever it meant when the lights went out in our eyes and the electricity from our limbs, that was something like St. Mary Murphy’s. It was something that might be lingering on the borders of our life, beyond the scattered toys and after the end of our games, but it didn’t live where we were. Death was a neighbor, a place next door. Without it, the little row of houses wouldn’t be complete, the block wouldn’t end.

But Prince, wiggling in my arms, was proof that we were more than our pieces, that we could survive our past. Looking away from him and over at the shards of dishes that littered the floor, I sighed. It seemed I had to figure out the answer to a new question: How do we deal with the mess, put the pieces back together, deal with being alive?


PuppyTail_AprilMurphy_Photo_lgeApril Murphy is a doctoral candidate in English with a focus on writing creative nonfiction at the University of North Texas. She is currently busy writing her dissertation, Shrouded, a character driven look into the treatment of women who work in the funeral and mortuary industries who overcome prejudice in a historically patriarchal field, and who in the process overcome objectification as women through their devotion to the bodies of others. Originally, April is from Malone, New York.

2 thoughts on “Puppy Tail

  1. Ben V says:

    This is a really wonderful piece! I love dog narratives, but the best ones involve the narrator learning something from the dog. And you’ve done that nicely here.


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