by Armin Tolentino
|I buried Buckley, Mama’s pet hamster, the one she saved from me because I was negligent, because I saw a bundle of amusing fur where she saw sentience in the way he held cashews firmly in two hands, like I, as a baby, held the pit of a mango, scraping with new teeth, the sweet orange flesh.***
January in Jersey, I was dumb for trying to dig a grave, but you can’t flush hamsters because they are soft and full, not like goldfish whose scales separate and slip like glitter in the drain. I stomped on the shovel head and came up with nothing. Mama was crying, boiling me water to loosen the ground. I chipped away enough of the lawn to cover the box, but not deep enough to save him from dogs.
That summer, for Mother’s Day, I bought her a cat before leaving for college not knowing that Papa would leave her as well on New Year’s 2000, sneaking away while she was at church. He liked round numbers with zeros like wheels. He came back once to pick up the vacuum and drive me to school for my second semester. She planned to say something that ended up dead in the flood of her crying.
I graduated, moved away, and rarely called. Mama removed the wall to wall carpeting. One day, date unknown, she spotted a stray and it moved into her house with wood floors, empty rooms. She left elaborate meals outside for cats and took in four more. Neighbors began whispering. No kids came on Halloween. With all her new pets, she still put flowers on Buckley’s grave because she never forgot family. Years later, Papa still sent her roses on their anniversary because he never forgot guilt.