The following three stories are taken from Scraps, a short story collection I wrote on December 6th 2021.
Beasts of Burden
It’s about five years ago, in the car with my aunt. She was giving me driving lessons to help me prepare for my license test. We were hungry and decided to grab lunch at a nearby Subway. When we were inside, she encouraged me to open up about myself, so I did. I ended up spilling out all the anxieties about my family I was struggling with at the time. I was feeling cornered and pressured by them, so it was nice to have someone to talk to who felt like they had my back. As we were driving home, I thanked her for being someone I could talk to about these things. I told her I’d always keep in touch.
It’s now around two to three years ago, and I’m speaking to my aunt for the last time. Technically texting, not speaking, as several months ago our family decided against seeing her in person. My aunt had a boyfriend that the family, including me, all hated. He was the kind of person that never looked like he wanted to be around us, and his face ensured we’d return the favor. My aunt, despite this, insisted on bringing him to family events, one of those events being my sister’s birthday. My sister was upset by him and his behavior. She refused to shake his hand. My aunt took this personally. She has refused to even acknowledge my sister ever since. This actually happened years ago, but it became relevant due to my sister’s high-school graduation. My aunt insisted on attending only if my sister apologized for the birthday incident, despite the fact that she was only eight years-old at the time. My father had finally had enough of his sister and he’d been dealing with this kind of thing from her all his life. He said that she had chosen her boyfriend over her family and promptly told her off. I was the only one my aunt tried to contact via text. I got the sense she wanted me on her side, to convince an enemy general to defect to her side for a stronger chance of winning the war. I never responded to her.
It’s the beginning of this year, and my grandmother is dying. Me, my mother, and my sister have arrived to meet my father at the hospital she’ll never leave. My father spoke to her by himself, so after him, we all go in to give our final words. My sister and I don’t have a whole lot to say, so our presence speaks for us. We both leave when we feel it’s appropriate, with our mother staying behind for one more conversation. My grandmother tells her about the drama going on with her children, including my father and aunt. She tells my mom about the endless fights and dramas constantly erupting amongst her kids and how to best handle them. My mother gives her an unexpected reply, “You know that they aren’t really your problem anymore, right?” It was like a weight had been lifted from her shoulders, and she could float off up to heaven at any moment. “You’re right,” she said, “It’s not my problem anymore.” My grandmother passed away a few hours later. I have no doubt that wherever she is right now, she’s at peace.
I’m thinking about my dead cat again. Well, it’s not my dead cat, it’s the family’s cat. I was just in charge of her when she wandered into the woods and got eaten by a coyote or some other beast. I miss her. I wonder how it is that cats can survive most falls, is it their body fat? I don’t know anything about cat anatomy, but I’m watching a video of a cat jumping into a couch that is quite amusing. The way all the fat of its body seems to rush towards its face at the point of impact is the only evidence I have for my theory. Our remaining cat is a real chubby one. If you tossed her off of our deck, I imagine she’d be just fine, in fact I think I remember testing that when I was a kid. I was terrible with animals then, always either chasing them off or scaring the daylights out of them. I remember chasing after our chickens so hard I broke my Dad’s favorite walking stick, desperately burying the evidence in the nearby woods. Funny, how even then, an animal never died under my direct supervision.
My dad never hit me or anything like that, but when he found out about the walking stick, he seemed disappointed in a way that felt as though he resented me. I’m not sure if I was imagining it, since it felt like he was feeling that way about me because of my struggles in school, too. The school administrations didn’t know how to handle me, they gave my mother endless shit when she tried to get me some reasonable accommodations. I remember the superintendent and principal holding one of their goddamned seminars about drug use and how it was tanking the school’s reputation. It made me sick to my stomach. I hate surface-level types like them, they’ve always been my worst teachers. The one big, bald fucker from middle school who got a student pregnant in high school comes to mind, though I only remember him for shouting at me. They never understood how my mind really worked, and even I struggle to explain it. Like the cat theory, that’s a real pain to explain.
It’s my first family reunion, and it’ll also be the last one that’s on this big of a scale. I’m around ten years old, and the family camp is absolutely swarming with people I’ve never seen before in my life. I can’t really remember any individual interactions, more just the sensation of being surrounded by so many people who were apparently connected to me. It made the camp, which feels cramped and compact to me now, seem like a mansion that went on for miles to my ten-year-old self. Actually, there is one individual I can remember clearly, and he was someone that wasn’t supposed to be there. He was a scrawny kid, around the same age as me, who enjoyed running around and hanging out with the rest of the family. You could identify him easily by his toothy grin, which showed up clearly in the big family photo we all took together. If you actually passed that photo around the room, no one would be able to tell you who he was related to. That’s because he wasn’t related to any of us. He was a stray kid whose parents never had time for him, so he liked to hang around with substitute families. I can imagine him getting lost in the crowds of people the same way I did, trying to find an even deeper meaning in the imagined connection to people he’d never met.
Our world is like a reflection in a bubble, it expands and warps with any subtle changes in the light. A stream of light is pouring into our bubbles today, and the world of our family’s camp has expanded to encompass the entire planet. A shack that becomes a mansion, a lake that becomes an ocean, a crowd that becomes a parade, a gathering of strangers that becomes a family. We are overwhelmed by this vision, observing from a distance, careful not to rupture it. Once it ends, we return to our smaller worlds. The key difference is that I return to a world where my parents call my name, while his don’t even look him in the eye.
It’s my first family reunion, and it’ll also be the last one that’s on this big of a scale. I’m around ten years old, and the family camp is absolutely swarming with people I’ve never seen before in my life. I can’t really remember any individual interactions, more just the sensation of being surrounded by so many people who were apparently connected to me. It didn’t amount to much in the grand scheme of things, but it was real fun.
Our world is a reflection in a bubble, it expands and warps with any subtle changes in the light. A stream of light is pouring into our bubbles today, and the world of our family’s camp has expanded to encompass the entire planet. A shack that becomes a mansion, a lake that becomes an ocean, a crowd that becomes a parade, a gathering of strangers that becomes a family. We are overwhelmed by this vision, observing from a distance, careful not to rupture it. Once it ends, we return to our smaller worlds. The key difference is that he returns to a world where his parents call his name, while mine don’t even look me in the eye.
Looking at the finished group photo, unnamed relatives notice someone. He’s a scrawny kid, around the same age as me, who could be seen playing, running around, and hanging out with the rest of the family. You could identify him easily by his toothy grin, which showed up clearly in photo. Passing it around, none of the relatives could tell who he was related to. He wasn’t related to any of us. He was a stray kid with rich parents who never watched him, so he liked to go off on his own to hang around with substitute families. I remember seeing him as a friend all those years ago, but even now I can’t recall his name. The unnamed relatives point at the toothy smile and ask, “just who’s kid do you think that is?”