Since I’ve gotten sick, Pete has started talking to me via stuffed animal. A menagerie left over from my childhood sits on our bed, a collection of elaborate fictions I never gave up. The oldest is Toby Benson, a sleazy German shepherd whose police dog experience turned into a real cocaine problem. He teaches Krav Maga classes. He is able to do this, he tells me, because he has lethal beanbag paws. He allows people to join for “friend prices,” which always start at two hundred forty dollars.
Toby is married to Jack McPherson, a small bear Pete’s mom gave him for Valentine’s Day a few years ago. Drunk Irish, Pete says. Loves to jig. Thinks Obama is spelled O’Bama. Big liberal.
“Liberal? How do you know?” I asked Pete once.
“Come on,” Pete said. “It’s a bear and dog love story. Think of their civil rights.”
When we have company over, we shut the bedroom door. Stuffed animals on an adult bed are hard to explain. People have either too little or too much imagination.
We used to have people drop in pretty regularly. But more and more I find myself not answering the door. This afternoon we were sitting on the couch when someone knocked. Pete and I remained very still and waited for them to go away. We both knew it wasn’t happening.
I turn to Pete after the knocking stopped. “Let’s visit the animals,” I say.
“Don’t you want to go out?” Pete says. “See the sights?”
“Nah,” I say. “I’d rather be among friends.”
“You got it.”
He leads me into the bedroom and shows me Calliope Sam who farts uncontrollably and talks like Johnny Cash. Sam’s face is frozen in a perpetual neigh. He tells me that he misses the carousel life, but he sure as hell does not miss being impaled on a striped pole.
Then Calliope Sam puts his front hooves on my leg and looks up at me.
“Hey, darlin’,” he whinnies. “I’m so happy I came to live with you.”
He seems to choke up for a minute. It gets quiet. I pet his mane and tell him to not be sad. I’m pretty happy he unimpaled his ass and came here, too.
He gives me a weak neigh and we both titter awkwardly.
It goes quiet again.
I look Pete in the eyes. “Does this make us weird?” I ask.
“Um, yeah,” he says.
“Will you keep on doing this, you know, after it’s over?” I say.
He picks up Prospector Jones. The prairie dog and retired gold miner jumps up to sit on my shoulder. He clears his throat, and declares in a strong, whistling voice, “Whoa, there, pardner. Don’t dig that hole too soon.”
ASHLEY HUTSON has work published or forthcoming in SmokeLong Quarterly, theNewerYork, The Heavy Contortionists, The Lascaux Review, and others. She was also named the short fiction finalist for the Orlando Prize in 2014. She lives in Sharpsburg, MD. Find her on the web at www.aahutson.com.