The mother dog had left her puppies orphaned. We found them sprawled out in clouds of goo on the back porch. The mother dog had come by for food each day, and when we tried to bring her inside, she bit our hands.
There were five of them. We named them after our fingers. Pointer being the leader, and so on.
We set out food. When Longfinger started to eat up all of it, starving the others, we laughed and laughed. How very protective this puppy is!
When Ringfinger got himself stuck in the stormdrain, we oohed and aahed. How cute he is, trying to swim!
When Pinky whined the entire night, we clapped and clapped, convinced he was trying out for chorus.
But when we woke up to Thumb trying to suffocate us with our pillows, we got a little concerned. Maybe these little ones weren’t so cute, after all.
Maybe we remembered all at once why we didn’t like the mother dog in the first place. Maybe we started to think about rounding up these little ones and re-orphaning them in the nearby park.
But just then, all of them, the whole hand of them, surprise us with a birthday cake, even though it’s none of our birthdays. And even when one of us suspects a trap, rat poison in the icing, the rest of us vote it down, thinking instead, how very thoughtful these puppies probably are.
The House Watches Her
like a dumb husband. Like it knows she’s leaving, and it’s sorry, and it promised to change. Like this time, she’s gonna believe it.
Like the water heater won’t break again, leave her in a shivery shower, leave her telling Susan over coffee and fatty donuts how she got cheated on again.
And when she gets too fat to fight back, Susan says, “oh yeah, it was me. Your husband cheated with me.”
And when she throws the coffee pot at Susan, who just ducks and scrabbles out of the house, she’s left with nothing but a hole in the wall where the coffee pot hit, and when she calls the fix-it man, he finds it’s just the start of her problems.
The roof needs shingles, and the floor is uneven, and the paint in the bathroom is a peely mess.
And she just can’t live in a broken house, a broken marriage, but when she sees what either one would cost to repair, she figures it’s cheaper just to hop in her car and drive away.
And when she does drives away, and hears the carburetor whine, or sees a crack in the road, she’s just going to face forward, keep driving, because she can’t repair the whole goddam world. Now can she?
When the packages start arriving,
I don’t know what to think. I stand in the doorway each morning as the postman brings box after box. Hundreds, in fact.
It is, after all, Christmas, but still.
My father is dressed up like Santa Claus. Even though he told me not to believe.
The packages keep arriving, and soon, they are spread across the table, the carpet, and eventually out the door. They clog up the driveway, and we have to pry ourselves past them on the porch.
There are too many to open, and we begin hoping for package burglars. The kind you see on the evening news.
But no one comes. Only the postman with more packages. He looks at my father all dressed up like Santa and waits for a tip. My father puts his two hands on his jellybowl belly and jokes that he gave at the office.
One day, the day before Christmas, so we’re hoping the packages stop, the postman dollies a human-sized box up to the porch. It is wrapped in gold, and out pops my long-ago mother. I’d only seen her in pictures that my father told me not to believe.
He had said I was found on a doorstep, but here is a mother if you need something to hold
on to. He gave me a photo of this woman who is right now popping out of the box.
Do you like all the gifts I’ve been sending? She asks, excelsior still in her hair. These are the things I should have given you all these years. My father says we don’t need any of that, we’ve been doing fine without any of that, and he pushes her back in the box. She doesn’t even struggle as he closes the flap and tapes her up shut.
We watch as the postman, who is package-less now, passes our house. My father waves him over and slips him a twenty. Together, they carry the boxes to the curb and leave them for trash.
Including the one with my package mother who looks just like my photo mother. The way my father looks like Santa Claus. The way whatever I believe looks just like what I don’t.
Francine Witte is the author of four poetry chapbook, one full-length collection, and the forthcoming, Theory of Flesh from Kelsay Books. Her flash fiction has appeared in numerous journals, anthologized in the most recent New Micro (W.W. Norton) and her novella-in-flash, The Way of the Wind is forthcoming from Ad Hoc Fiction, as well as a full-length collection of flash fiction, Dressed All Wrong for This which is forthcoming from Blue Light Press. She live in New York City, USA.