Posted by Jax Mercantile on 29th Aug 2015
Breath....by Isa Trudel-Kroge
A final tremulous gust of breath sweeps across our rounded toes, wrapping in translucent white billows around our heels. For a moment it warms us, shielding us against the chill of the frosted morning, but the relief is as fleeting as the weary sigh which provided it. Our throats bend at the tongues as our wearer crouches, her wool-socked feet sliding forward ever so slightly to rest against our very fronts. A pair of thick black gloves fall to the ground just beyond us, and she extends two delicate hands, pink and trembling with cold. They come to rest on grey hair dark with sweat. Her left hand strokes the still-warm cheek, while her right repeatedly travels a loving path along the irregular white line from muzzle to forehead. Saltwater dots our skin, rinsing the blood down our wrinkles to gather at the seam of our outsoles.Our heels lift and our toes wedge into the earth. Her knees stabilize her, and a shadow comes across us as she leans forward, her left hand now reaching for a handful of mane the color of the snowdrifts nearby, her face disappearing into a thicket of forelock.
Her agony reverberates off of our rubber soles.
Hushed voices nearby speak in solemn tones. They want to give her time, she needs to say goodbye. They’ll worry about the blood later. It’s early still, nobody else will be there for a while. Did anyone call the renderer?
She hears none of it. She breathes in great, shuddering gasps. Her feet shake in our shells, her toes curling against our insoles. She is collapsing under a weight which we do not feel, but which levels her in a way we have never known. Many minutes pass, and still she is unmoved. Onlookers lose interest; the surrounding buzz of voices fades. Her shuddering gulps for air steadily become thinner and shallower, but she trembles no less. A short while passes before she rocks back onto her knees, then onto the seat of her jeans, pulling herself through the dirt to nestle in the cove created by the arc of the great dappled grey chest and neck. She tucks us under each opposite knee, and we feel a weight settle onto us when she pulls the tapered head into her lap. A mournful sigh escapes her, tender fingers combing through thick locks. Their ends brush our soles.
Before long, a pair of steel-toed work boots approaches, their wearer bending to lift ours. She yields with only a weak murmur of protest. Her weight sinks back into us and it’s all we can do to hold her. Somehow, she has never been heavier. We carry her away from the drying rivers of blood, through shallow pools of half-melted snow, and to the car. Heat blasts from the vents, but she does not slide down in her seat and lift us directly under them as she usually does. The journey is silent.
We know we will be cast aside once home. But we do not anticipate the slow, weak way in which she pulls her feet out of us, nor the careless way we fall from her hands to the floor. We wait to be carried to the sink, where she will rinse the grit and blood from our skin, and apply a soothing lotion. But she does not return. The blood dries into us, the dirt roughens our surface. The dog expresses brief interest, coming along to inspect us with a wet black nose, fascinated by the visceral smells we carry. Briefly, his teeth test the density and texture of our skin, but a sharp reprimand sends him on his way. The light changes, and eventually fades to darkness. The house is quiet. We are patient.
Before its time, the light abruptly returns, revealing bare feet which pad urgently across the hardwood floor. We cannot make out the low hisses exchanged, but there is excitement in the tenor. We wait now with less patience, and mercifully we are not condemned to wonder for long. Here come her painted toes. She scoops us up with shaking fingers, pulls us on and tucks fleece pajama bottoms into our tops. We help her bound across the floor as quietly as possible to the front door, where we meet with a pair of her mother’s slippers. We are ushered out into the night. The cold is bitter and bracing. The walk to the car is made almost in leaps, and she bounces off of us into it.
She taps an irregular rhythm with us for the entirety of a ride that doesn’t seem to pass quickly enough for her. When the car rocks to a stop, she flings open her door and lands hard on us at the end of an eager jump. In the orange glow of a spotlight, we plow rather ineffectively through the snow. It’s difficult, but it’s not as troublesome as the time we were submerged entirely in muddy river water. Our efforts take us to a great wooden door. Our heels slip as she leans her weight into pushing it open on its tracks, and we carry her to join a small gathering of boots like ourselves, all crowding for the same limited space. Quiet voices betray an uncommon thrill. We step onto warm straw bedding, lightly, with miraculously little disturbance of the thin yellow stalks.
She is crouching now, next to a splayed body which heaves and gasps, but she does not reach to touch the red coat that glistens with sweat. Her toes are curling again, her tears pepper the straw and blot the blood caked on our surfaces. A sudden music of mirthful laughter seems at absolute odds with the blood that seeps into the bedding mere inches ahead of us; we understand her only when two tiny, white hooves slip across the straw. They splay on either side of us, and she reaches down to stroke with a fingertip the nose of a small wet face. Dark eyes blink back at her with bewilderment.
A first tremulous gust of breath rolls over our toes.
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