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Oct/Nov 2008 Fiction Special

China

by Sheila Killian


There are no maps to her life, to the hidden importance of things. That crystal decanter is worthless to her—a graduation gift from her sister, ten years ago. But her baking tray was her mother's. The pinecone in the window comes from the Arctic Circle. That knife she uses to cut onions, with the short, nicked blade, worn wooden handle. That has a history, is irreplaceable. Her kitchen is a minefield of sentimental value.

The men don't understand. They take her at face value and extend that error to her belongings. They take her easily, but not for long. By Tuesday she's alone again, and we few friends are picking up the pieces.

Except last year, the summer of Dave. A carpenter from London, he met her in the smoking area outside the Lion's Head and wooed her in the usual way with eye contact, sincerity, and Bud Lite. I think it was laziness that got him through the first few dangerous days. He'd sit at her table and allow her to fry him breakfast, to wash up afterwards, just talking, listening, touching nothing. That way he learned the geometry of permissions, his place in her place. He was down every weekend. They became regular walkers up by the river on Saturdays, drinkers in the Head on a Friday night. We got used to them together, assumed they were used to each other, too.

Then at the end of August, the dog turned up: a stray with string tight around his neck. He'd escaped from something, a rock thrown into a river maybe. Small, hurt, and with beautiful eyes, Dave couldn't resist. Soon he'd made a kennel and enclosure in her little back garden and named him Lucky. She liked him, too, liked to see Dave caring for him. I met them walking downtown that first weekend, and they looked so happy, like parents.

She coped better than we thought she would with the smell of dog food, the mess of the enclosure. She managed alone during the week, walking him in the evenings by the river. It was about a month before it all blew up. Dave called me, bewildered. He'd been feeding the dog on a Saturday morning when she stormed out and snatched the plate he was using—a blue one with teddy bears on. It was a big scene. She told him it was her first china plate, her earliest childhood memory. She was enraged all day until he was worn down and left. Then it was just us few friends again, over there for a long night of wine and sympathy, while she refused his calls, ignored his texts, deleted him from her life.

The odd thing was, the end of the night she went out to feed Lucky a mess of leftovers, and she used that plate—the blue one. I watched her through the window, hunkered down and talking to the dog for the longest time. They gazed at each other, their attention undivided. She left the plate outside in the rain. Like I said, you can't tell what has value for her.

 

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