People in General (excerpt)
by John Colasacco
I am still trying to find the right dog among all these beautiful dogs here in the street. Some of them know me and they know my habits somehow and they know what I would say if I could speak to them. This is the morning no one comes out of their house, it’s only me, the dogs and I, we have been sleeping all night and some of us it seems have been sleeping forever. After all that sleep we need to go outside and join together in this crowd where all else is quiet and the murmurs echo so perfectly. Each dog is looking around for something, feeling ignored, and I sense this the way I sense my fear of speaking in anger up to the point where I might say something that I don’t really think is true. There’s so much I need to do tomorrow, but I doubt there’s going to be enough time to get it all done, and really my heart isn’t in it. Last night I left the tv on all night until late even though I knew I had to get up for work in the morning. When I was growing up we had a dog who hardly ever ate anything and only barely touched his water and spent all his time hiding in a very narrow linen closet on the second floor. My mother thought it was funny because she used to dream of the dog often but during the day she hardly even saw him so it was almost as though he wasn’t even there. One day though I found her scolding the dog for being so quiet all the time and it frightened me because I had never seen her get that angry about anything. She kept trying to tell the dog that in her dream she had seen an enormous shadow–the shadow of a woman she knew only indirectly, years before–but it was magnified a thousand times so that it covered our whole house when she went past. She kept screaming about this and trying to pull our poor dog out into the hallway by the collar while I hid around the corner watching from behind the door. Listening to her, I sensed that what she really wanted to say was that she was afraid that the dog would die if it didn’t come out of there. She knew that if that happened she would never learn how to quiet these sorts of feelings.
After the dog died I asked my mother who the woman was, the one from her dream. “I can’t walk as much as I did yesterday,” she said. “But if I could I’d go down to the place where we heard that sound in the trees and look for the little girl singing to the well.”
You’re not saying anything, I thought to myself. I found out later from someone else that the woman was just a person from town who knew everyone and would sometimes stop by to have tea with my mother in the afternoon.
Later on, my mother and I got to be very close, so much so that the idea of her ever having had an acquaintance like that without me knowing seemed impossible to imagine. I remember one night we’d ordered Chinese food for dinner when we heard someone knocking at our door. I couldn’t think of the last time we’d had any sort of visitor, and when I opened the door it was an older woman who asked if there was any aspirin we could spare. Then eventually she said she was a neighbor of ours and she walked into the kitchen without being invited and sat at the dinner table and put her head down on her arms. Just when we thought she might have fallen asleep she sat up and appeared to squint at something. She complained that it was too bright in here. My mother motioned for me to go find some aspirin for her, and even though I didn’t want to I knew it would be childish to say no. While I was in the other room the woman started asking my mother all these personal questions, like how old the house was, and whether we lived there by ourselves. I overheard everything, but when I came back to the kitchen the seat was empty and my mother was alone again at the table with a drink in her hand. I started to feel scared, but my mother seemed to think it was funny. Why do things like this always happen to us? she said. She sighed and I sat down but all of a sudden I didn’t feel like eating any more. The smell of the food was sickeningly sweet. I had a few more bites just to make sure that I wasn’t imagining things and it took all my effort not to spit out what I’d eaten. I worried that I might be coming down with something, because although I heard my mother talking to me I’d become very agitated at the sound of her voice. I even snapped at her at one point and told her I couldn’t stand to hear any more talk. The other thing I remember from that night is that when she finished eating there was only one fortune cookie to share between us, and when she opened it, it was empty. My mother took this as a good sign, though. “No fortune means that everything will be ok from now on,” she said.
John Colasacco‘s illustrated book-length poem The Wagners will be out from newly independent TRNSFR books in 2019. This excerpt is from a novel manuscript called People in General. Other work includes the books Antigolf (CCM), The Information Crusher (Spuyten Duyvil), Two Teenagers (Horse Less) and a new hybrid manuscript, Interviews with Objects.