I like remembering you as an animal lover. It's easier than the other things, booze and pills and car wrecks, though there was plenty of that too.
It annoyed me on our last Christmas because we'd run out of table space. Dad's steak, well done, side of fries. Isaac's wings, four different sauces, extra ranch. A bread plate, two packages of butter, a single roll no one would claim—all of us too Midwestern to. Your baked potato, scrunched into a peak like I imagine you scrunching my daughter's face if you'd made it long enough to meet her. Its skin, softened by butter and sour cream, her lips. Christmas dinner at the dive bar on Old 231 S. because your hands had grown too arthritic to cook.
Our silverware hid underneath the edges of plates we'd pushed together to make room for the doggie bag you'd ordered with the chicken. You’d insisted that Betsy have a chance to take part in the meal, eat the portions she would have gotten at home. That she not become an afterthought even though she never gave a shit about Christmas. You'd cut off chunks for her before taking any for yourself, added in a spoonful of steamed broccoli, joked that she wouldn't eat it but should. Said she was stubborn like that, like how I was as a kid. I slithered two fingers into the space between our plates, pinched the end of a fork, pulled it out. Speared the piece of broccoli and thrust it into my mouth, chewed, swallowed.
My annoyance caved in on itself after your overdose the following spring, churned into a regret that seeped into the memories I should have made of that dinner like butter into the crevices of a baked potato, ranch into the sinewy insides of a half-eaten chicken wing. I think about your dog to get past it, about how she batted her tail against the wall when she heard us walk in, pushed herself up as if stretching away from the world when she saw the doggie bag in your hands. I think about how little it matters that she never gave a shit about Christmas, about how she slurped the chicken onto her tongue as if it were kibble or stale french fries or the napkin with which you wiped Chardonnay from your lips. I think about her and I remember the smile on your face, the warmth on your cheeks as you watched her eat. I picture it seeping from you once you died, finding me. Softening me.
ADAM SHAW lives with his wife and daughter in Louisville, Kentucky. He is the author of the novel The Jackals and the memoir Sportsman’s Paradise, and his work can be found in Pithead Chapel, HAD, Rejection Letters, and elsewhere. He can be found online at theshawspot.com.