Three Fictions

Kim Chinquee

This Isn’t Just a Story

When I say, “It’s time for bed, guys,” my dogs lift their heads. Their paws make a singsong on the stairs, heading up before me. To the bedroom. Bamboo, the doodle, spreads her legs across the mattress. Snip, the Japanese Chin, retires on my pillow. Spoof, my thirty-pound mutt, gets under the bed, where he’ll stay probably until morning. Spoof and Snip are eleven. This year, Bamboo will turn two.

As I brush my teeth in the adjoining bathroom, I think of the fact that I probably will outlive them. Me, like a Methuselah — I think of those mostly likely to outlive me too: my son, my niece, students, and their children. I don’t want to imagine them losing me. I think of losing them and every time it slays me.

I wonder what it’s like to be the oldest living thing, to tell people, “This isn’t just a story.”

In bed, Bamboo moves close to me. I pet her. She gets on her back and spreads her legs so I can rub her tummy. Which I do.

I adopted the other two when they were five. I didn’t know them as puppies.

“Goodnight,” I pronounce. “I love all of you.”

I whisper, “I love you, Sweet Bamboo.”

Myself as a Fish

The pool is cold. After a series of mishaps, surgeries, and injuries, I’m back at Masters Swim, where my instructor gives a workout that includes things like pulling drills, sprints and kicks that involve a board. I have the equipment. The thing to put between my legs when I don’t need to kick, and paddles I put my hands in that look like fins. I also put fins on my feet to make myself move faster.

I’m not a fast swimmer. I used to panic in the water. These days, to help me through, I imagine myself as a fish in an aquarium just admiring my surroundings, and I try to imagine my life as if everything is in water: the crabapple tree in my yard, the butterflies, the ash trees, just all in a big tank, or maybe even being stuck in someone’s handbag, with swaying branches as its owner walks along.

Still, I come up for breath when my set ends and un-fog my goggles. I’m swimming with my friend. We share a lane. Every now and then our bodies cross. I see her feet and her arms under the water. She’s a lot faster than me. She sent me a text the night before about her mother who ate too much stuffing and was worried about fungus. Her mom is almost a hundred and plays polo.

We cut our swim short because the pool is just so cold. We sit in the steam room for a long time. My friend has never been to the steam room until now. We catch up about the dog park — where we take our dogs regularly, though the weather lately has been crappy — about the Turkey Trot, where she got third place in her age group, and I did it just for fun. Her daughter — we were both in Nashville two weeks before for her daughter’s wedding, and my son and his wife also live there, so I was able to see them too. There’s already drama in her daughter’s marriage. I’m not sure there’s drama in my son’s.

We sit in our suits there and we sweat.

A few men come in and then leave.

I tell her, I’m surprised I’m not even hot yet. I’m not even warm.

Kiss a Frog

In the backyard, my dog noses a frog. I’m not sure what a frog’s doing in my yard, save it’s been a wet season. As a child living on the farm, I’d often spend time at the creek to gather myself and be alone and hide from the loud voices of my father. I’d ride my bike down the lane, put my feet in the current, and talk to the amphibians: minnows, frogs, other creatures in the water. I pictured my dad in a helmet on his tractor. The cross around his neck. Yelling at the mailman and at my mom while she trimmed our many rhododendrons.

The poor frog must feel threatened. Frogs can be poisonous to dogs. I’ve heard of dogs eating them and dying from the toxins. Bamboo, I say. Don’t make me have to practice CPR.

I bring in Bamboo. I put on gloves from under the sink. I find a strainer. I go out and scoop the frog. I put it in my hands. I love its little feet, its buggy eyes. Its mouth.

I read it can be illegal to move the amphibian too far from its place of finding.

I say to it, Hello there.

I place it on the other side of the fence, safe from where my dog can find it, safe from where I think it might be hard to possibly get back. Safe from where it will, if my dog tries to reengage, do what it’s innately meant to do, in my yard, to my dog, to try to survive.

Kim Chinquee has published hundreds of pieces of fiction and nonfiction in journals and magazines including The Nation, Ploughshares, NOON, Storyquarterly, Denver Quarterly, Fiction, Story, Notre Dame Review, Conjunctions, and others. She is the recipient of three Pushcart Prizes and a Henfield Prize. She is Senior Editor of New World Writing, Chief Editor of Elm Leaves Journal (ELJ) and co-director of SUNY–Buffalo State’s Writing Major. She’s the author of eight books, most recently (her debut novel) Pipette.