THE SACRAMENT by Kristie Smeltzer

Javier’s hacking cough from the living room startles me, but I know I will soon miss it.

Our yellow lab Bear noses into my palm—nose cold and wet, as it should be.

“Did I feed you?”

He leans a shoulder into my leg and rests his head against my hip. Our big ole boy used to get two dinners some nights when Javier and I “took turns” feeding him. Now Bear’s lucky if I remember to feed him both meals in a day.

“Let’s be safe.” I dump kibble into his bowl and watch him eat, tail wagging slowly, as if he, too, can only muster a fraction of his former zest for life.

Did I eat?

I rest my forehead on the cool glass of the sliding door to the deck. Staring out into the thick darkness, a memory flashes: sharing the hammock with Javier this summer, watching the Perseids’ fireballs soar across the sky. I used to love how isolated our home is, but now it feels like a lone lifeboat on a still sea with no search party on the way. When hope is gone, stars lose their luster.

A rotund racoon ambles up, fearless. He and his buddies pillage our bird feeders the nights I forget to bring them in. He places his paws on the glass, and I half expect him to knock. A sudden urge to smack the glass comes over me, but I resist. The raccoon peers in past my knees, looks up at me a moment. He grabs a white moth from the glass in both little hands and puts it in his mouth. The gesture looks so loving, a type of communion. Take these wings and eat them, for they are my flight.

Bear notices the racoon and lunges at the door, barking. In the living room, I stand over my husband in his hospital bed. Javier looks so small that I could probably carry him over the threshold, out into the cold night air to the hammock on the deck for us to stargaze one last time. He wouldn’t stay awake long enough to see the sky.

I wish I could eat him whole. Swallow him down to keep his physical body with me, even after he’s gone. I wish I could taste his wings.

Photo by Rob Mitchell, used and adapted under public domain.