Joe Lodge CC
IN THE HOUSE OF STRANGERS, WE HAVE A REUNION
The four of us sit at the kitchen table
while the elderly pugs Shelby’s getting paid to watch
hobble around our chairs. I lift my feet onto the table
as if it didn’t belong to strangers, and Eli pushes
another beer toward me, because he thinks it’s funny
to see me get drunk, the way I laugh
at nothing and invade people’s personal space.
I lean my head on Haley’s shoulder and stroke her arm.
Haley’s sad tonight, because love confuses her. I wish
I could take her sadness out of her and pummel it
with a mallet, but all I can do is tell her how pretty she is,
how she looks like a movie star, or a runway model,
or a trophy wife, a point to which the pugs bark in agreement;
or maybe they want to go outside, so Shelby opens the back door
and they waddle out onto the dark green grass,
dark green like the jewel on the ring Eli’s wearing
on his middle finger, a ring I got him years ago
for either his birthday or Christmas. He tells me
he always wears it as he taps his long, oval nails on his beer can.
Then the pugs come back in, and Shelby releases an excessive yawn,
her signal to us to be grateful that she’s staying up this late,
though it’s only eleven. At some point, I go up the stairs
to use the bathroom and to peek into the bedrooms
of the strangers, and when I come back down, my head spins
with happiness because they’re still here, right in front of me,
three people who I’ve decided I’d love even if they did something
terrible. I indulge in little memories, like the time
I spent an hour flat-ironing Eli’s hair, which is long
and almond-brown and smells like a summer forest; or how Haley and I
danced next to each other to The Little Old MIll
at our kindergarten recital, each of us wearing
yellow braids made of yarn; and how, two New Year's Eves ago,
I tried to hypnotize Shelby using steps from a Wikihow article,
telling her over and over again how sleepy she’s getting.
When I return to the present I see all these memories sitting manifest
in front of me, and the rest of the night goes by
like the kind of good dream you worry you only get to have once.
When it’s time to leave, I grow stubborn, lingering in the hall.
I give a long goodbye to the older of the two pugs,
nuzzling my face into its short, bristly fur. I try to will myself
to cry, because wouldn’t the moment mean so much more
if I was crying? But Eli’s waiting for Haley and I in his car,
and Shelby’s going upstairs to sleep, and I can’t coax out tears
for the life of me. I point out to Haley a framed photo
of the strangers on the wall. They’re swimsuit-clad,
smiling at the beach. Maybe my friends and I
should go to the beach. There, we’ll all wear the same perfume
of sand and salt, swim in the same blue ocean,
wear identical garlands of hibiscus in our hair.
And the pugs will be there, too, stumbling around
in little sunset circles, because I miss them already.
Annie Przypyszny is a student at American University, majoring in Creative Writing. She is the Associate Poetry Editor for The Adirondack Review as well as the Special Projects Editor for Grace and Gravity. She has poems published or forthcoming in The Northern Virginia Review, Pacifica Literary Review, The Healing Muse, North Dakota Quarterly, Tupelo Quarterly, Ponder Review, and others.
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