Today was Easter and I hope it was happy for you. I had a good day. But on April 8 each year, our family remembers the passing of our beloved dog Stella.* It’s been 12 years, which is difficult to believe. Time has flown.
Here’s a flash fiction piece. It’s not about Stella, but about the furtive and fragmentary nature of memory. And there is a dog in it.
If you want to, you can listen to an audio reading of the piece.
On A Hill
There is no wind today, to stir the foxtails and fennel on the hill. There is just a muted fog, following a night of fog through a week of fog and rain. And a man standing on the hill, looking for the sunlight he believes is up there somewhere.
He loves the hill. When the wind is up, you might see three hawks, or five red-tailed hawks at once, standing in the sky as if hung on wires. Then one by one, they break and fall on field mice in the oat grass field below. The first time she let him hold her, they were here. And there where the trail goes through a stand of eucalyptus, their first kiss. They sat on a fallen log – close together – as the sun went down, and a great owl floated over, down the arroyo and away.
Or maybe it was not a woman but a dog. He grows confused. But yes, a young dog. They walked on this hill as the sun went down, into the ocean there, past that point of land. And the sun set with a lip of rose and a tongue of burnt orange.
He went with the dog another day – the sun high and bright – to where the trail falls between crags of volcanic rock to the pitch-soiled beach. The tide was out and the dog ran between the piles of drying kelp and back and forth to the ebbing foam, chasing a yellow ball he threw. No hawks then, but pelicans in their morning dives for food, lifting again heavy with fish.
Damn the fog. He can hear the oil crew boat come about and back through the swells to tie up at the pier. But he cannot see the belch of gray-black diesel exhaust from the stern, the men on deck pitching lines and tying up, and the scattering gulls.
That bright, clear day when the dog ran here, the boats came in just so, engines revving to control the approach. The dog lay down in the damp sand, afraid, ears flat against her head. He went and held her in his arms as blue herons floated over, wings still and silent, caught by light.
It’s hard to be of comfort in the face of dread, of nightfall, and looming grief. That summer he was young, and the woman was young. They left the hill and walked through the stand of trees in the falling dark, to the thicket of bamboo by the railroad. The world was dark and loud, with the tracks close by and a freight train passing, eighty cars or more.
He held her and worried how it all might end, as the world roared by too close. He counted the gaps between the boxcars defined by moonlight, by final twilight maybe. The number grew impossible until the last one passed, dragging the clatter and roar of it away beyond the hill.
Now he is alone in all this diffused, ambiguous light, with a dog’s collar in his pocket for comfort or for luck. And the sun – he thinks possibly – finally burning through.
On A Hill by Kyle Kimberlin
is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution
-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.