The Case of Gentle Disregard

by Jennifer Howard

Maybe it is less ridiculous to hope to fall in love forever when you are forty-something, almost fifty. Some whales experience menopause and still they kiss other whales, yes? Every person who comes into your house—who used to come into your house—pets your cat differently, some rough some chaotic or along the grain only, ears back lower back chin belly. You have no default way to pronounce pecan but you can let this go. A past cat has taught this person what they like and they take this cat’s petting preferences on to the next cat and it is rarely different for humans. You have felt hands on your body working toward another person’s pleasure. To whom would you even struggle to say Pee-CAN, PEE-can, puh-kahn? You only have one grapefruit spoon and the problem is so much citrus, not so many mouths. Mourning doves sip water, they suck it up. Other birds can’t do this. Other birds—right now you are still other birds—tilt their heads back to let the water fall down their throats. Answer: eye contact, dreams about an airport, the ugly music of the sump pump saving you from flooding.

Author's Note

I started this piece, and this series of pieces, hoping to replicate the Two-Minute Mysteries I was obsessed with in my childhood, or an Encyclopedia Brown story, although centered on adult confusions. But adult confusions are messy, and I can find myself stymied about how to answer even the simplest questions from the doctor. Are you sexually active? What was the first day of your last period? I don’t know how much sex or how much blood counts as notable. I can’t answer a yes/no question without a full paragraph of caveats, and I’m often unsure how to define when anything begins or ends. Other stories in the series deal more directly with grief, after my dad passed away last summer. This one doesn’t directly reference that ultimate mystery, but I think it still carries the chaos and effort of trying to understand a world that makes little sense.

Jennifer A. Howard teaches and edits Passages North in Michigan's snowy Upper Peninsula. Her collection of flash sci-fi, You on Mars, was published by The Cupboard Pamphlet.