Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One – Colleen Burner
Cal sits at his kitchen table, spreading peanut butter on his waffles. His concentration makes this into a kind of work. The waffles are perfectly round, toaster hot, and the peanut butter softens into each recessed square. He remembers his uncle calling this “spackling”. Cal spackles five waffles.
“I could never be in a relationship with someone who has a peanut allergy, no sir,” he says to the dog. “For their own sake. That would be one at-risk mother-fucker.”
The dog is a Boston terrier and its body is wedged into the space between the oven and the cabinets. He’s been dead for two days but his head is still shiny, sleek, eyes still bulging, the way that always made Cal think of a newborn baby. Cal liked to rub the dog with baby oil, pushing the skin of its face back through his two hands. This made the dog’s face look like it was being born, and then made its eyes and ears look like it was traveling at a very fast speed. Cal had tried to do this to his own face, but his hands weren’t big enough. Cal and the dog were oiled creatures, cohabitating.
Cal spears three bites of waffle onto his fork. For all the peanut butter he uses, he refuses any syrup. The peanut butter is the kind with sugar and palm oil mixed in. He gulps orange juice after swallowing each bite and enjoys the way it makes his throat feel like a clean pipe.
Cal hadn’t named the dog. Whenever he wanted it to be next to him or walk with him, he made a squeaking kiss noise, but never considered whether the dog thought this was referring to him or if the dog was simply curious about the noise. The dog was simply curious about the noise. Cal remembers the dog licking its paws, chewing on its toenails, making a crunch that made him think of teeth chewing on teeth.
The dog’s insides had tried to exit the dog’s body. It was damage brought on by a parasite that had tucked itself inside the dog’s new body before the dog, after just being born, had been licked clean. Over five days, the dog left piles of blind white worms in the middle of the kitchen floor. To Cal, they had looked like root systems growing up from below.
The way the dog is wedged against the oven reminds Cal of a dog figurine his uncle owned. The figurine was painted plaster, almost the size of the Boston terrier, in a sleeping pose. Out of the corner of Cal’s eyes it had looked like a real dog. Cal liked that it was always the same. When Cal’s uncle was moved into the assisted living home, he was only allowed to take a few boxes of things and Cal didn’t know if the fake dog got put in one of the boxes. The fake dog had been put in one of the boxes. Cal’s uncle keeps the dog figurine on the floor by his bed.
Cal scrapes the waffle crumbs and smears of peanut butter into the middle of his plate with his fork. He wipes the pile up with his index finger and works it into the cup of his tongue. He likes the froth his saliva makes as it mixes with the thickness of the peanut butter. He laughs with his finger wagging in his mouth and mumbles, “At-risk mother-fucker.”
Cal thinks his uncle’s dog figurine makes his kitchen look like a real room. He pets the dog with baby oil but its eyes don’t open, it doesn’t look like it’s traveling fast. His uncle’s dog smells differently than he remembered. His uncle’s dog is sleeping on a thick puddle a different color than the floor, a thick puddle congealing and reaching toward the white roots.
Colleen Burner hails from Kansas and Missouri. She received her BFA from the Kansas City Art Institute and is currently pursuing a masters in Creative Writing at Portland State University, in Oregon. Her writing and collages have been featured in Number One Magazine (UMKC) and has had a collage installed on the H&R Block Artspace Project Wall in Kansas City, MO. Since moving to a wet climate, her writing has largely been set in the American southwest. She is currently between websites, but her collage work can be seen at frenchforgluing.tumblr.com.