Jost kept a crow, the size of a chicken, lame and broken-winged, in his shirt. He carried it next to his breast, where it listened to his heart, became his true love, his companion. Its oiled black head, a comfort under his thumb. Those were the last days, before the war, before the Germans came through and tossed babies in the air like skeet, shooting them before their fathers dug their own graves. Before people stood in line for rookwurst water. Then, there were mussels from the sea. A waving field of flowers, bright under the sun. When the crow learned to speak, he said fiets, calling for the bicycle, riding with Jost along the canal, under his shirt, the only way he still felt like flying.
The deer mother lay dead on the side of the highway, but the baby, steps behind, wobbled into the yard. Ida bottle-fed it in the kitchen, months, waiting for her own baby. It slept, curled at the foot of the bed like a big dappled dog. Female. No antlers burgeoned at the crown. The baby, female. No threat burgeoning below. When the baby came, Melvin let the deer go. The smell of a small human, the milk that came from Ida, more than the yearling could bear. It wouldn’t come up the step, but stood in the yard, looking in, lowering its head the way a dog stakes out prey. When it left, Ida watched it for a long time, its hind legs leaping, the tail, a soft white beacon, way into the trees.
Queenie was shot. My grandmother’s dog, who looks just like my dog now, a sleek, velvet-headed rat terrier. The house on Sleepy Hollow Road burned down to the foundation, nothing but char and ash and smoke for days. And Queenie, shivering in her haunches with no place to go after, met the barrel of a neighbor’s rifle. Twelve pounds of nothing.
My mother kept a woodchuck named Beaufort. It stayed in the house like a domestic cat, kept to a litter box it made itself out of rolls of toilet paper, wadded up in the cellar way. If you gave him a can of beer, the woodchuck could open it with his prehistoric hands, and lay on his back and drink the whole thing. He’d stumble around the house after, drunk, knocking into furniture, dropping the can on the kitchen floor, until he passed out on his back. He learned what he saw. If he could speak, he might shout out with anger. He might drive the car off the road.
Across town, my brother shoots a mouse with a CO2 gun as it runs across the kitchen counter. Only the back is hit, the legs limp, and it spirals in frenzied terror, trailing its own guts, screaming. My kid shouts, Shoot it again, to end it, but the violence is inherited. It comes to us in our blood, in our hands. We leave our prints on the wall, running down hallways toward light. The only way we feel like flying.