Guarding the Heart

          Since our French Bulldog, Jean-Paul, passed away, I attend Pet-Loss Support meetings. My husband refuses to join me—that's alright. Some of them are entertaining, so I don’t mind going alone.

          Last meeting, a man handed me a picture of his daughter's dead Madagascar Hissing Cockroach. He smiled at me in a secret kind of way.

          "We called her ‘Fluff.’”

          I almost smiled back. I could not imagine caring about a cockroach, even an exotic one. But human nature is strange, and one must guard the heart.

          Lately, I find my eyes landing on the faces of a few male mourners, amazed by their nobility.

          A woman with curly hair and an inexplicable yellow umbrella-hat stands up and sighs. She explains that her late rabbit was a confidante stronger than her father.

          "Yes!" an attractive middle-aged man shouts.

          I had a less-than-sympathetic father once. I wanted to shout “yes!” also.

          Another symptom of emotional pain; removing my wedding ring before meetings, burying it in the pocket of my gym bag.

          Jean-Paul died of old age, but looked so young. The day he died he could have passed for a puppy.

          I tell my husband about how helpful the meetings are.

          "Absolute bullshit!” he snips. This from a man who never swore before our dog died. Now he’s angered easily about so many things. Mourning a beloved pet can do this to regular people, quietly. They may lose a sense of scale—and sometimes, a sense of decency.

          I’ll never bring home another pet. It would kill us.

MEG POKRASS has published stories in many magazines and her work has been internationally anthologized, most recently in the Norton anthology Flash Fiction International(2015). Her books include Damn Sure Right, My Very End of the Universe, Bird Envy and The Dog Looks Happy Upside Down. She is associate editor for Frederick Barthelme's New World Writing and founder of New Flash Fiction Review.