Tag Archives: Leanne Dunic

2015 Adult Winning Short Story – Without Her

 “all rights retained by the author”
by Leanne Dunic of Vancouver, B.C.    


I stare out my window, to the downhill layers of coniferous and deciduous trees, and beyond them, to the water undulating reflections of the light escaping the clouds. It’s a day not unlike any other on the island. It’s February, but the Camilla is in full bloom, the plum blossoms have started to bud. In the morning, the assortment of birds chirping grows each day. On the glass of my window, mosquitoes bond for the sake of the next generation.

Everything is looking forward to the arrival of spring – save for the fact that the island is burdened by the death of baby June. Her death was a shock. No one wants to be reminded of their own mortality, like a snowfall after the emergence of fruit blossoms. Whenever I think about it – and I try not to think about it – my chest feels as if it were filled with gravel. Of course, I can only imagine how it affected our friends Darcy and Pam.

Aimee and I have lived next door to them for three years, in a house just up from the bay. The four of us hit it off immediately. We’ve always considered ourselves to be blessed to have this couple, our most intimate friends, living right next door. Neither of us has been as close with another couple before. We each enjoy listening to Robert Wyatt, Roy Harper, and Brian Ferry, and discussing the impending doom of climate change. Neither of us trade tidbits about who is not talking to whom because of a property line conflict, or an unwelcomed use of one’s beach access. We all look past other islanders at the grocery store, or on the ferry.

I pass their house as I walk to the beach with the dog. I don’t see anyone there. The morning is sunny, but crisp. My breath collects behind my scarf, leaving a moist film around my mouth.

At the beach, the eagle is perched on top of the tree at the point. Same tree every morning. A seagull circles it, squawking. It makes a looping glide, then swoops towards the peak of the tree. The eagle does not seem disturbed. At one point, the seagull dives at the eagle. The eagle remains still, lets out its own mocking cry. The gull continues to protest.

The dog does not notice the racket going on above us. He’s content at sniffing at all the new sticks that the tide has brought with it. There is a fresh log on the beach this morning, and the one that has been on the beach for weeks has floated out to the bay. Along with a dozen loons, it bobs on the surface, taking on forms of imagined beasts.

The dog chews a branch, shredding one end to bits. I don’t want him to choke, or for the bits of wood to hurt his gums. I command him to stop but he doesn’t. I take the stick and throw it as far as I can out into the bay. He paces the shoreline, whimpering, sniffing for a sign, braving the cold waves coming in from the tugboat. “It’s gone,” I tell him. He thinks he can still get it. I offer other sticks, but he doesn’t look my way. I turn to head home.

I look for a sign of Darcy and Pam as I pass their house. Both of their cars are in the driveway, so they must be home. We used to regularly have dinner, listen to records, and drink wine. One night we were listening to an album featuring Brian Eno, Nico, Kevin Ayers, and John Cale performing at the Rainbow Hall in 1974. Darcy showed us the album cover – a photo of the four musicians standing on a stairwell just before the concert. “Check out the way John and Kevin are looking at each other. Kevin with that bemused grin. John had just caught him sleeping with his wife the night before, and here they are, about to play an iconic concert together.”

I don’t remember exactly how we ended up pairing off with each other that night, but none of us had reservations about it. We had grown so close, so quickly, it seemed like a natural progression of our relationship.

That first night we split off into separate rooms. I made love to Pam three times, my mouth covering hers to muffle her groans.

The next morning, Aimee wore one of Pam’s robes. The four of us ate cornflakes together. My head pounded and I was incredibly thirsty.

Darcy and Pam told us that they didn’t want kids, that they were consciously making the decision not to have them, going against expectations. I admired this about them. I used to think that Aimee and I would have kids, but they warmed me up to the possibility of not having them.

When they announced that they were expecting, I was shocked. I stood up. “I thought you guys were choosing not to have kids?”

Pam looked into my eyes with a straight face and said, “No, we’ve always wanted kids.” That was that. We never spoke about it again.

Since they didn’t plan to start a family, I assumed that Pam was on the pill. Of course, I wondered if June was Darcy’s child or mine. I’m sure that question ran through all of our minds, but it was easiest if we just accepted June as Darcy and Pam’s child.

The dog and I can smell bacon coming from our house. Our mouths salivate. Aimee has made us bacon and eggs with frozen hash browns for breakfast.

“Did you and Jack have a good walk?” Aimee asks.

“It was fine. The eagle was down there again this morning.”

“Oh, that’s good.” She slides the fried eggs onto our plates.

“Have you seen Darcy or Pam in the last few days?”

“I think they’re in hibernation mode. I’ll give them a call this afternoon and tell them I’ll bring dinner over tonight.” Aimee spoons a tablespoon of bacon fat from the pan onto the dog’s kibble.

Dogs aren’t much different from babies in the first few years. You dote on them, make sure they’re fed and hydrated, pick up their shit. Aimee and I became godparents to June. Since June couldn’t talk or crawl, she wasn’t too invasive. Darcy would wind up the mobile after laying her in the crib and she quickly fell asleep. Yet, after she was born, the four of us rarely got together. Her parents were transfixed by her.

June was named after the song, Moon in June. She was cute, as I suppose babies are. Her face seemed to always be red and more squished than I thought should be normal, but I am no baby expert. I looked for glimpses of myself, but couldn’t even see a resemblance to Pam.

I can still recall the way June whimpered. I must not think of her. I can hardly imagine what Pam and Darcy are feeling. It’s only been two weeks; the celebration of life was almost a week ago. Such a short life to celebrate.

June was cremated. We are going to scatter the ashes in the bay but it hasn’t been decided when.

The night that June died, I was at Pam’s house, and Darcy was at our place with Aimee. The living room smelled of breast milk, as did Pam. Her breasts were swollen. She said she shouldn’t drink since she was breastfeeding but it didn’t take much to convince her. She hadn’t had a drink for eight months. By midnight, Pam and I had drunk three bottles of wine between us. As I rubbed my hands and face in her breasts, Pam passed out. That’s when the baby started to cry.

When I returned to our house, Aimee and Darcy were naked, sitting on the floor across from each other. Darcy snipped weed onto a Life magazine cover, Aimee stretched her arms over her head. I told them that Pam had fallen asleep.

Darcy stood and collected his clothes. “Maybe I should head back then, I’m pretty exhausted, too.”

“That’s what happens when you have a baby,” I said with a sideways smile.

Darcy laughed half-heartedly. Aimee shot me a glare.

I should probably knock and invite Darcy and Pam to join the dog and I at the beach, but then I would have to say something, and what can I say? Aimee is better at these things.

At the beach, the eagle is gone. A flock of gulls rest on the small isle off of the beach, and there are about sixty loons floating nearby. The herring are here. There is a good chance of seeing porpoises or sea lions that have come to these waters to feed. The dog seems to have forgotten about the stick I tossed into the ocean in the morning.

Suddenly, the flock of loons rises from the surface in a fury. One of the birds smacks against the isle, its body held in the jaws of a mink. The mink pulls it underwater, its sleek body undulating at the surface like a serpent. A shiver creeps up my neck.

We walk up the forest path back up to the road. The dog treads on recently sprouted crocuses. This time, it’s the crows that are cawing. I lift the hood of my jacket. They fly frantically from tree to tree, their calls like barks. The dog chases one then loses interest. In the creek between our house and Pam and Darcy’s, there is a raven playing. It scoops water with its beak and tosses it to its back. It doesn’t look like it’s having fun as much as it is trying to clean itself.

There, at the window. My breath shortens. Pam. All I can see of her is her profile. She tucks her hair behind her ear then faces the window. I lift my hand to wave but she disappears.

“Aimee, could you hear the crows from here?”

“Yeah, they sound upset.”

“I think the raven pegged off with an egg or two.”

“So that’s what they’re fussing about.”

“Well, that’s what happens. The crows take the young from the poor little robins. Circle of life.”

Out the window, a few crows dart in the distance. There are more pairs of mosquitoes copulating on the other side of the glass. It seems early for mosquito procreation, but I guess that’s what comes with good weather.

“Honey, I’m done with the paper. Do you want to read it?”

“Maybe later.”

“There was an article about bald eagles. It talked about their population comeback, but there’s some bacteria that’s killing them and other waterfowl. Global warming, I tell you.”

I wonder what they call a flock of eagles. The eagle at the beach is always alone. The ravens are solitary, too. I suppose raptors are not social birds. “Babe, do you know what they call a flock of eagles or ravens?”

“Well, I know a group of crows is a murder.”

“I think a group of ravens is called a conspiracy. Maybe it’s the same for eagles.”

The dog barks, shoves his face under my hand. Pet me, he says with his wet nose. I stroke his snout.

It’s hard to understand how a life like June’s can just vanish. Darcy and Pam are making plans to move – they can’t stand to live in a place where they are reminded of their baby girl, and who knows how far away they’ll move. I’m sure even the island is too much of a reminder. There’s nowhere to escape on an island. Same people, same deer, same birds eating other birds.

I wonder if I will miss them, if I will miss Pam. I call to mind our hands, writhing together, pressing and crushing. I think of her breasts, how they were barely a handful when I first held them. How they became engorged with milk, how they continue to grow for June