Sandra McDonald is an award-winning author of young adult mysteries and a short story collection featuring LGBTQ protagonists. This particular story, as is often the case with short fiction I point to here, has nothing to do with any of the books she’s best known for.
If you were really committed to this escape, you’d already be on a train to Logan Airport. You wouldn’t be sitting here knowing that anyone in your study group who drifts to the third-floor windows might see you, come outside, and talk you out of this totally insane plan to throw away years of sacrifice and hard work.
Of course it’s insane. You’re in the middle of an intense personal crisis brought on by the realization you don’t want to be an exhausted, debt-ridden, low-paid junior lawyer for the rest of your life. On the other hand, if you don’t have your damn J.D., what do you have? You see no path forward to a life of happiness and fulfillment.
Don’t worry, your crisis won’t last long.
The first rule of the universe is that time is relative. My definition of “long” is the interval it takes for continents to smash into each other, for the Marianas Trench to chew through the Pacific plate, for the traveling hotspot underneath Yellowstone to build a new volcano and spew its contents across the North American landscape. (Casual Visitor just darted out to digest the story of the hotspot’s next eruption. It’s a good one.) Your definition of “long” is the line at the coffee shop, or the three days it took to process your last financial aid request, or the amount of time it’s been since you went home to New Hampshire (four months, according to your mother’s Nature Conservancy calendar, because that summer internship was a bitch and ground you down to exhaustion every week).
Certainly you and I don’t experience time the same way. Neither does Casual Visitor, but even it would agree that the interval between now and the moment your father dies on his sofa is a relatively small span indeed.
No one will eulogize your father. There will be no flowers, no sermon, no framed picture on an easel, no sleek silver pen beside a white guest register, no PowerPoint pictures accompanied by sentimental music, no sorrowful expressions over solemn handshakes, no quiet breakdowns by your devastated mother. Your dad might be strangely relieved by the lack of fuss. He’s a good man who knows the value of boredom. He sells insurance. His days are filled with checking and rechecking clauses, forms, policies and actuarial tables. He doesn’t like church or politics, but he loves his family and a series of Labradoodles named after the cartoon characters of his youth. The latest one is a four-year old named Scooby.
Scooby dies soon, too. He crawls under your parents’ bed with one of your father’s old socks and heaves a final, sad sigh for walks untaken.
Casual Visitor is aware of these biologic constructs called dogs, but has never met one. To do so would require renting a Sleeve and descending into the dangerous, chaotic World. It creates a simulation instead, plays with it for .02 seconds, and then deconstructs it again. It doesn’t see the appeal. Maybe it should build a cat, instead.