“Where did you go?” my dad coos at the dog. “Did you see something? Did you see a ‘who’?” It’s not exactly in character to reference a Dr. Seuss book. Yertle the Turtle was the only one of his stories read to me with regularity as a child. There is inescapable irony in this and the trajectory of life, first attempting to look far, instead of close.
“He spent most of his time in the ditch again. He loves the long grass.” I stare past the mesh in the screen door seeing the thinness of grass slip along his inner nostril, one by one. “Can’t believe they’ve let it grow up so high.”
“Maybe they need to save money this year.” Dad snorts and wipes grease from his frying pan.
A who? I read Horton Hears a Who as an adult after it was turned into a movie. Although I was too old for it to become a true favorite, I did pause at the metaphor of the small world, the unnoticed realms damaged even when it’s unintentional.
A who? I swirl the idea as cream in my first cup of coffee.
On my way to work, I make the first left hand turn onto the rumbling Townhall Rd. A truck pulls behind me. My shoulders sag. My drive is ruined no longer determined by my own pace but pressing from behind. I press my foot to the gas and remind myself, “45. You must at least go 45.” Although, on the rolling country road sandwiched in high grass, I’d rather go 30.
I come up over the almost final hill. An oncoming truck rises to meet me. Slow. He’s going slow. I lift my foot off the gas.
“No,” The truck behind me might growl. Its gleaming metal bumper grins.
I grimace. “45”.
Just over the crest, two birds swoop across the road. The first clears easily. The second? My ears strain to remember. No thump. I didn’t hit it. Did I push it? A tap. I might have heard a tap. Clip. Did I clip it? Somehow the reality that I clipped its wings. The reality that the bird would remain conscious to feel its opportunity cut short is worse.
Another day, another week, another morning, the dog presses through June tall grass. Its color is turning to reflect the dog’s golden strands and curly tufts. Along the highway it’s been mowed. Bent and sliced blades gave way to metal blades. Straw, vampire sucked light green. Flat grass. Dead grass under cracked eggs.
The dog circles the shells another kind of transparent except for a strand of red. Blood.
Again my father asks, “Solo. Did you find a ‘who’?”
“A cache of eggs. Run over. They mowed.”
“Along the highway.”
He shakes his head. “One of those birds that makes their nest in the tall grass. When we used to cut hay, the first cut almost always came just before those birds were hatched. Then, the second cut. Same thing.”
My stomach clenches. I swallow.
“First one generation, then another. Lost. Too bad.”
I stare across the yard at our own freshly mowed lawn.
The road to work is hemmed with by mowed grass. Across the sky the clouds look more like smoke than water’s breath. A wisp twisted from multiple fires. Signals. Smoke signals too many to read. Wings press. Flap. Until messages clear.
A who? Which is more melancholy? The barely was or never?
At work the final gravel crunch snaps and I hear my heels clip instead of bird twitter. The door locks tap. Closed. The sky is clear. Fire. Smoke. Snuffed out.
A who? Which is mourned? The barely known or the ignored?
And the words come back to me, “A person’s a person, no matter how small.” If grass and birds aren’t persons, then why do I feel so bad?