By Jordan Kurella (art by MARTHA WIRKIJOWSKI)
The last time Kevin and I argued about the dog’s ashes, I made him cry. So for six months, his dead Akita sat in a plastic bag on my kitchen counter next to the rice, which also hadn’t been touched in as long. The Akita’s name was Buckwheat, a dumb name for a dumb dog, which was probably why Kevin loved her so much; he adored things that thought he was God.
So today he brought up the subject again, over frozen pizza.
“I have a new urn picked out,” he said. “It’ll look great on the mantle, and people can pay their respects.”
But nobody ever looked at our mantle. My husband’s decorating style was Target vs IKEA; everybody had what we had.
“I really think we should spread her ashes in the garden,” I said. “She liked it out there, remember?”
“Laura,” he said. “Things shit in the garden. I don’t want things shitting on my Buckwheat.” He stood up. “Just think about it?”
I nodded, but I’d already made up my mind.
The next football Saturday, I kissed Kevin goodbye and shut the door. He’d loved that dog more than me for years, and it was time to show him what that meant. I grabbed Buckwheat’s bag of ashes and a wide brimmed hat.
I was going gardening.
I threw open the back door like Gary Cooper in High Noon. I was a hero, going to reap the rewards of my actions with the bravado that I was due. There was one way these ashes were getting taken care of—my way; the only way.
I tossed the first handful over my tiny plot of roses; over my only little smokebush. It kissed roses, hid in the smokebush, and sank into the black mulch, masking my deed. I could get away with this; Kevin might never know. But there’s a thing about funerary ashes that the movies never tell you: Akitas leave a fuckton behind.
When Buckwheat’s bag was finally empty, the small garden was coated in a blanket of her. I tried watering to drown the ash, I tried spreading Buckwheat around, but it was no use. What I had done was obvious. The sight of Kevin’s dog smeared over my roses and smokebush brought me to tears, and I stood and cried for five minutes until I caught a neighbor staring at me.
I waved a quick “MYOB” and skulked back inside.
There was no point to my eventual, careful, concocted explanation — I could tell from Kevin’s botched parking job that he was drunk. Then he came in with three friends and drank some more. Buckwheat never came up. No one glanced at the mantle.
No one even glanced at me.
The roses died. The smokebush, too. Then so did everything else in the garden. I watched the roses as they died. I watched their vines yellow and wither and turn black, all the while mourning the death of my marriage as they turned.
I’ve since looked through our Wedding Album a hundred times. And I’ve thumbed through the past ten years of birthday cards from Kevin, watching his notes go from limericks to “HBD, Laura. Love, K.” Who did this to us? Me? Him?
I wanted that limerick/Wedding Album Kevin back. I wanted all the Saturdays we spent together back. I wanted us back.
I hired a cleaning service for two months only to fire them, just so I could accuse them of “losing Buckwheat.” I couldn’t deal with killing my garden and my marriage in the same evening, and then having my husband blame me for both. I needed that lie so much, I started to believe it myself.
So when I told Kevin the lie about the ashes, he buried his head in his hands, and his whole body shook the couch we were sitting on. Somewhere in the sobs, I said, “I think we need to see a marriage counselor.”
“Yeah,” he said.
“I want to love you again,” I said.
He looked up at me with his eyes red and wet and bright all at the same time. He wiped his nose with the back of his hand and took a deep breath.
“You know,” he said. “I don’t think I ever did.”
I bought him that dumb dog. I came home with Buckwheat squirming in my arms as a peace offering—something to save our marriage. Something to make Kevin love me more. Something we could use to spend time together. We could take this big dumb Akita on walks. People would compliment me on my choice of breed. People would compliment us on how well behaved she was.
But she never was well behaved, and nobody ever complimented me about the dog. Buckwheat became Kevin’s dog, and our marriage fell apart month after month as Kevin fell further and further in love with her. We never talked anymore. We yelled. And when we did, Kevin would grab the leash and go out the door. Both of them bonding without me.
I never forgave Buckwheat for that. I never forgave Kevin for that.
I didn’t kill her, no. Not really. But I never called the vet when I noticed she wasn’t eating, and then not drinking. I never called when I saw her vomit in my slippers every morning. I just let it slip by—like all our arguments. Like everything else.
Like her ashes, I let Buckwheat’s failing health linger in the house for weeks before I told Kevin about it. And when I finally did, the fallout was huge. Catastrophic.
“So you blame Laura for everything?” our marriage counselor asked. It was our fourth session with her. Things were progressing divorcewards.
“Yes,” Kevin said.
It felt good to hear him say it. It was done now.
“And you, Laura? Who do you blame?” she asked.
I turned to watch the clock tick on her counter.
Jordan Kurella is a disabled and bisexual writer living in Ohio with her husband and service dog. She grew up all over the world, including Moscow and Manhattan, and in her past lives was a radio DJ, barista, and social worker. Jordan's fiction has been published in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, On The Premises, and Turn To Ash. Her personal essays have appeared on Salon.com and NPR's CarTalk.com. Her story, "The Captain's Folly" is taught at Iowa State University.
(Artist) Martha Wirkijowski's extensive portfolio of oil paintings consist of luminous portraits, landscapes, and still lifes. Her work has been noted for its dramatic use of color light and shadow. Martha's artistic passion takes influence from her polish father and great-grandfather, along with her love for traveling. She was particularly enlightened by the mysterious atmospheres of Amsterdam and Providence, RI and seeks to translate these sensations into her paintings. In 2016, she graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design with a BFA in Illustration. During her studies, she further explored the elusive medium of oil paint and continues to devote time in her studio every day.
Artist's Statement, "I'd Rather Go out Alone", Oil on canvas, 20" x 16"
My oil paintings resonate from the influence of my conversations and dreams. My speech mannerisms, which I handle sensitively, are comparable to the ways in which I block in brush strokes in my paintings. The style of my work is mainly focused on simplified colors and shapes; so that I am able to visually communicate with every brush stroke.
Much like many of my recurring dreams, my paintings range from the foreboding to horrific. I create oil paintings that span from suburban landscapes to uncanny subjects such as ghosts and monsters. The tamer subjects look appealing, but become progressively macabre when further inspected; detailed with crooked geometric shapes and infesting shadows. My horror paintings are based off of the disturbing visuals I experienced in my dreams. As dreams are fragments of reality and imagination, the paintings are referenced from collage images and sketches which I then translate through my blocked-in brushwork.