Small Fingers

Eileen Frankel Tomarchio


Our cat died yesterday.

Just after the vet called to give us a creatinine number and some throat-cleared script about letting nature take its course, Bunny disappeared. For three days we searched, all his favorite hideouts, until one of us mentioned the small bedroom with the closed door and lowered shades. The other one of us wanted to look appalled but put on a good stoical face. We both knew the door to the bedroom had a mind of its own, centimetering open on drafty days, snapping shut on gusty ones, thanks to a wonky latch we’ve never fixed. A look was justified, obviously, though neither of us said so. We’d stopped pitting obviousness against one another years ago. It wore us out, the effort for such small victories..

There Bunny was, wedged between the back of the TV stand and the wall. A cozying spot he’d moved on from years before and rediscovered, we guessed. Upright and splayed like an insect in amber. Hind legs threaded through the dusty coax cables and power cords. Haunches sunken. Not yet stiff. By minutes we’d probably missed his last agonal breaths, the death rattle that froze open his jaws.

We wanted to bury him in the woods out back right away but couldn’t lift him because his front left paw held fast to something in the tangle. One of us chuckled. The other wanted to scold, but had read something once about defense mechanisms at such moments and remembered with horror almost losing it, too, when a relative let rip a fart at the funeral home. It was true–Bunny had always gotten caught on things. Clung and shred and suckled to the point of neurosis. Oven mitts, dryer balls, dank slippers, pilly towels, unwashed briefs, broom handles, cereal boxes, stuffies and Beanies. Never enough in our small habitat to imprint or sacrifice. Not even the pawfuls of lilac hobnail bedspread he took in, gluttonous and questioning, just before we got rid of the bed, lowered the shades, closed the door. The days he hissed at us because ours weren’t the small fingers that had always freed his.

Carefully, we eased out his paw and what it held: a small knitted square of chunky yarn, dangling from the dewclaw. Freeform holes from wide needles. A beginner’s effort, discarded or hidden or planted. An act of apathy or shame or foresight.

Dried saliva made the square stiffish, like a miniature chainmail. A loose loop formed a hard teat. We tried to release the square, but the yarn was twisted tight to the dewclaw and the dewclaw was so unruly it curled back into the paw pad. The only way to separate them was to cut. Which, though? It wasn’t obvious. One of us chose the claw, the other the square. It’s ours, she wanted us to find it, one of us said. We didn’t find it, he did, said the other. We argued over potential botchings. A careless clip of the nail too close to the quick, drawing blood, staining the square. An overzealous snip of the yarn, ends too frayed to tie together.

We made an impasse of it, just to have a reason to sit on the floor for a while. So one of us could pick at the carpeting for missed traces and regret that we’d rented a steam cleaner from Home Depot so quickly, without thinking. So the other could stare off at the wavy glass window with the puckered Papa Smurf decal, the funhouse-mirror oaks outside.

The stink thickened, grew heavy. It was getting dark, anyway. The bedside lamps had gone the way of the bed. The burned-out ceiling bulbs hung like sleeping grey bats. The door held its breath, neither open nor shut.

Out back, one of us dug the small hole and wanted to curse a streak every time the shovel struck a rock. The other watched, holding Bunny who was hardening into something harder than the square that wouldn’t let go.

One of us thought of sediment and sinking and how everything eventually softens and slurries together underground—the corporeal and the inorganic—so the very idea of keepsakes is pointless, really.

The other thought of tight weaves and patchwork block blankets and of how many attempts it can take for small hands to be proficient, for a daughter to want to show off what she’s done.


Eileen Frankel Tomarchio works as a librarian in a small NJ suburb. Her writing appears in The Longleaf Review, Pigeon Pages NYC, Barrelhouse Online, and X-R-A-Y. She holds an MFA from NYU Film. You can find her on Twitter at @EileenTomarchio.