University of Texas at El Paso

         June Sylvester Saraceno


Dead Giveaways                             



Whitey the mouse died on New Year's day. I knew Terry would see it as some sort of omen or something. I had given her that mouse as a kind of joke. She had been horrified. She couldn't even touch it. For the first few months whenever it got out of the cage, she called me over to catch it and put it back in, which was fine by me. By the time I moved in, she had gotten to the point where she'd take it out of the cage and play with it on our bed. I started to hate the mouse. The incessant squeaking on the wheel every night really annoyed me. Almost as much as not being able to scare Terry with it anymore. When we came in that morning, the mouse was lying on the wheel, looking distinctly dead. We were still a little drunk from the parties and I was afraid Terry would get dramatic on me. She was the first to laugh, but when I started laughing, she began to cry and say, "Poor, poor Whitey, all alone on New Year's." Which I thought was a little ridiculous. But that's Terry. She gets as worked up over a dead mouse as she does a person or something. When we finally went to bed she didn't even want to have sex, said she was feeling sad because of Whitey's death. I didn't tell her how stupid I thought the whole thing was. In the end I guess the joke backfired.



"The first dead robin of fall," he said, kicking the brownish lump of feathers on the sidewalk. The air was growing a little cooler. He is unmoved by anything, I thought, remembering his coldness when Whitey died. He is like someone who has just walked out of a room, perpetually. If I did leave, just go, move out, he wouldn't notice for days. Then when he did, he'd just order a pizza and turn on the TV. Suddenly the fiery maple leaves he stepped on, the cracks in the sidewalk, the harsh sound of his steps all had significance, meaning. "What? What is it? Oh Jesus! You're not in a mood because of that bird are you?" He crunched along. I knew he was getting pissed. I could calm him down with a word. Any word. I said nothing. "I suppose you want to go back and give it a proper burial?" He kicked at a pile of leaves carefully mounded beside the walk. That is someone's work, I thought. Someone went to a great effort to rake those leaves up and pile them there. His heavy brown boots falling, falling, on leaves, cracks.




I knew Terry would expect me to feel something I didn't, so I practiced. I thought of other springs, when I was a kid and collected tadpoles and bugs only to find them dead in their jars the next day. I was disappointed, would dump them out and try again. I tried to think of anything I could say that would show her I was affected by the whole stupid thing. But not a lot came. I hadn't seen Bruce for years and because of our ten-year age difference, we weren't close growing up. I had no idea why he killed himself but the last thing I felt was grief or sympathy. I pretty much saw it as his ultimate stupid, self-absorbed, whiny little tantrum. And I blame him for doing it the way he did and leaving mom and dad to clean it all up. He had always been a prick and I never really liked him, brother or not. But Terry would expect emotion over this one. And, of course, I'll have to go to the funeral. I have no idea what to even say that will be enough for her. Of course I could say that I can't even talk about it because it's simply too much, not right now, I'm speechless, in shock.




I have never known Chris to feel such grief. He tried to talk about it, but he said he couldn't even find the words to begin. I know it's because he is unused to talking about his feelings. I wonder how many times I've been wrong about him, how often I've taken his silence for insensitivity. Like when Whitey died. He probably just didn't want me to see his feelings because he would have been embarrassed to grieve over a mouse. As if that mattered. I can't leave him now, though. Even though I've been trying for almost a year to find the way. How can I leave him when his only brother has just killed himself? Terry took the Kleenex in her hand and wiped at the cobwebs in the corner of the window sill. The hollow flies rustled like paper. Maybe I should try harder at making this work. Maybe I can get him to open up. If he feels safe with me, if he knows I'll be there for him no matter what, he may be able to share his feelings with me more deeply. This whole suicide tragedy could bring us closer together. She looked out the window at the lawn that had dried out and turned slightly brown from the summer heat.                                                                                                      

June Sylvester Saraceno is author of Altars of Ordinary Light, as well as a chapbook of prose poems titled Mean Girl Trips. She is a professor and English Program Chair at Sierra Nevada College, Lake Tahoe and founding editor of the Sierra Nevada Review.