Glen Pourciau ~ Two Short Pieces


I was at the col­lege for an author talk on a nov­el based on local his­to­ry. A few dozen peo­ple attend­ed and most of us head­ed after­ward to a refresh­ment table loaded with desserts pre­pared by stu­dents in the culi­nary school. I put slices of pound cake and choco­late cake on a paper plate and I stood at a small table that sup­port­ed my cup of water as I ate. If the cake hadn’t looked so deli­cious I’d have bolt­ed after the writer’s last word because I’d seen Mr. and Mrs. Y in the audi­ence and feared she’d but­ton­hole me. Mrs. Y and I were for­mer col­leagues and we hadn’t seen each oth­er in almost a year. I’d met Mr. Y once or twice at staff events. His mode was to stand beside Mrs. Y and bob his head while she stretched her neck toward the near­est per­son and began the bur­row­ing process. My name was already more than she need­ed to know.

I saw Mrs. Y bump her elbow into Mr. Y and ges­ture toward me. They were on their way.

Where have you been?” she asked. I smiled faint­ly, my answer to ques­tion num­ber one. They held cake plates, and their water cups joined mine on the table. “Isn’t this cake moist? How have you been doing? What have you been up to?”

More of the same.”

Same what?” she asked. She paused. I did not inter­rupt the silence. “Are you still on the east end?” I nod­ded. “You have friends out that way?”

I won­dered what dif­fer­ence it made to her where I lived and how I was get­ting on with any friends. She sure­ly didn’t expect an invi­ta­tion from me. I had always min­i­mized con­tact with her and had nev­er asked her a per­son­al question.

I don’t think I’ve ever asked where you’re from orig­i­nal­ly,” she said.

You haven’t.”

She wait­ed, lean­ing in, as if lis­ten­ing to me. “Do you have fam­i­ly here? Parents? Siblings? Children?”

Why give me exam­ples of what fam­i­ly meant? I stared at her, hop­ing she might ask her­self why I didn’t answer. I felt an impulse to ask Mr. Y if he knew of any chil­dren he’d fathered out of wedlock.

Mrs. Y eyed me with frus­tra­tion and impa­tience. I imag­ined her stick­ing her hand in my mouth, barg­ing through cake crumbs, and reach­ing down my throat for answers, sub­merg­ing her arm up to the shoul­der, her wrig­gling fin­gers scrap­ing my pelvis.

I thought the author was inter­est­ing,” she went on. “Did you enjoy the book?”

I’d only read a hun­dred pages, though I pre­ferred not to admit that to Mrs. Y. She might ask me why I’d stopped, and I thought it would be ungra­cious to dis­par­age the book after the author had flown in and giv­en a well-pre­pared talk.

I shrugged, leav­ing my reply at that. I chewed my last bite of cake and gulped my water. I nod­ded at Mr. and Mrs. Y and left them, but she pur­sued me, call­ing my name. I stopped and turned.

She told me that some­one we’d worked with had passed away and there would be a ser­vice for him lat­er in the week. If she knew my num­ber, she could text me the infor­ma­tion. I said I could look up the details online. She said she could send them in half a minute and save me the trouble.

Do you plan to attend?” she asked. “At work, you seemed to be dig­ging a hole so you could cov­er your­self up, so I thought a funer­al might inter­est you.”

I coughed, a crumb stick­ing in my throat. I walked away with­out address­ing her remark.

Maybe I’ll see you there.”

I kept going, feel­ing her, down to my footsteps.



Nan and I bare­ly spoke to each oth­er, but our silence deep­ened fol­low­ing the dis­ap­pear­ance of my dachs­hund, Much. After forty years of mar­riage we found we got along best when we didn’t share our thoughts. We both har­bored resent­ments, though nei­ther of us remem­bered where they all came from. Nan also resent­ed Much, who’d nev­er done any­thing to her, and often referred to him as Mooch or Mooch Pooch or Sausage. I sus­pect­ed she chan­neled her resent­ment toward me through my com­plete­ly inno­cent dog. Nan vol­un­teered at the library and the local soup kitchen and because of that felt supe­ri­or to me, a retired per­son who did not vol­un­teer. She con­veyed her per­ceived supe­ri­or­i­ty with­out ever com­ing right out with it, which was her style, I’m sor­ry to say. So I had my rea­sons for resent­ing her.

Had Nan’s resent­ment grown so much that she felt com­pelled to be destruc­tive? What could she have hoped to gain or to prove? Did it amuse her to imag­ine me enraged? Due to what­ev­er ideas were jerk­ing her around, I returned from a trip to the bank and the gro­cery store to find that Much was no longer in the house. Nan was ensconced in her favorite chair in our bed­room, read­ing a mur­der mys­tery. I waved at her and she faint­ly nod­ded. As I put the gro­ceries away I start­ed to look for Much. My con­cern mount­ing, I searched every room and the back­yard but saw no sign of him. Nan did not ask what I was doing. I got in the car and drove around the neigh­bor­hood. I asked sev­er­al walk­ers if they’d seen an aging dachs­hund wan­der­ing around. When I got back, Nan did not ask where I’d been, and I denied her the sat­is­fac­tion of con­fronting her.

I went to my chair and sat, imag­in­ing Much rolling out from under the sofa and trot­ting toward me, ema­nat­ing good­will. Was Nan prank­ing me? Was Much stashed inside a box in our clos­et? Had she giv­en him to some­one she’d met at the soup kitchen? Had she killed him and thrown his body into a dump­ster? Was Much on the loose some­where, afraid and won­der­ing where he was? Was she chuck­ling to her­self as she pic­tured me ask­ing myself these ques­tions? I was tempt­ed to hop out of my chair and demand an expla­na­tion, but no, I wasn’t play­ing into her hands, into the role she’d imag­ined for me. She’d deny her guilt and enjoy watch­ing me suf­fer. Maybe Much would turn up. Maybe she’d hid­den him some­where and would bring him home. Why use him to express her resent­ment? Was she pic­tur­ing a day when she’d sit next to me, and break­ing into a grin, reveal to me what she’d done with him.

I’ve wait­ed, but Nan con­tin­ues to play dumb. Though she sens­es me eye­ing her, she does not stare back or ask what I’m look­ing at. I know her intent is to keep call­ing Much to mind, to keep his ghost end­less­ly tread­ing between us. As a ges­ture of retal­i­a­tion, I’ve left his bowls and his oval bed with the mem­o­ry foam in place, in effect, dar­ing her to remove them. Whenever I’m out I find myself look­ing for him, my anger ris­ing, and in the back of my mind I hear him growl­ing and bark­ing at Nan. I’ve vowed to myself nev­er to give in to her, and for her part, she has not said one word about Much.


Glen Pourciau’s third sto­ry col­lec­tion, Getaway, was pub­lished in 2021 by Four Way Books. His sto­ries have been pub­lished by AGNI Online, Green Mountains Review, New England Review, The Paris Review, Post Road, The Rupture, and others.