Marc Tweed ~ When Someone You Love Leaves Very Early in the Morning

On a very sad night—sad because Donna leaves ear­ly the next morn­ing and that is exact­ly the kind of thing I’ve become less and less able to bear with any grace—I sit hunched for­ward in the reclin­er in the guest room like someone’s mem­o­ry of a gar­goyle play­ing sen­tinel over what it believes to be its own win­dow, its own lawn and avenue. A kingdom.

Memory: don’t let any­one tell you it gets eas­i­er to relax your grip. I look out. Big moon framed by cur­tains, I love it. Look down. There are my feet, wait­ing for God knows what. My face flames up, burns a hole in the floor. Whatever’s under there, under the car­pet and floor­board says go back.

My office at the radio sta­tion had a cig­a­rette machine. I remem­ber the sound it made.

The house is qui­et, inel­e­gant­ly wall­pa­pered but warm. I love it here. It feels new but it can’t be. Donna is dream­ing in the next room. The night is not emp­ty. Is whis­pery. Donna?

I open the Saturday Evening Post in my lap. What folksi­ness! And what else? The revolver is in the night­stand next to her. I want to go remind her about it, about my radio show, any­thing, but I hear a motor. A truck creeps up the street, a lit­tle shock­ing for the hour. Too ear­ly for her sis­ter to arrive. It stops at the end of our dri­ve­way and waits. I can­not see who is inside. Then the win­dow rolls down and long, blue-gloved arms push some­thing out onto the pave­ment, some­thing small and dark I can’t make out. The truck rolls onward and the red glow of its tail­lights dis­ap­pears. I squint at what­ev­er it is with no suc­cess and I wipe my eyes with a damp cloth, try again.

No good.

I busy myself right there in the reclin­er with the busi­ness of for­get­ting it.

Maybe ten min­utes or two hours go by and I look up from the arti­cle about someone’s pre­cious lit­tle grand­moth­er and then, shit, I regard with sur­prise the small, still shape at the end of the dri­ve­way. What the hell is that? It could be a pil­low case full of fish­ing lures, a small shelf for a child’s ency­clo­pe­dias. A dol­ly in a sailor suit. (I loved being out on the boat at night, with lanterns along the shore reflect­ing in shim­mer­ing streaks.)

When exact­ly did I stop smoking?

I used to be a radio announc­er. I did every­thing from car wrecks to the weath­er. I met Donna mid-career. She is snor­ing soft­ly in the next room as pre­vi­ous­ly described, final­ly get­ting a lit­tle sleep before she leaves me, poor thing.

Poor thing? Who’s poor and who’s a thing in this sit­u­a­tion? I laugh and, even at a low vol­ume, the sound of me makes me cringe. I sound like I’m made of ply­wood and springs. The doc­tor took my radio. No, he took my radio voice. I did dri­ve-time, told bari­tone jokes, played every­thing from Kajagoogoo to Haircut 100.

The thing in the dri­ve­way moved a lit­tle, I think.

Just so you know, traps in gen­er­al can be divid­ed into six types: foothold traps, body-grip­ping traps, snares, dead­falls, cages, and glue traps (which often do not work on spi­ders because their legs end in pin points). We’d pick and we’d choose if allowed, but that’s real­ly not the dis­po­si­tion of any trap I’d heard of.

It does not seem to move again. I want to touch it. I was a curi­ous child.

I go down the stairs and out the front door, where a chill mist slaps my face as if to say, go back. I walk the dri­ve­way any­way like a gang plank. There, just beyond the edge of the street­light’s flu­o­res­cent domin­ion, is what appears to be a recent­ly deceased or near-dead cat. It’s mouth is open, two big yel­low eyes stare at me, deep-set in a smooshy, flame-col­ored face. A dead cat, I think. I scoop it up and hold it to my chest, its mouth wide open in what looks like a snarl or a scream. Dead. The eyes, yes, my star­tled, unfor­tu­nate face is reflect­ed in them.

The sur­geon real­ly did a num­ber on me.

Kajagoogoo. Haircut 100. I loved the beat, the callers. Free tick­ets: Monster Mud Jam.

Its body is cold and that sends a shiv­er of both revul­sion and sad­ness down my spine. This is the kind of thing my job in radio has not pre­pared me for. Ugly things you can’t make fun of. Dead pets. Assassinations. Missing daugh­ters. Daughters who dis­ap­pear right when you think they’ll stay for­ev­er. Obituaries. Okay, but Donna always says I’m fix­at­ing on the bed. The bad.

Radio. That is the job I had, I’m sure of it.

The lanterns, the fire­flies, my house, my lit­tle family.

I imi­tate the cig­a­rette machine sound—chthnnnk!

I stand there under a big bright-yel­low bal­loon-moon hold­ing a dead cat and then I see the light sput­ter on upstairs. Donna’s sil­hou­ette ris­es and stretch­es and busies itself with the final details of pack­ing before her sis­ter arrives. At this point, whether it is wise to leave me alone or not has become imma­te­r­i­al to the phys­i­cal world, in which there are needs and yearn­ings and lost objects that will not be ignored. I blow hot breath into the cat’s face. its fur is wet and stiff.

Headlights creep up the street and Cindy’s big sil­ver SUV soon rounds the cor­ner. Suddenly a lit­tle embar­rassed to be naked under my robe with a dead cat in my arms, I hus­tle deep­er into the yard and pitch it into the bush­es along the side of the house as she pulls into the dri­ve­way. I wipe my hands on my robe and wave and she steps out, dressed as impen­e­tra­bly unre­mark­able as Donna will sure­ly be, too. Urban cam­ou­flage they call it. She pops the back hatch and motions me over, asks qui­et so the neigh­bors won’t be wok­en, “Gary, it’s about dri­ve time. You’re up ear­ly? What are you doing up so ear­ly? You sure you’re going to be okay?”

Some recent (I think) med­ical appoint­ments went sour on me.

In the win­dow above, Donna peers out and waves to her sister.

Of course,” I say, “this was inevitable.” Ugh. My voice.

Cindy eval­u­ates me with some­thing approach­ing pity, her mouth a straight, hard line in plum. The moon is huge above her. Every big moon late­ly seems to have pre­sent­ed both a prob­lem and a gift. The trick seems to be deter­min­ing which is which.

Donna steps out the front door, shakes her head when she sees me.

Seriously, Gary, what is the point of being awake for this?”

She is try­ing not to glow­er at me. She push­es my hand away when I try to help her with the suit­case. We’d argued at din­ner about the usu­al thing but a lit­tle hard­er. I’m fine!


I get in bed where Donna had warmed it and I sleep, dream­ing of someone’s daugh­ter at the bot­tom of a pool. In the after­noon, I read the Saturday Evening Post and from the reclin­er watch a slow parade of non-enti­ties: a blocky young woman strug­gling to walk her recal­ci­trant, leash-bit­ing Malinois; triplets throw­ing rocks at each oth­er and cry­ing out when struck; nice cars with hood­ed, masked or oth­er­wise unsee­able occu­pants going too slow or too fast. I think of the sound of the cig­a­rette machine and won­der how peo­ple are able to walk out the door and busy them­selves with all these dan­ger­ous things out in the open. But I am at least brave enough and safe enough to take my pills with a glass of gin and microwave a block of frozen lasagna (ding!) until the dras­tic nature of my emp­ty embrace fills every cor­ner of the kitchen.


To be plain about it, that cat is not dead. It finds its way into the house while I am on the phone with Donna. Her voice is a taut monot­o­ne in my hand, describ­ing their progress as if she were a reporter on some dis­tant island announc­ing dis­mal news to which no one will lis­ten: the places they’d passed through and who they had spo­ken with. What they ate, where they slept. How Cindy tripped and fell out­side a Waffle House but is fine. She’s fine.

In the kitchen, on my lap­top, I trace their path with my fin­ger on an online map. Tornado com­ing. Another drink.


Something scratch­es at the door, push­es it open and strides per­fect­ly roy­al into the room. It is the not-dead cat, its fur splen­did and fiery. It comes to me and nuz­zles its head against my bare ankle.

We made it just south of Tulsa…”

I put the phone down on the table. I hear her small, muf­fled voice say, “…and we met a man at a shel­ter down­town that said she was there not even a week ago. We said are you sure it’s her? and he said just like the pho­to.”

I told Donna I had to go.

What?” She sound­ed surprised.

I am always so hun­gry to speak with her and I count the days until Cindy pulls into the dri­ve­way and Donna emerges, crushed, from the pas­sen­ger side. And I know it gives her some plea­sure to call and remind me about my pills and, of course, share any details rel­e­vant to the ongo­ing search for our daugh­ter who has been miss­ing from her apart­ment over the garage (from her job and from every­thing and every­where else) for sev­en years this summer.

Donna, Rhonda and Gary.

But Donna will be back in a few weeks, like­ly again with­out Rhonda and right now, for this moment, I have a dead cat play­ing at Lazarus in our hideous­ly wall­pa­pered kitchen. He mews at me and I get a lit­tle bowl of milk for him and set it in front of him and I feel pret­ty great watch­ing his tongue dip in and out like a lit­tle pink machine, so per­fect­ly useful.


Marc Tweed’s short sto­ries have appeared or are forth­com­ing in the 2022, 2023, and 2024 edi­tions of NOON Annual and he has also pub­lished fic­tion in New World Writing Quarterly, Juked, The Normal School, Cleaver, X‑RAY, and many oth­er lit­er­ary jour­nals. His sto­ry Mean World was longlist­ed for the Wigleaf Top 50 of 2022. He lives in Seattle, where he works as a tech­nol­o­gy writer.