Birth and Death in a Microcosm – Micro Essay

by Colleen Wells

Our screened-in porch is a cavernous space with a large wooden table and chairs. Lights are strung haphazardly around the perimeter. Candle holding fixtures and wind-chimes hang randomly on hooks left by the previous home-owner. In one corner sits a pile of wood for fires we rarely make. In another, a grill we only sometimes use. The bead-board ceiling is a burnt red. My hand painted birdhouses boast more whimsical colors like lime-green, teal, and lavender. Embellished with lost buttons, lids from bottles of Heineken, and beach glass, they sit on the ledge below the screen.

A small tree abuts the middle of the longest wall. Pressing against the screen, it holds an abandoned bird’s nest wedged in its branches. That Mama Cardinal who inhabited it recently, had taken such good care at feeding her three hungry chicks, then teaching them how to fly. My husband and I cheered her on, and yet one of the babies didn’t make it.

Birth and death occurring in a microcosm.

I take a sip of my now stale and cooling coffee, noting stuff piled and strewn on the slatted table in front of me. Mounds of books about writing, magazines, journals, notes from the kids’ schools and file folders filled with submission guidelines and looming deadlines surround my spot. My family is occupied, so I’m feeling both grateful and guilty about this alone time. While I sit, insects chatter.

Even though it’s humid, I can no longer smell the acrid, musky scent of dog urine. We put our incontinent blind and deaf Rat Terrier down last Monday. He had always been without sight, but when he lost his hearing he began circling. He’d circle fast, too, to the point I wondered if he was slowly going insane. The vet could not find a biological cause for his behavior. Rusty had always been a regal beast, holding his head high. But the circling was causing him to lose weight. Not having the ability to hear his unseen world proved too much, and yet he’d seem to go round and round with purpose, sometimes until he stumbled. As he declined and continued to circle, I wondered if it was his way of committing suicide.

A small table I am restoring sits at the opposite end of my workspace. It is only half-way painted. Like everything else, it begs for attention. I hear the sound of claws on glass, then the swooshing as Louie, our young, Rottweiler-Shepherd mix pushes the sliding doors open. He scampers over, nudging his nose into the crook of my arm.

At almost two he is still full of puppy. Because he is a large dog, it is unlikely he will live as long as Rusty did. Louie’s exuberance reminds me that life is fleeting, but full. As I pet him the swell of birds chirping to one another from the Oak and Sycamore trees fills the air.

Colleen Wells writes from Bloomington, IN, where she lives with her husband and three children, three dogs and three cats. Her favorite number is 333. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Spalding University, volunteers at a homeless shelter and state hospital, and loves to craft.

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