Beast of Breath
by Gillian Daniels
Edited by Julia Rios
Half a spoon was left inside my computer bag. I found it on the train to work when I reached inside for my book.
It was wooden and broken down the middle, a perfect half that was useless for cooking. No splinters. While I didn’t know how it had got there, it was not something that seemed any more mysterious than a penny on the sidewalk.
A seated woman—white hair curling out beneath a red knit cap—gave me a small frown. “Don’t worry. It’s yours. No one’s going to take it from you.”
“What?” I said, but she didn’t care to elaborate and it was my stop.
The next day, I found half a seashell in my shoe. It was in one of the sneakers I kept beneath my desk when I changed out of my heels. I didn’t notice it until I slid my foot inside, splitting the shell into pink pieces.
It cut one of my toes. A co-worker of mine said, “It’s a strange proposal, true, but I hope it’s one anyone would consider.” She had a blank expression.
I dabbed my foot with a Kleenex and asked her who was getting married.
Her face changed. “I don’t know. Who?” She looked at the Kleenex. “How did you cut yourself?”
I showed her the pieces of the shell and she didn’t know how they had gotten into my shoe, either.
That night, I put the broken shell beside the half spoon and called my grandmother. She was wise about these things. When I was a child, she had always been able to locate lost stuff for me.
She was getting on in years. She seemed unsure what advice to give until I explained what the stranger on the train and my co-worker had told me, unprompted.
“Oh,” she said. “Well, I think you’re being asked a question, my love. They have a right to an answer, even if it’s one they may not like.”
I asked her who “they” were.
“I know they visited my father a lot when he was a boy, but they would take things, not leave them. They never visited me,” she said. “So I know they’re trying to get your attention. I know also that, when you were a small girl, I took you to the beach with your elephant doll.”
Ellie. I remembered her and her pink bow. “That’s when I lost her lower half.”
“You said you gave it to your friend, a dog.”
I didn’t remember the dog, but I remembered the beach bonfire and the ocean. I remembered making a friend whose face looked like a neighbor who had moved away. I wondered if I had confused the memories, somehow.
I had always believed that Grandma found all the missing things she described due to her own sight and not, as one of my cousins suggested, because she stole and hid them (though she had done that, too, during a difficult period of years after the death of her second husband). I believed in science and logic, of course, but I also believed in having faith. So I believed her. “Do you think they’ll hurt me if we meet in person?”
“If that shell did cut you, they already have,” she said. “See if you can catch them to say ‘sorry.’”
If I was less curious, I would have left it at that, but I went to an open space—a park down the road, one where the elementary school students played soft-ball, though they weren’t out today—and made a show of replacing the band aid on my foot. I made sure to hiss and frown deeply as I put down my coffee, only half a cup.
Out from the shadows behind the school, a great black dog came up to me, like a Greyhound crossed with a Mastiff. It wasn’t shaped exactly right, though. Too arched. Its back legs seemed longer than its front. It didn’t have a burly, dog smell, but instead the scent of smoke, and its eyes were a pair of topaz stones that seemed to shift under the sunlight like fire.
“Sorry,” they said. Their voice was a strange, soft whisper.
I thought of running, but as I said, I’m a person of faith and curiosity. “How have you been following me around without me seeing?”
All at once, they curled up their body and became smoke, then vapor.
They reassembled themself in front of my eyes. Legs, body, paws, nose, nervous mouth. “I can enter the minds of men, too.”
I was impressed. “Where did you get the shell?”
“The Faerie Sea, beneath Fiddler’s Green, where my father lives and rules.”
“And the wooden spoon?”
“The kitchen of my mother. She was human, like you. I was trying to say with it, ‘Look. Here are two halves of things that could be whole.’” They sat back and hesitantly lifted one of their paws as if to shake. Around the largest claw was a small, silver ring. “I still have her house. So, if you came with me, you would have a home.” They could not meet my gaze.
The ring was too small. I told them that I didn’t know them and that the idea of moving in with someone I didn’t know was not appealing.
They hung their head. “It is. I extend my apologies further. I have never, that is to say, I don’t know how to. Well.” They ran out of words.
“But I would not mind your friendship.”
Their eyes became soft, gentle.
Together, we sat on those cold bleachers. The sun turned the grass gold. They didn’t know my name, which I told them, and I asked for theirs. It was the sound of the wind plucking at campfire smoke and, so, sounded like a sigh. Or the breath at the end of a story when the teller has decided to tell you no more.