g r a v e l
A L I T E R A R Y J O U R N A L
If you were lost like a microchipped dog, a technician would run a smooth wand down your spine to find out who you belonged to. That easy. An answer, you shipped back or picked up or perhaps ignored. But probably not. After all, someone cared enough to chip you in the first place. Happy ending, you like a meaty pit-bull staring out a vet window waiting, tail wagging.
That is, if you have a chip. Probably, you don’t. That is, if you are a dog. Which you aren’t. No one thought to inject digital information under your skin when you were an infant. Surely they hoped you would learn how to talk. Surely you would learn how to read. Surely you could find your way back home by yourself, open the screen door, and slap your way inside.
If you were lost like a cat, you would dream. You would curl up in a donut of feigned sleep and wait it out. Occasionally, you would open your slit green eyes and watch the business of everyone around you. Maybe, you would deign to stand, stretch, each the proffered kibble. You’d scratch the cat box litter. You’d take your terrible shit. You’d go back to sleep, not knowing or caring if you returned home. You would sleep even if you were waiting for death. But as a cat, you know we are all only waiting to die. But as a cat, you don’t care. And even though you don’t care, you’re wearing a collar, dear Fluffy.
If you were lost like a bird, you would fly away or drop dead on the cage floor.
If you were lost like a spider, you’d spin your wicked web.
If you were lost like a turtle, you’d pull your head in and wait out a hundred years.
If you were lost like a moth, you’d die in the inevitable flame.
But you are lost like you. Mostly, you hide it, going about your business, shopping, and doing your dirty laundry, driving the roads you always drive. You eat your sandwich, pretend to not look up and over the white bread, searching for the one to take you home.
You startle into remembering you don’t know where you are. You wish you could read the chip inside you that’s not there. Your heart pounds. Your breath feels hard and heavy in your lungs. How can you have been alive this long and not know which way to turn, which road to take, which house holds the people that are yours, the ones who will scratch you under your chin, feed you your dinner, fill up your food bowl? Why don’t you know any of that?
You make do. You finish your sandwich. You wipe your mouth, pack your bag, put on your jacket. It’s cold outside, and you are alone, but you keep going because that’s what most lost people do, walking as if they are found until maybe, one day, they are.
Jessica Barksdale is the author of twelve novels, including Her Daughter's Eyes
and When You Believe. Her poems, stories, and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in Mason's Road, Salt Hill Journal, The Coachella Review, and the Tule Review. Her short story "The Possibility of Fire" won Carve Magazine's Esoteric Prize 2013. She is a professor of English at Diablo Valley College and teaches online novel writing for UCLA Extension.