Here’s a new quiction piece, prompted by @TheGhostGoat on Twitter. “777 words on the phrase “somebody that I used to know”.” was the challenge. Here’s 777 words, on the dot, loosely related to that theme. This one leans into the furry sphere: fair warning for those who don’t hold with that sort of carry on.
There are scents that take you places. An otter buddy of mine can’t smell fireworks without taking a—his words, the poor bastard—mini-vacation to sunny Fallujah. Alejandra, the coatimundi that runs that bodega on Eighteenth and Hemingway where I get my tamales once a month, used to work as a pool cleaner and says there are bathroom cleaners she can’t use if she doesn’t want to lose her lunch—something about finding a client half decomposed and half sucked into the return line. Sometimes, though, a scent takes you back to someone rather than somewhere.
Alejandra’s tamales are one. They remind me of the family who lived next door when I was a pup. It was a shitty, dirt poor neighborhood with mostly trailer homes. The Guajardos were great people. Hermán worked at the bus plant before it shut down and Marta jockeyed the counter overnight at the Tumbleweed Inn. They had two pups, Roberta and Jorge, who were one year older and one year younger than me, respectively. We looked a sight, two scruffy coyotes and a rangy wolf pup playing fútbol in the streets with a busted, newspaper-stuffed basketball. Marta made some killer tamales. Every time I picked some up from Alejandra, that steam hits me out of the bag and I’m sixteen again.
That was the first time Señora and Robbie let me help with the tamales. It was for a school function and they had their paws full trying to make enough. We had about half of ‘em stuffed when Señora figured out that she was short on corn husks and had to run out for more. The store was twenty minutes away and she always got stuck talking with the ladies at the counter; so, we had maybe an hour to kill before she got home.
Robbie and me had a…let’s say “complicated” relationship. We’d grown up living next to each other and were practically siblings. There’s probably still an album in my parents’ attic that has a faded, yellow Polaroid of Robbie, Jorge, and me in a mint green bathtub under pink tile, grinning like the muddiest, most care-free toddlers you ever saw. She was a sister to me, and I’d more than once offered to beat blood out of the muzzle of any asshole that hurt her. I always figured she felt about the same about me.
Her tail wagged slightly as she watched her mom’s car pull out of the driveway and disappear down the street. With the fading of the engine noise, the wagging increased and her tail raised until the big brush was pushing enough air to ruffle the fur of my arm. I laughed and suggested that she might just lift off if she kept that up.
“Offering to hold me down, Thomas?” she asked, glancing sideways at me with her muzzle cocked down and her hands hovering over the corn meal mixture.
With anyone else, I might have caught the innuendo. I just looked down at her, more concerned with the tingling in my paw pads from the spices in the meat than anything else, and said, “You’d probably end up carrying me away with you.”
She tossed her head back and laughed. She had the prettiest laugh you ever heard. Wiping her eyes with the back of her wrist, she nodded and said, “You’re probably right.”
Things went quiet for a moment and the tingle turned into more of a burn. “I gotta wash this stuff off,” I mentioned as I turned to the sink.
She caught my wrist halfway through the turn and raised my left paw up to the end of her muzzle. She sniffed briefly and exhaled with a huff that sent a shiver through my paw and arm. Before the chill from it passed, there was a rush of heat on the pads and my ears pinned at the back of my head. As I stood there, staring with my mouth dropped open, her tongue rolled around my pads and slipped in between my fingers, drawing off the meat and seasoning. It withdrew for a moment only to be replaced with the tickling of short whiskers and little teeth nibbling on my skin.
She lowered my paw and licked her lips. “Are you sure you wouldn’t like to try holding me down?” she said with every ounce of her coyote soul poured into her toothy grin.
I know Señora knew something was up when she got home. We could clean up the mess we made of ourselves and the floor, but there was nothing we could do to cover up the scent we left behind.