Karen E Kane | Flash Fiction
I used to carry them in my pockets when we went on vacations, sitting them in the corner of the dashboard so that they could look out of the window. My ex-boyfriend had bought them for me, two little puppets: a rabbit with gentle blue eyes and made of soft white cloth, a yellow bow at the neck, and a monkey of a brown fuzzy fabric with a cute wood head and big staring felt eyes. They sometimes seemed like real little people. We jokingly called them the babies, since we didn’t have any real babies. And I would make up voices for them and create conversations and activities, including them in our nightly discussions and bouncing one or the other along his chest in a playful way. He seemed to really like this amusement. Once he brought them to his office at the library and, on his lunch break, took photos of them sitting on top of the globe, on a bookstand looking at an encyclopedia page about monkeys, in his desk chair behind the sign saying “reference librarian.” We sat later at his home computer looking at the photos and giggling uncontrollably at the images. My ex had a cute sense of humor.
He used to take photos of us, me and the puppets, at holidays – Christmas by the tree, tiny presents in tiny boxes that he’d painstakingly made for them arrayed around us. We celebrated birthdays with tiny puppet-size presents with small ribbons carefully tied into bows, the puppets wearing miniature polka dot and striped party hats that I had constructed with rubber bands securing them onto their tiny heads. He would hang the photos of these events on his well-kept bulletin board like other people hang their family photos.
One of his gifts to me, or to the puppets really, was a pretty miniature wicker bed lined with a mattress and with a soft pillow so that monkey and rabbit would have a nice place to sleep. He had always been intent on making the puppets comfortable. He would ask about them regularly, did I remember to bring them with me, and did I bring the bed. I said to him once, you’re an unusual boyfriend, you know, most guys would not be so nice to puppets. He seemed to accept this as part of his art persona, and didn’t consider it a challenge to his masculinity. He drew cartoons of them and talked about making a comic book.
One day he came home with two more puppets, a tiger and a bear. They seemed less friendly to me. They had a lot of fuzzy fur and I had trouble seeing their eyes. I felt a bit suspicious of them, somehow. I arrived at his house after work one afternoon and found them, my ex with tiger and bear, pouring over one of his hiking maps. Where are you going, I said. Just planning some trips, he said. I looked at tiger and bear, but their eyes revealed nothing; they all remained focused on the maps.
I began to bring the new puppets to my place sometimes for visits, but my cat seemed to be wary of them. She’d accepted monkey and rabbit as family, after some period of defensiveness over, I believe, monkey puppet’s staring black eyes. But she seemed to always approach tiger and bear carefully and settle herself some distance away from them, watching.
My ex went on a long road trip last year. I had taken tiger and bear to my house for that period, so they wouldn’t be alone. He called me every day from the various motels. He seemed distraught. He was having panic attacks he said, crying fits. I thought, god, he really misses me, he really does love me. When he finally got back from the trip, I went over to his place and he gave me a big hug, then asked if I’d brought the puppets. When I pulled them out of my pocket he burst into tears. They had dinner with us, and monkey and rabbit slept in the box of tissues that he reserved for their overnights at his place when I forgot to bring the wicker bed. Tiger and bear had their own special bed now.
The night we broke up, tiger and bear had been over at my place for a visit with monkey and rabbit. I decided to take tiger and bear back to him. It seemed like the right thing to do. After a nasty conversation on the phone with my ex, I went into my living room and found all the puppets on my coffee table playing a game of cards with their tiny deck. It was noisy, there was a bit of a row, accusations of cheating flying through the air. I quickly stuffed tiger and bear into my pocket and left monkey and rabbit to cool off. I let myself into my ex’s place and left the key and tiger and bear on his kitchen table. I noticed that his bulletin board had been cleared.
Yesterday I got an email from him. He politely asked me how I am, and how are monkey and rabbit. I decided not to respond. Last night I took monkey and rabbit out of their bed, thought they needed a little play time. They’ve been resting for months, since the breakup. My cat came by and sat down on the sofa with us as we watched some TV. It’s become a pleasant little family scene, the two puppets, the cat, me.
Karen E Kane is a writer of poetry and short stories, as well as a painter of art. She was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and now resides in Williamstown, Massachusetts, where she often secludes herself in her attic studio and writing space with her laptop and books and papers and pencils and brushes and paint.