by Kik Lodge
I don’t think I’ll ever tell Mum it was me who ran over her Guinea pig. Don’t think there’s any need.
When she came into the kitchen pink-eyed and snivelly with the flat animal in her arms, I said Oh no, is it not breathing? except I knew very well it wasn’t, as of course I’d reversed back over it just to be on the safe side and Guinea pigs aren’t warrior vermin like rats; the slightest whimper and they’re on antibiotics or hanging off drips.
Fortunately, half a day had gone by, enough time for its organs to dry to a crisp and for Mum to assume it was some careless driver, some heartless driver.
I need quiet time, Mum said. And ‘it’ has a name, she added.
She walked slowly to the patio out back, did a little circle around her deckchair, then sunk into the stripey canvas with the wafered Guinea pig cupped in her palms. I phoned Dad who was away on a fly-fishing trip, and he jumped into his hatchback.
She was right, it did have a name. Philipe, pronounced the French way.
I’d never used it myself, because a) it doesn’t sound right calling a Guinea pig Philipe, and b) because Mum’s ex-boyfriend was called Philipe and it wasn’t fair to pronounce that name, particularly in front of Dad.
Ironic seeing as I was the one who gave it to her two Christmases ago, when I came back from my first semester at university.
Mum had taken to walking in circles. In the kitchen and out on the patio. Dad had told me most mornings she’d walk up the stairs, do one of her circles, then walk back down again.
He’d tried to involve her with his fly-fishing, but it only needed that time she hooked onto a silver eel that tugged her ankle-deep into the West Dart for her to never want to try fly-fishing again, just too much bother.
So I was in the local bookshop, picking up some course books, and on the corkboard by the till I saw this flyer about Guinea pig healing workshops. Guinea pigs are known to help people heal following a loss, so I thought the departure of a daughter to university could be enough to warrant one.
When Mum tore through the mistletoe wrapping and saw the animal, she let out a whimper.
I didn’t know at the time that the Guinea pig’s fur above its eyes was swept back in the same fashion as the quiff belonging to Philipe Dumont, the man who Mum was destined to marry had he not been run over by a Peugeot 305 estate, I simply assumed she was happy with her present.
I gave Dad some thermalite insulated socks and a line spooler, but that’s immaterial.
From Christmas Day onwards, Mum stopped walking round in circles and there were hops to her gait.
One month in and she’d popped a second-hand futon next to the cage in the utility room just in case the Guinea pig had another panic attack.
Dad said it was after the Guinea pig’s first urinary infection that Mum switched to sleeping there every night.
Soon it was Philipe this and Philipe that.
She’s popped one of those little scarves on it, Dad said to me on the phone.
What do you mean?
Those scarves the French poets wear.
Won’t it chew it off?
Oh, I don’t know. Anyway, how are the studies going?
I knew what happened to middle-aged couples whose kids left home. I saw how they unmoored.
When I went back home for Easter, and Dad was off fly-fishing and Mum was out on the patio with her plastic windup boats, I spent some time observing Philipe.
The animal’s itinerary included the patio, the ground floor of the house and the front lawn up to the gate. The wire mesh under the gate featured a small gap that day, enabling a small animal to escape, for example, and scamper down the pavement, south of the house, its little red scarf quivering centimetres above its quiff.
What with all the revving going on, it’s a surprise no one came out of their houses, for running over a Guinea pig is no simple task. But when I finally felt the crunch, after the stalling, the firsts, the reverses, I couldn’t help but spare a thought for the real Philipe Dumont who died under wheel.
Oh, what one doesn’t do for one’s parents!
The predictable search for the Guinea pig ensued, then when Dad got back from his fly-fishing trip and saw Mum on the patio with dead Philipe in her hands, he fell to his knees and held her right until the sun disappeared and the cold set in.
I don’t know whether I was looking for some kind of acknowledgment from Dad, maybe a thanks, as we sipped our whiskies after the burial ceremony and Mum had gone up to bed.
You not kind of pleased, though?
He looked over at me, slowly. His eyes were ash.
What do you mean?
I didn’t reply.
I didn’t get it. I didn’t get him. What their thing was about.
Delayed mourning, he said, swallowing his liquid peat. I looked it up on the internet.
His gaze had different blends of absence.
That fiancé of hers, he said. Delayed mourning.
I thought of the remnants of the red scarf I had to pick out of the tyre with tweezers.
I thought of my middle-aged parents.
My own unmooring.
Next thing I knew the two of them were on the ferry to France to pop chrysanthemums on a grave in Les-Ezies-de-Tayac, known for its prehistoric paintings and troglodyte dwellings, among other things.
Kik Lodge is a short fiction writer from Devon, England, but she lives in France with a menagerie of kids, cats and rats. Her work has featured in The Moth, Gone Lawn, Rejection Letters, Tiny Molecules, trampset, Maudlin House, Milk Candy Review, Splonk, Bending Genres, Ink, Sweat and Tears and other very fine journals. Her flash collection Scream If You Want To is out with Alien Buddha Press. Erratic tweets @KikLodge