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On Attending

Briana Meade

We are driving. My three year old daughter says cute things in the car. She says she is dreaming about brownies and milk. I want to kiss her cheeks every time she pipes up. I love her strangely and fiercely for the cute things she says at three.

We drive past a large field. This back country motorway is where wild animals cross the street. Sometimes a possum is inadvertently hit. Today I see a fox lying on the lines of yellow paint. The fox must have been hit by a driver. I do not mention this to my children. The fox is bathed in white sun and appears to be just resting, proving death can be immaculate like a pristine black suit.

On the radio while we are driving past the fox, I hear the crackle and burst of an IED in some foreign country. I’m used to this sound as part of my daily drive with NPR. Usually they say words like “ISIS” and sometimes the word “execution.” This time, they also say “cold blood” and “Jordanian pilot.” I pause to listen.

My kids interrupt me. In the back, my daughter yells, “Stop taking my toy!” She yells this at my son, who is gripping her dinosaur with a steely toddler hand. The radio keeps repeating “body on fire” and I can’t feel enough to turn over the stone that all that I feel is not enough.

Somewhere in the middle of this, we stop listening to the radio. I drop my daughter off at her preschool. A few hours go by, and it’s time to pick her up.

We are traveling down the same round after pickup. Both my daughter and son are once again in the back. My daughter wants to take her TOMS shoes off. I’ve already told her not to.

I say, “You’re making this hard on me.” She is still slipping her shoes. I can see her in the rear view. I say, “I’m tired of you taking your shoes off in the car so that I just have to put them back on.”

“I just want to take off my shoes, mom,” she says simply, as if her desire to do it explains everything. I’m tired and worn and the shoes feel like the last thing.

On the return journey I see the fallen fox again. She is sprawled out like a still life composition. She is still, miraculously, unmarred. I’m thankful as we pass the fox’s repose. I think of this as some kind of miracle. Together, we all deviated from hitting her. Together, we held our collective breaths as we passed her, keeping some part of her alive.

A few hours pass. In the afternoon we go out to buy 2% milk. At first I don’t know what is in the road because it looks so foreign to me. The thing in the road is dark rust and purple. It is the color of blood before oxygen. Whatever was once there is now flattened into ambiguity. I am quiet before the carnage. The road blurs by. In the back, my daughter is yelling again about her shoes.