The Purkinje Effect, by Jonathan Duckworth

* The Purkinje Effect: The tendency of human eyes to become more sensitive to blue light at low illumination levels, such as at dusk

We’re playing petangue in the yard
(with grapefruit, not metal boules—more bounce that way)
and having such a good afternoon throwing the fruit around,
when dad lumbers over holding Frazier the frozen cat,
   wrapped in a plastic bag.
“Now’s as good a time as any,” dad says,
and—his always horrible sense of timing aside—
   he’s right.
When would it ever be the “right” time?
For five months we’ve kept the cat,
dread stalker of possums and anoles
in the freezer, and for what?
Were we waiting for him to be less dead?
Perhaps we hoped our memories would dissolve
in the gradual way of an ice cube in tapwater,
and that Frazier would cease to be our beloved cat
and become eight pounds of flesh and Tuxedo-pattered fur
to be discarded without sentiment,
like the mockingbird livers he’d leave at our threshold.
But it’s not that easy. We know that now.
Yes, he looks content, though my brother assures us
he died in agony, more weight from maggots than fat.
And look at the hoarfrost on his whiskers, everyone.
I can pretend he’s just resting his limbs and eyes
after a long hunt through boreal woods,
stalking squirrel-sized mastodons.
   When dad starts digging,
the pines behind the house are golden,
borrowing daylight for as long as they can.
Soon they will blue and become shadows.
As the shovel delves deeper, vital red clay
   gives way to midnight loam.
We drop him in the hole, say a few words,
cover him up, and then go back to our game,
trying not to think of the thunk
when Frazier fell in his grave.
There’s still time to throw grapefruit around
before the world veers blue
and shuts its eyes.


Jonathan Louis Duckworth is an MFA student at Florida International University, where he serves as a reader and copy-editor for the Gulf Stream Magazine. His fiction, poetry, and non-fiction appears in or is forthcoming in New Ohio Review, Fourteen Hills, Literary Orphans, Cha, Off the Coast, Superstition, and elsewhere.

Jonathan Duckworth

Jonathan Duckworth

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