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Sean Pravica

Huff, huff, huff, goes the little angry man and we are all delighted. The fire is crackling, low jazz hums through the speakers, and the wine is opening up after a tight beginning. It is autumn and the holidays are near. Soon the house will be sparkling with colored lights, scented with pine spray in the absence of a living tree, and the sweaters and shirts we wear only once a year will need a run through the dryer with fabric softener to shake loose the stale smell from lying fallow in the closets.

Thanksgiving is two weeks away from rearing its troubling head into our lives. We will be going to my sister's house as always. Most years this is quite fine but this year I worry. I fear that she will not like the little angry man. I fear she will not accept him into her home.

My sister is constructed entirely of bubbly personality traits. She sings in the morning, drops the kids off at school and makes all their friends laugh along the way. She has a part time job working at a yoga studio as a receptionist and social media manager. She spends her spare time volunteering at an animal shelter.

To my sister, the world is all a matter of perception. It is a positive place so long as we choose to see it that way. She thinks she's a real hero. I know she does. I can see it when she resists my dark moods. She tells me quickly, "That's enough of that," or rudely, "Well, that's on you."

You could call me a melancholic spirit. I am not a sour or bitter person, but I do not forget the ozone layer burning away like a sheet of newspaper over a campfire, its thinness its weakness as it curls and blackens into the most delicate ash that will smudge your fingers if you touch it. I do not forget that H1N1 was likely only a beginning, a mild preview of the possibilities that lie inherent in social bacteria that are keen to couple.

You could call my husband a social bacteria, and our daughter a dark spawn. You would never know it after a first glance or a long look. We handle our affairs neatly. We send out Christmas cards. My daughter is a cheerleader. My husband gives the Eucharist.

But to us the world is a matter of perception, and the games we play are inevitably tiring. The weight of upholding the appearance of the happy people all our neighbors and acquaintances pretend to be is heavier than any of us can bear for long. When the days run hot and long too late in the year, when the city mandates limits on our water use, when the news warns of new threats be they social, political, domestic, or environmental, we quietly remove the weight as best as we can. We take our reprieves through different doses and always in private, but we each know just a little about what medicine each of us takes.

I have not spoken with her about it, but I have seen the marks on my daughter's upper thighs. Thin, red seams scabbing over, two others set in as pale scars. My husband goes to sex clubs without me. I believe him when he tells me he only throws money at women who copulate with double-ended dildos, sixty-nine each other, or pair up to go down on well-paying johns. I do not believe my husband ever takes the chair to be serviced by them. He is a man of restraint, largely.

My own favorite outlet is a taboo topic in our home. The way I kill the rabbits that run through the yard remains a mystery to my husband and daughter. They do not know the ways that I string them up like meat at the butcher, take a blade and work slowly around their bellies, making their little hind feet thump the air manically. No, my husband and daughter know only that I kill them, and the rest is left unsaid. They are respectful that way.

It was a cute look my husband gave me the other morning when he saw a rabbit scurry through the yard. His mouth pursed together as he hesitated to speak, his eyes flashing with mischief and I grew warm and loving inside as I waited for him to talk to me. I lilted my head back and leaned against the counter, waiting.

"Didn't I just see that same rabbit yesterday?"

"Did you tag his hind legs?"

He laughed and I flushed with joy. It was such a playful morning. We are always playful after unweighting our shoulders.

"I could swear that's the rabbit I saw. The little white spots on his head are just like the rabbit I saw yesterday."

I shrugged and smiled and he laughed softly and took my hand and I rose up off the counter and we kissed, deep and long.

Our daughter walked in and said something about bad timing and I shut my eyes as I kept kissing my husband and forced him to keep kissing me rather than look at her. The door opened and quickly shut and she would have to wait outside just a little longer before my husband could take her to school.

My husband reached down and ran his hand along my stomach, his fingers travelled a hair length lower, stalled, just out of reach, and my blood ran hot.

"I love you," he told me.

"I love you too," I told him.

And out the door he went and I continued to get ready so that I could get to work myself. My poor husband has to go to work in an office whereas I get to work from home. These days, with the little angry man charging about the place, I could never have it any other way.

The little angry man is about a foot tall. He wears little overalls and a green, plaid shirt. He looks like an old man and his hair and mustache are a perfect white. He has delicate, fine hair. It is almost like a doll's. As he walks, his little fists punch the air and his elbows slice back and forth at his sides. He huffs and puffs and paces in chaotic ellipses throughout the house. He is so mad and upset and all he can do is huff and puff, swing his arms, and look like the busiest person you've ever met as he does absolutely nothing at all.

I looked at him that morning and was giddy. My husband was right. That was the same rabbit as the other morning.

As he and I gather around the fire with our wine and we even give a small glass to our daughter as she spends some surprising time with us, we all delight in watching the little angry man huff around the living room. He never speaks. He only bristles. In some rare moments he looks at us, his black beady eyes miniature windows into a world small but so near it hurts, his pain extraordinary for such a little, hate-consumed man. It breaks my heart until the pieces reassemble like magic. And then my heart is bigger and I love him that much more.

I sigh and rest my head against my husband's chest and look towards the window as I drift into blissful, fleeting thoughts. I imagine that the white-spotted rabbit is out there somewhere, finding refuge from the owls and the cats. I have not seen him in the yard lately and I likely will never see him again. My husband probably thinks I did him in and I almost want to tell him the truth but I enjoy the equilibrium of him thinking life is going on as normal. And in my most secret truth, I do not want him to know just how much the little angry man means to me.

There will come a time when I need to smother the little angry man to death, but I can only do this when he is so full of sorrow that he cannot go on. He is slower to get up in the morning each new day. He will make it through the new year, I'm sure. But will I let him is another question. I hate to think of the time when I must end his life, but it's the humanitarian thing to do. He has changed me, this little huffing creature. His pain transcends my own. The world may be going to rot but his is nothing but desperate isolation. He charges as though rallying against all the evil that was ever born and will ever come to be, and when he takes a rest to catch his breath, hands on knees and back hunched over, it is clear that the wintery breath of the truth is blowing over him. The black tide rises and recedes only to come again.

Lately I have been feeling as though I'm on high-powered drugs. I have been smoking less pot with my daughter and husband. It's my daughter's dealer who provides for us all, and it's my daughter's dealer who sold us this miracle of a man, my little angry man. I will be forever grateful to him for that, and what we paid well outweighs the losses incurred by the smaller pot purchases.

I know that the crescendo is only building, that when the time comes to snuff out the little man it will be obvious and I will do it quickly, no second lost to hesitation's duplicitous influence. Until then I have not been leaving the house much. When I do, I take the little man with me, but he is a disturbing thing for most people to behold. I drive nearly thirty miles away to a grocery store where no one knows me so that I can sit the angry little man in my cart and wheel him around the aisles. He huffs and sniffles in his seat, thrashes at the handlebar with his tiny, closed fists. Some people refuse to look, others gasp in horror. I look straight ahead as though possessed and ignore them all. The only person I look at is my little man, forever angry and agonizing.

It is going to be a very difficult Thanksgiving but I simply cannot leave him alone. I fear that he will take his own life and deny me what I want, what I desire so badly, what I need. I could not bear to end his life before then, either. I will need him at Christmas. My sister and her family and my mother and my husband's bachelor brother come over then and they will simply have to bear the little man's company. Christmas will be the easy part. It always is.

But until then the only thing I worry about is what to do with my little man when he is derided on the Day of Thanks, when he is ridiculed and I with him. My husband suggests we leave him in the car. The weather is cool enough and he will not die like a dog with heatstroke. I suppose he is right, but I cringe at the thought of it. It is as though any moment away from my little man is a moment lost forever. We only have so much time together.

I sit nuzzled against the man I love and enjoy the company our daughter brings as she spends quiet time with her parents and tells us about her classes and the gossip on the cheer squad and her new crush. My husband is not going out tonight, and frankly, has not been out in a while. I know that his late evening schedule will pick up again in the new year when the little man is no longer with us, and that our daughter will not talk to us much then either, and all will shift back to normalcy.

I know that I will look out the window at the rabbits and size them up, set my traps with cords and wooden boxes and put bits of carrots out as bait. What I don't know is how the world, this matter of perception, will feel when the deed is done. Will the rabbit killing still calm me as it always has? Or will it crumble into a mere habit, a lemon sucked of its tart juice and only the hardened rind left to flex in my hand like rubber? Will my husband, who never takes the seat at the sex club finally give it a go? Will my daughter, taking to the blade so easily, find other ways to self-mutilate? Will she go hungry like the anorexic cheerleaders you hear about on talk shows? Will she cut off all her hair? Will she, so easy-going with the blade, deem that a needle will not hurt a bit and find that it offers even greater release? If her/our dealer can find an angry little man on the black market, I doubt heroin would be hard to find.

If there is one worry that flits through my mind in these gorgeous days and nights it is that of the future, as it really always has been. Always of the current ways of life giving way to a bleak tomorrow. But then there is a happier thought: if my little man can give me so much joy now, will it be the past that saves me? When this evening is but a memory, will it be the remembrance of such that lifts my heart in black moods, reminds me of the gift the little man brought with his presence, his awfulness our savior as he absorbed our pain and made it his own? Will the little man, finally put out of his misery when the world has become too much, take with him all our struggles into the void?

What then? Will I entertain my daughter's friends and sing to the radio in the morning? Fat chance! I laugh just thinking about it.

But when the little man is gone and we are reunited with our lives without him, who will we be? Once my sister has learned about his existence, hates him on sight, and then never sees him again once January rolls quickly upon us, what will become of our relationship? Will she question that angry little men like this get heart attacks? I believe my secret will be safe, but one never knows.

No, one never knows. And the only thing I can do in the meantime is watch the little man huff and puff, swing his arms, and bear the cross of my family. The only thing I can do is savor this time when the holidays hover near and the joy of the season blooms around us. The future is a dark specter whether it brings release or shackles. Nothing unknown can be anything but.

The little man looks up at me, his black beady eyes full with sorrow, but then they turn. They resent, and they poke, implore me for a fight. For him the future is set, and looking at me the way he does, he knows it.

Dance monkey, dance! If that's the attitude he wants to take up with me he might just live longer yet.

➥ Bio