Holding both of my hands in his, I could feel my calluses against the ones in Justin’s palms, the ones that protect him from kitty-litter granite, the ones that keep his bones from being bothered by the cold. He looked me in my face and said “The timing is just bad, that’s all.”

He talks with his hands cupped, his fingers never separating, in a way that looks like paws. He uses them to flip pancakes. He doesn’t need a spatula. When he wakes up early, before his voice is working, he grunts like a pup in my hair.

At work, a Veteran brought in his grandson and told me about his time in Vietnam. He runs 11 miles a day, but still, last month he had a heart attack. Behind him, his grandson was having a nerf gun war with another customer’s kid. “I pulled out my wallet. That’s the last thing I remember before I dropped,” said the Veteran. As he talked, his grandson took a foam dart to the gut, and crumpled.

Justin told me his life has amounted to many things, but a recurring theme is convincing women not to commit suicide; his mother the first in the series. Later, it was a girlfriend. That was the first time I saw him cry: his head on my shoulder late one night, downtown, beside my car. He picked his head up, and pulled his collar up around his muzzle.

“Bad timing,” he said, and he shook his head. In the distance, the sound of a dog chain.


Katie Quinnelly is a climbing instructor in West Virginia. Her work has appeared in Occulum, Moonchild Magazine, The Ginger Collect, and b(OINK), among others.