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by Suzanne Nielsen


She fell asleep with the lights on again, and the oven; said in a note she was cold and tired after making cranberries. She applied the juice to her cheeks and lips to offset the opaque tone of her face, and so it was her sheets and pillowcase were stained a randy red when they moved her body into the bag, zzzzzzzipped it up and the coroner left. County Coroners do not like to work on Thanksgiving, but the neighbors insisted due to the incessant barking coming from 311. I’m told County Coroners determine the cause and manner of death through a Likert scale.

She was friends with the caretaker and that’s how she got a pass on the dogs. No Pets Allowed is what’s bolted to the exte­rior building’s four brick walls. She said they were service dogs, that she was entitled to have them with her at all times, that they understood her anxiousness. She told me this one morning I reached to grab the newspaper outside my apart­ment. There she was standing in the hallway barefoot and smoking, face pale and veined. Long thick toe nails zig-zagging in various directions. The entitled dogs were chewing on a boot, fleece strewn throughout the hallway.

I tried to befriend her early September, two months after she moved in. I went to leave lasagna and sangria outside her door; she must have been standing at the peep hole for the door flew open before I set the bottle in place. “You might want to keep your windows closed so your dogs don’t jump to their death,” I suggested. Little did I know she had puttied the windows shut shortly after she moved in. Puttied the windows and added another lock on her door. She said this was another entitlement owed her due to the anxiety.

She was also entitled to smoke anywhere inside the build­ing; the laundry room with the gas furnace seemed excessive, but who was I to judge? I hung out in my studio with my Bukowski bobble head and sucked on Altoids. I occasionally went outdoors in search of the wild cats, three of them, still firmly feral.

I never heard her, yet I complained to management, for whatever is was worth, about the barking, the smoke and her state of mind worn into the walls and carpet. I like bonfires, but this was not the smoke smell of bonfires. This was the smell of generic tobacco, polyester filters.

They took her out of the building in a black vinyl bag, one person at the head, one at the feet. I went back into her apart­ment and was transfixed on the pillowcase; too brown to be cranberry stains. Too deep, too measured. And there were the cranberries resting on her bedside table hiding the empty pill bottles. Her dogs were reckless, worried and incontinent. I covered the cranberries, no longer firm, and went outside to build a bonfire, burn her note and let the dogs run free.