My mother used to say, “If you listen to someone chew a hamburger, you can hear the dead cow talking.” One night at dinner, the dead cow in my little brother’s mouth, said, “It’s snowing outside.” I leapt from the table, and bolted out the front door, just in time to see the first big snowflakes come tumbling down from the sky. I built a snowman, and I used a cucumber for the snowman’s brain, but I didn’t want the snowman to get tired, so I built him lying on the ground, with a pillow tucked under his head.
The next morning, when I went outside, the snowman was gone, but the snowman’s shadow was lying there, curled up in a ball, looking kind of weak, and I was worried that something might be wrong, so I put some Cracker Jacks on the ground. Well, that did the trick, because the shadow popped up and wagged its tail and let out a couple of barks, and started running circles around me, and I had to giggle. Then the shadow trotted up and buried its head in my chest, and it started licking my cheeks, and my heart was suddenly filled with light, and I remember, I whispered, “Looky here, at the Angel.” I spent the rest of that afternoon popping my new best friend on the head, and calling him dummy whenever he tried to chase his tail, and from that day on we were inseparable, a boy and his shadow.
I named the shadow Peppy. One time, I looked at Peppy and said, “You make me feel peppy, so that’s your name,” and I could see Peppy’s eyes light up, and he grinned and started barking, as if to say, “You make me feel happy,” so I let Peppy pretend my name was Happy. Because I didn’t know what my parents would do, I kept Peppy a secret. Sometimes, when nobody was home, I’d let Peppy out of my room and into the backyard, and we’d play Pin Your Nose On The Squirrel’s Tail, and Who’s The Shadow? until night began to fall, and it was glorious. I even learned how to bark like Peppy, so that when my parents heard noises coming from my room, they would just think I was happy. Eventually though, Peppy ran away, and I forgot all about him.
The only other pet I had was a red ant. The ant didn’t even have a shadow. I found the ant one day on my shoelace, making its way toward this little scab on my ankle. I picked the scab, and carefully placed it on top of the ant’s back, and the ant fell off my shoelace and crashed to the ground. At that moment, some wind came along and whisked the ant up and started to run off with it. So I went running after the wind, and I was running very fast, and for a hundred yards or so, I ran like that, with the ant twirling right in front of my face, but then I got tired and fell over. Afterward, I tried begging the wind to tell me where it had hidden my ant. I shouted, “You can’t have everything,” but the wind just tickled me, and made me laugh, and then tried to steal my hair.
About a week later, I was lifting a spoon up to my mouth, when out of the corner of my eye, I saw my ant walking on the rim of the spoon, but it was too late. I didn’t have time to react, and the next thing I knew I’d swallowed the ice cream and the ant. The guilt exploded up my spine. I cried out, “Oh Jeez, what have I done?” That night I lay awake in bed, waiting for the ant to bite my heart, but it never did.
These days I have my own son. Last week, my son comes to me and says he wants a cat, but I tell him why a cat when everybody has a cat. I tell him this world is infinite, and that if he’d only try, he could have more pets than he ever dreamed of. I tell him you just have to see what everybody else is too busy to see. I tell him you just have to feel things deeply. I look my boy in the eye, and say, “Live the miracle.” Then I take him out into the backyard, and after a while we catch a blade of grass, and put it in a jar. And I hold the jar up to the light, so that the light coming through the jar falls on our faces, and this is a moment frozen in time, the two of us standing together, out there back behind our house. I can feel my son next to me, his mind humming, already calculating what pet he will set his sights on next. Then the moment passes, and I swell up with fatherly pride, because I look back down and see the reflection of the sky gleam in his eyes.