Caught by the River

Shadows and Reflections: Jessica J. Lee

15th December 2019

It’s time once again for the annual series of postings we like to call Shadows and Reflections, in which our contributors and friends look back on the past twelve months. From Jessica J. Lee:

Small Things

It is December. The temperature has been fluctuating for days, and the trees have been tricked into bloom. I first notice the cherry petals scattered on the path, then look up to find the branches decked in pink. Too early for spring; not quite the right shade for Christmas.

The puppy and I walk the loop every day, and, somehow, he never finds it boring. His legs race to the field where he knows I’ll throw the ball, and his left ear perks, twitches at every sound. Sparrow, magpie, ambulance, dog.

He doesn’t notice the blossoms. But I stop to take a photograph, to claim them as mine.

In April, I slip into a cold creek in Texas. Bald cypresses line the banks, dancing arabesques on prop roots. The water is turquoise and seems to flutter over the rocks and roots. Every few metres, eddies give way to deep water. 

Flecks drift on the surface, sprays of green from the trees. I sweep one from the water and later press it into a book. The bald cypress is not coniferous; it loses its needles every autumn. 

I get married that day. A second marriage, a deeper pool. 

Late summer and autumn bleed together. Mid-September, in the west of Germany we meet a newborn dog, a cleft between his mouth and nose; he cannot suckle. I hold him in the curl of my arm and offer him a bottle. We do not equivocate over whether we can manage it.

Between then and home time, we travel. My husband in a new country; I speak for us in a language he doesn’t know, save the functional words: 謝謝,啤酒,冰淇淋。We check our phones daily, and worry pools in our bellies. 

The day after we return, I bring the dog home on the train. He cries half the way and then sleeps. 

October and we do not sleep. We lay in bed listening just to check he is breathing, then climb the stairs of our apartment more times than we can count. Anatomy in a fourth language: Gaumen, harter Teil, Weichteil. The soft part.

I stop reading the news. Instead I download every app for pet owners and join a group for the parents of cleft palate dogs. I learn the signs of aspiration pneumonia, and the puppy learns his name.

He is too small to walk far, so I carry him on my chest. My hand suspended beneath his chin, he dreams, suckling air.

November elides, a Wachstum. He gains half a kilo every week for a month. We visit the veterinarian every five days and worry about ear infections, the cleft that is widening. But she says: Er ist glücklich, sieht gut aus. 

I confess one night that I do not know if I want children. That this knot in my stomach is enough, and the money, and the time. My heart feels full.

My husband laughs. My best friend tells me that I cannot call my dog my child.

Winter forming, we grasp back at autumn. I take him to the Grunewald, where the oak leaves aren’t fully fallen and the pines stand green, orange. He has never seen a forest before, or a lake. He stops short, tail pointed, and looks back at me in question.

We run together, and I worry less. I text my husband to ask if he’s ever seen such a thing: the newness glinting in the eyes. Actual, palpable joy.

I try to photograph it. But what I capture only blurs, his form in motion.


Jessica J. Lee’s Two Trees Make a Forest was our Book of the Month for November.

Follow Jessica on Twitter here.