James Mulhern’s writing has appeared in literary journals over one hundred and fifty times and has been recognized with many awards. In 2015, Mr. Mulhern was granted a writing fellowship to Oxford University. That same year, a story was longlisted for the Fish Short Story Prize. In 2017, he was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. His novel, Give Them Unquiet Dreams, is a Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2019. He was shortlisted for the Aesthetica Creative Writing Award 2021 for his poetry. Recently, two of his novels were Finalists for the United Kingdom’s Wishing Shelf Book Awards.
Mornings I injected insulin into my dog and made sure she had enough water. To see her wobbling pained me. Sometimes, she collapsed onto the cold tile, peed blood in the yard, or bumped into walls. One day she could no longer hold her urine. I bought diapers, which always fell off. When she had that look, I carried her to the yard. My mother said, “Can’t you put her to sleep?” I said, “When you become incontinent, I should do the same?” “Guess not,” she answered. Eventually, I had to euthanize her, Ethel that is. The young woman at the desk said, “Sorry for your loss.” I bent over the steering wheel and cried, then drove off. My mother, eighty-two, is losing her sight. She depends on audiobooks and the largest fonts. Her body is filled with metal— multiple surgeries on her spine and leg. Someday she’ll die. When I see her walker, I’ll remember her resolve to move forward. How she listened and told me through dim blue eyes, “I love you, sweetheart.” All of the living are broken and our problems continue to accumulate. It’s how we care for others, show love, and move forward that helps us become whole again.
The twenty-something blonde offered to lift my suitcase to the overhead compartment. The thin boy with glasses said he’d push my cart of groceries if I wanted help to the car. The high school girl behind the glass passed a senior ticket without my asking. My principal inquired, “When will you be retiring?” My neighbor (close in years) has cancer. My doctor said men my age have difficulty peeing. I’ve taught stories about rites of passage my whole career —a first kiss, the first date, marriage, and children. When the young woman looked at my gray hair and offered to lift my luggage, I thought of these other rites, and the Last Rites, too. As the plane rose through the clouds, I felt turbulence. Outside the rain-pattered window was solid blackness. I saw an old man. I knew what was behind me. I knew what lay ahead. How odd that an act of kindness made me think so much. When we landed, the suitcase seemed heavier. My exit was clear.