Animal Appetite by Susan Conant

By Susan Conant

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Fledgling Cambridge intellectual that I was, I preened with the pride of the newly hatched. Elizabeth Coleman: New England Captives Carried to Canada. June Namias: White Captives. John Putnam Demos: The Unredeemed Captive. And A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers! Henry David Thoreau! Dog writer no more, I settled down to transform myself into an esteemed authority on Hannah Duston. Disillusionment set in as soon as I opened the Coleman volume to the section about Haverhill. Indian attacks, it seemed, were part of what she called Philip’s War.

I didn’t say so to Claudia. Just as my mother taught me, I made no personal remarks. I’ll tell you, though, that the bright overhead lights were unkind to Claudia’s face. The skin under her eyes was bluish, and deep lines cut her mouth and chin off from the rest of her face, as if her lower jaw were hinged in the manner of a marionette’s. I sat. “Thank you for seeing me. ” She shrugged. Her left hand opened and closed as if she were kneading a fat lump of putty. The contrast with the driven volubility she’d shown at the bat mitzvah was so sharp that I felt ill at ease.

Bizarre though this may sound, Rita was eating her pizza with a knife and fork, and from a plate, too, not from the carton. Furthermore, ever since her last trip to Paris, she’s been keeping her fork in her left hand instead of transferring it to the right to get food to her mouth. Even when she was first learning the technique and accidentally stabbed her tongue with the tines, I didn’t laugh except to myself. Ours is a friendship of opposites. You could tell at a glance. For instance, if you’d magically peered in at us sitting at that table, you’d have noticed that Rita’s short, expensively streaked hair had been newly and professionally cut, whereas my unruly golden-retriever mop showed the signs of having been styled by a person, namely yours truly, with considerable experience in grooming show dogs.

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