Peanut Butter Elegy

When my husband died, I told our five-year-old daughter Abigail he had been turned into a dog and run away. That was the thing about living in a magically integrated community: anything was possible. And when anything was possible, nothing bad had to happen. So instead of telling my daughter that her father had been killed in a stupid hit and run while on his way home from the grocery store, I told her that somewhere out there was a man turned dog running free and happy.

She believed me, of course she did. On our block alone there were three witches, one elf, and the twin boys next door were changelings. Abigail suspected every single one of them of committing the foul curse on her father, and for three tense days she refused to go outside lest she be the next victim of mammalian transformation. In a desperate bid to save my sanity, I impressed upon my daughter that, though we still didn’t know who or what had cast the spell on Daddy, the police were doing a thorough investigation and already found our neighborhood and neighbors to be completely safe (except for Mr. Jenkins during full moons). All that was left to do was wait for the spell to wear off, and then Daddy would find his own way home, and everything would be all right.

Abigail believed me about this as well.

I knew it was wrong to lie to her. She was old enough to handle the concept of death, and it wasn’t even that I thought the truth would destroy her. It was just…my husband died buying peanut butter in a car crash. If he had died from a spell gone wrong or a vampire attack or something, I wouldn’t’ve had any problem telling Abigail about it because that made sense. We didn’t move halfway across the country to a community with potion masters in the hospitals and safety spells on the school campuses just so mortal problems like car crashes could destroy our daughter’s world. Magic was supposed to protect us, so why was my husband dead?

I didn’t have an answer, for myself and certainly not for Abigail. So, like a good mom, I lied to my daughter and never bought peanut butter again.


Several weeks after his death, Abigail came home from kindergarten with a note from her teacher. I frowned when she handed it to me but didn’t have time to read it because Abigail demanded a snack.

Snack time was a chore now. My husband had always been in charge of the food. Unfortunately, that meant Abigail shared his love of peanut butter. Peanut butter sandwiches, cookies, crackers, peanut butter on fruit, on vegetables, a dollop on a spoon. For days Abigail threw colossal tantrums whenever her snack didn’t include peanut butter. It wasn’t until a PTA dad shared the secret of magically altered vegetables that Abigail started eating her snacks again in sullen silence. Magic foods cost a little bit extra, but my daughter never threw a fit when presented with neon purple celery that sparkled when bit, and I could have some peace and quiet when she came home from school.

I wondered if the note was something from the PTA. Perhaps another call for me to speak at the Magic and Mortals community night. What they thought I had to contribute to such an event was beyond me. There was no trick to living a mortal life, I’d say. We all just do our best not to die so quickly. And look, my husband failed at even that.

I slit open the envelope and found two sheets inside, one a handwritten letter from my daughter’s teacher and the other a form titled ‘Submission of Magical Accidents, Grievances, and Complaints.’

Dear Ms. Sousa,

I was sorry to hear of the loss of your husband a few weeks back. I hope you and your family are doing well. I wanted to keep you abreast of Abigail’s time at school since the loss of her father. She has been doing surprisingly well, has not missed a single assignment, and seems in good spirits. However, she said something that concerns me, and I felt it best to bring it to your attention. Abigail has told the other children that her father is not dead. Instead, she insists that he has been transfigured into a dog by the work of an unknown magical being and has therefore run away.

I do not presume to know the details involving the death of your husband, and I apologize profusely if I am overstepping my boundaries, but given Abigail’s assertions, I felt I should speak up.

In an integrated community such as our own, there are strict rules for the use of magic around, for, and on mortals, as I am sure you are aware. I know many mortals feel intimidated to come forward with any issues regarding their magical neighbors. However, these rules were put in place for your protection, and I have included the attached form as a first step to report any such magical grievances you may have. I myself am willing to aid you in navigating the process, and I can assure you everything will be kept in the strictest of confidences here at the school.

Please do let me know if there is anything I can possibly do to aid you and Abigail during this trying time.

Most Sincerely,

The Lady Gwyn, Professor

Well…when trained childcare professionals started questioning the mental and physical wellbeing of your daughter, that was when you knew it was time to give up.

After a Mommy Minute in the bathroom, I returned to the kitchen ready to confess my utter failure as a parent.

“Hey Abby,” I said. My daughter turned around to look at me, mouth stained a dark plum.

“Can I have some peanut butter?” she asked.

I swallowed, a phantom taste of peanuts on my tongue.

“No,” I replied smoothly, like her favorite peanut butter.

Abigail pouted immediately. “Why not?” We were five seconds away from a tantrum. It was now or never.

“The stores are sold out of peanut butter, baby. I’m sorry.”


So Doggy Daddy remained the story in our household, but only our household. I sat Abigail down and told her that it was for the best that she keep Daddy’s predicament to herself when with others. She asked me a million questions that I couldn’t answer, but eventually she was satisfied. It was, after all, a special secret, and there was nothing greater a girl her age could ask for. Except maybe a unicorn.

And if I searched for where to buy unicorns on Google that night, sue me.

But that was, unfortunately, not the end of the matter. At home, Abigail continued to bring up her father at every possible turn. She speculated on what kind of dog he had been turned into, where he had run off to, was he a dog or a werewolf, and if he was a werewolf did I think he might be staying with Mr. Jenkins?

And always the peanut butter. Did the store get more peanut butter in stock? How come Nanae had peanut butter in her lunch at school but Abby didn’t? If we got some peanut butter, would Daddy come back?

I started avoiding Abigail just to get a break from the chatter. I signed her up for an afterschool class, left her at friends’ houses for playdates, and paid almost $200 for a child-approved potion that allowed her to hover two feet off the ground, outside and away from me, for three hours.

I did everything a good mom does. But I didn’t talk to Abigail. I couldn’t tell my daughter that the thought of peanut butter made me want to cry, that the smell of peanuts turned my stomach, that if I ever had to see that sticky brown mess of a condiment I couldn’t be held responsible for what I did next. And I couldn’t tell her that all this was because Daddy was not a dog, but dead, and I was so sorry because if I had just died instead she could have all the peanut butter she wanted.

I couldn’t tell Abigail about any of that, so I didn’t tell her anything at all.


What a dreadful night, I thought as I trudged up the walkway home, lethargic from having drunk a little too much.

In the mortal world, grieving widows would most likely attend several therapy sessions to help them get over their loss. In magical communities, we had séances.

Lucille was a fellow mom and presumably had the gift of speaking to the dead. I had never had any desire to see her before, and I really didn’t then either, but she had offered me a free reading when my husband first died, and I had been dodging her attempts to cash it in for me ever since. Finally, she cornered me during pickup, promised wine and chocolate to go with the reading, and I couldn’t say no.

I stopped at the steps to the front door and tried to compose myself. I didn’t know what I had expected from Lucille. As far as I knew, the magical community was split on the efficacy of spirit communication as a magic, and I wasn’t sure what I believed. In the end, I spent over an hour answering questions my supposed dead husband was asking me, all about the state of the household, Abigail’s schooling, plans for the summer break—all vague enough to be sourced from anyone. In the end, the only peace I came away with was the kind found at the bottom of a bottle.

I dug out my keys and was about to open the front door when I smelled roasted nuts and oil. I looked down. Beside the door, there was a plate of crackers smeared with peanut butter and a card that said ‘For Daddy.’

My vision turned to static and my stomach felt hot. Don’t throw up, don’t throw up, don’t throw up.

It took all of my willpower and the prying eyes of my night-vision neighbor across the way not to kick the plate into the bushes. Instead, holding my breath, I picked it up and carried it with me inside.

“Abigail! I’m home!” I called, voice shriller than I intended. I hastened to the kitchen to dump the crackers into the trash. There was an open jar of peanut butter on the table. I was staring at it when Abigail came skipping into the kitchen followed by Kiera, a teenage witch and Abigail’s babysitter. I gave Abigail a quick hug and then dug out my wallet for some cash.

Be normal. Don’t throw up. Be normal. Don’t throw up.

“Everything go all right?” I asked Kiera, but Abigail answered.

“We played Sunset Demons, and ate snacks, and learned about trans-o-fig-ma-tation, and Kiera helped me with my homework!”

“Not in that order,” Kiera assured me, trying to look like she wasn’t counting the bills as I pulled them from my wallet.

“Trans-o what?” I asked, giving up on counting and just handing over the entire stack. Babysitting rates were ridiculous, and the magical beings charged double because they could offer emergency spells, and what teenager would seriously protest getting paid extra. Be normal.

Kiera slid the wad of bills into her back pocket with a smile before answering, “Transfiguration. She saw my textbook from school. But no worries. I didn’t go into the nitty gritty.”

“Right.” I leaned against the counter and tried to look like I wasn’t about to have a nervous breakdown. “I noticed the crackers on the front step.”

Kiera gave an apologetic grimace. “Oh, yeah. Abby was going on about peanut butter, but I noticed you didn’t have any, so I grabbed some from my house. She wanted to leave those outside, but wouldn’t tell me why. Sorry. I meant to grab it before you came back.”

“It’s fine.” I gestured to the jar on the table. “Have a nice night.”

“Oh, you can keep it. I got a two for one deal at the market.”

“No, you don’t have to do that.”

“It’s no biggie.”

“Oh, no, I couldn’t possibly.”

“Really, it’s whatever.”

“Just take it!”

Kiera paused, eyeing the crazy old lady that cared way too much about condiment ownership, but she dutifully scooped up the jar.

“…Okay. See you.”

“Good night.”


The next day, two and a half months into the disaster I called motherhood, it finally happened.

Except, I thought ‘it’ would mean a conversation, not an old, grimy sheepdog drooling on my living room carpet. But really, at that point, I shouldn’t’ve been surprised.

The dog must have come by sometime in the night, lured by the peanut butter treats left in the garbage bins. I didn’t hear Abigail get up, didn’t hear her open the door, and I didn’t hear a peep from the dog. That was concerning. I should probably ask after some more security charms for the house. Or never drink wine again.

But Saturday morning, when I passed the living room on my way to the kitchen, there was Abigail clutching that disgusting dog and watching cartoons.

“What is that?” I demanded, abandoning my quest for coffee and coming around the couch. The dog squirmed in her arms, wiggling away to hop down and sniff at my slippers. I resisted the urge to kick it away.

“It’s Daddy!” Abigail crowed, jumping off the couch to resume snuggling the dog. “He came back!”

I opened my mouth to say No, that isn’t Daddy. This is just a normal dumb dog. Then I followed that conversation to its natural conclusion: Hm? How do I know? Oh, sweetie, because Daddy is dead, and I know because I identified his corpse at the morgue weeks ago. Mommy’s a liar, and you will probably never trust me again. Now, who wants Coco Puffs?

“Are you sure this is Daddy, honey?” I asked, kneeling down beside her. “This dog looks a lot older than Daddy.”

Abigail tilted her head thoughtfully. “He probably got changed into dog years,” she said solemnly. “Poor Daddy.”

“Mm-hm.” The dog nosed forward, pressing its wet snout into my crotch. I pushed it off roughly. “Well, tell you what, I’ll go and take the dog—Daddy—to the shelter today. That’s the best place for him to be now.”

Abigail frowned. “They’ll change him back?”

“…I’m sure they’ll try.”

“But what if they can’t?”

“Well, then, they’ll take him somewhere where he can live happily as a dog.”

Abigail gasped and hugged the dog tight enough to threaten suffocation. “Daddy belongs with us!” she cried. And now there were tears in her eyes, and I was halfway to a sobbing mess myself because what was I supposed to say to that?

Daddy did belong with us.


Five days later, Abigail was still calling the dog Daddy, a secret appointment was made with the shelter for an afternoon surrendering, and I was on the back porch holding a jar of peanut butter and a spoon.

After the crash, the tow truck company had collected everything that was in the car and given it to me. One bag held miscellaneous car junk like a grungy sweater, a broken flashlight, and some tissues so old they disintegrated at a touch. But the other bag was from the local grocery store. It had been filled with the bits and bobs my husband was getting for dinner that night. Rice. Artichokes. Some spices we were out of.

And peanut butter.

I rolled the jar in my hands. It was the store brand, my husband’s favorite. Mine too, but I honestly didn’t know if it was my favorite because I actually liked it or because my husband refused to eat any other brand, so I just told myself I liked it. That was what marriage did to you: blurred the lines between two people and made them into one, greater person.

Except I wasn’t a greater person anymore. I was a middle-aged widow who hadn’t showered in three days and was about to spoon peanut butter into her mouth and call it lunch.

The dog was laying in the grass in front of me, having given up on convincing me to play fetch, and it now judged my poor nutritional choices. Or hoped I’d share. But this peanut butter wasn’t for dogs. It was for dead husbands.

Abigail had wanted to go to school and tell all her friends about Daddy’s miraculous return, but I convinced her not to. We didn’t want to embarrass Daddy by telling everyone he was still a dog. We could wait until he was a human again. It would be another of our special secrets.

I wondered how many special secrets I could feasibly demand her to keep.

I twisted the lid off the jar, dug in the spoon, and lifted out a giant glob. The dog’s nose twitched at the nutty scent. He half rose, tongue lolling out, drool dripping down the sides of his jowls.

I hated that dog. How dare he come to my house? How dare he jeopardize my daughter’s peace of mind? I told those lies to protect her, and this stupid dog was ruining that. He would hurt her because he was a dog and not a human and eventually, inevitably, that fact would be revealed to Abigail and crush her world. I was her mother. It was my job to crush her world, and I was supposed to do so months ago when her father had actually died.

Now, with Doggy Daddy scheduled to disappear, I didn’t know what I was supposed to do. Honestly, it would’ve been better if the dog had just died, preferably in front of Abigail since I now knew I was incapable of breaking bad news to my daughter. If the dog had just gotten hit by a car, right in front of Abigail and died, then Daddy would’ve been dead for both of us, I could’ve had a peaceful afternoon, and we both could’ve just moved on.

That was what you were supposed to do when someone you loved died. Somewhere there was this healing path forward that I was supposed to follow. Except instead of finding it, I lied to my daughter and got myself into a mess that led to me spooning peanut butter out of a jar on the back porch with someone else’s lost dog and planning a clandestine trip to the pound, with no idea what to tell Abigail once Doggy Daddy was gone for good, and no idea how to get an idea because I’d never had to do any of this life stuff by myself because that was what my husband was for. He was supposed to be here to help me with Abigail and magical lies and all the rest of it. So really this was his fault, and I hated him too.

The spoon bounced in my grip, and I looked down to see the dog licking the end of it. I set the spoon down and the dog followed it, tongue a blur, completely forgetting about me in its delight. I reached out and rested a hand on its shaggy head and closed my eyes. I smelled dirt and grass and dog, but also roasted nuts and oil. I breathed deep.

“I miss you,” I whispered.

The dog said nothing because it was just a dog.