What was it that he’d said, sitting there?
I wasn’t going to think about it.
I focused on a camera: a dark box, with light coming in through a pinhole. And on the opposite wall, an image from the world develops, inverted and reversed. So if I stand on my head and look behind me, there’s the world, but in front of me there’s only a pinhole. And maybe if I walked towards the hole, I’d be able to see outside the box — but it’s so hard to walk on your hands.
I tripped on the curb. There was slush everywhere.
East of us on Hazel, a man dragged a boy behind him. Little boots knocked together as the big hand yanked him forward. He could have been a hand truck or a suitcase, skidding across concrete. The pair stopped abruptly under a snow-covered tree.
I saw the man’s thick shoulders, his brown work boots. I waited to witness whatever discipline was coming.
And then I heard the man say gently, “Stand right there.”
The boy dropped his father’s hand and stepped under the branches. The sun was fading behind me. They were two black faces in the half-dark, lit by half a sunset.
Then the man took the top of the tree in both hands and shook it softly. The boy jumped and danced, laughing in the falling white.
“I told you it would snow!”
The son reached out two puffy coated arms, two too-big mittens. A little baby Michelin Man. They didn’t see me watching them. Murray stood patiently at the corner, watching me. A cloud withdrew from the sky.
We passed a couple arguing about the importance of organic apples.
Two streets further, there were giggles in the darkness. A cat posed stiffly in the middle of the road. I heard the sound of a toy car scraping towards us: stop, go, stop, go. It jerked and bumped along the night sidewalk, its tiny driver struggling to steer. The indignant grunt of a growing boy, the defeated squeak of plastic wheels. Then the shadows of two girls ran in front of the car, and from inside it came the yelp of a cheated little brother: “HEY!”
“Can we pet your dog?” The shadows asked me. They swept their hands across his spine.
The little brother stepped out of his red and yellow coupe and hoisted up his snow pants. His road rage subsided as he drunkenly toddled towards us.
“What’s his name?” lisped the boy. I told him.
“MURRRRRAY. HI, Murray.” He spoke slowly and loudly, like a white grandpa to an exchange student. Murray sneezed.
“Is he a daddy dog?” the boy wanted to know.
“He’s a boy, but he’s not a daddy,” I said.
“Why? Doesn’t he want to be a daddy?”
It was as if this boy saw the secret human I knew lived inside my dog.
“I’m sure he would be a good daddy, but he isn’t one,” I said.
“How come?” asked the boy, wiping snot from his nose. I stared.
“Some dogs get surgery,” the taller sister offered. The smaller one nodded. I imagined Murray entering the hospital in a collared shirt, withdrawing his insurance card: “I’m here — WOOF — for my vasectomy.” Or maybe he would turn to his doggy wife in bed: “I’m not sure that this is working.”
The little boy thought for a moment, his hand resting between Murray’s ears.
“We had a dog… but he—”
There was a slurping sound as Murray licked the boy’s face.
The girls decided to conduct an examination.
“He has werewolf paws,” proclaimed one sister.
“Yes, he does,” I agreed.
“Do you think he’s a werewolf?” asked the other.
“Probably.” It was a full moon. Murray stood guard, like Nana with the Darlings.
“Will you come back to see us?” asked the little boy.
“Yes, I live right around the corner.”
“But will you COME BACK?”
“Yes,” I promised. “And you can pet Murray whenever you want.”
The shadows of parents moved on the porch, clinking glass. As I walked away, the boy called out:
“Come back soon!
…And don’t forget to come back!”
We kept walking.
A white man with a black hat passed us on the sidewalk. He looked at me, but I didn’t look at him. A black man with a white hat passed us on the sidewalk. I looked at him, but he didn’t look at me.
Murray barked at a passing pitbull. A bicyclist whizzed by in a yellow blur.
Then there was nobody for a long while.
At a corner in the blue dark, I saw a vintage green Chevy with its wheels embedded in ice. Up and down 47th Street, parked cars slept in a frozen stream, witnesses of a water main break. But the green truck had been parked there for weeks. Some things are forgotten for safekeeping.
Murray licked my forehead as I knelt down to tie my wet shoelace. I remembered a kiss on my forehead, the specter of somebody who never came back.
I decided to concentrate on werewolves: victims of a contagious disease passed on through a bite. Or maybe they were people who chose to dress in wolfskin, self-punishing for some transgression (tax fraud?). Or what if they were only the deformed and lonely, hunted down for being too hairy? They undressed for someone they loved, and then there was a scream and a silver bullet.
In my mind, the scream sounded like a love poem because love is not love, which alters when it alteration finds neither joy, nor love, nor light and conquers all that’s stored up for you like an inheritance, a song that only you can hear (I carry it in my heart) and there’s scarcely anything else in the world, for each man kills the thing he loves—
I knelt there with my head on my knees, a communion with the slush, feeling the weight of a body. Someone else’s body. Now it’s like an empty house. I prayed to whatever god there might be, by way of C.S. Lewis.
And then I felt that sloppy dog tongue on my face. Not on my forehead, but almost in my nostrils. In places no human would kiss.
There is always one who kisses and one who offers the cheek.
I wished I hadn’t majored in women filling their pockets with stones and sticking their heads into ovens.
Maybe tomorrow the pinhole would widen and I would want to be a marine biologist.
But there was a van stalling behind my dog in the darkness.
I stood up. My foot was asleep. Murray teetered, confused. The sliding door to the van was open. A man crouched on the upholstery, watching me.
He looked too small to be holding that gun.
Was I supposed to give him my money? I didn’t have any money. There was a peppermint in my pocket.
“Give me the dog,” he said. “Put him in the van.”
The barrel of the gun seemed to be pointed towards my elbow. I was supposed to give him my belongings and run. But Murray wasn’t a belonging. Maybe if I stood very, very still, the van would go away…
The streetlights stared at me.
I remembered a night in a different city. I had stepped off the train into the dark and into the open lot. Even with a sunburn heating my skin, it was cold and the world seemed crowded with shadows. I had walked quickly towards the newspaper dispensers at the corner, feeling the weight of the buildings surrounding me. A rat had scuttled in front of me on the sidewalk, and I had started to run. I’d run past the garage that housed the big trucks… the fenced-in homes with all their lights off… the green-gated yard where I’d been kissed, once. I’d run past a possum with red eyes, a man pissing on a doorstep, a playground where someone moaned and wailed. When I’d finally made it to the apartment, I had clanged the metal gate shut behind me and climbed the stairs to that warm wooden door. He’d pulled me inside. I’d said I’d never live alone in the city.
“Give me the dog!” The man yelled. There was a clicking noise.
I pictured myself giving him the dog. I imagined them screeching away with Murray in the backseat, me standing in the street alone. By myself. Murray gone. Giving them the dog.
Murray began to snarl.
Here was the pinhole. It looked like a full moon. I was pressed up against the side of the box and I could see outside. This man couldn’t put me in the box because I was already in the box. He sat motionless, staring at me.
I remembered the wooden door opening two hundred times. A laugh into my collarbone, two coasters and two mugs. What kind of math lets the present day trump all that came before?
This was a different city, though.
He wasn’t going to get my dog.
I remembered a key turning, a brown plant in the window, an empty refrigerator. He’d been twelve and then he’d been in college and then he’d come to pick me up from the train. He’d washed my hair when I was sick. He’d wanted two boys and two girls.
What was it that he’d said, sitting there? He’d recoiled. He hadn’t looked me in the eye. His face was a thumbprint on a glass of milk. I could remember his smell but not his mouth.
What was it that he’d said?
“Don’t touch me,” I growled.
We turned to walk away.