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The dog ran away this morning.
Then late afternoon, Jennifer calls. “Lorraine, I slept with Henry.” Her voice is a shadow in my ear; I can hear street noise: car stereos, car horns, chatter, a police siren’s distant squall.
She tells me it just happened out of nowhere. And she knows—everyone knows—that Henry and I had been unhappy for a long time.
“I mean, you don’t even live together anymore!” she says in a pleading tone, like I’ll look around my half empty apartment and say, Oh, shit, you’re right! Because, you know, without her I might not have noticed.
Jennifer is starting to cry. “You were my friend. You borrowed a sundress and two cardigans and never returned any of them. But it’s no excuse. I know this is worse.”
I say, “I can’t find Darling. She got out through that hole in my fence and ran into Dyker Park. She’s probably run over by now.”
On the other end of the line: silence. Then Jennifer sniffles. Maybe she’s a little disappointed. Everyone wants to matter.
I feel worse after we hang up.
Everywhere you go in Brooklyn lately, you see these dudes gearing up to do something for which they’ll only end up apologizing later.
I leave all the lights on and walk to Third Avenue, the heat sticking my hair to the back of my neck. I’m not sure what I hope to find, but the first bar and then two more are all filled with people leaning half off their stools into each other’s faces, sucking down cocktails before getting into an Uber.
Everywhere you go in Brooklyn lately, you see these dudes gearing up to do something for which they’ll only end up apologizing later.
The older I get, the better I see it: I don’t want to be asked to dinner. All the men wear jeans to nice restaurants, then gym shorts to work. And why do they spread their legs on the subway? They need all that space just to stare at their phones? This probably makes it sound like I hate men. Listen, that isn’t it. I like men. I loved Henry. I just don’t happen to think men are as good as dogs, because I’m not fucking crazy.
What I want is: I want someone who will lie down in the shade on a warm afternoon while I drink four or five beers in silence. This is a tremendous loss.
• • •
I am hardly drunk when I get home. Henry is there.
“You can’t just waltz in here anymore,” I say. “This is my apartment now.”
He is standing with his big hands in his pockets. Then he’s running them through his hair. It’s gone grayer in the month since I last saw him. Funny, how much you notice people changing once they go away.
“What happened?” he wants to know. “When did Darling run away?”
God, Jennifer has a big mouth.
“She saw a squirrel,” I say. “This is your fault. You were supposed to call the landlord about fixing the gate. Last year. You said you would.”
I’m embarrassed, but I flop onto the sofa and start to cry anyway.
• • •
Really, there’s no one to blame. The big problem, the real deal, is Darling’s a pit bull. We got her before the new rules. The Vicious Breeds Law says I need a six-foot fence around my property and a choke-chain collar. I don’t have any property, just a lease that isn’t going to be renewed. The collar is simply medieval. If Animal Control picks up Darling today, it will cost a thousand dollars to get her back from the pound. There’s another, citywide law saying all dog owners must have a license. But I can’t register Darling with the city if I can’t comply with the borough statutes on Vicious Breeds.
A couple years ago, we saw on Channel 12 News that this law had been passed. Henry said that Darling wasn’t dangerous, and that the borough president could go bite himself. Things were good then. I thought so, at least. Henry and I still went to the movies on Thursday nights; we held hands on the Cineplex escalator and laughed at the same parts of the films.
“That guy should keep his stupid kid behind a six-foot fence,” Henry said. He shoved a whole string cheese into his mouth. A loose Rottweiler had bitten the borough president’s eight-year-old son at the Shore Road Promenade, and that’s how the Vicious Breeds Law happened. “There’s not a bad bone in her body.” Henry gestured toward Darling. She looked at us from where she was napping on the old tweed armchair my grandma had given me, tilted her head toward Henry’s moving hands. “I’m fucking vicious,” Henry said. “I could go out and get a gun. Any brain-dead moron with a hair up his ass about anything could get a gun.” He shut off the TV. “And shoot people,” he added, as though maybe I hadn’t been following the logic. Of course, this was ridiculous. Henry grew up in Sheepshead and his parents run a chess clinic for gifted preteens.
• • •
When she ran off, Darling and I had gone outside to pee and put the ConEd bill in the mailbox, respectively. But then she saw a squirrel and ran like a bullet out the yard and across Fourteenth Avenue. The park is massive, but from our house you can see really far into it.
This never happened before. It took me a minute to chase her; I was so surprised. I was in my slippers, with no bra under my tank top. If it were later in the day, maybe someone would’ve caught her for me. But the park was empty save some old men playing cards and a big pack of ladies doing tai chi, who all went scurrying like sparrows from a hawk when Darling raced by. She’d paid them no attention. I was probably a hundred yards behind when she disappeared into the hedges separating the soccer fields from the municipal golf course. I headed home to go get dressed.
Then I went back—asked everyone in the park, and the manager at the pro shop, who was all, “What kind of dog?” and when I told him he looked panicky and called 311. I said, “She doesn’t bite.” He held up his hand in my face, cradling the telephone receiver between his shoulder and ear. “Miss,” he said. “Please.”
That’s a thing people do; they leave the city, put their face really close to a horse’s face.
At the dog run I waited two hours for her to come trotting over. On the other side of the chainlink fence, Eighty-sixth Street’s buses and cars and litter blew by. There was the honking, the ferocious rushing of the Gowanus Expressway. People came in and out, in and out, letting their dogs loose in the safe confines of the fifty-foot park. A sweet black lab with runny eyes came over to the bench where I was sitting and licked my hands. Tears filled my eyes but I blinked them back when his owner came over and said, “You can’t be here without a dog.” She wagged a frisbee at me. I looked around, thinking, Come here, Darling. I was desperate to see her face, to feel her cold nose and turfy dog breath, and her head pressed hard into my legs. She’d be scared I would yell. I wouldn’t yell. It would be only a relief. I shrugged at the woman, and then I went home.
I hoped she’d be back, wagging her nervous butt or pacing the fence, peeing all over. She was still gone. The day was crawling away, the sun hot and reflecting off all the windows on Thirteenth Avenue. I stood there in my little yard and felt my blood splashing around my head, hot and light, full of a frantic radiator panic.
Inside the apartment, my cell phone rang on the coffee table. It was Jennifer, calling to tell me how she and Henry are both such assholes.
• • •
Now I’m on the sofa and Henry’s stooped over the desk in the corner, posting something to Craigslist from my laptop. He can’t find a picture of only Darling, though. All the photos on my hard drive are of the two of them. Most are from this winter, at Reigelmann Boardwalk: Henry in his beige anorak, Darling at his side, her smooth brindle sparking in the white winter light. The photos are kind of cheesy, like Sears Portrait Studio with a much better backdrop. By then, I know now, he’d already decided to leave.
“They’re gonna pave the boardwalk,” I tell Henry. I wipe my face. “It’s a tragedy.”
Henry says, “A travesty.” And he looks at me hard in my face because of course I have no idea what the difference could possibly be. Likely there is no difference; he just prefers one to the other in this moment. “You know.” He pauses, culling his most patient, fake self. “It doesn’t matter what else is happening between us. We have to find Darling. Together.”
He calls the pound, but they put him on hold too long. So now he wants to just go—in person—to all the animal shelters in Brooklyn.
“Call your brother,” he says. “We need to borrow his car.”
I think about my brother up in Park Slope, taking my call on what might otherwise be a nice Sunday evening. He and his partner like to drink in those pubs that are so full of strollers you can’t get to the bathroom.
Danny—that’s my brother—is a venture capitalist. On our better days, he answers the phone when I call just to make a joke about how I’m a bad investment of his time. His partner, Howard, is a principal at a marketing firm. Last year they adopted twin baby girls and gave them very old-fashioned names: Viola and Adelaide. Danny drives a Lexus; he isn’t going to loan it to me. I also have a sister, Colleen, in rural Tennessee. She has a couple horses, plus this special kind of heirloom cow, and lives in a hundred-year-old house on the side of a mountain. There’s no Internet access in my sister’s house, which she claims to be happy about. That’s a thing people do; they leave the city, put their face really close to a horse’s face. There are people in this world who never go to Starbucks or walk past a trashcan overflowing with Starbucks cups. A lot of people. But even if she were still in New York, I wouldn’t be allowed to borrow Colleen’s pickup.
They’re both younger than me, my siblings.
My parents got divorced when they were my age. That might comfort me, except I don’t want to be anything like either of them. Anyway, they weren’t really my age; their years had been thicker. By the time they split, my parents had three kids and a house and a car, some money in a savings account. They went to court and had a fight over all the stuff. I was eight.
Henry and I don’t have anything real to fight over. When he left, he took only the flat-screen and the French press. He said they were better than the apartment and all its other contents.
He wanted to take Darling but I said, “Over my dead body,” like a bad actress.
She ran straight into the end of her life. And I can’t say she didn’t look so happy.
I watched open-mouthed as she ran past people who didn’t know any better than to be terrified. She looked free and excited in that moment, galloping past the empty handball courts and jungle gym and swings. Once she got out of my sight, she was dead. Not actually dead—I know—not right away, but sentenced, a dead dog running. It doesn’t matter that Darling is not a vicious creature. Animal Control will take her, or a car won’t be able to stop fast enough—the driver might not even try. She ran straight into the end of her life. And I can’t say she didn’t look so happy.
Another thing Henry and I had was a lot of friends, but he had sex with a couple of them. Our marriage is a hollow version of what my parents couldn’t make work. I can stare into it and see straight to the other side, where there’s also nothing.
• • •
Henry posts the notice to Craigslist as well as a website for lost pets. He prints a pile of flyers with our phone numbers, his email address, and a reward. Together, out in the purply fading daylight, we plaster Bay Ridge. Henry wanted to stop at the hardware store and buy something industrial, but I was right: The telephone poles are soft with overuse; my ordinary stapler works fine.
In Tasty Bagels, Mrs. Geraldi takes a flyer and promises to put it in the window. I can tell she’s happy to see us together, even under the circumstances. She asked after Henry last month when I changed my breakfast order from two coffees to one, and no more blueberry muffin, just my bagel with olive cream cheese. I said he was out of town. The truth felt embarrassing, like something everyone knows but is still private, a secret. When she asked last week if he was back soon, I shrugged and made my lonely order. She looked sad, maybe because I was so obviously depressed, but maybe she was upset for herself. It’s hard when the day’s little patterns break apart.
On the corner of Eighty-eighth and Third, I look into the window of Mimi’s, where Jennifer and I used to get pale pink manicures. I can see the silhouette of a Taiwanese nail tech stooped over someone’s bunions. Jennifer still always has a manicure, but now she designs handbags in Midtown and lives on the fifteenth floor of a Williamsburg high-rise, only comes down to Bay Ridge to see her dad and brothers on the holidays. Even in high school, I liked her better than most of my friends. She’s a good laugher—isn’t embarrassed to show all her big teeth—and drinks beer despite her fruity-cocktail life. We’ve known each other longer than I’ve known Henry, who I met at Hunter, in a history elective called American Witch-hunts.
He hasn’t changed. It isn’t that. When we were twenty-one I noticed how he couldn’t talk to a girl without putting his hand on her elbow at least once. Out to dinner a few years into dating, he told me that he couldn’t imagine a life without the possibility of unlimited first kisses. I nodded emphatically, as though I agreed. A few months later, he cried when I found out he’d slept with his high school girlfriend on spring break while I was down the shore. He held my hand and said, “It sounds crazy, but this has made me realize I’m really so in love with you.”
We got married the year after graduation. I think I’d decided he was just a very sensitive and romantic person and that I’d better hold on tight. I guess the thing no one wants to admit about promiscuous people is how lovable they are. How much better their attention feels, even when you know they pass it out like pamphlets.
I’m getting a headache.
“Henry,” I say. “I’m starving. I haven’t eaten all day.” He looks up, opens his mouth to complain that I should’ve had something at Tasty Bagel, but changes his mind. I know him so well I hear the words anyway, and snap, “I wasn’t hungry a half hour ago. I need to lie down.”
“Alright,” he says. “Go home. I’ll grab you a snack after I finish with these.” He fans the few remaining flyers. The breeze rattles them in his hand.
I’m sore from being on my feet most of the day. When I get to the apartment, it’s a relief to be by myself. I get back on the sofa and it feels like I’ve been there all day. That is to say, it feels like all the other weekends in recent memory, only much worse without my dog cuddling up and whining for a belly rub.
Henry comes back in fifteen minutes with a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos.
“Here’s the difference between us,” I say. “This is the real reason it didn’t last. See, your parents paid your college tuition.”
Henry sits down on the sofa. I have to scoot my legs a little to give him room. I think about putting my feet in his lap, about how it used to be so easy to touch him whenever I wanted. He tells me I’m being a lunatic and opens the noisy bag, eats a few chips. Then holds it out to me.
I say, “Everyone knows that if you eat Doritos for dinner, your breath smells like Doritos until you’ve paid off your student loans. So I can’t do what you do—I can’t just throw caution into the wind. There are consequences. I live in the real world, Henry. You leave, and then you come back; I know you are silently blaming me for Darling, and now you’re trying to get grimy powder on my fingertips.”
I guess the thing no one wants to admit about promiscuous people is how lovable they are.
Henry gets up. “This is bullshit,” he says.
I agree. “It is bullshit. I’m exhausted and hungry and you go to 7-Eleven for a snack because you believe yourself to be this nice guy, but you come back with a curse.”
He is willing himself not to shout. I see the edges of his mouth are aching, his resolve swinging like a traffic light in bad weather.
“I’ll call you if I hear anything from the Craigslist post. Tell me right away if she turns up.” He eyes me. “What happened with Jennifer is—that was a mistake."
“And Andrea?” I ask, my voice hot and shaking because Henry has already said plenty of times that there is no answer for his behavior, he didn’t mean it, and I don’t really want to know if he’s lying. “And Melanie?”
Henry is quiet. “I’m sorry, Rainy,” he finally says. “I can’t give you what you need.”
“What you promised me,” I say, and I want to go into full histrionics. The pathetic little demon that rules my heart is urging me to describe our wedding: the calla lilies lining my Aunt Linda’s deck in Long Island, sunshine coming through the homemade gauze canopy, the simple cotton dress I stood in, smiling like a jerk under heavy mascara and a coat of ivory makeup. Henry’s hand on my elbow as he said the words. I went through the photos a couple days ago and couldn’t believe how stupid we both looked. I don’t say anything because honestly I’m sick of myself.
I stare at Darling’s empty bed on the floor until I hear him go, the door clicking shut. Tomorrow I’m going to call a guy about changing the locks, and then, I swear, I will start locking up when I leave.
I will miss Henry, though. If it was warm, we used to lie down side by side on a blanket in Dyker Park and turn our faces to the sun. We’d shade our eyes, later, and look up at the Verrazano Bridge, craning our necks. The world felt new. On a whim four Octobers ago, we went to the shelter and picked out Darling. She was a puppy but not a new one—an excited teenager with ear mites that Henry wiped away with a medicated cloth every night until they were all gone. She learned to sit and roll over; she understood many English words. No. Good girl. Stay. We took her on walks everywhere, and I think my life was good. It was. I’m doing my best to move along.
In New York everything changes. You have to let go of the years before: their better restaurants and cheaper subway fares, a life that was a little grimier, but easier somehow, and smaller. It doesn’t matter if you never move away. There’s nothing you can do to bring back a runaway dog. Everything keeps moving—past the skyscrapers and the housing projects onto the highway, into the suburbs. Past the brownstones, onto the beach. There’s nothing to do but keep up. You have to pick a direction. You have to go.
Liv Stratman is a writer from New York. Her short stories and reviews have appeared in The Cincinnati Review, Cutbank, and Witness. She teaches at the New York City College of Technology and is currently at work on a novel.
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