Your dog—which is soon to be my dog—is looking at us in bed together when the girl stops me.
“Wait,” she says, laughing and putting a hand against my chest. “The dog is watching.”
I turn and sure enough there is the beagle, sitting in the doorway to the bedroom with its head cocked to one side, a bubblegum-pink tongue appearing and disappearing as it works over some imaginary piece of food. The huge, floppy ears hang like great pendulums and the big eyes are fixed on us. In the past few weeks I’ve grown accustomed to the dog’s presence at all times—while watching TV, walking out of the shower, going to the bathroom—so this is nothing unusual. I turn back and shrug. “So?”
“So? You don’t think it’s weird that your girlfriend’s dog is going to watch us…?”
I sit back on the bed and smile. “Are you worried it’s going to tell on us?”
She laughs and slaps my hand away, which has been playfully fondling one of her breasts. “No! It’s just weird, I don’t know.”
“Okay.” I nod and stand. “C’mon pup,” I say, looking down at the dog as I shoo it out and close the door. From the living room I can hear my phone vibrate. There is a moment of terror when I think it might be you until I remember that you’re four states away, visiting your parents. With the door shut I look back and smile. “Better? Now the dog will never know.”
“Yes. Now come back to bed.”
Content in our freedom, I happily oblige…
Later, when I am alone in the house, I sit and watch TV while the dog stares at the front door. It does this every day as it waits for you to come back from work, and although your trip home means you have not returned for the past two days the dog has patiently waited all the same.
I remember then the missed call from before. When I check my phone and see your house’s number I feel a moment of guilt at the coincidence, the call having come just as I was about to sleep with someone else. But it passes, and with the dog behind me staring at a door that is not opening anytime soon I return your call.
It was not you that called, and it would never again be you calling me. Not long before I was to close the bedroom door—our bedroom door—you had been shattered and spread out on a stretch of road, along with an old high school boyfriend you had been on the back of a motorcycle with—whom I’d never known and you’d never mentioned—after an elderly woman ran a stop sign. The call was your mother, telling me something had happened, telling me I had to come quickly, although in truth the urgency was unnecessary, as it turned out…
I look at the dog that is now my dog. Before us stretch unknown and unknowable years. He will lie by the door, head perched upon his front paws, still waiting for it to open and you to return. At the sound of someone’s approach he will lift his head, perking his ears up such that they frame his face like some velvet pharaoh’s mask, making of himself a tiny canine sphinx. At night I will sit with him and try to explain but his eyes and ears and nose suggest he is interrogating other sources, searching for answers in the world of his construction. Sometimes a car will pass by the house and at the sound of it he will howl into the night
and sometimes I will join him, echoing that searching cry as best I can
but we will be answered only by the rising note of the car’s engine before it fades in its passing, and then his howl will fade too
In the ensuing silence I will sit and wait and eventually he will curl back up next to me, content perhaps that at least I too have not left him. He will grow old and white-muzzled and still he will sit, waiting, not knowing where you have gone or when you will return. Not knowing all this and so much more, having received no answers from me and no responses to those wordless cries in the night.