I nap while the beef simmers in the stove, thickening over the house, day sagging into night. There is coffee and beer and water in between to wash us out, to cleanse us, bobbing up and down upon days. I peel back the dog’s lips to make her look sinister, decide on a walk.
The day is gray and wet, hillsides gone yellow and brown, dabbed with a sponge, a day for painters and poets. Spiders the size of grapefruits, witches hanging from trees. Through the new development, men on rooftops bent over like beetles clanking with tools and stapler guns, the development that used to be the woods, where we sometimes saw snakes.
The dog is drawn to smells of other dogs on the ground, to histories and scents no different than I am drawn to people passing on the street, possible characters coming in and out of pages, the edges of scenes and street corners, some of us ghosts.
We gut the trees to put in more houses, storm water drainage ponds to resemble natural habitat, prop ducks and birdsong recordings, now an exhibit in a zoo behind a chain-link fence. I stand there with my dog admiring it, how the tree frog chokes like it’s giving birth to itself through its throat, gagging, finding its voice.
I get an email from a friend, his dog has died. The dog was 21, reduced to a rattling husk, and they would not put her down or even talk about that, because they believe in karma — karma in the sense you don’t interfere with someone playing out a destiny to realize a past debt, because death is an important part of life, as important as the beginning.
After the walk our dog is collapsed by the fireplace, a broken umbrella with limbs at odd angles, whiskers chewed down to the nub by other dogs from the boarding house, now growing back at irregular lengths like fake whiskers, a dog mask.
I see my doctor about my heart, have my blood drawn, strip down to a robe that ties in the back. I get weighed and measured and feel old, all of the sudden. We talk about the number of drinks I have a week: we count them, and that’s a different kind of prodding, a different kind of looking-inside-you question.
I mention a dull pain on the left side of my chest, by my heart, when he asks if there’s anything else I want to talk about — and then he chides me for not mentioning it at the beginning of the appointment. In fact he repeats himself, “That’s why I asked you at the beginning if there was anything else you wanted to talk about,” and he shakes his head and lets the silence fall over us like a drape.
He says something in Latin, that’s what he calls it: a tissue attached to my ribs, must have gotten stretched out of place. So now I don’t have to worry I’m walking around with a time bomb inside of myself, don’t need to think about death again for a while.
I get the dog to the lake and there are people getting ready to go in, to swim. They are knee-deep in their 50s with wet suits on and flippers, the sun is melting into the water and there are no power boats allowed, so it’s a mirror reflection of the sun going down, dusk.
My dog is biting the water and shaking herself off near the people on the beach, so I keep her on the leash but they say It’s OK, let her off, and so I do, and the guy in the wet suit speaks to me in a tone like I’m his son, he says, “Dogs are people too,” and you can tell he believes it, it makes sense why we love dogs when we look into their eyes, because they remind us of us, we see something of ourselves in them.
Back home there is a new breed of bugs that’s just appeared, maybe from the mild weather, like the January bugs that just show up, one day.
They’re slow, nameless bugs that hang in the air and don’t bite: they look like snowflakes falling upwards, falling sideways, and they’re almost pretty in the filtered light of the sunset, how they look like fairies or angels floating there, going up and down and sideways, criss-crossing in the light, alive only a day or two, all of them weaving in and out of each other, cottonwood blooms.
Some get caught in the webs lassoed around power lines; some are wispy and white and gather outside our window after the sun goes down. They seem to be looking inside, studying me, trying to understand the outline of my shape through the window, on the other side of the glass. And it’s true I think, they could be souls too. The dog that died was likely someone else.
(Inspired by James Joyce’s short story The Dead, which was filed erroneously in the horror section at the video rental store.)