The Dog

Gregory Howard

The first thing that happened was the glass, though it probably wasn’t the first thing. Other possible first things include a slow wind that moved through the house at night, small slugs clinging to the fogged windows in the morning, and a howling dog that couldn’t be found. At least I think they were slugs. They looked like slugs. But when I told him he said, What glass? like he didn’t know what I was talking about, like he hadn’t seen it right there on the floor with his own two eyes, which I knew he had because I saw him look at that spot on the kitchen floor where the glass had been, where I had seen it, and where I had seen him see it, so I knew that he knew, even though when I said, What are you looking at? he said, Nothing. Come to think of it, maybe it wasn’t actually surprising. Back then we didn’t understand each other or at least he didn’t understand me and maybe I didn’t understand him, even though I often just spelled it out. I AM TRYING TO SEDUCE YOU, I would finally say, slowly and clearly, after parading around half the day in a red skirt, sitting suggestively on the arm of the couch, or doing jumping jacks in the backyard. Didn’t you notice the skirt? But I guess we had moved to get away from things like skirts and slugs and simultaneous dreams in the night. There is only one dream, he said, and it is a house. And I believed him, so I baked desserts and ironed shirts and answered the phone. Hello? I would say. Hello?

The glass on the floor, I said, the pile of glass swept up and left there. But he didn’t answer, at least not at first, but instead stared into the distance for a while and then said, That dog is always in our goddamned yard, which was true. It could hop its own fence, the dog, and I’d seen it do so on more than one occasion, which at first was shocking, to see a dog hopping a fence that it shouldn’t be hopping, very shocking, a high wooden fence like that, jumping up and over it, but pausing on top to look back, to invite me in, to plead with me, and then suddenly down the other side, disappearing behind that large forbidding fence, hiding God knows what. But there it was again, peeing on the azaleas. The yard is where we came to drink in the evening. Although sometimes I drank there at other times and without him, and sometimes I found him sitting there and not drinking, but rather just sitting with his eyes closed, can you believe it? I wasn’t supposed to be drinking, but really there was nothing else to do. I had planned a sumptuous garden, but the things that I wanted to grow didn’t grow and strange things I didn’t want to grow grew instead, although I talked to them harshly, in the morning and at night. You’re no good, I said. You’re unwanted. But to no avail, and in fact they flourished, these weird spiky plants that I didn’t want and hadn’t planned for, they flourished, and I think they actually liked it, my talking to them like that, which was, I don’t think it’s too much say, frightening, so much so that I didn’t even want to look at them let alone touch them.

So when the dog came do you know what I did? I followed it. I followed it right down the alley, right to its house, a strange powder-blue affair with small windows and a wooden fence.

Look, I’m not going to lie. I was thinking of taking the dog. I was thinking: That dog is clearly unhappy, running around the neighborhood like it does, knowing and not knowing, running around but still returning, though without pleasure, without a sense of necessity. It must be awful to be a dog like that. So when I got to the door and knocked, lightly at first, but then louder and louder, I prepared myself by saying, This dog needs discipline! over and over in the way I used to say, You’re OK, except that now I just did it in my head, or maybe under my breath. And the louder I knocked, the more emphatic I became, thinking, This dog needs discipline this dog needs discipline, until finally, when I had worked myself up into a lather, when I had agitated myself so thoroughly that I was practically shouting in my own head about the dog and its discipline and literally pounding on the door, it suddenly opened in the slow, creaky, menacing way that doors open when you are about to discover something horrible.

But still I went in. The house was cold and the woman was sitting dogless on the couch and looking right at me. In fact she was already looking at me when I walked through the door, which means she was looking at me before I even arrived, which probably means something, though the more I think about it the less certain I become. And for a while the woman didn’t say anything and I didn’t say anything either because what do you say when you’ve entered someone’s house? Where is your dog? Would I like some coffee? So we just stood there for a while, or I stood there for a while and she sat and we looked at each other. Then she spoke. She said, The desk is in the back. The desk? I said. You’re not here for the desk? she said. I’m here about the dog, I said. Oh, she said. The dog. For a moment she looked helplessly around at the room and its furniture. Are you sure? she said. And the tone of her voice was so pained and so insistent that for a moment I wasn’t sure. Maybe, I thought, I did want the desk. I imagined what it must be like. It was undoubtedly oak, old oak, faded, but with a fine grain. Worn — there it was — worn and necessary, with drawers full of waiting.

I already have a desk, I said. And you want a dog, the woman said. I said nothing. Let me tell you something, she said. You can have the dog. You can have him if you can keep him. Which seems like a good deal to you right now. You’re standing there and thinking kind thoughts about the dog and less-kind thoughts about me. But the dog is a conundrum. You haven’t really thought about it. You’ve thought about me and you’ve thought about you but you haven’t really thought about the dog. Close your eyes and tell me what color he is. Never mind. That’s not the right question. You want something. Now it’s a dog, tomorrow who knows what it will be? A ferret maybe, or a washing machine. You want to save these things, these dogs, but what will you do when you’ve saved them? After you’ve saved them? What will you do when you have them? You haven’t thought about that part at all. Did I mention this woman was old? Because she was. Very wrinkly and very old. She had eyes like green olives.

Later I was doing the dishes and thinking and suddenly my hand hurt. I was dogless. I had tried to have the dog. I had lured it into the house to keep it, leaving it one treat at a time, here on the sidewalk, there on the steps, in the way that I would like to be lured, if it came to that, and I had put it first in the bedroom and then in the bathroom and finally in the basement, saying, You’re a fine fellow, each time to make it comfortable. But it wasn’t comfortable. During the day it would howl and during the night it would howl even louder, even though I gave it treats until it began to be sick. And then it would howl and be sick, one after the other, all over the basement until I put in earplugs and hid in the bathroom. I have to be honest: I didn’t understand this dog. What does a dog want if not to be lured and then kept?

One night, in the middle of the night, I heard it walking around. Click click click went its little feet. So I got up to make sure it was the wind but there it was, walking around the living room as if it were lost — lost! — walking tentatively and shyly — it resembled a deer. And the basement door was open and the front door was too and the bright, too bright, moon was practically pouring itself into the house and the dog looked at me like it had the first time I saw it. It looked like a force. I wanted to say something to its tiny face. I wanted to say something maybe about freedom and loss. But before I could say anything it ran out the door and into the bright moonlight and what I felt was not sadness. But it wasn’t happiness either.

So I was thinking of this and of the woman who I had not seen since, even though I went back bearing a cup of coffee and knocked on her door, when suddenly my hand hurt, and I looked down to find myself holding a shattered glass. It resembled a translucent crown, which is what I said to myself right then: This glass resembles a translucent crown. My blood dripped into the steel sink, mingling with the water and spiraling into the drain, and suddenly I thought, We are made of glass. No, that’s not what I thought. We’re made of what glass is made of. It’s always moving, glass. Even though you can’t see it. It’s flowing. Down, but sometimes maybe up too. You never know with flowing. If we had slower eyes we could see. Really see and not be fooled. Not by things like glass or movies or hummingbirds. We could see these things and know them. We could know them and call them by name.