3 July, 2014
by Grant Gerald Miller
We wanted less geometry. Less corn. We wanted the chaotic remnants of ancient flooding. Carved gorges and mountains and rivers that ran through breweries. We wanted burgers with layers of poached eggs and truffles and smoked tomato coulis and cocktails with hibiscus and four different types of ginger. They could keep their Packers and tater tot casseroles. We wanted bookstores that took up city blocks. Burgeoning IT companies and well-maintained bridges and bike lanes and busses that ran on time.
Donnie worked for UPS and could transfer. I would get a job for a magazine. Or in high fashion. I’d work in fine dining until everything came together. We’d live in a quaint neighborhood and bike everywhere. We would get married under a gothic bridge with the sun sparkling on the river. We would never again shovel a driveway. We would never again have 45 minute commutes each way. We rehomed the cat, had a yard sale, and, like so many before us, packed up the Subaru and headed West.
We got the only apartment we could afford. The counters were a dull curried yellow, and for a few days the sun shone white squares on the carpets. We only knew our neighbors through the bags of trash they left in front of their doors. Mostly we caught their backs disappearing into their apartments. Driverless cars pulling out of the lot. A grunt below us. A faint argument on the other side of the wall.
I wandered around the neighborhood and bought flowers for the kitchen table and potted plants to hang from the ceiling. I waved at ladies pulling weeds in their yard. Waved at men who slid like puppets under disassembled trucks. I left the windows open at night.
I found a dog. I pulled him out of the trash. He looked like a fish with legs, his ribs poking out, a fin of matted hair along his spine. I chose not to name him. I laid down brown paper grocery bags for him to live on. I left the dog in the apartment and applied for jobs. I applied at magazines and publishing houses. I applied at boutiques that sold $800 dresses. I applied at fine dining restaurants, then brunch places, then fast food places, then the 7-11 by our apartment. The sun disappeared behind clouds the color of lead. The days grew short. I closed the windows.
Donnie picked up more hours at UPS. I took up smoking. The dog chewed things. He chewed my shoes. He chewed Donnie’s fancy speakers. He chewed the knobs off the baseboard heaters. The dog chewed things while I sat on the couch with a slipper in my hand to kill the roaches and watched whatever was on TV—mostly infomercials about exercise equipment or vacuum cleaners or motorized wheelchairs. The flowers wilted and died. I took walks with the dog around the gray neighborhood. High school kids with puffy coats glared at me. Men in vans with blacked out windows crept by. I stopped taking walks except to buy cigarettes from the one-eyed woman at the 7-11. She always dropped my change on the counter, afraid to touch my hand.
I dumped the dead potted plants and the brittle soil on the bags and made a yard in the living room. The dog learned to relieve himself there. I dirtied dishes just so I could wash them. The neighbors’ trash piled up in front of their doors. After a couple of months, Donnie seemed to stop coming home altogether. He became a dark-eyed stranger occasionally breathing next to me. A clump of footsteps. The distant white noise of a running shower. I stopped doing the dishes.
At night the dog slept with me, the two of us curled together under the blanket. He chewed at my hands and my feet. My toes became mangled and my feet were scabs. I would wake in the night with the dog’s teeth gnawing at my spine. I stopped putting on shoes and my t-shirts clung to the wounds on my back. I watched the dog grow. He growled at Donnie when he came home, so Donnie started sleeping on the couch and then one night he left and the clump of his boots stopped altogether. The dog chewed up the WELCOME mat. He devoured the vacuum cleaner.
I laid down more paper bags over the soiled ones. I couldn’t put the bags down fast enough. The dog chewed the bags and he chewed my fingers when I tried to stop him. He ate the dirt and the dead plants. The radio died. The TV stopped turning on. The oven stopped working. I began leaving the front door open at night and sent the dog out for food and we ate whatever he brought. We ate in candlelight until the candles winked out one by one. We ate until our stomachs were filled with paper, and then we curled together and slept. Sometimes we slept for days. The dog grew while I seemed to shrink. He grew thick and his coat filled out. My ribs stuck out and my spine was a brittle fin. My fingers were chewed down to nubs. At night he became restless, swirling in the covers. He began to sleep in the floor, gnawing at the carpet, his paws twitching and a low groan in his throat. He slept further and further away. I huddled under the covers and waited for him to leave me.
I was so hungry I chewed the blankets. I slept for days. I slept through men knocking at the door, pounding the windows. I worried about my dog, out there in the world, alone. Perhaps someone would find him and take him home. I imagined him trotting down the road, avoiding cars and busses, scavenging parks and urban forests. What did he think of the city? Would they care for him out there? I called out for him, but since I had not named him, no words came out of my mouth.
I called out to him, even though I knew it was too late. I gave him names and hurled them out into the world. My names were birds soaring through the empty sky, searching for his ears. I saw them there, full spanned and puffed up with flight, carving out air, searching for some place to land.
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