Believers Never Really Want to Know

To act could kill the promise and the promise was sweet enough to cling to because it was alive, revived and back from a long vacation.  He coughed to see if the shadow would flee.  Her head snapped to the side to put both ears on the sound.  The dog turned his head, looked at him, and asked, what are you doing?

The man speaks.  “If you’re going to steal it then just ask for the keys, I don’t want the ignition screwed up any more that it already is.”  Dog likes hearing the man’s voice and his tail wags reflexively.  The shadow breathes a startled breath, flexing on the door.  For a pregnant minute neither moves or speaks.  It’s s a dream to both and breaking the moment could break it and wake the nightmare.  Tug growls again, clicking like a ratchet. The man squeezes him and again he stops.  Her shadow climbs the door as Karrera steps into view blue and ghostly, the grey streaks in her hair neon and glowing.

“Hello.”  Says the man.

“Hello.” Say Karrera.

Wag, wag, wag, says Tug’s tail.

“This place is too cheap for chairs?”  says Karrera.

“Too cheap for working locks too.”  he says.  “Sit anywhere.  Should be clean…ish.”  He hopes for the edge of the bed.  Putting her back against the door Karrera slides down into a squat that turns into crossed legs on the floor.

“Yoga?” he asks, “Around here?”

“Find somewhere it isn’t”, she replies.

“True.”

Still wagging his tail Tug starts to crawl on his belly to the foot of the bed.  Rubbing his belly on the blanket he lets his back legs drag behind him because it feels good.  In the reflected moonlight his black spot looks like a hole in his side.  Stretched fully out he works himself to the end of the bed and drops his head down between his paws.  “Wow,” says Karrera, “somebody’s working it hard.”

The man rises up on an elbow to look at Tug.  “He’s a smart dog.  Really smart. I don’t know how he wound up here.” But, then again neither did he.  Life was the river and he had thrown himself in to be swept along, rolled, stranded in the eddy and now at least the dog drifts along with him.  The silence is awkward and safe.  You can’t say the wrong thing is you don’t say anything and they both didn’t want to take the wrong step.  Trapped in the minefield they simply waited.  Tug’s tail slows, stops but stays pointed at the ceiling as if to say to the man, “This is an asshole.  You’re being one too.”

The air isn’t pregnant, the scene is not waiting for crescendo, the thing is there and quiet; not poised or prepared but real and neither dares to point at it for fear it will either materialize or disappear.  It is the fear of ghosts, that they might be real or they might not.  Believers never really want to know.

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Tug

Bathing dog was a fight.  Scratching, plunging, slipping.  Kneeling and squirming.  Attempts to escape or drown. After the fight the dog had run under the bed.  Hopefully he was dry enough.  Soaking wet and cold the man strips down, flips the toggle and warm water pours out from where the shower-head should be.  The head had been there yesterday; clogged, sputtering and crunchy with minerals–but there.  Having showered under a garden hose he wasn’t put off and he climbs in, ducks under stream and soaks himself from head to foot.  Stepping back he feels something under his foot and, as the dog barks in surprise he nearly falls on it.  Stumbling and naked he feels stupid and lucky as he manages not to grab the curtain and pull it down.

What the hell? He snaps at the dog.

Dog sits and wags his stubby little tail; please don’t be mad. Sitting there on the porcelain of the tub it looks like a tiny scrub-brush swishing away.  It’s impossible to stay angry.  Just wanted to be close by, says the dog.  This was true.  The dog had been alone a long time.  No scraps.  No warm spot to sit in when the person leaves or plates set on the floor to be cleaned.  All the good things of people had been gone.  All the bad was gone too.  No shouting or hitting or being thrown.  He had napped on a pillow.  A pillow and no one yelled or threw things.

And there was food.  Food had arrived and the only price tag was a frisky lap in the tub.  This could be good.  This is a set up was worth pursuing.  So he had jumped into the tub to keep an eye on his new benefactor.

Hey, says the man, my eyes are up here, quit staring at my junk.  Modestly he turn his back to the dog.  The man is careful as he soaps and rinses.  Bathing with a hose allowed you to move the water around to rinse all the tough to reach places.  With the fixed shower he had to move himself around to direct the water.  In a twisted limbo he tries not to step on the dog as he contorts to get the water to the right crease or fold.  Taking up space in the tub dog worries about getting smashed.  The man teeters and hops, using cupped hands to deflect and carry water to different parts of his body.

People are funny.   The water stops running and the man squeegees water off his arms and legs.  Why don’t people shake it off like dogs?  Dog shakes a shake that starts from his nose and ends with his tail.  Looks at the man.  Easy!  See?  The man just looks at dog. No clue.  Wagging his tail dog just looks at the man.  Seriously, says the man, quit looking at my junk.  He continues as he rubs himself dry with a towel, seriously, you’re creeping me out.

Dog follows the man into the room and watches him sit on the bed to get dressed.  Bored dog picks up a discarded sock, drops to the ground looking like sphinx and after pinning the sock under his front paws starts to pull on the sock with his teeth.  There is no malice.  He’s not practicing skinning a squirrel.  Pulling just feels good in his mouth.  His teeth like it.  The weave slips and grips the enamel and his teeth torque in their sockets.  Pull, chew, pull, chew, pull.

Hey, said the man.  Hey.  Knock that shit off.  Dog stares and his eyes say, why?  Pausing he waits for anger and seeing none he looks down and starts working on the sock again.

You know what? The man asks.  I’m going to give you a name.  Your name is Tug.  Got it?  Tug wasn’t listening and kept working on the sock.

Said the Dog

The dog was still there.

The dog.  Was still.  There.

There was the dog, still.

The dog, still, was there.

Still, the dog was there.

Shit. Walking back into the office he asked Mr. Helpful what the charge for pets was.  Free, he was told.  Slapping a fifty on the desk he said, just in case, looked at a weakly floating Mylar balloon that proclaimed “Happy Birthday!” and went back to stand in the doorway and look at the dog.  The dog looked at him.  There was an inspection going on.  A weighing and a measuring.  Both animals wanted company and both wanted to be left alone.  The dog broke the stalemate, dropping the sock and trotting to the door, sitting down and looking up at the man.

“Good dog” said the man.

Here’s looking at you, said the dog.

“You should have a name I guess,” said the man, “even if you’re not going to be around long.”

You don’t need a name, said the dog, as long as you can make food appear and it doesn’t rain in the room.

Trouble was what to do with the dog. The door and its inability to securely close had put him in this situation.  Maybe it could get him out.

“Stay,” said the man.

Just make sure you leave a sock out, said the dog.

“Stay.”  Pulling the door gently he let it sweep the dog gently into the room, the dog avoiding thedoor by backing up but not breaking for it.

At least I got a sock, said the dog.

A Little Tug

They stare at each other.  The dog, disturbed at being interrupted while killing the sock.  The man, incapable of processing what he was seeing.  Cocking it’s head to the left the dog sits a moment before ducking behind the door and shaking its head with lethal intent.  Little dogs can be real bad-asses, he thinks.  That stick and move thing.  Dropping to one knee he  cautiously pushes the door back.  Dog could climb him like a stump and take his nose off.  The door swings toward the naked wall.  To the right is the sink and toilet.  Dog could feel trapped.  Not caring too much yet the dog stops, then resumes shaking the life out of the sock.  It’s how dogs kill things.  Bite.  Shake it until it’s dead or stunned.  Imagine if that got a piece of your face.  Yikes.

“Hey little dude.”  Squeeze him with the door just a little, not need to scare.  A cropped white tail leads as the dog backs out of the diminishing space. Butt high the dog must have its head on the ground.  “Hey little dude, no need to get excited.”  The dog, now white and showing a brown spot on his left side ignores him.  Pushing the door further the dog backs out fully and looks at him.  The dog drops the sock and barks once.

“Easy little dude.”

Bark.  Staring.  Smart eyes.  A touch of gray on the muzzle.  Brown mask and ears.  Both ears stick straight up but fold forward a the top.  The dog just looks intelligent. Intelligent dog.  Not feral.  Dirty but not beat down, on-the-street dirty dog.  Dirty like “I got lost at the rest stop” dirty.  What do you do with a dog you don’t own in a town that ain’t yours?

“Sit.”  Haunches to the ground.  Like a Chinese temple lion.  Back straight.  Chest out.  Rough coat.  Not wire haired but more than smooth.  The dog cocks it’s head waiting for another order.

“Stay.”  Standing, he backs out of the bathroom.  The dog just sits.  Happy to be of service.  Smart dog.  Not afraid dog, not cowering dog.  Ok-I’ll-do-that-dog.

“Heel.” Nonchalantly the dog stands and trots to him.  Makes a have circle behind him and sits again.  Got it boss.  Now what?  Seriously.  This is way too easy.  The dog seems…bored, the commands routine and the actions uninteresting.

“Down.”  Walking his front paws out the dog patiently assumes the position of a sphinx.

“Stay.”  Turning he walks out of the open door into the parking lot.  Taking his time he goes to the office.  Maybe the dog will be gone when he gets back.  Maybe it’ll get up and trot back to wherever it came from and a little old lady or happy kid will say, “Where have you been!” and there’ll be treats and reunion.  Laughter.  Kisses and scratches.

Mr. Friendly “park your bike in the room” is in the office at the desk.

“What can I do for you sir?”  The kid is the dog.  Young and following instructions beyond the letter. Eager to please, fur is even unkempt; well-trained, too bright and bored, both excited to show off their skills.

“Has anybody checked in with a dog?”

“Uhhhh…” Quizzical, lost a moment. A shuffle of pages on the registry.  Yes, an old school, registry.  Back and forth.  One page erect, reading sideways and flipping the page between hands and head turns.  Hey there Norman Bates, read a little faster.  “Ah…No.  Not that I can see.  Is there a problem?”  Face up, eyes shining.

“No.  No.  Just thought I heard something.” A pause, mouth almost open.  “No.  Everything’s good.”

Walking out he thinks he should have ratted the dog out.  But maybe the dog was gone.  Maybe the problem had solved itself and when he got back it will all have never been.  Sometimes just walking away fixed things.  His father had.  He had.  Just turn and walk away.  Some badgered and chewed and pointed and yelled until someone did what they wanted but he was willing to wait it out; wander away from the fight.  With luck the dog was gone.

But it wasn’t.  It was sitting where he left it.  The only difference is it had gone and got his sock and was giving it a working over, holding it between his front paws and pulling with his teeth.

“Dog.”  The tugging and chewing stops, the dog frozen mid pull. “Drop it.”  The dog gives the sock a little tug and then lets it fall from his mouth.

Holding

The heater made the room too hot. Waking with a glow of sweat he cracked the window too far and slipped back into bed.  Better cold than hot.  The morning was pleasant cold; in the hills, trees and water the cold wasn’t as hard.  Shocking cold was gone, this cold simply woke you and promised the sun would change everything for the better if you could get to it.  Camping cold, that sleeping bag/tent moment full of dread but pregnant with promise.  The water sang as he peed into the bowl.  How many billions of men had listened to that sound this very morning.  Who was peeing on trees, or in the shower or God knows where.  He liked a man doing an average, everyday thing.

Putting on his pants he hops on one foot, off balance.  Change and keys jingle and clink, there’s a moment of fear he may fall. It’s another day and he only has two things on his mind, breakfast and a ride upstream.  Sitting on the bed he sniffs one of yesterday’s sock.  Good enough, but laundry day was here.  He needs to stop at a laundromat and buy a packet of soap so he can stomp on his clothes clean in the shower tonight.  It was time to play Maytag man.  For the first time in a long time he looked forward to the day and forward to returning to the town and the room.  Usually he gets itchy fast and wants to be off, or returns only because it’s where he knows there’s a berth. This feeling was warmer, familiar.  For some reason this place was safe harbor.  Home base in a game of tag.  Feeling like he wanted to stay close enough he could hurry back he finishes dressing and steps out the door; which won’t stay closed as he steps out.  He closes it.  It pops open.  Closed.  Open.  Pull.  Soft scrape of metal on wood.  Pop. Swings inward. Open.  Mumbling.  “Now you’re just trying to piss me off.”  A hard, sharp pull and slam.  The door stays.  He jingles the knob.  Things seem tight.  To the bike.  Quick check.  Leg over.  Helmet on.  Clean start up and with the chunk of first gear he’s gone.

The ride to the Riverside is quick.  The blue Corolla is on the far edge of the lot.  The bulging full lot.  What the fuck day is it?  It must be Saturday or Sunday, the place is packed out.  He’d park in the employee’s area and sit at the counter but there isn’t one.  Yesterday he had walked in and been lost without chrome and red leather stools with a long counter and a pie case.  It was some kind of converted building that didn’t start as a diner and no one had ever stuck one in.  A tree without a trunk is a bush and a diner without a counter is a restaurant.   Perhaps it was that lack of a diner’s heart that give the different vibe he had liked. A parking lot full of people liked it as well.  The majority of plates were local; which he liked.  Not a lot of tourists is a good sign.

Where to wait?  Not feeling like standing around waiting for a senior citizen to finish gumming a waffle to death he turns the bike around and heads back to the motel.  Hustling a little bit as he makes the turn into the motel lot he sees his room’s door standing open but no housekeeping cart.  Rolling up hot he skids the rear wheel a bit as he stops then flicks down the side stand, parks up and dismounts.  With one hand on the door he carefully pushes it open, making sure he isn’t leading with his head.  The room is empty.  He checks behind the bed.  Nothing.  Closet empty.  A sound from the bathroom.  A rustling behind the cracked door.  Softly turning to face the door he listen.  Sound like someone is shaking out a towel.  Maybe it is housekeeping.

“Hello?”

Shaking stops.  Motion.  Soft rustling again.  Step toward the door.  One hand with a gentle push. Rustling stops.

A small dog holding one of his socks sticks it’s head around the door.

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