The Moment or Not the Moment

He is asleep.  Sunset had caught him out with Tug looking for a bag of dog food small enough to fit in the saddlebags. They had got home tired and a touch cold.  The shower head had magically reappeared and Tug had vaulted into the tub for no apparent reason.  Tug was good on a leash and now had what seemed to be the only collar in his size that wasn’t pink or didn’t have happy smiling kitties on it.  Hell, it might be cat collar, it came from a hardware store and was bright blue;  looked good though.  Soft growling wakes the man, a sound like someone slowly spinning the tumblers on a big safe.  Click, click, click.  Slow.  Soft.  Hey you, stupid, wake up, somethings up.  Not a sound for the intruder but a sound for the pack.  It was the sort of thing that got him kicked off the bed but now he wanted the man to wake gently and be with him.

Hearing the soft growl the man wakes but doesn’t move.  Tug is between his legs and he feels the little dog vibrate.  On his side he brings his chin to his chest and cracks one eye open enough to see the door is open.  Bright blue moonlight cuts a hard line across the carpet and into the room.  Should have set the chain.  Usually better at security, they both had been pretty jazzed when they got in and then there was the water fight in the bathroom…lazy or childlike he had just overlooked securing the room.  On the road of his life he too had been beaten for small things and now he resists the urge to whip himself for enjoying the moment.  Nothing he did or felt now was going to unset the chain.  Chewing on it, spitting it on himself wouldn’t change anything.  His mother thought if she rubbed his nose in it enough that somehow things would become undone and wouldn’t be there anymore.  She was a liar to herself.  Inflicting the pain made her feel good, she couldn’t change the past, she knew it, but she could make someone pay for it and she took a calculated carnal enjoyment out of it.

In the hard moonlight he listens trying to hear what Tug hears.  Sure that no one was right there he opens both eyes to look.  Hold still.  No noise of motion.  Grunting like he’s dreaming he shifts his body to get a better look at the door.  Hoping the noise says, “Just wrestling bears in my sleep,” he pauses and scopes the scene.  Everything is written in dark blues, like a forties cartoon, liquid blue where light flows instead of flickering; a three quarters or full moon throwing hard edged shadows.  On the parking lot he could make out individual leaves flitting and banging, hiding behind each other, a moment unique and then a herd again.

Sneaking up the door like the wicked witch comes a shadow.  Human.  Flowing across the threshold and then running up the door.  Head and shoulders, turning, looking. Then a profile.  Silently he reaches for the folding knife on the night stand and hooks a thumb on the blade.  Outside the motorcycle seems to sparkle in the moon light, the chrome doing its job with flair.  A car in the distance freezes the shadow.  Tired light from the road flickers weakly, turning blues to grey and almost green.  Turning to the light the shadow is in profile and with the profile he sees a ponytail.  Shoulders now look smaller, petite; the monster is gone but his heart picks up speed.

Tug growls quietly again.  Reaching down he puts a gentle hand on the dog’s haunches.  I’m here.  I know.  Situation is under control.  Tug quiets but pressed again the man’s thigh he can feel the uptick in heart tempo.  The shadow pauses, becoming a fresco, sensing something, torn between the fear of having been discovered or the fear of being discovered by running.  Inside the man the same debate in a different key: is this the moment or not the moment?

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Not so Fast, Said the Dog

You probably need a drink, says the man gently setting him down and going into the bathroom.  Coming out with an awkwardly narrow glass full of the water he asks, wash it down pal; and still holding it for stability offers water.  No tadpoles or mosquito larvae.  No oil or scum.  Just water.  Just water.  Water water water.  Too fast but who cares?  The man can barely keep the glass from getting knocked over.  More, asks the man?  Sitting down patiently the dog says, yes please.  Looking down the man sees the dog is getting a little dog woody.  Put that chapstick back in the tube, he says and reaches into the bathroom.  The water flows violently for a second and the glass is back on the floor before the bubbles can all rise to the top.

He lets the dog drink its fill; not with pity but brotherhood.

Thanks, says the dog as it sits down.

You need to pee now don’t you?  The man slides open the patio door and the dog prances out onto the back lawn of the motel and searches from tree to bush for the right place.  Finding a small maple that smells right the dog hitches up a leg and lets it go.  Relief he didn’t know he needed.  Habit forces him to scratch the earth and flick tiny bits of dirt, leaves and grass.  Teach that tree a lesson says the man from the patio.  He clicks his tongue twice, the way you’d talk to a horse.  Coming, says the dog and dropping his head he kicks it down a gear and runs hard to the man.

Smart boy.  Good dog.  It going to piss you off I take a picture?  The man asks.

No, says the dog, sitting.  Just don’t steal my soul–I’m still using it.  The man scratches and folds the dog’s ears.  Wag, wag, wagging says his tail.  It’s embarrassing sometimes. It just happens.  He can’t control it.  Neither can the man.  He starts to baby-talk and work the dog’s skull over; scratching, rubbing, massaging.  Stopping he brings his hand to his nose.  The dog knows what the man smells, the individual scents bear a map of where and what, a nasal history of the last few months.

Woof, says the man. You need a bath.  Not so fast, said the dog.

Been There. Done That.

Trepidation was in her as she shot an eye check to the old men.  They were worn. Time has slicked their surfaces and hidden their edges and corners.  You couldn’t get purchase on them–they were no longer individuals but things–all the special about them had been sanded off and they were just angry, opinionated old men now.  Different once, they must have been different once but no longer because they had embraced the cliche’ and burrowed into the accepting safety of prejudice and broken hearts.

Was there a worse death?  Occasionally they gently leer at her.  She knows this. No touching, they know this too.  Once a quintet they are now a quartet because Billy the Knife had heard about number 5.  Words collided in the parking lot.  Billy said everything without saying anything.  Tone, volume, and word choice; so perfect and menacing and so innocent, The Knife was an artist with food and with words.  Been there, done that, he had said to her.  Won’t let anyone get away with that shit.  No one, he said with a true hardness in his eyes.  Somewhere back there someone had failed him.  She could tell.  The Knife was sharp and ready.  Been there.  Done that.

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.

A Soft Bump

“Dani, say thank you to the nice man.”  Mother said.  Dani doesn’t want to.  She doesn’t want to speak.  The man is hairy.  He might be a Bigfoot.  Shaking her head she tries to slip behind her mother.  She can barely see over the top of the table. Huge and hairy the Bigfoot man stares at her.  She is just eyes and soft freckles to him.  Scaring little girls is not his habit or hope.  It hurts to see the little person cower.  Connection.  He hasn’t make a connection in a long time.  Human touch had been so fleeting the last year.  There had been bumping, a little grinding, a touch of punching but he had not been this close to a true child in all that time. This child was cowering.  A frightened animal not an inquisitive pup.

“It’s OK,” he says.

“She needs to show her manners.”  Mom twists and with one hand on Dani’s back tries to move her back to the table. Her eyes harden. “Say ‘Thank You’ to the nice man.”  Firmness and threat edge her voice.  He doesn’t look like a nice man to Dani.  He looks like a Bigfoot or one of those bad soldiers in the movies that Todd “treat-him-like-he’s-your-father” likes to watch.  Food probably gets stuck in his beard or he has bad breath.  ICK.  She squirms against her mother’s shepherding hand.  The man is leaning around the table towards her.

“It’s OK,” he says and sticks a fist out.  “How about you give me some knuckles and we’ll call it even?”  He smiles.  His voice is gentle like Mr. Burton’s at school. Mr. Burton could make you feel bad when you didn’t throw your garbage away and really good when you did.  She’s never seen, talked to or touched a Bigfoot before. Bigfoot man isn’t that scary, not here with Mom.  It is like feeding the giraffe.  The giraffe is her favorite animal but once she was eye to eye with one and saw that icky blue tongue…  Wishing she had fed the giraffe she looks at the Bigfoot tentatively holds out her fist.  Both lean forward and there’s a gentle bump.  Their knuckles don’t match and she thinks how big his fist is and that maybe he’s really a bear.  As he smiles she see’s straight white teeth and blue eyes for the first time and they smile at her just like Mr. Burton.  Pulling back resets and she double bumps him.

“Thank you.” She mumbles. A tiny voice. Almost a mumble.  A faint bee buzzing.

“An honor.” He replies and keeps his eyes locked on hers.  Everything he had done for the last year had been alone. Ride and sleep alone.  Fever and sick alone.  Hurt and heal alone. Loneliness had started as freedom when Mom died Then he had the backstop safety of his father who never fixed it, only pointed the way out of the mess. No hands on doctoring, just pointing out the cure.  There is no romance in being alone, just the eternal safety of not losing anyone or thing. The safety of having nothing and no one to lose; nobody got disappointed and nobody gets hurt.  People who don’t exist had no expectations and people you don’t know are easy to please.  Riding across southern Utah he had seen a sign that read “No Services Next 100 Miles”.  Next 100 miles, maybe an hour and a quarter.  Next 100 miles, if you pee it’s on the side of the road.  If you decide to try for some privacy and step off down the bank you risk tripping and falling in a place where a broken leg means hoping someone stops to check on your lonely bike.  He had just stood on the road and sprinkled a rock.  Nobody drove by.  If you broke down either you fixed it or you hoped something kind that way came.  There was solitary magnificence in the landscape.  Reds, orange, yellow and grey, so complex and empty.  A recurring fantasy nightmare was simply turning down a dirt road and riding until you reached whatever was there or simply ran out of gas and died, swallowed into the terrible beauty.  It had been a long hundred miles and now he looks back and wonders if any of it was real.

When mother died it left him alone with Pop.  Mom had been the driving thing, the push, the glowing coal that boiled them into action.  Like any roiling pot she brought chaos with her and they had bounced around like hard boiled eggs, banging off each other and sides of the pot they couldn’t get out of.  You wanted out but you had no idea what life would be without the mayhem of scalding, surging water. There is no oil that could smooth that surface. With the fire out the water stilled and the oil became a pliable thing without the continuous battering.  Laying on the bottom of a cooling container they had no motion to click them together.  The catalyst was gone. The currents and turbulence left them alone together with a film distorted view of the world outside.

The little girl stops at the door and waves at him.  A kid wave.  A child’s wave.  He holds up a palm to her and all his fingers bow twice. TTFN!

Cinnamon roll gone and the bacon wiped off his fingers he swirls the ice in his glass and then throws the last gulp of soda down his throat.  Arranging his silverware on the plate at 10 to 4 he sloppily refolds a napkin and crowns his setting.  The graying ponytail comes out and puts the check on the table and starts to straighten things.  “Anything else I can get for you today?” Habit drives her end of the conversation. This is how she says, “Goodbye, hit the road” without force or annoyance.

“Yes,” he says to her surprise.  “Where can I get a haircut around here?”

Smile.  “You looking to keep all that,” a finger points at his head and draws a circle twice in the air.  The red nail seems to leave a blur behind it that catches up as the finger stops.

“Some.”

“Then head into town and look for Bobbi’s on the right side.  About half mile down.”  She picks up his plate.

“What if I want to lose it all?”  He asks, curious. Playful.  Flirting?

“Then you go to LeRoy’s about a quarter mile beyond that.  Then, once he’s made a mess of things come back here and we’ll shave you bald for a fresh start.”  Both hold a straight face before smiling.  The head their different ways.  She to the kitchen and he to his bike.  Holding up a couple of bills he puts them next to the register and pins them with the shot glass that doubles as toothpick dispenser.  “That’ll take care of it,” booms a little too loud out of his mouth.  Door bells tinkling he opens it and heads out.