In last week’s orange juice exercise, I put a glass of orange juice in the hands of different people and let things happen. I did a similar thing today. I paired a dog with a human and saw what happened.
The yipping woke Pam again, but instead of lying in bed and fuming, she was surprised to find herself bolting into the hallway outside of her apartment. Her neighbor—she thought her name was Susan—was 20 feet behind the dog, who was now in front of their apartment door, barking up at the door handle as if it would open on command.
“Every morning,” Pam hissed. “Every morning I wake to this.”
The woman, who was about Pam’s age, stopped and brought a coffee cup to her lips. She looked at Pam as though she were crazy, and only then did Pam realize she was naked. It was the summer after all and Pam liked to sleep in the nude, with the windows open, and the sweat on her body lifted every few minutes by the gift of a breeze.
“Keep it on the damn leash, will you?”
It was a beautiful morning in the park, and still early enough that Dave and Beau were the only ones out. Dave bounced the tennis ball and Beau’s eyes followed it, gaze unbroken, but he didn’t lunge for it. He knew the routine. Dave put it on the ball launcher, and used his left arm to launch a long, arcing throw. Beau bolted across the park fast enough to catch the ball after two bounces. He launched himself at it, caught it perfectly, and came running back to Dave, dropping the ball at his feet.
Beau could do this all day of course. Retrievers were built for it. When Dave found out they had to reconstruct his right shoulder, the first thing he thought about was how he could keep up his routine with Beau. Then his wife bought the ball launcher and, after a few tests, Dave saw he could throw the ball just as far—farther really.
Somewhere around the tenth throw Dave saw Lily flash across the park. She wasn’t aiming for the ball; instead, she was headed for Beau, who ignored her, fetched the ball, and came bounding back to Dave, with Lily in pursuit. She was a big Doberman—magnificent really. Her owner was Marnie, a beautiful blonde half of Dave’s age. Her husband was traveling again that week and Dave’s wife would have left for work already. Dave would have an hour in Marnie’s bed that morning, the dogs curled into balls at the foot of the bed, wondering what all the cries meant, raising their noses to the thick, intoxicating smells of their owners.
Scott was glad that Gracie would lay in bed with him on a day like this, when the pain in his legs and back would throb, unabated, for hours. Scott would wake on his side, his legs pulled up to give him a little comfort, Gracie curled up to the back of his thighs as if she were helping him hold the position.
“She’s a Velcro dog,” his ex-wife had said when they first brought her home. It didn’t matter that Gracie was 95 pounds; she was a standard poodle, and that’s just how the breed was. She was devoted to Scott, especially when he just couldn’t go into work anymore and spent the whole day with her, usually in bed.
Scott reached for his oxy, took two dry, and reached behind him to pet Gracie. The oxy would kick in, and he would make it downstairs and to the door at some point to let her out to do her business. He looked at his phone. It was Sunday. The football would be on later, and his brother Kevin would drop by with a pizza and some beer. Kevin would have the Oxy he had picked up in his own name and in his wife Cathy’s name. It would be enough, maybe, to get Scott through the month.
Lately, the dog had been the only thing that calmed and focused her boy. Her son was eleven now, almost as big as her, and harder to handle every day. She had another welt under her eye to prove it. He had figured out that head butts were his best weapon, and he would come at her low and hard, the crown of his head catching her anywhere from her breasts up to her forehead. The worst hit almost dislocated her jaw, but she especially hated anything to the face, anything that bruised. She knew what people must think when they saw her in the supermarket or in the library, where she would be returning a stack of picture books and collecting new ones.
At this point the terminology didn’t matter. They used it, she decided, because puzzling over what was wrong with him must have felt better then telling her that it was hopeless. But she pressed them, not because she needed to know but because the insurance needed to play their part in this. They needed to play God, and decide whether he could be hospitalized somewhere, and for good, so she could go back to her life, so she could climb back into bed with her husband at night and let her jaw stop throbbing and the bruises under her eyes heal.