The week passed slowly, old patterns slowly remaking themselves in slightly altered forms. He took himself to the lunch bar at the side of the fancy steakhouse across from the office. Meetings became more and more comprehensible as he put together what he’d missed during his time in hospital. His still-healing wounds bothered him less; he found ways to move and sit and stretch that worked with the new limitations of his body. Every morning and evening, he allowed himself the luxury of a taxi home, swearing that this would be the last, that he’d get back to being responsible with his money next time, and then changing his mind when the next time came.
He hadn’t thought to dread Sunday until Sunday came.
The late morning light spilled in through his bedroom window making spots of of white too bright to look at on the bed. The night before had been a movie streamed off the Internet, a couple rum-and-cokes, and a bag of Crackerjacks for dinner. Between that and skipping his evening stretches, his body felt tight and cramped, the complex of scars in his belly and down his thigh pulling at his healthy flesh like something jealous. Lolling at the edge of sleep, he smelled the hound’s rank piss, but the illusion faded as he came to himself. Dickens lay at the foot of the bed, black eyes focused on Charlie. Even perfectly still and trying not to disturb, the delight and excitement showed in the little dog’s eyebrows and the almost subliminal trembling of his body. Even then, the penny didn’t drop for Charlie until he sat up and Dickens leapt off the bed and ran, claws clicking against the wood, for the front door.
It was Sunday morning, and Sunday morning had always been the dog park. Charlie rubbed the back of his hand against his eyes as Dickens raced from the front door to the bedroom to the door to the bedroom. Dread spilled in his chest like ink, but he pulled himself up from the mattress and forced a smile.
“Yes, I know,” he said to Dickens, capering at his feet. “I have to put some clothes on, right?”
Dickens’ bark was high and joyful. Charlie brewed himself a cup of coffee, showered, pulled on his sweats and sneakers. Without meaning to drag things out, he still didn’t reach for the leash until almost one in the afternoon. Cool air tightened Charlie’s skin, and the trees that lined the streets were giving up their green for red and gold and brown. It wouldn’t be many more days before some wind came and knocked the dry leaves into the gutters, but they still held on for now. Dickens strained at the leash, choking himself a little with eagerness. Charlie focused on breathing, staying calm. They’d gone to the dog park hundreds of times. This wouldn’t be any different. He’d take Dickens through the gate, let him off the leash, and wait, visiting with the other people there or reading the news off his phone, while the dogs ran and jumped and chased each other. Then, eventually, Dickens would trot back to him, scratch at his shin, and they’d go back home together. The same as always. The same as ever.
Half a block from the park, the first sounds of barking reached him. Charlie’s body reacted like a sudden onset of the flu; his hands went cold, and he started to sweat. Nausea crawled up the back of his throat. Dickens, tugged at the leash, pulling him on, and he set his teeth and forced one foot ahead of the other until they were at the gate. Inside, half a dozen animals ran in a pack over the grass and mud. Red tongues lolled from mouths filled with sharp, ivory teeth. Muscles bunched and released along the flanks of a doberman pinscher, the animal’s claws digging a the turf, throwing bits of mud and turf behind it. They were all so fast. Their barking was joyful and rich and inhuman. Bestial. Charlie’s vision dimmed at the sides. Narrowed. His heart was tripping over too fast. His breath shook like a storm.
Dickens scratched at the green-painted iron gate, both forepaws working too fast to follow, then looked back at Charlie, expectant. Confused. Charlie gagged, the taste of coffee and vomit at the back of his mouth. He stepped back, dragging Dickens with him.
“Come on boy,” Charlie said, the words shuddering. “Let’s go. Let’s go home.”
Dickens set his feet on the sidewalk, head low and pulling back against the leash. Charlie yanked harder than he’d meant to, and the little dog sprawled. Dickens’ eyes registered surprise, then confusion, then hurt. Charlie turned, his teeth gritted tight against the nausea, his arms and legs shaking, and pushed for home. After the first few steps, Dickens stopped pulling back on the leash, but he didn’t dance or caper anymore. Just walked along behind, his gaze never rising above knee height.
I was up *way* too late last night at a dinner in Santa Fe. I’m tired and sleepy and probably mildly dehydrated. But actually, I’m feeling pretty good about the story. My impression at the moment is that Charlie and Dickens are both sympathetic, innocent, and irreconcilable, which is pretty much what I’m looking for. I think the double-long scene before leads gracefully into this one, and this should lead well into the next, where Charlie and Dickens break up. I’ve tried to mention a few times before now that Dickens is upset and hurt by what happened and all the things that used to be joyful have been taken away from him too. Not Charlie’s fault, not Dickens’ fault. Just the way it goes.
Now the whole damn story is an extended metaphor. I know that because I’m writing it, and you know that because you’re reading these posts, *but* when someone comes to the story fresh, I don’t want it to be obvious or preachy. So yes, when I’m thinking about Dickens, I’m thinking about a rape victim’s nice-guy boyfriend. When I’m thinking about going for a walk or a run at the park, I’m thinking about intimacy and sex. And hopefully — hopefully — none of that will seem explicit or on-the-nose in the final draft. As long as I can get the emotions right, where they came from won’t matter. The story will still work. I’m writing a story here, and if it turns into a sermon, I’ve blown it.
I remember an anecdote I heard about Nabakov writing Lolita. I don’t know if it’s true or if I’m even remembering it right, but the way I heard it was that Nabakov had heard a story about someone trying to teach a gorilla how to make art. Primate research. And the first thing that the gorilla drew were the bars of its cage, and that was the inspiration for Lolita. Doesn’t show up anywhere in the book — and shouldn’t. If it informed his vision, it did its job.