September 21, 2008
It’s Indian Summer in the mountains. The lake still holds the heat of a summer now passed, and I swim at sunset, knowing this may be one of the last moments where everything is deliriously in sync: the body floats, the horizon blooms, and I am nearly naked.
Snow is coming, even though I cannot smell it yet.
You dive in, worrying each time: You might not know this kind of happiness, this kind of wholeness, for another nine months.
After the sun falls behind the western mountains …
I return home, twist my hair back into a knot to preserve the dampness a bit longer, clip a leash to my dog’s collar and take to the streets.
We walk. He stops at each outpost—lamposts, hydrants, trash cans and street corners—to read the news. I oblige.
Each time we stop for the sniff, I can see a man rapidly gaining ground on us from behind.
On one side, I have streetlights and the occasional passing car, on the other side, reflections land on Lake Flower before dropping into darkness.
We are walking past the unlit boat launch when it becomes apparent this man will overtake us.
I do not like being overtaken, especially in the dark.
It makes me wary, even with a loyal lion hound at my side.
Finally, at the trash can, he invades my space.
“Your dog’s taking you for a walk, eh?”
His voice carries the jubilation of someone who’s been at the Waterhole since the 5-o’clock shift ended. He has the scruffy, three-day beard of most early-evening, middle-aged Waterhole patrons and the focused slink home; although, I must admit he’s holding a straight line.
I notice he’s wearing gym shorts, tube socks pulled up to the middle of his calf.
He has an ace bandage around his left knee. Sneakers. T-shirt.
These details neither confirm nor rule out his presence at the local bar.
In his hand he carries a skeleton of a bouquet.
It looks as though it emerged from someone’s trash can. The flower heads splay out, droop gently, bobbing with his every speed-walking step. Brown, crisp leaves.
I laugh. “Yes.”
I retreat further into the grass, leaving no slack in the leash.
“What’s your dog’s name?”
“What’s it? I’m deaf.” He cups a hand to his ear, still walking.
I know he wants to say, “Fucker?”
“Sucker?” His head leans so far to the right, towards me, I fear he might fall over.
I give up. Nod my head.
He slows his pace for a few strides; his head returns to center.
“My dog’s name is Cleo. When we go out, he takes me for a walk, let me tell you.”
“I bet.” Again, I laugh.
I let the leash fall slack.
“My dog is a St. Bernard.”
The flowers remain upright in his fist.
He continues to pump his arms, move forward. “Well, have a good night.”
And he walks on, I imagine, taking the failing roses to an angry girlfriend or wife.
Or perhaps this is not an apology, only a surprise.
Or maybe, just maybe, he’s chugging home with a bouquet of flowers for his dear Saint Bernard.
I cannot tell you which, only that he walked quickly, efficiently, and with purpose.