A Dog With Two Heads
Once upon a time there was a dog with two heads. One head pointed north, and one pointed south. The dog had hair that pointed in every direction the same time. If you were lost in the woods, and you happened to find the dog, you could find your way home, provided that knowing which way was north was any help. Sometimes you need to go up or down, and in that case, the dog wouldn’t be much help. But for going horizontally he was a big deal. If he ever fell in the water, I bet he could swim.
Adapted from the collection “A Man With a Fish In His Pocket.”
“I always think that the best place to begin is right in the middle,” said Miss Otterbox. She’d laid out sheets of paper and plopped three globs of paint in primary colors on each sheet. Cautiously, we experimented with how it felt between our fingers. Now, when I find myself washed away and distracted, I return to that square of white paper and I start from the middle, reaching right in to the midst of that order, those three separate globs, and slowly mix them. Start from the middle, Miss Otterbox said. Or was that just about finger painting?
A hush fell over the bingo parlor when the angel descended. She took her card and found a seat near the back. I wondered, was she there for me? I had been avoiding church for years, ever since nursery school with Miss Otterbox in the basement of First Congo. The closeness of the room and the oppressive smell of graham crackers has served to keep me out of that communion for the past 60 years. So maybe an angel was exactly what I needed. I looked around and caught her eye, and saw her tiny Giaconda smile. “Bingo,” I thought.
The Times of Johnny Slide: 1
The sunglasses hurt his nose. They were old Ray Bans, from back when they still made them out of Bakelite and glass. Johnny Slide lifted them carefully off his face and set them down on the counter beside his plate. He massaged the bridge of his nose where the sunglasses had raised two red welts. They hurt, but they were authentic, with heavy glass lenses, and Johnny was nothing if not authentic. He was a man waiting for the right moment, biding his time, always ready to move. He had been waiting for what seemed like a very long time.
The Times of Johnny Slide is a longer story that I am repurposing here, rewriting and retelling in 100 word chunks. It is interesting to go back to something I wrote in my usual hurry, and to step back into it carefully, for better or worse, with greater awareness and care.
We were resting on a stone bench in the rose garden, eating fat purple grapes out of a paper bag. My mother sang an old folk song, a sad admonition against the romance of a rambling life. Out on the lake at the bottom of the hill, the pedal boats looked like tiny toys. I didn’t want to leave when she said it was time to go. I wanted to listen to her voice and to sit together quietly forever. We walked home hand in hand, down the cobbled street to our rented house. In the morning, she was gone.
She came at me suddenly, like a train out of a fog, like a stone down a well, like a bite from an unseen dog. A sting, a sudden stab, and she was there in front of me, assaulting me with eyes and silence. WHAT? I wanted to shout, as if to say, WHAT DO YOU WANT, but she blinked and took in a breath and turned her head just a tiny bit, and I had no recourse but to haul the whole thing back with me. It was going to be a long drive, snowing most of the way.
She called me from across the ocean, as if it were a river. “I’m staying,” she whispered from her hotel, “they like me here.”
“Oh,” I said, shrugging into the phone. I wondered if she could hear the resignation in my voice. There was a time when it mattered fiercely, like she was an appendage and I couldn’t bear to have her strained away from me, like an arm bending all wrong. Then, suddenly, she could slide softly off, across one ocean or two, and call me like that, and say things like “I’m staying,” and it didn’t really matter.