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.”
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.
Me and Casey were the last alive. Now I’m not sure about her. I haven’t seen her in days. The last time I saw her she looked exhausted. The President had been caught with his hand in the cookie jar again, so the election was called off. All hell broke lose, with the requisite fire and brimstone and whatnot. He absconded, and Casey chased after him in a stolen car, careening off into the conflagration. I put down my thesaurus, and kept the porch light on, just in case. Maybe this time it’ll be alright, I muttered, not really believing.
She wore a dove gray fedora. A black hat band sprouted a small blue jay feather, electric against the gray felt. It was snowing lightly and the fat flakes perched on the brim of her hat. We stood in the sun on the windy platform waiting for the streetcar. She was looking over the tracks, her face alive, a bright sparkle in her eyes. The breeze played in her long blonde hair, and she dug her bare hands into the pockets of her jacket. I had never seen anyone as beautiful, and I wished that she was waiting for me.