She wears his socks and they pack the dogs and leashes, getting in his Jeep, the dogs in back with their heads out the window.
She grabs the big dog. He has the white one, just past puppyhood, who isn’t small either.
He leads them, climbing over roots and fallen branches. Stepping through a creek, over one stone to the next one. The moss slippery underneath. The scenery is brown. It isn’t even spring yet.
Along a stream, she says something smells familiar. She says, “When I was a kid, at the end of our field there was a creek. I used to find minnows.”
She still wants go back there. The childhood farm, started by her greats, sold when she was a teen because of illness, her parents’ divorce, and another thing she doesn’t even know yet.
It smells like mold. She sniffs and sniffs.
The water streams along the rocks, and the dog on her leash is pulling to go into it. He’s a big strong dog named Woof. “Woof!” she says, pulling him into her. Their weights are comparable.
She follows her boyfriend, watching from behind, like the days before they started and then he slowed to race beside her. Like then, she hears his breath, the sound of his own steadiness, even at night, lost in whatever land he keeps dreaming about.
Her left knee stiffens, like her self-child, back in farmhood, so she uses the other to compensate.
But that is an old topic. They’ve been runners for years. They met talking about injuries.
Now they switch dogs. The white one, Juke, jumps around like Christmas. “She’s a Jack-in-the-Juke,” she says to her boyfriend, who laughs and takes them up another hill they will probably feel later.
Days before, she’d taken a train all those hours to Penn Station. Took the E to the Y, got a room. She put on her best dress, then got ready to walk to put on a performance. Along the way, she stepped into a bar, seeing people in their suit clothes. She imagined her boyfriend, when he used to live there all those years, maybe in his tie then.
She keeps going back there. She’ll don a lot of makeup. She’ll even wear high heels, whenever she can stand them. She’ll tell stories of her life and people seem to like them.
He takes her up this hill. They cross another creek, getting their feet wet, to the waterfall he keeps promising to show her. From high up, the water flows, and they stand on stone. As the dogs pull and jump around them, he points to the place, to the flame, a natural burning flame that he says never ends.
Most days she wears stethoscopes and scrubs, holds scalpels in her pockets, sleeping in the call rooms, waking to the things you’ll learn of later in the news—her, the first to treat the heartbeat of a train wreck, a drunk driver, all the shootings you see in the place I once got lost in.
Meg lives across the street. Here, she and I listen to James Brown and eat slices of her Brie, portions of sushi she’s put on the tray for us.
We walk to a ransacked neighborhood that seems safe enough. It has flavor, life, with its rainbows and equal-rights signs.
We get to the place at intermission. There’s wine and cheese like pudding. A guy with a clipboard asks if we want to give a reading. Meg and I go to the patio and talk to a French guy. He’s a wandering engineer. Funny, we say to him. We all seem like wanderers.
The night goes how we like: We drink, I end up reading stuff I made up a long time ago about a protagonist who tries to be something. Meg writes a poem on the spot. It’s titled “Amazon,” about a big-boned woman finding men who always seem small. Meg weighs a hundred pounds. We’re both so little.
Outside it is pouring. Meg has to get up early for a surgery. I’m a teacher, but classes are out and I sleep in until my dog paws. Meg and I step in puddles, inviting the French guy to a bar called Hardware that sells wine and screws and hammers. Meg talks mostly to the French guy while I mingle and talk briefly to a guy who says he has plans to be an athlete. It’s the same old thing. It’s nothing romantic.
The three of us eat more cheese, then some calamari, and when it’s time to go, Meg and I say farewell to the French guy.
As he walks his way, we laugh. We dance. We hold our arms in the rain.
He Was a Pro
Two girls come to the door, asking if he wants his weeds pulled. He’s been working on his yard, thought he’d gotten all the strays, saving his roses, his lavender, his perennials, and others that the previous owner had planted.
He gives the girls a bag, says to pick away, and asks what they want.
“Up to you,” they say. “For a trip for chorus,” says the tall one, redheaded, with a shirt that shows her cleavage.
“How old are you?” he says.
“Fourteen,” says the blonde one. She’s the shorter of the two, with a round face like his sister, blue eyed, a top that he’d never let a daughter of his wear, if he had one.
He says, “Please don’t pick the flowers,” and he tells them to knock when they’re done. He goes back inside and irons his shirt for the next day. It’s almost six. He stands with the board and watches the news about the Gulf spill, which will probably spoil his plans to start a business in Key West, chartering a boat for tourists, maybe snorkeling, or just riding on the water, then giving out his T-shirts, drinks, hiring his brother as the captain.
He looks out the window, at the girls, on their knees with gloves. He hears “Amazing Grace.” His teen years, he rode rodeos in summer. Then was funded by a college, riding bulls in Kansas. He was a pro until his back went.
Ironing a collar, he hears his phone ring, figuring it’s this girl who isn’t a girl anymore. She’s a nurse in neonatal, divorced, with a boy in college, a woman he dated more than a couple times in high school. He looked for her after his divorce, surprised she was single again. She lives in California. She flew in once, then twice, as if she had wings of her own.
He lets the phone go to his voicemail, finishing his shirt sleeve. He flips the channel, to a show where a guy can never get it right with his wife. He hears a beep on his phone. He hears music from outside, the girls now singing some new rock song.
He hangs his shirt on a hanger, unplugs the iron, wraps the cord. Folds up the board and puts the getup in the closet. Looks out to find the girls on the grass on their backs, laughing at the sky, or maybe something else, like possibly him.
He puts a hand over his mouth, wipes his chin, runs his tongue over his teeth to make sure nothing is between them. He hears the girls singing a harmony he maybe knows but doesn’t remember the name of.
When the humming stops, he goes out and asks if they’re finished. The redhead girl gets up and he notices she’s pretty. The blonde’s face looks fragile as a newborn. The blonde picks up the bag, a quarter full. The blonde says, almost singing, “We couldn’t really fill it. I guess you’re a good gardener.”
The girls stand hip to hip.
He is losing all his hair now. He smiles with his mouth closed. He clears his throat and he asks how much to pay them.
The girls hold hands. He tells them he is decent.
“So are we,” says the redhead, then the blonde one.
He grabs his buckle, holds his breath, and he says he’s a cowboy.