Photograph Credit: Shawn Rosenheim
Triptych with Pets
I had Barron for two years. He was the first dog I’d owned as an adult — a portly black Lab who never missed a chance to escape. Our yard was large, but not large enough for Barron: whenever one of the kids left a door cracked open, he was off like a shot, racing across Route 2 toward Angelina’s Subs. One of the counter girls took a special pleasure in calling. “He’s here,” she’d say over the phone in her dry amused voice, and then spent the time until I arrived feeding him salami and cheese out the back door. I could sometimes track him when it snowed, following his prints as they looped across yards and out into the stubbled fields. One time Barron made it to the Price Chopper in North Adams; once, on Thanksgiving, I retrieved him from a nearby nursing home, where he’d penetrated to the heart of the complex, his glossy black body panting and vital among the clouds of white hair.
The dog was my wife’s idea. I thought we had enough life, what with the kids and the cats and the hermit crabs, but I was in no position to argue, for reasons not gone into here, and so we adopted the five-year old Barron from Tammy, whose new landlord didn’t allow pets. Once he was ours, though, he was all mine. My wife liked him, but in the abstract. I took Barron for daily walks through the meadows behind the house, often pausing to let him drink from the tiny pond where a plane had crashed during an airshow. I began writing a poem, called “The Depression.” It was about a middle-aged man out walking his dog among the fields, who stops
. . . where the second plane hit
a divot left in the marsh, heart-shaped,
and full of water.
The poem moved me deeply. Still, the visits from the Animal Control officer became more frequent, and less pleasant. What we needed, my wife decided, was an electric fence. Always quicker than me to act, she bought the kit and picked a day for us to install it. But things came up. My father and I spent the day, in the rain, digging a trench around the backyard. The fence worked fine, for a week or so – until Barron discovered that the sting of the collar only lasted a second. And what was a second, compared with freedom?
Not long after, Tammy called us. She and her new fiancé were buying a house. And she’d missed Barron terribly. Would we, perhaps –
On bad nights, I would catch Toby following me from room to room, his eyes quizzical and worried. He knew insanity when he saw it.
After the divorce, I didn’t date for two years. Eventually, my friend Paul persuaded me to set up my profile for Match.com, and a few weeks later, I went on my first date in decades. “Should we split an entrée?” Jennifer asked. “Sure,” I said, thinking that I had never split an entrée in my life. “Absolutely.”
The rest of the meal felt distant and out of focus – as if I were a patient in cardiac arrest, watching myself from above, unsure whether to live or die. Jennifer mentioned how much she liked grappa.
We said goodbye in the parking lot. On the way home, I stopped at the liquor store. Back at the apartment, I sat on the couch holding the unopened bottle. The night was hazy and hot. Cattail jumped up beside me, yowling for attention. Moisture blurred the air.
“How about a nightcap?” I asked, when she finally picked up the phone. “You know, I happen to have a bottle of grappa.”