On a mid-summer’s night I sat in my room, alone, listening to my dad’s old jazz albums. I was visiting home for a few weeks, on break from school. My parents had gone out to dinner with the Olesons.
I had a few beers from the fridge, a glass of my father’s open bottle of Chardonnay, and eventually finished my grandfather’s old rum. I was drunk but not too drunk – the kind of drunk where walking is more pleasant and time moves smoothly.
I lived on the edge of a thin strip of forest, which bordered a reservoir that provided tap water to most of Rockland County and Northern New Jersey. I decided to go down to the reservoir with my dog, Remi. I got another beer from the refrigerator and fastened the dog’s lead to her collar and led her to the sliding door in the back of the house facing the woods across the yard.
The tree branch silhouettes were dark beside the star speckled sky.
Remi led me to the woods and I followed until we reached the fence. I sipped my beer then unlatched the gate and Remi nosed it open and we started down the hill. I took high steps, hoping to avoid the fallen brush hidden in the darkness and shadows. Many trees and branches had fallen over the years in the storms and hurricanes. The wet soil gave way and even the big trees sometimes fell. Remi got panicked in those storms, hearing the fury of the night.
When we reached the water’s edge I stared across the shimmering lake while Remi stared back into the dark. I stepped down the two-foot ridge that bordered the woods on to the small patch of rocky sand lining the reservoir.
Remi paused to watch me, her imploring eyes a luminous gray, powered by the shine of the moon. Her mouth panted quick untimed breaths choked suddenly by the sounds of swallowed saliva. She anxiously grinned, exhaling into the calm breeze.
I asked her, how she was doing.
I told her, a few drinks did the trick.
I put my beer on the ridge and my sandals to its right.
I stripped off my clothes, leapt down the ridge, and called her name. She leapt down the rocks and stepped into the water. It was as warm as the night, which made it hard to distinguish the two.
“How about it Rem? Let’s go in.”
We looked at each other. She walked by my side as I waded into the shallow lake. The warm water filled the creases of our toes and inched up to the joints of our knees. She stopped at times to lap up a splash of fresh water.
I waded out until the water reached my ribs then dove under. I let the fresh water sting my open eyes before I resurfaced.
Remi pulled back towards the woods. She liked the water in the hot sun, but the woods were alive with smells and sounds. Hesitantly, I obliged and walked back to the ridge along the shore. She shook the water from her fur then leapt up the ridge. She was panting from her short swim. A spotted streak of white ran up her nose between her glowing eyes while the rest of her black wet body merged with the dark woods behind her. The white tip of her tail bobbed rapidly.
Something caught her eye. She strained the lead trying to see through the night, sliding left and right and whining, hoping something would set her free. I held her lead tight and watched. Her whine quickly became frantic barks that echoed through the woods.
Still wet and juggling Remi, I struggled to put on my clothes.
“Easy Rem, what do yah see?”
The woods around the lake housed their fair share of Northeastern critters – deer trails cut left and right through the thin strip of forest, squirrels scoured the trees, chipmunks burrowed in their roots, raccoons and possums hid in the night, and coyotes call one another with piercing yip-howls.
Remi pulled towards a path cut by the deer. She was breathing heavily. I pulled suddenly on the lead so she would stop. She gagged and coughed as her neck fought the collar.
She looked at me with a face I took to mean, don’t you understand? I worked my hands up the lead towards her collar and grabbed hold. I bent down and whispered questions in her ear. With my cheek against hers I wrapped my arm around her neck.
Her hot wet body pressed against mine. The forest floor cut my knees. She looked at me – on and off – and panted shallow breaths. Her canines jutted out from black lips.
We looked into the woods together and I tried to see what she saw. I knew I shouldn’t let her off the lead but when she looked at me – standing now – I realized how badly she wanted me to let go.
So I did. And I told her, thanks for walking here with me, I really hope you stay, but I swear I understand, there is so much more to see. She looked at me and smiled. I loved Remi. How alone I would feel were she to leave. But I knew that I could find her if she didn’t come back.
After I let go. Remi stepped forward and the lead rustled the brush on the floor and she took several more steps on her own. I took them too, behind her. We walked along the path for a few moments; her nose targeted the ground – outlining the trunks of the trees, turning over the fallen leaves. Gradually, her fervor intensified as she realized that the trees were no longer obstacles.
There was some moment, some transition in that period of time, where she was no longer walking with me and her careful analysis of every tree lost form. I followed alongside, doubling my pace, stepping high over anything I could.
She wasn’t headed in any direction or searching for one of the critters, she was just swimming – in and out of the trees. With every step she took, gliding along, the spirit of her run increased. Everywhere was a path.
I heard her step on the sticks and leaves when she ran past and feared she would leave soon.
I chased after her, away from my house along the water. She was a dozen yards ahead. The tree branches took swings and jabs at my face and head and arms. The woods sped past and I ran as best I could over and around it all.
At once she doubled back. I saw her sudden change and watched as she ran into the darkness. My open-toed sandal collided with a rock in the path. I fell hard to the ground and quickly reached for my foot. The moonlight revealed the dark shine of blood coming from beneath my toenail; I squeezed my foot as hard as I could.
“Fuck!” I yelled sharply.
I looked up for the dog.
“Remi!” I couldn’t hear her anymore.
I sat still in the dark woods.
The glow of the moon reflected off the lake and through the trees.
The adrenaline from the chase and the fall made the woods seem huge and forced anxious tears to my eyes.
I stood and looked around in circles, around and around. Fifty yards ahead there was an open field. She might have run that way, I thought. I limped along the winding deer path that twisted away from the water. My toe throbbed. I saw the field through the trees.
I exited from the mouth of the woods into the open field. One tall pine tree reached upward from the center. The tree’s long shadow nearly reached the house above.
I went down by the water. I slid off my sandal, submerged my foot and embraced the sting of the cool lake on my toe.
I washed my hands of the blood. I looked back towards the pine tree and the house. No dog.
I lay back and stared up into space and felt the rotation of the earth around me. My body lay there motionless; my head the pins anchoring a globe. The speed increased and I closed my eyes. Lying there didn’t help. I turned my body over and looked down at the earth.
It was hard to breathe. I dragged my head towards the iridescent plain. My stomach emptied into the vast pool. The force of everything in me pushed once, then twice more. Waste floating at the center of capillary waves. I could feel it inside me.
Then the world stopped spinning and I looked back towards the tree in the field, sturdy and still.
My parents returned at midnight. I explained that I had been in my room listening to music. That something had made me anxious. That Remi wanted to go out. I told them we went for a swim and then she had this certain look.
You know the look she gets in storms? I said. Except there wasn’t any storm and I guess I had felt the same way as her so I thought that I would try and let her off the lead. They said they understood and asked me which way she had run. I told them every different way, that’s why I fell and hurt my toe. My mother felt bad for the dog.
My parents were asleep as I sat, alone, on the edge of my yard and looked into the woods. I imagined Remi as she came to the gate in no hurry, smiling. The tip of her tail bouncing with each step; the tags of her collar chiming inwith the same cadence.
I stopped waiting around 4 AM. I lifted myself from the grass. I climbed the stairs to the porch before sliding the glass door open for the last time that night. I turned off the lights in the house. I went to my room and shut the door behind me.
I stripped down to my underwear and put my clothes in the hamper by the closet. I sat in the hard wooden chair beside my desk and nudged the mouse on the desk to wake the computer. I opened the Chrome browser then keyed Pornhub.com into the search and pressed return. I typed in a name, “young Leila,” and scrolled through the results. I clicked “leila orgasmic chills.”
I grabbed the lotion from my dresser and the tissues from my nightstand while Leila removed her bra. I clicked the box to fill the screen and listened as the penis talked.
You silly anxious thing, he said.
Leila smiled and finished stripping.
With careless eyes, she fucked the voice and allowed me an empty moment.
I wiped the mess from my hand. I threw the used tissues away and returned the lotion to my dresser, then placed the tissue box on the nightstand.
I sat on the edge of my bed and stared out the window towards the street. Where had Remi gone?
I slid beneath the sheets and tried to fall asleep.
I awoke to the fluctuating purr of the landscapers’ lawnmowers trimming the grass. I lay across my bed; the sun streamed, unhindered, through the panes of glass.
The pound of footsteps came deliberately down the hall. There was a light tapping on the door, hard knuckle against wood. My mother called my name. She said, “Someone is here to see you,” and cracked the door.
The chime of shaking dog tags accompanied the clicks of a dog’s nails on the wood floor. Remi nosed her way into my room. She hurried to my side and put her chin onto the bed. I rolled across the bed and faced her. Her wet black nose felt cool against my own. She smelled my morning breath and grinned.
I asked my mother what had happened. Someone had called the house around seven and said they found our dog.
I apologized again. My mom said she understood, what really mattered was that Remi was ok. Remi ran out of the room to bark at the landscapers through the screen door in the front hall.
I told my mother I wanted to sleep for a little while longer. I had been up quite late. She said ok and closed the door. The sun kept me awake; I was hung over or still drunk.
Remi barked loudly from the hall as the purr of the motors came to a crescendo. I flipped the sheet off of my body and looked down at my foot. The nail on my right toe was nearly black with dried blood.
I heard Remi’s paws scrape at the screen door. Then her bark left the house and crossed the yard. I swung my legs out of bed and went to the window. She had run down to one of the landscapers on a lawnmower. The older man, with dark gray hair and sun stained skin, dismounted the machine. He bent down and Remi sniffed his sweat and beard while he scratched under her chin.
I still felt a bit nauseous. I remembered the cool water on my skin while we were swimming, the way Remi looked at me from the ridge. With her tail bobbing jovially behind her, Remi started running towards the house.