Blake unlocked the door. “It’s surprising how many neighbours I’ve never spoken with until today,” he said.
“It’s not much of a loss, if you ask me. You know, your neighbours – all of them – are assholes.” Katherine made a bee line for the powder room hoping Blake had picked up on her disdain.
Blake reminded himself again that Kate was a complex creature.
True, some of the people they’d approached had been dismissive but to be fair, Kate had been abrupt, interrupting conversations and demanding a level of attention people rarely gave strangers. As much as Blake appreciated her drive to find Gary, he understood that remorse motivated Kate’s tenacity. It was, after all, her fault that Gary was missing.
Earlier that day when Blake had been keen on a snog, Kate had noticed Gary sitting complacently at the foot of the bed. He’d been doing absolutely nothing except panting and wearing that wide foolish pit bull grin on his face but Kate had freaked out all the same. She’d demanded that Blake take him outside. At first, Blake had been amused by what he presumed to be an issue with Kate’s modesty and he’d reminded her that Gary couldn’t see. But by that point, Kate had become so fixated on Gary’s panting that she couldn’t shake the idea he was participating in some voyeuristic capacity.
Blake had taken Gary out to the back yard.
He couldn’t remember now whether he’d taken the time to round up Gary’s favourite chew toys or tennis balls. Just his shameful eager romp back up the stairs to discover the exercise had been in vain. The mood had waned.
Blake stood in the front hall, half-expecting Gary to amble up and slip his big, wet nose into the palm of his hand in greeting. But Blake’s hand remained notably empty and notably dry. His gaze fell on Gary’s chewed leash and Blake felt a tug at his heart. “There is no greater sorrow than to recall in misery the time when we were happy,” Dante had written. The situation was insupportable. He had to come up with a plan of action.
“We have to make the next bunch orange,” he called out to Kate.
“What?” she shouted back.
Blake moved closer to the washroom door until he could hear Katherine pee. “I said, I think we should make next bunch of posters orange so people notice them.”
“Sure. Whatever you want,” Katherine replied. She wanted him to go away so she could finish peeing but she could hear him lingering by the door. She picked at a cuticle in silence. Besides, there had already been too much talk about the poster – the colour, which of Gary’s pictures to use and whether “Lost Dog” or “Gary” should be most prominent. None of it mattered. They weren’t going to find that dog.
“Gary loved orange tennis balls,” Blake reminisced, “When he could see.” He leaned his head against the door.
Katherine heard Blake’s coat buttons rub against the door. She rolled her eyes. Her cuticle had started to bleed. Katherine tore a piece of toilet paper and set it on top of her thumb. Watching the blood wick through the tissue, she reflected how she was the one who always had to stay calm in an emergency. She would have loved nothing better than to lose it once in a while. Let others handle logistics while she had a meltdown. Instead, she just got called cold. And heartless. Cold and heartless. Katherine sighed. She supposed she could soothe Blake a little.
Katherine flushed and opened the washroom door.
Blake’s hair looked as though it had undergone testing in a wind tunnel. His brown eyes were full of boyish misery. “What the hell good am I, Kate? I can’t even keep a blind dog in a gated yard.”
Katherine slipped her arms around him and pressed her body hard into his as though she might be able dislodge his sadness if she had enough conviction. “Poor baby,” she murmured. She would have fucked him right there in the foyer but Blake only messed around when he was happy which was sort of a waste of good sex.
“Come on,” she said, “I’ll make you a sandwich.” Blake mumbled something about not being hungry but followed Katherine into the kitchen anyway.
“I latched the gate,” Blake said.
“Blake? Honestly, it’s no good beating yourself up.”
“I’m just trying to understand the “how” of it, Kate. I mean, the only way Gary could have physically gotten out of the yard is if someone helped him.”
“Exactly,” answered Katherine, relieved Blake was finally arriving at the same conclusion she had reached hours earlier. She tugged the refrigerator door open.
Blake’s eyes grew wide. “You don’t really think so?
“Yes!” She hit her ‘s’ for emphasis.
“Who would do that? Why?”
“It was someone who was annoyed enough, I guess. “
Katherine paused, wondering how to word it. There was no good way of saying it, so she just said it: “Your dog barks. It’s a barky dog.”
“It’s how Gary lets you know he wants something.”
“Yeah, I know… Bark, bark, bark. I want in. Bark, bark, bark. I want out. You want the truth? Some days, Gary’s got a little too much to say.”
Blake looked hurt. Her comment seemed to have completely taken him off guard. “This is unbelievable, Kate.”
“It’s not an attack. I’m just saying, maybe one of your neighbours got annoyed. I mean – it’s conceivable.”
“If you thought Gary’s been abducted, why didn’t you said anything before?”
Katherine let the refrigerator door shut and crossed back to where Blake stood by the counter. “You seemed like you needed to poster.” Pulling a knife from the butcher’s block, she returned to the fridge. “And I never said Gary had been abducted. You did.”
Blake paled, thinking of the ways a blind old dog could come to its end.
“Do you have any Mediterranean chicken left?” Katherine shouted from the refrigerator. She looked over at Blake for an answer. His fingers were back in his hair. Katherine shook her head. This is why she hadn’t gone to veterinary school. People and their fucking pets.
“How about a grilled cheese sandwich? Would you like that?”
He didn’t answer. She didn’t care anymore.
“Well, I’m starving.” Katherine returned to the counter carrying butter, bread and cheese then crossed to the stove and pulled a frying pan onto the front element to preheat it.
“Do you even care Gary’s missing?”
Katherine crossed back to the counter and carefully unwrapped her cheese slice as she worded her answer. “I care that you care.”
Blake’s eyes widened. She could feel him staring long and hard at her. “Alright. You know what?” she said, “I don’t appreciate the way you’re looking at me.”
“Well, I’m sorry Kate but it escapes me how I’m supposed to be looking at you. I assumed you liked Gary.”
Katherine fumbled through the kitchen drawer for a spatula. “I’m not a dog person, okay? I mean, I tried to like him but…I couldn’t. And then later, I kept thinking he was on the verge of dying….so what was the point of saying anything then? I wasn’t expecting some miraculous recovery.”
“Jesus,” Blake said.
“For your information Blake, a lot of people don’t like dogs. Priests. Judges. Home Ec teachers.” She did NOT have to explain herself but she was. “Mothers. My mother doesn’t like dogs. Did you know that? I mean, it’s not a crime.” She sounded weak. She hated sounding weak. She plopped the sandwich into the pan then buttered two more slices of bread. “Anyway, this is not helping. Not – At all.”
Blake was quiet. She looked up from the frying pan at Blake and held his gaze.
“God. Are you going to be all drama queen about this?”
“What am I supposed to say?” Blake said. “If I’m just finding out now how you feel about my dog, what else don’t I know about?”
Katherine looked up at Blake. “Are you for real? I’m here. On Saturday. Postering. I just spent the morning talking with strangers about YOUR dog. And I don’t like strangers. What else could you possibly need to know about me other than I’m not the sick fuck who let Gary out of the yard?” She ended her sentence with her hands on her hips.
Blake immediately recognized it was a no win situation. The hands on the hips was the “tell”.
In truth, it had never occurred to him to ask Katherine whether she liked dogs because who the hell didn’t like dogs? She would have told him straight out IF he’d asked the right question.
“Well?” asked Katherine, her voice hardening.
“You know,” answered Blake as though he’d contemplated her question all this time “I think I will have a grilled cheese. “
Katherine’s eyes narrowed suspiciously.
Katherine had dated actors and anarchists, architects, stockbrokers, ski instructors and one nihilist. She’d tried on each of their world views like they were coats in a vintage shop because she’d been looking for the right fit for a while. Blake’s ‘coat’ would never fit. He believed people were decent and would act in the betterment of their society if given a chance. Ironically, it was her persistence to convince Blake that the world was fucked which helped Katherine conclude she was a pessimist. And for that she owed him a Sunday morning of postering. For what it was worth.
“Fine.” Katherine waved her cheese slices and called a truce. “One slice or two?”
“Two.” Blake sighed.
Katherine added a second slice of cheese to the sandwich in the pan and pushed it around with a spatula in pinched-lip silence.
Blake crossed to the bay window where he usually sat most Saturday mornings to work on his short stories and poems – small, quiet observations about life. He gazed out, past the confines of his yard with a practiced eye, to the items scattered around his neighbour’s back yard. Broken lawn chairs, dilapidated children’s bicycles, stacks of warped doors at the foot of which a few rogue tulips bloomed every spring – all the items that had found their way into his stories.
There was a movement in the yard.
Blake stared at the tangle of thorns and branches closely, hope rising. After a moment, his neighbour appeared through the thickets, pulling branches apart and peering around. Blake smiled, sadly.
“Looks like you got to him, Kate,” he said.
Katherine joined Blake at the window and peered at the grungy old Portuguese man. He was rustling around in his yard. It looked like he was mumbling. “If you mean I pushed him over the edge,” she said, “I think he went over that cliff a long time ago.”
“He’s looking for Gary.”
Katherine wrinkled her nose. “Gee I don’t know. I think you’re reading into it. He’s probably just looking for a place to pee.”
“Don’t pooh-pooh this, Kate. You appealed to that man’s better nature and there he is, looking for Gary. People aren’t as disengaged as you’d like to think.”
Katherine smiled unconvincingly and pulled her hair back.
“You’re not admitting anything.” Blake realized.
“Pretty much.” she agreed. Kathering dropped her arms and her curls followed suit.
Blake studied her. “You could have been a lawyer.”
Katherine agreed: “Yep.”
Blake crossed back into the kitchen to check on the grilled cheese sandwiches. Katherine turned back to the window.
She could barely pick out the old man from the branches as he peered around his bushes. He was pretty stealthy for an old guy. When Katherine had spoken to him earlier, she’d noticed he had massive dirty fingers that jutted out of his palms like fleshy tree roots. They were probably just the hands of someone who had worked hard all his life. Who had created things like bridges and houses and roads. Maybe, Katherine reflected, the old guy has just had been defensive because he was the last blue collar hold-out on the street. Because she didn’t speak Portuguese and there was no one around left to talk with about the old days. He was alone. Completely isolated. Completely to himself. Maybe around friends or family, with a glass of wine in his hand, maybe, he could be a whole different person.
As though sensing he was being watched, the old man looked over and detected Katherine at the window. Later, Katherine would recall it was more like he’d locked in on her. And then, she saw something in his expression she recognized. And it was not the milk of human kindness.
She instantly knew this man was capable of much more. “You…fucker!”
NEXT WEEK: Chapter 2 And you thought Gary had problems….