Tequila wasn’t born to marry coffee, but they sure can dance.
I read the sign on the door next to mine: “In case of fire, dog inside. Responds to Beo.” Huh. Bee-Oh. Odd name for a dog.
I hadn’t heard anything from him, but I couldn’t say the same for the owner. Dammit, if I hear your freeweights clashing for an hour on end, you’re not doing it right. But that’s apartment life for you. At least I wasn’t home much.
I didn’t think of the sign again until weeks later, cutting through the backyard to get to the patio door. The building back-ended onto a state park, one of the wooded ones with ski trails in the winter and fistfuls of blackberries hanging off the bushes come summertime. I liked to hike the trails at dusk. They twined and snaked around enough that you could get lost fairly quickly if you were looking to do so. Usually I was.
Coming back one night I saw a movement in the patio next to mine. It was twilight, and there were mostly various shades of charcoal, but I thought I could see eyes. Something growled and then sprang out, snarling. That is, snarling and then wagging its tail, the cutest little fluff of a cinnamon bun. He bowed his head down over his paws and laughed at me with that dopey thing dogs do, all big tongue and eyes dancing up at you. I trusted the eyes and the tail. We made friends.
Ended up making friends with Nick, too, the guy with the weights and the sign. He set me straight on the name; it was “Bay-Oh,” not “Bee-Oh,” and sure, I could borrow the dog for walks. Beo was alone while Nick was out painting houses, so he and I had plenty of time to ourselves. In between shifts I’d take him tromping out through the blackberry patch and chasing butterflies.
I learned he was a Norweigan Elkhound, a breed known for twice yearly shedding, very little doggy smell, and a loud, sharp bark. I heard the bark every once in awhile, but he never howled despite the invitations from fire trucks housed just down the road.
One day we were at the top of the foothill, a bare patch where four of five paths crossed. Something about that night really got to me: the starkness of the branches limned in silver, the full moon up above, the utter stillness of the place. When a fire siren went off, I went off with it, throwing my head back for a full howl. Beo startled into a full stance, ears perked forward and eyes directed right on my face. From deep down in that furry chest came a rumble, a gurgling rush of noise that seemed to surprise him when it poured forth in his first great, long howl.
I did him no favor. He wanted to howl then, all the time, whenever another truck took off wailing. I heard him through the thin wall a couple of times, but then the howls started to get punctuated by sudden whimpers. He’d still start up, but then he’d cry. Soft, like a dog does, hiding it.
Time came when I ran into Nick and asked a few questions. He’d put a shock collar on Beo and zapped him whenever it seemed appropriate. We discussed the meaning of “appropriate,” among other things. Nick was moving out anyway, and he needed cash. I, well, I needed to be able to sleep at night, and it wasn’t the howling that would keep me up.
The dog stayed with me. When I made my Northwest Passage the next year, he was sitting next to the two steamer trunks that held all I had left in the world. Now, he’s sitting at my feet.
And that’s the story of Beowulf.
We lived together in college: she, a tall, lanky redhead from the tobacco fields of Kentucky and I, a seen-it-all rogue from the Big City. They say opposites attract, and they may be right. About the only thing we had in common was an inordinate passion for gin rummy–the 2-year ongoing score on the wall was a thing of beauty–and a few other games of the indoor variety.
We fought. A lot. Nothing physically violent, but harsh words and harsher looks. She couldn’t stand to be alone, and I couldn’t stand not having any solitude. We crawled up under each other’s skin like a drug you taste and can’t forget, always longed for and regretted. A kick that leaves you wondering why you ever started but knowing you’ll never want to stop.
Yet we did split up. It had to end, one way or another. And for all her need, she swore she’d be a wayward wife. Even in the middle of intimacy, I’d catch her looking over my shoulder at the mountains, and I knew she was thinking about how far she could walk that night, barefoot, in her white dress shirt and ragged jeans. Just up and out the door. The thing is, she expected me to be following along behind, and I knew I would watch her go.
She called me a few nights ago, back in town for a short stay. I fixed her dinner. We talked. She’s gone and married a good ol’ boy from Texas, a soldier. He treats her right. He sounds like a real nice guy.
Her virtues were golden, and her vices were the purest pink I’ve ever seen. She’s not alone anymore.
I don’t know what else to say.
In anyone who writes for a living there is the Ego, and there is the Writer. One might think that the Writer is the one who loves words, who revels in them and marries them in indiscriminant polygamy. But that’s the Ego. The Ego weds, and the Writer beds. The Writer is the original wham-bam-thank-ye-ma’am, in and out, on to the next pretty face.
The reason is this: all the Writer cares about is getting across the information. Does this tell the story? Does this make the point? Can I find a set of words to do it better? Same for non-fiction as for fiction–cut, cut, and cut again. Try some more, sound it out, throw it up and tear it down.
Let the Ego have the words, and you will curl up with them, musty and dusty. Let slip the Writer, and you will cut out most of what you have, but you will love what is left, and you will be ready to love what is next.
The boats rock gently, the day falls silent, and pure blue descends like a cloak. There is a swan out in the middle of the harbor. The travel lift winches up the last boat, and the swan turns about in the wake before settling again.
I am drinking whiskey, watching the swan, who is watching me.
And the night came on, it was very calm
I wanted the night to go on and on
But she said, go back, go back to the world.
I cut through an industrial area when I travel to work. The Office Depot down the street has a “going out of business sale” sign, so I stopped by on my way to the marina. Long hours of hard pounding at the typewriter calls for something sturdy; the delicate-boned suede dining chair just wasn’t going to measure up.
Chair, corkboard, thumbtacks, and a few pads of paper later, I was out the door. Almost walked straight into a ragged fellow, a little seedier around the edges even than me. He had a wooden crate strapped to the back of a beater bike propped against the display table. The guy seemed to be carefully assessing a series of artificial ficus plants on the table for shape and symmetry, stepping back a few feet and eyeing each from many angles.
I watched as he selected one and secured it in the crate with some overlapped bungees. He tore off the tag, stuffed it into another display box, and took off.
Our eyes never met. I stepped backwards through the electronic doors and spoke with a salesperson, just for completeness’ sake. The ficus was long gone by the time the details sunk in for him.
Somewhere in this city is a leanto with some sweet decs.
Enjoy your tree, raggedy man.
I’m moving into the marina office today. It’s 12’x12′, give or take a few inches, and centered just right of the main boatlifting winches. Two desks will fit, along with a printer, coffeepot, filing cabinet. Gotta have a place for the trenchcoat.
The business of setting up shop is oddly prosaic. Regular home renter’s insurance doesn’t cover liability at a home office off-site–at least, mine doesn’t–so I had to search for professional coverage that would also cover an office.
I’m now good for $1,000,000, should anyone slip on my steps in the crass attempt to bother me while I’m working. Unfortunately, I can’t imagine this makes bothering me any less attractive a pursuit than it was before.