crickets chirp softly
the rain trickles down the trees
heater smells drift up
When Felicia opened the front door that morning, there was a dog sitting on her front steps, a medium sized brown and white dog with short hair and a pointed tail that he whacked good-naturedly on the top step as he cocked his head and stared her down.
Felicia had never owned a dog in her life, but she promptly stepped aside to let this one inside. From then on they were fast friends. Felicia named him Wallace.
Anywhere one went, the other was right behind, and it was a blessing that Hank, the grocery store owner, had known Felicia since she was a little girl, because he believed her when she promised him that Wallace would never be so rude as to shit on the grocery store floor or bite a fellow patron. True to her word, Wallace did neither.
Felicia was not so lucky when she tried to bring Wallace to her next doctor visit. She had no idea that Dr. Vargas had been bitten as a small child by a dog bearing an eerie resemblance to Wallace. She also had no idea that contamination of the bite caused an infection which was the reason that Dr. Vargas always and only wore pants to hide the prosthetic leg that he attached to his stump each and every morning before coming to the office.
No amount of pleading and weeping and promises was going to make Dr. Vargas change his mind, so for the first time in just over four months, Felicia and Wallace spent nearly an hour and a half apart. Wallace was a good boy, so Felicia left him in her car with all of the windows down. The weather was nice enough that the only pain she felt at doing so was leaving her other half.
When the interminably long appointment was finally over, Felicia dashed out the door, and Wallace leaped from the car. They bounded toward each other and met with a crash that any onlooker might have cringed from, but their mutual joy in reuniting kept them from hurting each other or themselves.
Felicia drove them straight home and rewarded her best friend with a handful of his favorite treats.
She then retired to the couch where she spent the next forty minutes on the phone trying to find a doctor that would allow her dog in the exam room with her for checkups. Dr. Breakham was most obliging.
“Where we are going is here.”
The statement came out of his mouth so matter-of-factly that Cheryl didn’t even consider the that he’d just thrown a dart at a map of the country. Stephen followed it up with another statement, this one even more unsettling.
“Pack your shit, it’s time to go.”
She blinked at him, temporarily frozen in her surprise. “Right now? Stephen, you can’t be serious. It’s the middle of the night!” The paralysis wore off, and she gestured at the open window next to him.
He turned to regard the twinkling stars and flowing galaxies high above the rooftops of the houses across the street. With a shrug of his shoulders, he turned back to look her in the eye again. “So what?”
She didn’t have an answer for that.
The face-off lasted less than a minute before Cheryl gave in and left the room to pack the few things that she wanted to keep with her on this adventure. Excitement began to blossom deep in her stomach as she zipped the bag closed and trotted back out to the living room. He was standing in the same spot, arms crossed over his barrel chest, staring out the window again.
The dart had fallen from the map and rested on the floor beneath it.
“Stephen,” she began, timidly. “Do you remember where you hit the map?”
He grunted, still standing at the window.
She tried again to capture his attention. “Do you want to throw it again?”
His head straightened abruptly, as though he’d awoken from a deep sleep. “What was that?” he asked, turning to face her. His eyes dropped to the bag in her hand. “Where do you think you’re going?” His eyebrows drew together and that gruffness that she hadn’t heard in so long, that gruffness that she feared so much, crept into his voice.
The bag slipped from her loosened grip to land softly on the carpeted floor. “I-I…you just…nowhere, Stephen.”
His glare softened. “Well, don’t just stand there, Cher, bring it to the truck. We’ve got to get–” he turned to look at the map and noticed that the dart was missing. “Shit. These walls must be too solid. You wanna throw it this time, girl?”
She shook her head, but stepped forward to retrieve the errant dart and pass it to him. He took it from her hand with a caress, and winked at her as he did so. “Let’s go somewhere sunny,” he whispered in her ear. “You look beautiful on the beach.”
He took her in his arm, and as their lips met, he threw the dart again, and it thunked solidly through the glossy paper map and into the plaster behind.
“Southern California, here we come,” he murmured, brushing her hair out of the way with his nose and kissing her beneath her ear, in the spot that made her breathing heavy and her muscles weak. He broke away and slapped her ass. “Pack it up!”
Cheryl ran back to the bag she’d just dropped, and when she straightened, the smile was back on her face.
Alison rifled through the detritus littering the bottom of her purse a moment longer before giving up and dumping the whole mess on the coffee table.
“I can’t find the tickets to save my life, Liza, I’m so sorry,” Alison apologized to her friend. The tone of her voice was contrite, but the fury with which she continued to shuffle through her belongings betrayed another, overbearing feeling of discontent. “Let me check my wallet again.”
Liza leaned back into the waiting comfort of the couch and continued to watch the scene unfold, feeling completely disconnected even though without her presence, Alison would still be asleep. She kept her mouth shut, knowing better than to waste her breath on sentences that Alison would never hear in her current emotional state.
“Ta-da!” Alison called in a sing-song, bursting with pride to have found the tickets that she was sure she’d thrown in the trash with the series of receipts that marched constantly through her belongings. “I was positive they were in there!”
Liza smiled mildly, more amused by Alison’s reaction than impressed by the actual discovery of the tickets. She pulled her feet back and stood up, arching her back in a stretch that popped her back three times in a row, like gunshots in the new silence. “Let’s go then,” she said.
Alison cocked her head to the side. “Don’t you even want to know what we’re going to see?” she asked her friend.
“Nope. It’s more fun when it’s a surprise. And besides, even if it turns out to be some horrible hypnotist, if I don’t know who we’re going to see, I can blame all of my discontent on you.” Liza smiled again, more sweetly this time, but with a hint of venomous honesty.
“I swear, Liza, I’m through apologizing for that lackluster son of a bitch that we wasted nearly a hundred bucks on. That was three years ago, for crying out loud, and he was so highly reviewed in that Examiner article. You can’t put all the blame on me. I won’t take it.” Alison was so upset that she was mangling those poor abused tickets in the hand fisted at her side. Her purse swung loosely from her shoulder, empty of her belongings.
Liza scooped up Alison’s wallet from the mess on the table. “Put the tickets in the change compartment. I’ll grab your keys.”
Alison’s jaw dropped when she realized that Liza was utterly refusing to rise to the occasion and fight about the ventriloquist they’d seen at the Lake Theater. It would have been the fourteenth time they’d fought about it; two more and Alison would probably have paid Liza to drop the whole thing once and for all. But she didn’t consciously understand that. It was more a feeling of poison ivy, itching just behind her right temple every time Liza brought up that spectacularly failed girls’ night out.
A reflected flash of light blinded Alison as Liza paused at the door, swinging Alison’s keys around and around the first finger of her left hand. “Get it, girl. Shoes on, show’s starting.” Liza winked and walked out of the apartment without bothering to make sure that Alison was following instructions.
Alison slipped into her pumps and trotted obediently behind her friend, locking the door behind her on her way out.
when the whistling wind
blows soft and fierce and hasty
crisp leaves tumble by