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The Missouri Review 27.2 (2004) 96-116
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Mrs. Fournier lived alone in a fair-sized yellow frame house, the one her husband had built for her when they came down from British Columbia, or wherever it was that he had made his money in lumber. She had never troubled to know anyone in the neighborhood, and so after her husband died, she stayed on in the house, living pretty much the same life so far as anyone could tell. There were the usual stories circulated about her—a great fortune sealed away in an old trunk, and living on twelve cents a day—the people almost had to tell such stories, because it was the only way they could account for her there among them, the only way they could know her. And perhaps one reason that no one called on her was the dog, a great hulking shadow which could be seen through the windows when the curtains were not drawn.
The Fourniers had always had dogs. Jake, her husband, had been brought up with them, and Mrs. Fournier got used to the idea of their presence, so that after thirty-one years of marriage the most familiar sounds around the house were their padding, or the click-click of their claws on the wood floor, or the heavy flump when one of them collapsed near the fireplace. About the only faces Mrs. Fournier could remember, aside from Jake's, which was as familiar as her own to her, were long dog-faces, bloodshot eyes, cold black noses, and white and yellowing fangs. There had been a great succession of them, mostly big dogs, because Jake liked the company he got from one like Tarmin, a heavy lunk of a bloodhound who would lie down in a room and follow every move of Jake's without moving his head. The bloodhounds had been about the most difficult for Mrs. Fournier. She had never been afraid of dogs, but being watched, constantly, by the great red and anciently wise eyes troubled her nerves. When they left the northwest, Jake agreed to bring only one dog. She knew which one it would be. She had seen, enough times, the quiet exchange that went on between Jake and the young Great Dane, Boxer. When they settled in the yellow frame house, Boxer took his tenancy easily and quietly, asking no approval, even of Jake. He was three years old, an outsize Great Dane, black, with good Dane's feet which came to look as slim as a greyhound's as he grew into them and beyond them. When she looked at his heavy square head, the drooping folds of his muzzle which covered his teeth, and the cold alert eyes, Mrs. Fournier remembered the sympathy, at least, with which Tarmin had watched her. [End Page 96] There was none in Boxer's face, ever. More often, he would look away from her and yawn, showing his teeth and his curling tongue.
Jake did not last long away from his own climate. He had had a physically hard life, but when he left it he began to grow old quickly, as though he had needed constant exertion to sustain him. Something had occurred in his liver, which neither he nor his wife understood or questioned. After three years of resting, and walking with Boxer, and eating with his wife, Jake quietly left the two of them alone to stare at one another without him between them. The strangeness of the first few weeks never wore off. One would walk into a room and meet the other, until their eyes began to bear the same tired questionless look. They had suffered no mutual loss in Jake's death. His absence simply left an incomplete picture—his dog and his wife, face to face.
Each of them grew older alone. The only change that had come into Boxer's life was the end of his exercise. The woman never took him out on walks, even to the...