- from the novel Lumina Harbor
Bess Helen's Dog
I'm running in the dunes around a big beach house, in a place that looks like Cape May, though it isn't Cape May. I'm in with a pack of my kind. Twelve retrievers, all of the same size. Our coats are glossy and clean. Our lungs are large, as open as suitcases. Just to think I'll never be a burden again! I'd love to pull her all the way down to the bay till the leash blisters her hand.
Even I'd almost forgotten that I was ever young.
I speak from some distant future, hers and mine.
Still, it's not exactly heaven. I miss a piping cold morning: the hard divide between day and night. (That's the payback for never having to die again, this middling state where the light stays the same). And the food's a little wholesome. I'd give anything to come upon a dropped frankfurter (not hot dog), seasoned with pencil shaving, cobweb, and rock salt. But nothing was ever perfect. As always, we make the best of our lot.
A ball is flung in our direction. It happens again and again. One of us gets it, brings it back, only for the whole thing to start all over again. It's never me who brings it back. Better to cheer on the others. Unlike the others, I'm not interested in the ball. I look for the face of the one who's throwing the ball, but there's nothing to look for. I'm not talking about some sleek, headless phantom. Yes, there are lips and moles. Yes, there are eyes, but they all have the same earnest, benevolent cast. I'll say it right here: the human face is often lowly, marred by lines and sags. It doesn't age as well as ours. And it's nude, right out there, the worst examples as pink as the skin of our private parts. Still, there's nothing lovelier, more rapturous than gazing into an actual human face. The quirk of an eyebrow, the watery glaze around the pulsating iris. The upper lip raised in anger. The mouth pushed out in a sideways funnel. There's nothing more pleasing than determining your wishes [End Page 37] before you're even aware of them yourself. There's an art to this, of course, a rigor. Let down our guard, and before we know it, we're lost. Too easy to get swallowed up inside the storms behind your face. Before long we're feeling your sorrow and agitation. And we're crying for you, only to make matters worse, because you're thinking, why are you weeping when it's your work to make me feel better?
I never wanted to kiss it, though. Her face, I mean. Believe me, there were plenty who tried to get me to kiss the human face, but I politely declined. I loved it with all my heart. I loved it even more than my own handsome face, even when I was slapped on the muzzle, or ordered to bed before I was tired, when all I wanted was to stay with her, my head on my paws beside her shoes, while the drinking glasses chinked all around me, and the cigarette smoke stung the linings of my nose, making it run.
Smells. I miss them too, while we're on that subject. Since time isn't a problem here, nothing rots. It might as well be the salad compartment inside a refrigerator. Here's something I'd trade for my newfound motion any day: the smell of a dead flounder on the beach, just as it's been ripened by the sun, set on by flies.
Why are dogs always boys? Funny that we're still called boys when we're neither boys nor girls here, but both sexes at once. Not that I complain. There's nothing better than a surprise rutting when one needs to be slapped awake. And climbing on the back of another when it's least expected. We...