Thirty years and two days after Nixon stood before a helicopter and waved goodbye, twenty minutes after my third glass of wine, two minutes after my ex-husband, Brandon, took both boys on a fishing trip for the weekend, leaving me free, free, free, I backed out of the driveway and ran over Ellen's dog, Henry.
I kneeled down, lightly stroked the white hairs that jutted over his eyes and cried. I loved Henry. He, like all of Ellen's possessions, belonged to me, too, and of course he was the love of my bulldog Sadie's life. Ellen had one child, now off at preparatory school, and a stiff, bored husband. But she had Henry, so she kept her bored husband. I had Sadie and so got rid of my bored husband. Our differences bound us.
I imagined Ellen opening the door to me, her best friend. Me, the fifteen-year- old who met her at a party to celebrate the end of Nixon, standing on the coffee table, fist around the long neck of a beer, screaming, “Free, free, free at last!'' Me, the twenty-year-old college roommate, stoned, mourning the Cuban refugees, the Iranian hostages, our big-hearted, confused leader. “He means well. They’ll take over again. We must do something.'' Me, the thirty-year-old calling her early in the morning, baby on breast, toddler with plastic puzzles, “Barney's a Republican! Do not let your child near that TV!” Me, the middle-aged woman dragging her off to a peace march, forcing her to read blogs, write letters, sign petitions begging everyone to stop it, stop it all! Me, with Henry, her dead dog.
I drove back to my garage, stumbled inside. I found my pink floral, combed cotton Laura Ashley sheet on the top shelf of my linen closet. I pulled it down upon my head and gathered it under my chin, like a shawl. I fell to my knees, my sobs now a low keening. So many lost in Iraq. Here I was, crying for one dog. Could I tell Ellen this? Could I say, oh Ellen we cannot cry, there are so many others who are worse off.
Sadie, now sniffing at the death on my shoes and hand, was shaking all over. She went to the door and barked, as if trying to get me outside to face my best friend's altered life. I stood, gathered my sheet in a bundle and walked outside. And there it was—the moment of alteration—Ellen, in her yard, yelling at me.
“Marcy, have you seen Henry?” She stepped onto the edge of my driveway. “He got out the invisible fence again. He's in some yard, sniffing.”
I tried to speak, but nothing came out.
Ellen stood on one edge of my driveway, I on the other. Sadie's barking, which had been loud and nervous at my back door, now stopped, and the moment sat before me. One small word, or maybe three. Or a statement. I would say, Ellen, the radio was filled with mundane dribble. Dribble! It happened due to the distractions of an ambivalent country.
“What're you doing with that sheet?” she said.
“It's my favorite sheet.”
“But you're outside with it? Making another protest banner, Marcy?” She smiled and looked towards my driveway entrance, like she was trying to determine where my protest banner would go.
She leaned forward, her eyes squinting, as if that puff of white on the street past my mailbox was a mirage, an illusion, not the terrier she loved for twelve years. “Is that? What's....” And she was off, her legs and arms moving hysterically as she screamed.
Ellen fell on her knees, rocked back and forth, moaning. I kneeled by her and forced myself to look over Henry again, his open, vacuous eyes, his hair matted with blood. We stayed like this a while, me holding her while she sobbed. I finally placed my sheet over Henry's body.
“Can you believe someone did this and didn't try to find his home? Just left him here. Monster,” she said.
“I don't know. I just don't know.” Ellen wiped her eyes; the mascara smeared like magic marker across her cheeks. “I have to call Jim. Jim will have to bury him. I can't bury him.”
“I'll do that.”
“Asshole. If I could write, I'd write one of those angry letters to the editor.”
“I'll write it.”
“Oh don't listen to me now. You don't have to do that, Marcy.”
“No, I'll take care of everything. And, Ellen, I want to write a letter. This is more than Henry. It’s what's going on in our community, our country. We don't pause for a life that's not human. It's why our glaciers are melting.”
The intermittent breeze picked up again, a quiet susurration above us that barely rattled the limbs.
“So, I guess we should bury him in the back yard,” she said. “Over by the woods, near my roses. He loved those roses. Or maybe we should wait. Take him to the vet? What do we do?”
I ran back for my shovel and looked over at her property briefly before returning for Henry. Ellen’s rose garden, tucked in the far corner, was an eclectic mélange of color, each bush separate from the next, neat, self-contained, healthy. It was Henry’s favorite place to dig a hole. I had never liked those roses.
I watched Ellen and Jim on their patio from my bedroom window. It was Saturday, and I had spent all of Friday night going over the murder. It had been a small bump, a rolling movement. A yelp. Then nothing. I had been turning the dial on my radio at the time. My what-ifs lasted hours—what if I hadn't decided on a movie, what if I had not had that third glass of wine, what if I hadn’t touched the dial but kept my eye right there on the road, and so I had seen Henry, had stopped, picked him up, become not just the friend who pontificated but the friend Ellen could count on.
I had called earlier, offering to clean out Henry's things and take them to Goodwill or the rescue shelter. I told her I was preparing a post to my web site about abused animals and rescue shelters filled with orphaned dogs. I had a blog on everything that bothered me. I wrote at least five pages a day. Occasionally I would get a few comments that made sense, but for the most part internet lurkers were teenagers who found time to make fun of me.
I regarded how Ellen held herself, her body slumped loosely to her right, legs crossed, head turned out towards distant trees. She and Jim drank from six-inch tea glasses, something lime yellow -- lemonade or perhaps margaritas. Every so often she reached over, grabbed Jim's hand. I couldn't tell if she was crying, although once Jim put his arm around her shoulders and pulled her into him. Henry had kept her with him, and now his death was binding them with an epoxy of mourning. Jim would buy her a puppy, tell her everything would be OK. Maybe they would make sad love.
I left Brandon two years back, after a march on Washington. Ellen had joined me at the last minute. She brought her homemade sign protesting the latest far right appointment to the Supreme Court. We shouted on the streets with 2000 other women, then had beer in a dark bar afterwards. After my second pint, I confessed my affair with the senatorial candidate I had been working for. She confessed her desire to have an affair, but had no one in mind, only a vague idea of someone out there she would rather have sex with than Jim. Have one, I said. Go! Do it. We're miserable. No one can blame us. After I kicked Brandon out of the house, I was sure she would follow. She would kick Jim out of her house, and we would have our affairs, live out our middle-age with our convictions and passion. But no. She had followed me to college, followed me to New York, followed me into motherhood. But she left me there. She kept Jim.
I spent the rest of that night staring at CNN, reading blogs, chatting online with a man who referred to himself as Mightyfine52. I tapped out a list of fantasies to turn him on—where I wished to be caressed, prurient comments that made me hot. After one of his dirty posts, I typed, I KILLED MY BEST FRIEND'S DOG. He asked if this was a joke, a twist in my sexual proclivities. I said no, I did it and I am mad. He said you mean she is mad at you. I said no, I am too mad to type. He said let's talk sexy in a mad way. I turned off the computer.
I went up to my sixteen year old's room for a smoke. Lonnie kept pot under his mattress. Last week he must have purchased a new bag, a large one, enough so that my small pinch would go unnoticed. I rolled a joint the size of my thumb and smoked while leaning my head out his side window. I would have crawled out on the roof, but I was trying to stop both boys from sitting on the roof at night. So far I had not talked to them about pot.
I took a long pull on the joint and tried to get my mind back on my letter to the editor. But the pot pacified me, so I let it go until morning.
So, my neighbor is sad, not just sad like all of us now stuck with this complete mess our last stupid president left us. Not sad because our country neglected the poor and reimbursed the rich. She is sad because someone hit her dog and killed it. There on the road, left, like garbage not composted. Which brings up the need for all of us to compost...
I would first like to say that no one is perfect. We all make mistakes. We are ashamed of our mistakes and yet we make them. I wonder if we make these mistakes because we are a country of depressed citizens. A country that feels no forgiveness. We do not feel forgiven and therefore are not ready to admit anything. My neighbor's dog is dead because someone hit it and was too ashamed to ask for her forgiveness. He left her dog by the road. A life not human, neglected. Like the life everywhere neglected. We are ashamed as we drive our SUVs, as we throw out trash that should be composted. We are ashamed.
My neighbor's dog is dead and the driver did not stop to do anything. I think she forgives him. And so do I. We forgive him because we are used to forgiving. We spent eight years forgiving. Every day another death in an illegal war and we bow our heads and forgive. This driver probably knows we forgive him. But I think it important to say it, get it out there, then concentrate on what it means, this death of another living animal. How many animals are dead now due to a country driving and not stopping? Our glaciers are melting for crying out loud.
I was at the kitchen table when I heard the car pull into the drive. The click and slam of doors. Mumble of voices. My ex-husband's laugh—glad to get rid of the boys, or excited about the catch, which would be tossed into my freezer if I didn't guard it.
I was a bit disappointed they were back early. Ellen was due over in a few minutes to have coffee and read the final draft of my letter to the editor.
Brandon was staring at my car when I came outside.
“What the hell happened here? This dent? Is this bit of blood? And down on the street there's some stains. You hit a deer?”
Bart, my ten year old, ran out to the backyard to greet Sadie.
“So, did you throw the fish back into the water this time?”
Lonnie, my sixteen year old who had begged me to let him stay home, loped by me without saying anything. He was too skinny and into Goth. I couldn't imagine he enjoyed the fishing adventure. I pictured him sticking himself with the hooks when Brandon wasn't looking.
“Lonnie? Brandon? Anyone? Fish? Do I get an answer, or do we discuss our dirty street?”
“Yeah, we caught, like, trout and fried it over a fire,” Lonnie said. He looked like he needed five showers and two nights of sleep. He was wearing his black T-shirt with a skeleton on its chest. He seemed to want to get away fast, back up to his stash of pot under his mattress. “Tasted like shit,” he added before stepping into the house.
“Are you going to answer me about the blood?” Brandon said.
“Can we not talk about it, Brandon? Ellen's coming over. Henry was run over the other day, and it's been hard, so.”
“Oh, hell. That's tough.” Brandon leaned up against my car. “Is that his blood on your tire? Was this after we left? That wine. I told you not to drive after that wine.”
“You automatically assume it was me? Give me a break! I must have driven over it when I went to the grocery store that night. I don't know.”
“So, no one knows who killed her dog?”
“Can we talk about the fish?”
And there she was, coming across the driveway with her coffee cup.
“Catch any fish, Brandon?” Ellen stopped in front of him and smiled, then looked out beyond him at Sadie now running after Bart in the backyard. Her eyes seemed to drop at the edges.
“Marcy told me, Ellen. I'm sorry.” Brandon put his hand on her shoulder. She placed her hand over it for a second. One quick touch, then nothing.
“Well, he was twelve,” she said to Brandon. “Already had kidney problems, but I thought we'd have a few more years with him. A few more years watching him with Sadie, you know.”
“I have that letter to the editor, Ellen,” I said.
“Letter to the editor?” Brandon had that whiney tone that indicated he was about to insert a needle. “What now? Are we still stamping our feet over the owls? Cats used in testing by perfume companies? NRA? Drug companies?”
“Brandon, you know, we're not married anymore, so crap is, well, crap now. Whereas before it was your right as a man to condescend to his wife.”
“You two, please. Marcy wanted to write a letter to the editor about Henry, Brandon. She was upset about the hit and run. No one stopping, you know.”
Sadie yelped and Ellen jumped, as if someone had screamed right behind her.
“I'll get Sadie, Marcy,” Ellen said as she disappeared around the corner. I could hear the patio door sliding open and shut. Ellen started her baby talk with Sadie, as if Sadie were human. She had done this with Henry, too.
Sadie spotted Brandon and was all over him, licking his calves, jumping up to paw at his crotch.
“Hey girl. You miss me?” He wrapped his arms around her fat belly, gave her a hug, and jiggled her fat back and forth.
“Marcy, let me take a look at your letter tonight,” Ellen said. “I just don't know about a letter to the editor. It won't bring Henry back.”
“That's not the point. The point is to let people know where our country is heading—ambivalence.”
“Ambivalence,” Brandon said.
Sadie was now at the trunk sniffing furiously. She jumped on the car and started barking.
“You have fish in there. You were going to wait till I turned my back and shove them in the freezer. I told you to throw the fish back. And Lonny is already into dead crap and you go frying trout in front of him?”
“Ambivalence, Marcy,” Brandon said, opening the trunk, then the cooler. He pulled out a line with six fish hanging by their mouths, eyes open, one flipping its tail slightly. “I am ambivalent to your concerns. I'll fillet these first then freeze them.”
He held the fish up, looked them over as he walked over to the faucet at the side of the house.
“Oh and Marcy, you may want to wash your bumper, dear.”
My roses looked like thorny weeds that gathered together for comfort. I stood by the three bushes with an axe in my hand. I was going to chop them first then haul them away. I didn't spray this summer because I read an article about rose sprays and their contribution to cancer, asthma and probably global warming.
I chopped the first bush at its base, cut through a few thick branches and twigs, then picked up the shovel and started digging at its root.
Bart was in the driveway with his basketball, and Sadie, who always jumped for the rebound, was barking. Although it was almost noon, Lonnie was still in bed, or probably stoned, feigning sleep. Both boys had been very sweet to Ellen, offering to help her find a puppy, expressing their fury over the accident. Lonnie read my letter to the editor and wondered why so many words were devoted to global warming when a dog was dead. Kids rarely saw the big picture.
I saw her slippers first, the white ones that looked like two rabbit butts, with their little balls popping off the ends. Her whisper sounded like the wind. She whispered again, “Why are you killing...” The basketball bounced.
I stood up, dropped my shovel. She remained there, between her Hemlocks, in her T-shirt, jeans, hair clipped up on top of her head, a few strands streaming down the side of her face. Her glasses were thick and magnified her eyes, giving her a manic look.
“What do you mean, killing? And why are you wearing slippers?” I said.
“Your roses. Why are you killing roses?”
I stood a moment, letting this sink in—Ellen out in her yard, wearing slippers that looked like rabbits, contacts not in yet, interested in my roses.
“You need to get a puppy, Ellen.”
“If you had fertilized them and sprayed, they would've been OK. There's no need to do this, Marcy. No need to destroy these bushes. I would have taken them.”
“Well, I killed one.”
She said nothing.
“So, the letter? I am sending it in,” I continued. “It'll help you get over things, you know. Anger helps.” The basketball bouncing stopped, and I heard Bart go back inside.
“Anger at global warming?”
“Well, yeah, and Henry.”
Lonnie was now in the yard with jeans and no shirt. He scratched his head and looked over at us, waving listlessly at Ellen.
“It was an accident, Marcy. Someone probably hit him then got scared or something. They just couldn't bring themselves to tell someone they killed their dog. I'm going to be OK.”
“Maybe you should look into rescue dogs. I may get one. I was thinking a dog for Sadie. We can both go. There are dogs, Ellen, who need us out there. Dogs who have been abused.”
She shrugged, looked around at the trees and bushes that lined the property, as if trying to decide whether to cross over into my yard. There was no wind, and the still air was heavy. Lonnie called out to me, something about breakfast. Bart was now up on the roof, tossing a tennis ball down to Sadie.
“It was an accident,” Ellen said again.
I could send the letter to the editor. I could buy her a puppy or help her adopt a rescue dog. I could cross over this property into hers and tell her I killed Henry.
“I want to move forward,” she said.
Before she could respond, I took the axe and swung at the root.