The Muse Eludes

 

Early January, balloons slowly deflating, the tree

still up, random red and green items scattered around.

A parched feeling, a lack of juice

in the leathery remains of last year.

 

Days are dark and like a miner, I cast

my flashlight beam into the depths,

there are only echoes.

People more clever, more juicy than me,

find gold.

 

I raise my face to the sky, praising the cold blue patch

sprawled between rain layers.

I puzzle at the sprinkles on my face

and realize the wind is blowing rainwater

off the live oak tree next door.

A micro-climate for me and my delicate dog,

who dislikes damp feet.

 

Today is the second day between rivers of rain.

The sun rose between buildings

and shone onto the bush at driveway’s edge.

Mist rose up like a spirit leaving the body,

a pure thing going home.

 

 

The Christmas Sweater

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The dog stood rooted in the doorway, in the middle of the hall. Her lower teeth jutted out of her mouth and her ears were back. She was wearing a red and white sweater with the words “Ho Ho Ho” down the back. She wouldn’t walk in it.

The party guests were dribbling in and floating past her, laughing and complimenting her. Her stubby tail wagged now and again, but nothing like it usually did, when there was no sweater.

During a lull between guests, the dog turned and walked stiffly to the front room where she had a bed. She stretched carefully onto it, not quite able to relax with the foreign apparatus pulling at her shoulders. Adding indignity to indecency, the polyester sweater was too small for a dog of her well-fed stature.

Sweater aside, her owner was generally one of the better humans. She fed, opened the door with little prompting, gave treats, and cleaned the toys when they’d gotten stiff from chewing. But today, she’d put the sweater on the dog. Today, she kept saying “Ho Ho Ho” while she made food without sharing it. Today, she sang like a howling beagle to music with bells. The dog sighed.

Eventually the dog drifted into a light-snoring sort of nap, interrupted when her owner came into the room. The woman teetered a bit, leaning to pet the dog. She’d brought a few bits of cheese, which she shared without requiring any action on the dog’s part.

The dog looked up at her person and put her ears back. The woman set her glass down on the mantle and lowered herself to the floor, sitting near the dog’s head. She looked into the dog’s brown eyes and cooed, “What a pretty girl.” The dog gazed back at her and burped. The woman laughed and pulled the sweater over the dog’s head, petting her, and planting a wet kiss on top of her furry head before returning to the party.

The dog stood and stretched her hind legs forward and backward, putting her butt in the air and her elbows down on the rug where the sweater had fallen. She picked it up by its fur-lined hood and shook it, breaking its neck. The dog pawed and gnawed at the sweater until only the mangled Ho Ho Ho remained.

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Across the street

When Betty won’t walk, I find myself standing at the end of the driveway (with her as far in the opposite direction as her leash allows) staring across the street. Sometimes I’m begging the gods for mercy or raging silently against my fate that has brought Betty to me, but usually I am looking out at the block around me, checking out the neighborhood. I presume my neighbors are behind their half-closed curtains wondering what the hell I’m doing and what the dog’s problem is. I’d like answers to those questions, too.

Since I’ve been standing there, I’ve realized the house a couple doors down is home to a prostitute (upstairs) and a drug dealer (downstairs). It’s funny I didn’t really notice their activities before Betty, but now they’re hard to miss.

The creepy guy who works at the small hardware store down the street came out of a house next door one day. I pretended not to notice, which was made harder when my husband stage whispered, “Is that the drug dealer?” Umm, no. Wrong house.

We have new neighbors directly across: a husband and wife duo who both work in higher ed, as do we. They have an elderly greyhound, a gazelle next to our boxer. They have made the house bright and homey. It’s hard not to look at it, to peep into their warmly lit curtain-less windows to see them happily reading in their fine leather chairs.

Sometimes if the night is especially dark and quiet, and I am adequately charming, Betty will cross the street and so we are able to look back across at our house with its dark curtains, flickering TV, peeling paint over stucco and the dead laurel bush. The moon rises in the south over our garage, and I contemplate our little life in bas relief.

Walking

I thought walking was the one form of exercise that would always be available to me. It was perfect, in a way, both an activity and a mode of transport.

Walking: It takes you places!

For a while, it was enough and then I grew impatient. I longed to feel the wind in my hair, so I picked up the pace. Then I ran. I loved to run. I felt like a flesh eating predator, like I could kill with my teeth, like I could vanquish a pile of virgins.

Then I got home, bent to untie my shoes, and could not get up. I lay on the floor, waiting to be released from the white hot agony that grabbed me at the slightest move.

These days I walk with a limp and my pace has slowed, but there’s more than one way to walk, so I got a dog to force me into better habits. Goodbye, YMCA, I’ve got a new plan called the Betty Method. Whoever heard of a dog that didn’t like to walk? I found her.

If conditions are perfect (not too hot or cold, not too wet or dry, not too loud, some dogs but only certain ones, some people but only nice-good smelling-mostly-quiet ones, flat terrain is best, grid pattern with wide open sight lines are preferred, tall grass is better than sand, natural and less urban, quiet but not too quiet, etc.) she will walk, IF there are treats (really good ones like fresh cooked chicken breast, ground turkey or hamburger and especially with melted cheese, chicken hearts, Grandma’s kosher crackers, hot dogs—turkey or beef-to name a few.) Please rotate treats weekly.

Mostly I sit watching Betty sleep and writing.

Age Appropriate

She sat on the leather chair across the room from her husband’s rented hospital bed. Looking at him sleeping, she sighed. He was home so he’d be comfortable in familiar surroundings. It’s too bad no one considered my comfort, Janice thought.

She and Tom had been married for 23 years—both of their second marriages. Well, it was her third, but the first one didn’t count because no on knew about it.

Tom was an adequate provider and their house was big enough that they could circle in their own orbits, intersecting in moments, briefly enjoyed or endured, depending.

Because Tom was sick, the care of his little dogs Mitzi and Mopsy had fallen to her. Regardless, they hovered near him, always with one eye on Tom. Janice could hardly convince them to go outside to do their business. When Tom was up and about, they ran to him frisking and tumbling every morning. He never had to ask them twice to go outside, even if the weather were horrible. Here she had been feeding and walking them for weeks, but still their enthusiasm was muted.

She’d begun to feel it was time those creatures began to share some of their devotion with her. After all, it was she who fed them, took them to the groomer, tossed that horrible spitty ball when they set it down on her slippers, picked up their feces—she paused here to shudder—yes, those girls really ought to be a little more affectionate to her.

She began to buy special treats for them, requiring that they jump onto her lap to get them. She spent hours one week coaxing them to her lap before the little knuckleheads figured out the game. She’d had a similar experience when she used the treats to get them to go on walks with her. As near as Janice could tell, they loved the treats, but tolerated her.

One morning an idea came to her when she was applying her moisturizer. Maybe the way to make the dogs love her was to actually become their treat! She hurried to the kitchen, opened the refrigerator and pulled out a stick of butter. She rubbed the stick over her face and hands . She lay down on the floor and waited for the dogs to find her.