Cally stayed at Johnís on Sunday night because Monday was
Veteranís Day and she didnít have to work. This was perfectly
fine with John who didnít have a job and didnít keep track of
the days of the week, say nothing of holidays. He lived in a
sprawling apartment on Central Park West by some mysterious
arrangement, while Cally lived with a roommate in Brooklyn,
which was convenient to her job at J.P. Morgan, down on Wall
Street, where she answered phones and made plane reservations to
places sheíd never been for people sheíd never met.
In fact, Callyís trip to Rhode Island to begin college at
Brown University was only the second time sheíd been outside
Minnesota, the other time being one summer when she went to
language camp at Moorhead State and she and some other kids got
bored and drove over to shop at a mall in Fargo, North Dakota.
She and John had started dating her senior year at Brown,
after she had finally started to feel comfortable enough to
reveal her tentative sense of humor. It wasnít that she was
afraid of not being funny, it was just that funny thoughts never
occurred to her unless she felt completely comfortable and her
mind could kind of relax and let them in. At Brown this level of
relaxation had taken three and half years to achieve, but when
she did, John Brotherton was the first to notice and fall madly
in love with her. Now two years later he had every intention of
marrying her, but he wanted to be sure she could take care of
herself, that she had known what the working world was really
like, so if in the future she ever thought of leaving him she
would have a indelible impression of something to which she
would never ever want to return. John had never worked himself,
but the idea that someone would demand that he be somewhere
every day from one particular time to another, during which he
would have no freedom and not make enough money to ever actually
buy an apartment like the one he lived in now for free was a
thought so frightening he was sure living such a reality would
bond Cally to him forever, after love lost its freshness and his
eccentricities became less charming.
That Monday morning Cally woke to the sound of John swearing
in the kitchen. She kept her eyes closed as she heard his
footsteps moving toward her down the hall, weighing whether to
pretend she was sleeping. It was more honest, she thought, to
let him know she was awake, but as it turned out she didnít have
to decide because he knocked on the door, low, with his foot.
"Cally? Iím sorry, baby, but can you open the door for me?"
Cally opened the door to find John shirtless in his pajama
bottoms with Brock and Shelley, his two new Newfoundland
puppies, one under each arm.
"One of them has the shits and I canít clean it up because
they keep walking in it."
Soon Cally was kneeling over the tub, her knees cushioned
from the tiles by one of Johnís ridiculously thick towels, as
she washed the puppiesí feet with orange blossom shower gel. She
laughed and started to feel lighter, the puppies were having
such a good time in the water. She rinsed them off then dried
them with two more thick towels that someone else would wash.
She was not allowed to come out until John had finished cleaning
the kitchen floor, so Cally sat against the door to wait. The
puppies squirmed and rolled and, suddenly very frisky, started
running around, slipping and sliding on the tiles.
In the kitchen, John had made Cally coffee. She pulled up a
stool to the eat-in counter, the wood smooth against her bare
thighs. She liked to "parade around in her underwear," as John
said, when he pretended to protest it.
"What do you want to do today? I have the day off," Cally
"You do? Thatís right. We should do something fun," John
replied, as he searched for the lid to his coffee cup. Last week
at a tea shop he had been so pleased to find a mug with a lid,
because he so hates it when his coffee gets cold, even just a
"Letís walk across the park and go to the Met," Cally
John took a quick sip then quickly covered the mug with its
matching ceramic lid. "Are you sure?"
"Sure? . . . hmmm, yes, Iím sure."
"I mean, itís just going to be so crowded. Everyone will go
to the Met on their day off. Itís a lot more fun to zig when
everybody else zags."
Cally wanted to remind John that she had to zig when she
could, that she didnít have day after endless day to do what she
pleased. "Well, what is the opposite of going to the Met?"
"Teaching an art class to underprivileged third-graders,"
John answered hastily, as if he already knew she would ask that.
"Where do we find third-graders, then?"
John uncovered his coffee and took a satisfyingly hot sip
then quickly covered it again. "If I could draw, I would
actually do that," he said.
"We could read stories to kids at the Public Library," Cally
"Thereís only about half a million people in this city who
want to do that," John replied, not meanly.
"Or we could write a childrenís story. About Brock and
Shelley," Cally said.
John raised his eyebrows and for the second before they
dropped back down it seemed a real possibility.
Instead he reluctantly placed his coffee on the counter,
cocked his head like one of the pups and asked, "Would you lie
down with me and tickle my back?"
The puppies followed Cally and John down the hall to the
bedroom. John threw the pillows off the bed and crawled under
the covers, arranging them so they only covered his legs. Then
he flopped his torso down like a seal, his head turned toward
the window. Cally sat cross-legged next to him as if his long
lean back were a campfire, and she ran her nails lightly in
rows, up and down, methodically making sure every inch of his
back was touched.
"My mom never did this," he said. "But I think Iíd rather
have this now. Because with my mom it wouldnít have lasted
"Well, it would have been nice to have it then and now,"
Cally said softly. She wanted John to face his anger toward his
mother. Sheíd started to do this herself in therapy last year,
only it was anger about her father. She had hit a dark spell
after graduation, when she realized that she could never go back
to Minnesota, but she couldnít stay in college either. She
really had had no idea where she should go.
John let his arms drop more heavily against the bed. "Did you
see that?" he said. "I just thought to myself, Iím not relaxed,
and then when I realized it, I could just let it all go."
"Thatís great, sweetie."
"The thing I was thinking before I realized I wasnít totally
relaxed, was how anxious I was in boarding school and how I used
to imagine that my mother was sitting on the edge of my bed
tickling my back so I could fall asleep."
"Didnít she ever visit you?"
"She and my Dad would come take me out to dinner
Callyís arm was getting tired, so she switched hands.
"Whatís the nicest thing your mom would do when you were
growing up?" John asked.
Cally thought for a minute. The first thought she had was of
her mother emerging from the bathroom in her bra and waisty
underwear, pausing and then coming into the living room where
she and her brother Tom were watching TV, and announcing, "I
just wanted to apologize to you for flying off the handle. Iíve
got my period." And then she had pressed her lips into a minimal
smile and gone into her bedroom to get dressed. Cally remembered
the word "period" richocheting around the room, while she prayed
Tom wouldnít ask her what that was, but Tom had only looked at
her and made a grotesque face by hooking his little fingers in
his nostrils and bending his ears forward.
"When I had the flu she would scrape fresh apple for me, then
feed me just a teaspoon a minute to be sure I could keep it
John was silent then said, "Thatís really enviable."
It was time to take the puppies out, as they were in the
middle of house training. Cally, John, Brock, and Shelley
entered the park at 72nd Street and turned left so
they could walk under the arbor, where the sun dappled happily
through, reminding Cally there was nothing to be unhappy about.
As soon as they reached the grass, Brock squatted and peed,
looking slightly embarrassed, as if he wasnít sure he was doing
it right, but when he finished he ran off quickly, already
forgetting, unreeling the flexi-leash to its abrupt limit.
"Shit, I didnít get to praise him. Itís the most important
part," John said.
"Youíll get another chance. Probably fifteen chances just
today," Cally said, helpfully.
"Will you praise him, too?" he asked.
"Of course I will."
"Iíd like us to do this together as much as possible."
"Thatís what I want, too," Cally said, lurching forward to
kiss his cheek as they walked, to disguise the distance that
rose up in her whenever she felt he was testing her.
Now Shelley was peeing. In confident contrast to Brock, she
stared straight ahead in concentration and wouldnít be rushed.
"GOOD girl. Good GIRL!" John cooed, while Cally overlapped,
"Shelley, what a good puppy. What a good puppygirl."
This put Cally and John to laughing, which sort of catapulted
John into a run. Clutching one plastic-housed leash in each
hand, he passed the puppies, their leads reeling back in, and
when they saw him pass, they began sprinting in pure joy at this
surprising new development. Cally watched them, smiling, not
wanting to think what she was thinking: that feeling happy with
John was often punctuated by a sudden evaporation of doubt that
she hadnít even noticed was there.
Brock and Shelley were tired as only puppies can be after
their romp in the park, so John put them in their little crates,
which he had lined with sheepís skin, then suggested that he and
Cally shower and go out for lunch. His favorite place served
until 4:00 and it was 3:30 now, so they could just make it.
Over a small table with a sprig of flowers to one side, Cally
watched John peruse the menu. His dark hair, still wet from the
shower, was parted just an inch above his right ear, like a bald
manís comb-over, only his hair was not at all thinning so it
made a rather exaggerated mound over the top of his head. This
was not how he normally wore it; it was just something he did
out of boredom. One day he had worn one of Callyís turtlenecks
to dinner, purposely liking how small it looked and how the hem
landed just at his navel. She had gotten mad, the sweater was
cashmere, one she liked wearing to work. His friends, however,
had smiled admiringly at him, and when heíd reached for a piece
of bread, the sleeve stretching thin around his mid-forearm,
several had tittered and muttered congratulatory-sounding things
like "you freak, I love you."
"Iím not asking you what you are having," Cally said.
"And Iím not asking you," John said, his eyes still
rigorously searching the menu.
The waitress came and dropped off glasses of water, saying
sheíd return in a minute to take their orders.
"Thank you," John said, turning his head and using an effort
and volume that made Cally want to tell him to shut up.
John watched Callyís face while he chugged half of his water,
as if wanting her to watch. "I was really thirsty," he said when
"After lunch, I think Iíll head back to Brooklyn," Cally
"And youíre announcing that now because . . . ?"
"It was on my mind, so I said it."
John nodded with short bobs, the way he did when
acknowledging that sheíd spoken a simple truth to which there
was no reasonable rejoinder.
This way he had of weighing the truth got to her, as she
often felt she was receiving an affirmation she didnít ask for.
Even when they were making love, and Cally would whisper "I love
you, John," she could feel him assess the truth of it, like a
piece of fruit tossed in the hand, smelled, and then either
returned to the stack or consumed.
The waitress returned and John ordered the Eggs Benedict with
smoked salmon and Cally ordered the frittata.
"Was that really what you were going to order?" he said, as
soon as the waitress disappeared.
"I thought for sure you were going to order the Benedict, and
it would be a draw."
They often played a game to see who had ordered the better
item. Usually it was pretty easy to agree who had ordered the
tastiest dish, and when they ordered the same thing they called it a
"Eggs Benedict was a good guess," Cally said.
"I just didnít want to lose today."
"You wouldnít lose. Thatís not why we play."
"Maybe itís not why you play."
Cally paused then purposely changed the subject. "What are
you up to this week?"
"Well, I thought Iíd look for a job. Robís dad is casting
something. I think Iíd be good at casting."
"What about Brock and Shelley?"
"You know, Alexís new girlfriend, whatís her name? Nathalie?
Did you know she works at CNN? You should hang with her. You
could do better than desking it at J.P."
"Not ambitchous enough for you, eh?" Cally joked.
"You donít have to be a Ďbitchí to live up to your potential.
Ever heard of feminism? Baby, you went to Brown, for Godís
sake." In the course of unfurling this blow, John flagged down
the waitress and ordered two mimosas.
Sometimes Cally was keenly aware that had she not gone to
language camp at Moorhead State or won the state geography
contest and thus gotten into Brown University, she would not be
sitting in a picturesque cafť on the Upper West Side of
Manhattan wedged among strollers that could conquer the
Himalayas if need be, sitting across from a bright, attractive,
wealthy young man who pressed boundaries every chance he got
just because he could. And if she had not gone to Brown but
stayed in Byron and if John had gotten a whim to drive across
country and stopped into Frank ní Steinís bar and found her
drinking Bud Lite drafts with her friend Mary, she doubted
whether heíd have looked twice at her. If he would have given
her the time of day.
When the food came, John took a bite of his Benedict and
immediately dropped his fork into the middle of his plate, as if
heíd lost muscle control. "My God. Cally, this is fucking
awesome. I think I won after all. You gotta taste it."
Cally took him in: the smile on his face, his asymmetrical
hair, the apple flush in his cheeks from the mimosa, and his
plush lips that looked expensive, they did, like his towels, and
she tried to find that sparkle in herself, that spontaneous
humor that meant she was okay. But she couldnít find it, so she
opted for something to just end the subject without getting them
into a fight. "Baby, I donít even need to. This frittata fucking
"I love when you say Ďfucking,í" he said.
They walked back to Johnís apartment holding hands. The days
were getting shorter; it was already dusk. By the time Cally had
packed up her moisturizer and her iPod, her favorite thick
socks, and her collection of magazines and books to read on the
subway, and she and John and the puppies descended the elevator
and walked across the dazzling marble floor of the lobby one
more time, night had fallen and it had grown colder.
Energized by napping, the puppies bobbled and darted between
John and Cally, as they walked to the subway station.
"Have a good day at work tomorrow," John said, pausing at the
Something uncertain hung between them, but when John put both
leashes in one hand so he could use the other to cup Callyís
cheek and kiss her with such pure intention, it fell away.
She turned into the station, hooked her bag over her
shoulder, and bumped her way through the turnstile.
The local train arrived first, so Cally got on it. She just
wanted to keep moving, and she probably wouldnít have to wait
long for the express at 42nd Street. She got a seat,
which was a relief. She lifted the strap of her bag over her
head and lowered it to the dirty floor between her feet. Across
from her was an adorable yellow lab in a leather halter, with
the designated signs on the sides which read, "Please donít pet
me now, Iím at work."
The dogís owner was an elderly man, with watery blue eyes and
a freshly pressed plaid shirt under his navy blue zippered
jacket. He was wearing a baseball hat embroidered with a
military emblem and the words 121st Infantry
Division, World War II. She wondered if heíd been there on
D-Day, if heíd been among those thousands of men on the beach at
The dog sat quietly between his knees. The man didnít appear
to be blind; his disability wasnít clear. Cally wanted to say
something. Something like "Thank you for fighting. It means a
lot to me." But that sounded so small, so insubstantial compared
with what heíd done. What would her gratitude really mean
anyway, when she had spent Veteranís Day doing nothing, with
someone entitled to do nothing. She hadnít thought about a
single soldier all day, not even the ones in Iraq.
Still, she wanted to say something, but at 66th
Street the train filled with more people, and now there was a
group of teenage girls separating her and the Veteran. She could
still see his dog, who had backed in as close as possible to the
seat, because the purse of one girl hung on a long strap, and it
kept nearly hitting the dogís nose as they bent over with
laughter and swayed with the movement of the train. A space
cleared between Cally and the Veteranís face and she could see
he was getting angry, as if the girl were doing it on purpose.
Cally wanted to reach out and tap the girl on the arm, so she
would be aware, but before she could do it, the Veteran reached
out and pushed the girl, nearly yelling, "Canít you see what
The girl gained her footing and glared at him, then turned
back to the safety of her friends. The Veteran looked wild in
the eyes, furious. It seemed disproportionate and Cally couldnít
help wondering if the girl had been an all-American blond like
her, and not black, would he have pushed her? She suddenly
noticed a handsome young black boy of about seventeen in a
hooded Knicks jacket staring hard at the Veteran from across the
train. He was obviously thinking the same thing. At 50th
Street, the train got even more crowded. The girlís purse was
bouncing again, so the dog, probably against all his rigid
training, tried to get up and move. The Veteran burst from his
seat in exasperation and was making his way toward the train
door, when the boy in the Knicks jacket pushed him off-balance,
and said, "Howíd you like it?"
The Veteran caught his balance and whirled around. "You want
a piece of me, kid?"
"You donít push girls," the boy said.
"You punkass kid. Letís take it outside."
The boy just smirked and looked away, but as soon as the
Veteran turned back around, the subway door opened and the boy
pushed him hard, so that he stumbled out the door. The dog
whimpered, which prompted the Veteran to wail, "Let me through
God damn it," but then he turned around as soon as he was on the
platform. "Címon kid. Get out here! You want a piece of me? You
want a piece of me?"
Most people stepped off the train as if the Veteran werenít
even there and just kept moving, but a gentle, tired-looking
businessman tried to calm him by resting his hand on the
Veteranís arm. The Veteran swatted the businessman away, nearly
hitting Cally as she slipped out. She stood to the side, in case
there was something she could do, hoping the boy would stay on
the train, which he did. The chime finally rang and the doors
closed, and the Veteran, visibly shaking, tugged his dog toward
the turnstiles, still yelling at the boy, seeming disoriented,
as if the incident had taken him to another place, not in New
York, not Veteranís Day, but a distant place heíd been put
against his will.
The businessman turned to Cally and said, "I saw that one
coming, but I didnít know what to do."
Cally nodded, trying to keep tears from creeping into the
corners of her eyes. She wanted to say ĎI could see both sides,í
but she only said, "Have a good evening." There was no way to
reconcile anything now.
She waited impatiently on the platform, checking several
times for the arrival of the express train. Finally a wobbling
headlight appeared in the distance, barreling down the tunnel,
and in seconds the trainís aluminum sides were streaking past,
the brakesí long squeal using up the last of everyoneís
tolerance. People pressed in around her from all sides, a
crowding of arms, chests, hips, and feet. Everyone waited, as if
quieting a collective scream, and when the doors opened,
together, in a heap, they threw themselves across the threshold.
Annie Bruno's work has appeared in Rubber City, Mr.
Beller's Neighborhood, and Dog Culture: Writers on the
Character of Canines. She lives in Los Angeles.