M.R. Sheffield

Henry Miller is the Real Deal====

Ella at first didn’t reg­is­ter the strange­ness of the dog inside her house. She even absent­ly pat­ted his head as he shuf­fled from the liv­ing room to her bed­room, and with a tired kind of grunt jumped up onto her bed and snuf­fled his way under the com­forter. It took see­ing him there, a lump under the cov­ers, for her to open her mouth in an ‘o’ of aston­ish­ment. “We don’t have a dog, Mark? Honey?”

And she took off through the house, first look­ing for her hus­band, Mark, and then, as she allowed aware­ness to creep in, look­ing for a note or a sign of him; his shoes, maybe, or half-full cof­fee mug. There was noth­ing.

In his clos­et: noth­ing.

His side of the bath­room cab­i­net: noth­ing.

In the attic: noth­ing except her Christmas dec­o­ra­tions marked with a red sharpie “Fucking XMAS dec­o­ra­tions” because she’d thought it would be fun­ny to see that when she opened the box every year.

His side of the bed: not even an indent from his body. No warmth in the sheets. She pulled back the cov­ers and eyed the dog. He slept, sigh­ing occa­sion­al­ly. He was a rather big dog, maybe fifty pounds. Some kind of mix between Rottweiler and German Sheppard.  Kind of intim­i­dat­ing with his sleek fur and sharp lit­tle ears. But he didn’t look too scruffy or hun­gry or angry. With trep­i­da­tion, repeat­ing to her­self be gen­tle, move slow­ly she leaned to pet him.

The dog opened his eyes, tail wag­ging, and scoot­ed clos­er to her, bury­ing his snout in her armpit. “Hey, there, boy,” she said, sweep­ing a hand down his coat, scratch­ing behind his ears. “Where did you come from, huh?”

So did Mark leave her? Did he dis­ap­pear? A chok­ing noise at the back of her throat and then she was sob­bing, press­ing her face into the dog’s coat. Her hus­band gone to the point she won­dered if she’d dreamed him, or if she was dream­ing now, or whether or not he’d turned into this large, slob­ber­ing, patient ani­mal who allowed her to hold onto him with no com­plaint. Who gave no growl, no indi­ca­tion of annoy­ance as her tears fell hot onto his coat.

She got up out of bed, prac­ti­cal­ly run­ning for her cell­phone. The dog got up slow­ly and fol­lowed behind her. He def­i­nite­ly wasn’t a pup­py, she thought as she scrolled through her phone book. Mark’s num­ber wasn’t there, wasn’t even in her cell. It was sup­posed to be under AA Mark, so he’d show up first in the list. So she couldn’t miss him. A sharp pang of some­thing like remorse cut through her and she bent over, gasp­ing. The dog imme­di­ate­ly next to her, paw­ing at her, and she rubbed his head until it sub­sided.

Maybe I’m crazy, she thought. Maybe this is a psy­chot­ic episode. That didn’t seem impos­si­ble. Her father suf­fered from bipo­lar dis­or­der. Meds kept him most­ly nor­mal, but every few years he went off them and had episodes. Magical think­ing doesn’t even come close. There was once he’d tried to con­vince them they were all eter­nal – that they didn’t need to eat or drink, and that doing so made clear to their lead­ers that they were unfit. Not ready for their real lives to begin in glo­ry and so much music.

But Ella had met Mark in col­lege. They’d tak­en biol­o­gy togeth­er. And then she’d tutored his lit­tle broth­er in alge­bra. They’d got­ten mar­ried almost ten years ago on a beach in a park. And she’d worn her aunt’s wed­ding dress. And when they’d kissed she’d been embar­rassed and so hap­py. They’d tried for years to have kids until they gave up. And Mark liked meat­loaf and French toast and he liked to iron his tie in the morn­ing even if it wasn’t wrin­kled.

The dog nudged her hand. Maybe he’s hun­gry, she thought. So she made him eggs and bacon and toast with jam and cream cheese and set it before him on the floor. The dog ate the entire meal in what seemed like one gigan­tic gulp. He looked at her, tilt­ing his head to the side and then trot­ted back to her bed­room.

She bit the end of a piece of toast. It tast­ed chalky some­how. A sip of cof­fee and the same taste in her mouth. She walked slow­ly to her bed­room and got into bed. Pulled the cov­ers up over her­self and the dog. Dreamed of a man who came home from work on time every day, who bought flow­ers on anniver­saries and who cooked din­ner once a week. She dreamed of a man named Mark who had read every­thing Henry Miller ever wrote, and who could dis­ap­pear like smoke.

~

M.R. Sheffield lives in South Florida with a cat who keeps a blog (he doesn’t know it’s cliché for a cat to be on the Internet) here: whyismycatsosad.blogspot.com. She’s been pub­lished in Epiphany, Spring Gun, PANK online, and oth­er jour­nals.