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.