By Joshua Bodwell
(Previously Published by AMBIT, London, UK)
“You could write a story about this ashtray, for example, and a man and woman. But the man and woman are always the two poles of your story. The North Pole and the South. Every story has these two poles – he and she.” —Anton Chekhov
My wife looks flush when she comes into the house. There is a sadness in her face. It is early on a cold fall morning. I’ve just gotten up to get ready for work, and I’m in no mood for any of her dramas. The overhead lights in the kitchen mix with the half-light of morning coming in through the windows. My wife comes in the back door and stands there, right in that light. I think that she might start crying. I ask her what’s wrong.
“It’s the dog,” she says. “Someone just hit the dog.”
“What are you talking about?” I ask. “Just now? Someone hit the dog just now?”
“Yes,” she says, quietly, “just now.” She is looking away from me, out the window above the sink. I wonder if I should move to her, take her in my arms. It seems like she always wants to be held. I’m barely awake, nothing makes sense.
“Jesus,” I say. “Is she all right? Is the dog all right?”
“She’s fine, just shaken I guess. The boy hit her backend, spun her around. But she’s fine. He must not have been going very fast.”
“Where’s this kid that hit the dog,” I ask, looking out the window.
“I told him he should go on, get to his job.”
“How old was this kid?”
“I don’t know. Twenty-one. Maybe older.”
“Twenty-one? That’s no kid, that’s an adult. At least in the eyes of the law it is.” She just stares at me. “An adult should be more responsible, leave a phone umber or something. What if the dog is bleeding internally or something? What if he did some serious damage?” I ask. “What did this kid look like? Did you get his name or anything?”
“No,” she says. “I told him that everything was fine, that the dog was fine.”
I can’t understand why she’d let him go. What if the dog is hurt? Who is going to pay the doctors bills? I’m not going to pay the goddamned bills. It is too early to think straight about anything. I need a shower and I need some coffee. Then I’ll deal with this thing. I’ll talk to my wife and see what this kid said. Maybe he’d told her his name or where he worked.
In the shower I lower my head and let the water run down my neck and back. It feels good just be there under that water. I try not to think about the day ahead. I try not to think about the dog. But even as I towel off, I cannot put away the thought of some kid, some little shit, hitting our dog. Christ, he must have been flying.
I dress without thinking about what I am doing. I have to drop the girls at school and get on to work; I have an early meeting. There are a couple big shipments coming in, and I want to be there when they’re unloading the trucks. I’ve got two new people starting today, too and they’ll need training. When would I have time to deal with finding this kid? Why did my wife have to let the kid go without waking me? Didn’t she know I’d want to talk to him; that I’d want to say something to set the kid straight?
As I pull my shoes on, I think of what it must be like when metal hits flesh. It scares me and I stand up quickly, wanting to shake the thought from my head. I leave the bedroom and walk down the hallway to the girls’ room. The sun is almost all the way up now and it casts a bright light into the hallway. It is hard just being a husband on mornings like these; I have no idea how to be a father to these girls. I often feel overwhelmed. I don’t know what I’ll do if they end up like their mother.
I wake the girls; tell them to get ready for school. Back in the hallway, I pause for a moment outside my sixteen-year-old son’s door, wondering whether or not I should wake him. I decide to let the boy sleep; he’s useless anyhow. Weeks ago I told him: “You’re old enough now. You need to set your alarm and get yourself up in the morning.” I just got so tired of having to bang on his door and then stick my head in to threaten him every day, I finally said: “You get your shit together and get yourself up.”
I go down to the kitchen to make some coffee. My wife is sitting at the little kitchen table. She is staring out the large picture window into the empty side yard. She seems to be looking past our yard, to the marsh and creek. The tide is higher than I’ve seen it in a long time. The creek has overflowed the banks and it looks strange, all of the sea-grass covered in dark water. I walk past my wife to the counter. I take the empty coffee pot to the sink and fill it.
“I had to tell him something. I had to.”
“What?” I ask, pouring the water into the top of the coffeemaker. I pull the drawer open to put in a filter and coffee, but it’s already been done. I switch the button to “on” and turn back to my wife.
“That boy,” she says, “the one who hit the dog…I had to tell him something. You should have seen the look in his eyes. He was so upset with the thing, with the accident. But I put my hand on his arm; I told him that everything was going to be fine. I looked him right in eyes and told him that. I had to, the poor thing looked like he couldn’t believe he was even in his own skin.”
My wife goes on talking. I just stand there and listen. She tells me that she’d been up early; she couldn’t sleep for some reason. I hadn’t even heard her leave the bed. She says that she was standing in front of the sink, that she was getting ready to fix some coffee, when she heard the terrible screech of tires. She had run to the living room window at the front of the house. She had pulled back the curtains and looked out but there was only a truck pulled over in the front yard, its driver’s side door wide open. Then at the back door there was a banging. It scared her, she says. Surprised her in a way she wasn’t used to. When she opened the door this kid was standing there. His mouth was moving quickly and he was telling my wife that he had just hit our dog. I don’t say anything now, I just listen to my wife speak. I can’t believe that none of the commotion had woken me.
My wife tells me how upset the kid was, that he was almost crying. She says that the dog was in the side yard and she called her over. She says that the dog looked normal, like nothing had even happened. She says that the kid couldn’t believe that the dog was okay. The kid thought he’d killed her but he’d hit the dog just right and simply spun her ass-end around.
“I told him the dog’s name,” my wife says. “I told him that Harriet was going to be fine. I think that meant a lot to him, knowing the dog’s name. The boy told me that he had seen the look on Harriet’s face just after he’d struck her. Then he placed his hand over his heart and looked at me as if to say that speaking the words to describe the look on Harriet’s face when he struck her would break his heart.”
I can barely stand to listen now. My wife is going on and on about the boy. I’m trying to ignore her, trying to think of how to go about my day. I look from my wife to the coffeemaker and back to my wife. I start to feel like I might yell at her now, like I can’t hold in my frustration any longer. Then I hear the girls coming down the stairs; I hear their laughing.
“Christ, honey,” I say. “That kid must have been flying, that’s all there is to it. He was flying. Now, we won’t say anything about this to the girls, it’ll just upset them. They don’t need any of this.” I turn to take a coffee mug from the cupboard.
And then my wife says my name — Jack — softly and sort of trailing off. It gives me a chill.
“We need to, Jack,” she says. “We should say something. The girls need to know that a car hit the dog and that she’s fine. They need to know that this boy didn’t try to run her down, wasn’t trying to kill her. I want the girls to know that, Jack. They need to know that. They need to know about accidents. About mistakes.”
“We need to know about what mommy?” my youngest says.
My wife looks over to me. I don’t say a thing, I just stare back into her eyes. There’s something there, in her eyes, and I can’t say what exactly. She turns to the girls and begins to tell the story again. Right then, my son walks sleepily into the kitchen.
My wife keeps talking but I’m done with trying to listen. I can’t believe what she’s saying. I can’t believe how much she seems to care about this fucking kid, this kid that could have killed our dog. When she gets like this, I don’t know how to talk to her. I cannot for the life of me put together a string of words to make all of this right.
Editor’s Note: Joshua Bodwell is the associate editor and senior writer of Maine Home+Design magazine. A former reporter and columnist for the York County Coast Star, his journalism garnered first place awards from the Maine Press Association for investigative reporting and analysis reporting; his columns about Maine won two second place awards from the New England Press Association.