She stands over the kitchen counter wearing a white dress with flowers. It is a dress he remembers from the time of their beginning. He would palm her knee. They sat, his bare feet on top of hers. The days were only just minutes then.
She is slightly hunched over as he stares. She still looks good in that dress with her soft hair flowing over her shoulders, the tendrils slightly wet with sweat. He is ashamed to want her and she, realizing what is going on, turns her head slightly looking over her shoulder, a motion as simple as exhaling a cigarette, as if to say, “Fuck you.”
His stomach is tense. He turns and faces the television. Red Sox and the Angels. Who knows what the score is? When he faces her again, she is smoking a cigarette. It is killing her. She does not care. She is dead already,” She says. “It doesn’t matter anyway.”
“Used to be,” he says. “There were no smoking allergies. People would smoke at home, in their cars, at bars and restaurants. Never seemed to affect anybody. Now the only place you can smoke is outside and even then there are places you can’t smoke.”
She doesn’t say anything. She inhales, and then exhales again. “Great,” he adds, just loud enough for her to hear.
Her boy bounds out of his bedroom. “What’s for lunch?” He stands between her, at the kitchen window, and the man on the couch. He is eleven. He has been here before. “Soon,” she says. “Lunch will be soon.” He runs over to hug her. Her arms hang at her sides so he walks away to the man. “She’s really mad, isn’t she?”
“Yes,” the man says quietly. “I heard her say some things. I heard everything. You’re not leaving, are you?” “I don’t know.” “When will you know?” “I don’t.” He runs his hand through the short prickly hair on the boy’s neck and rests his nose near the boy’s scalp. He needs a shower. “I’ll make you some lunch. Do you want pasta or a sandwich?” “Any turkey?” “I’ll have to look.” “Ok. I’ll take Peeve for a walk.” Peeve was the man’s pet.
“He’s already been walked”
“Sandwich will be ready when you get back.”
The storm door banged shut behind the boy and the dog.
“He heard,” the man says. She is washing the dishes. He gets up and walks over behind her. “He heard.”
“Don’t talk. I think you should just go.”
“Yes, that’s what you said.” She continues scrubbing a dish in the same large circular motion. A sphere of soap bubbles hides the sponge.
“Where should I go?” There were no other dishes in the sink.
“Don’t talk. Pack a bag for a few days and come back for more of your stuff when I’m at work.”
“Are you sure this time?”
“Oh fuck, Larry.”
“Ok, don’t get upset.” She slams the dish into the sink. “Ok,” he says.
He walks away as her shoulders heave silently. He looks at the walls as he walks to the bedroom. They need to be painted. They’ve been that way for a while. Someone will have to do it. It’s a small house. A few strides and you can walk from back to front. Today it takes a long time. It takes a long time to pack too. He sits on the bed and watches the TV for a while. The game has ended. He watches for a few hours. Someone talks. It’s a paid program.
He packs two of everything in his overnight bag. He should pack some more stuff. It might rain. He zips the bag instead. The wind is blowing hard off the ocean. That is where the boy walks the dog. The boy he has not made a sandwich for. He knows she won’t. When she is like this she just looks out the window. He knows she is still there. He carries the bag out to the living room.
“Did you feed him?” he asks.
“I thought you were.”
“No. He went for a walk. Where is he?”
“I don’t know.” Adrenaline charges his body, his hands cocked at his side as if he is ready to hit someone. He will not hit her today. “You don’t know?” He turns and heads up the hall knocks on the boy’s door. There is no answer. Stupid thought. His dog would have greeted him if he were home. He shouts from the rear of the house. “He’s not here. He’s not back.”
“Where is he?” she asks.
“He went for a walk...on the beach”
“That was hours ago!” he shouts. The woman turns. Looks at him for the first time all morning. “I’ll get my sweater.”
They walk together, on Cliff Road. He looks for footprints. The boy’s or the dog’s, where Peeve walks to the side to urinate. He sees nothing. They walk past the houses where in between there are openings to the rocky cliffs, perched over the water. She walks down a few of the paths. The boy wouldn’t go there, but the man stays quiet. She looks over, down to the rocks. “Let’s keep walking,” she says.
“Shouldn’t we call someone?” he asks.
“No. Not yet.”
They walk past another fifteen houses, to a main pathway where the man usually walks the dog. It’s an eight of a mile to the beach, through a marshy area. Boards are laid down so you don’t sink in the muck. Every winter they get washed away. The boards clap against one another as they walk over them. They don’t echo in the wide-open space. When they reach the beach, she is calling the boy’s name. Her dress blows against the inside of her thighs, hugging them. He watches her, then looks all the way down the empty beach. In autumn, no one comes here. He calls the dog. He expects it to bound back. It doesn’t come. They continue to call out names. They can see out for miles. There is nothing to see. Sand fills the cuffs of the man’s pants.
They head back. “Maybe someone grabbed him,” she says.
“We should call when we get back.”
“They’ll just want us to wait. Tell us to wait.”
“They’ll do whatever they can,” he says. That’s what they always say.
“We can organize a search or something.” Her voice tries to sound strong. It quivers. Her chin juts out, her mouth pulls back as if on a tension line. He reaches for her hand and she pulls it away. “We need to keep walking,” she says. He looks at her. She nods her head. “My son is missing,” she says calmly. “We need to get back. Don’t do this.”
“What am I doing?”
“You’re trying….you’re just…just….FUCK, can you leave me alone for a minute. We have to go back and find him. I don’t have time for this.” Her arms fly away from her body as she speaks. Cars drive by, but none of them stop. It’s not at that point yet. She walks quickly, ten feet in front of him. He wonders what he is doing. Daylight hints at leaving.
They reach the top of the hill. The house is visible. There is a car in the driveway. The porch light is on. The woman starts to run. The door opens and the dog races to him, bumps into his legs, jumps in his vicinity. He puts his hand out. The dog licks it. He strokes the dog’s snout. The dog’s hips swivel from the weight of his tail. He is a good dog. He approaches the driveway. Squeezes himself between the bushes and her husband’s SUV. It is blocking his car there. He looks in through the screen door at them embracing. The husband has brought four bags into the living room. There is a plastic bag from Toys-R-Us. The man opens the door to take his own bag. The woman says his name. The husband reaches out to shake his hand. He thanks him for understanding. He tells him that some things just have to be tried. It was a good thing that he had done. No hard feelings. The man and the husband shake hands. He offers to move his car. “You don’t have to right away,” the man says. He picks up the bag and the dog’s lease. He hooks it onto the dog. It will be dark when he gets back.