My father always told me I didn’t have a soul. How could someone not like dogs? They were a condensed version of everything redeemable in people. I thought they were trying too hard. But I put up with the 25 pound beagle until I graduated high school and found an apartment lacking the tumbleweeds of brown, white, and black fur.
He was always more of a lover than me. My father. A gentle man that overcompensated for my ghost of a mother. She took off just before Alameda showed up. To me, the dog was a roommate whose only purpose was to lighten the rent to a tolerable weight, except in this case the rent was my father’s love. Eager. Attentive. Helpful. It wasn’t until after he disappeared, too, that the guilt from shunning this love unburied itself. Alameda’s bed appeared in my apartment.
He didn’t vanish in a car with another person to live another life in another place like my mother. The vehicle he left in was boxy and had lights on the top which remained unlit as they loaded him in the back. The heart attack erased any need for urgency. I held Alameda in my arms, the first time I had done so, and we watched the strangers gather him like a pile of shirts and socks on their way to the laundromat.
So when I came home one day to find the patio door in my living room slightly ajar, I froze and clutched my grocery bag. The apartment was quiet. No howling. No clicking of tiny claws across the hardwood floor. I had been granted the wish of my teenage years, but that wish had been rescinded after entering my current decade. Without Alameda, I had no connection with the previous ones.
My father would often joke about Alameda being his second child, but I knew she was actually his second wife. Sometimes, she’d jump up on the couch next to him as he watched the news. He’d hold her paw while keeping his eyes on the meteorologist. They took naps together. One second I was watching them sit contentedly, and then I found myself standing in the entrance to my kitchen listening to the yawning breeze through the open patio door.
She was gone for a week.
My apartment had never been so quiet. Everything echoed. Food was tasteless. Sleep was tiring. I ran through all the scenarios of why me and is it so bad to live in my apartment and all that, but I knew it was bullshit. The door was open, she smelled a hotdog or something, and that’s it. If I wanted to beat myself up for something, it should’ve been how I avoided asking my landlord to fix the faulty latch on the door. That was more realistic than Alameda growing spiteful because she didn’t get enough treats. Grief plays itself out in strange ways, though.
I didn’t live far from my father’s house, even though it wasn’t his house anymore. He didn’t build it, he didn’t design it, so whoever’s name was on the deed had just as much of a right to it as my childhood memories. That didn’t stop me from walking past it. Alameda still pulled toward the driveway. I stared at the windows like a crazed fan stalking a celebrity. And even though Al was probably dead somewhere, I walked our route from my apartment complex to his house. I saw a couple of the shittily printed signs with her picture in the middle and my phone number at the bottom. No calls. No texts. I half-expected to see her sitting on the porch of my father’s house, but it was empty as I strolled past.
The wind was sharp, as if autumn was late to work and suddenly kicked in the door. I buried my hands in my pockets. I was almost glad Alameda was probably dead; the thought of her shivering in a bush somewhere felt worse than her not bleeding anymore. I couldn’t see my breath, but the sun had yet to go down.
I turned right at the end of the block. Even if she had already depleted her bladder, Alameda would demand to stop and fake like she hadn’t. I stared at the patch of grass where I used to grow so angry, so frustrated, because I was supposed to be the one in control. I decided I wouldn’t be taking this walk after I completed the loop.
The last stretch ran along the elementary school where I learned to read, hate math, and fall off a bike. A long field of grass reflected the golden shimmer of the descending sun. The moist scent of a recent cut permeated the block. There were no children on the playground to the right, no cars in the parking lot beyond that, and maybe just a few janitors in the school itself.
And then I saw the lone figure with her nose to the ground along the edge of the woodchips by the swing set.
I yelled her name. She wasn’t more than a blip on the radar of my vast panorama. I had no idea it was the beagle my father had brought home on a whim after my mother disappeared. But of course I simultaneously did. The small blip shook a bit as she whipped her head toward me, and then slowly grew while she ran. It was a slow seven seconds between yelling her name as a question, and her jumping and pawing my thighs as an answer. I sat on the sidewalk while she jumped into my lap just as she had with my father.
I smiled for the first time in a week.
About the Author: Josh Rank graduated from the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee and has since had stories published in The Emerson Review, The Missing Slate, The Feathertale Review, Hypertext Magazine, The Oddville Press, The Satirist, Corvus Review, Inwood Indiana, and elsewhere. He currently eats sandwiches in Nashville, TN. More ramblings can be found here.