by Kathryn Gahl
It's March. Clumps of dog fur begin to appear on the Berber carpet, the stone entryway, the red tiled bathroom floor. This is because the West Highland Terrier is shedding. This is because the dog thinks it is summer.
Beckman, her owner, thinks nothing. Not since that woman moved out--just like that--with three months left on the lease. Now the insouciant and daring Beckman can't paint. He can't draw or sketch. He squints at the easel, that woman's clavicles and toes and elbows on the stretched canvas, undone. He studies the mix of light and shadow, amazed by the strange and wild thing where bogs and shapes and coastlines formed. He bites his bottom lip, glares at the vacuum cleaner agog on the studio floor. Scents of oil, acrylic, and shaved charcoal swirl in the corners, but he cannot smell them. He cannot smell the savory in her homemade pasta lingering in the kitchen, above the antique trunk used as dinner table.
Instead, he smells dog hair clumped like dead protein, the DNA of seasons transformed like moldy towels and rancid socks. Other years when this annual shedding of dog hair began, Beckman left the vacuum out, plugged in and ready to attack on a daily basis. So this year he again leaves the vacuum out, vigilant for cottony strands in the entryway, the refrigerator's bottom grate, and fluff clinging to the Bose speakers. But, dear reader, just because he leaves the vacuum out does not mean he uses it. Even a clean freak must one day push the boundaries.
Yip yip yap the terrier, named Almond Joy, says.
I know Beckman replies, flicking a yarn-like ball from the chocolate-brown leather sofa. It is ten o'clock in the morning; he should be somewhere but can't remember where. Thin yellow light stains the blinds. Four stories below, squad cars and trucks cough and wheeze. He lifts the hairball to the light, noticing these hairs of the West Highland Terrier are not really white. They are champagne, winter mood, maybe baked Brie. He sits down on the sofa and beckons the dog.
In a flash, Almond Joy leaps onto the sofa and snuggles next to him.
Stay there Beckman says. Almond perks her pink-tinged ears and tilts her head. She stays. Beckman disappears down the hall. A hollow-core door opens, then closes, plook, sphlook. Almond whimpers but stays. Objects hit the wall: a tinny spoon, a running shoe, and a wooden wastebasket. Then, the heavy thudding of art books and newspapers tied with twine for the recycler. Almond whines and yips.
Yeah yeah Beckman yells. I'll be right there.
And he is, clutching a bottle of Elmer's glue. He sits on the sofa and Almond climbs into his lap. He strokes her back. He tickles the small inviting gullies behind her delicate ears. He takes her entire face in his hands and lifts her jaw. He rubs the jawbone like a massage therapist, which he is not, but had thought of becoming for rent money. Almond purrs and groans and moans, sounds of a creature loved for who she is, not for what she does.
From below, treble and bass pound the oak floor. You fool Beckman says. Almond lifts her head and perks up those ears. Not you Beckman says. The dog barks and the thump-dump music swells. The dog barks again, intently. The rump-dump music suddenly stops, a blown speaker perhaps. Or a blown frontal lobe of the so-called listener.
At that, Beckman opens the Elmer's Glue. He separates fur on the dog's back until the petal pink scalp appears. He drops a dollop of glue. Almond shakes the way she does when coming out of a July lake, front to back, rhythmically, a wringer of wet going to dry. Hold still Beckman says. The dog holds. Now Beckman selects several fibers from shedded hairs on the sofa's arm. He attaches them to the dollop of glue. He spreads another area on the dog's back and drops another bead of viscous white goo. Again, more hair fibers meet the goo. For the next half-hour, he is gluing and pasting, carrying Almond around the apartment to find more shedded hair, grinning like a savant, a philosopher not with the right answer but with the right question. How can he stop time? How can he prevent seasons from changing? She'll be back, full of devotion and ardor he tells the dog, who produces a low, protracted, peevish sound.
Beckman pats her. It's not about love, he says, blending old hair with new. It's about loyalty, about keeping promises. The dog grrrrs and Beckman continues to glue and paste, talking in his head, talking out loud, and finally, not talking at all, lost in a frisson of pleasure that used to come from long hours of painting.
And so, time passed as Beckman scoured the apartment for more fur balls, emptying one bottle of Elmer's glue and scavenging for another until in the end he had affixed dust bunnies, several down feathers (discovered under what used to be the communal bed), and even cigarette ashes found on the bathroom floor, confirming that she had lied about that too. Soon even parchment paper and dried angel food graced the dog, by now loving this attention.
Stay there, Beckman said, finally. He rose, going directly to pillows on the fainting couch. He grabbed one velvety rich as caramel and began to cut it into strips. Yes he said to the dog. This is it. The dog watched, eyes soft, mouth open and panting. Beckman then returned to the sofa and tied one strip tastefully around the neck into a droopy bow. Then he took other strips and wrapped them around the dog's middle. You are so beautiful he said blissfully, unaware that the dog looked like an Almond Joy bar, his favorite, the very gift that woman gave him after they met on match dot com, before she moved into his space.
About the author:
Kathryn Gahl loves red lipstick, dancing Tango, and vintage clothing. Her second and last husband claims she was put on this earth to write. That's probably true. Her stories and poems appear in numerous journals, including The Baltimore Review, Eclipse, Green Hills Literary Lantern, Notre Dame Review, Permafrost, and Porcupine Literary Arts Magazine. She likes contests and has been a finalist at Glimmer Train (twice), Margie, Wisconsin People & Ideas (twice) and the Council of Wisconsin Writers.