Billie Holiday, Sylvia Plath, the Weather Each Morning

The white German shepherd, at dawn, nosed at their closet, but only on her side, snuffling among her dresses and skirts.  “It’s a sex thing,” he said, his mouth half-buried in his pillow. The dog was hers.  Moving in the week before, he’d said he accepted it, but at first light, in June, it was five a.m., and when the hundred-and-ten-pound dog climbed inside the closet, flopping onto the rack of her shoes before squirming itself comfortable, he wished aloud that dog was small and silent.

Neither wish came true. The dog whined. It shifted its heavy body and began to scratch on the inside wall as if the closet weren’t deep enough to enjoy.  She mentioned the landlord inspecting before they moved, how their damage deposit would disappear into wallboard and paint.   He rose and talked the dog out.  “Try music,” she said, and he put on one of her plaintive CDs and closed the closet door. The dog worked its way under her coffee table and settled where it had slept since he’d moved in.

For a week, at dawn, he played the long-dead singer she loved, the room going blue with Body and Soul, Summertime, and Lover Man. There were three CDs in the box set. He played them in rotation. Each morning, they slept another hour before the dog emerged again, and she rose to walk him before she dressed for work.

On the seventh day, after CD-A began, the dog, instead of squeezing under the table, paced and whined and scratched at the closed closet, but finally settled into a corner between the dresser and the wall. The next morning, between the first two songs of CD-B, it began to whine so terribly and so long, it seemed possible it could smother itself. “Try something else,” she said.

For two weeks, he played the dead writer she loved, the spoken-word CD of Daddy, Lady Lazarus, Ariel and more.The dog listened like an acolyte. He sprawled in front of the small speakers, not moving or making a sound as they touched each other, beginning their own rustlings beneath the thin sheet, making the high-pitched sounds of pleasure.

When the dog reverted to an anxiety that shifted into spasms of barking, her lover played the weather channel. “It changes every day,” he said, as if he’d corrected a flaw. “The remote means I don’t have to get up.” He set the volume of the woman’s voice so low they could fall back asleep in the brightening room. 

And then, late July, despite how morning began later, the dog wouldn’t cease its barking, clawing at the closet as if her clothing softly whispered the secrets of happiness on a frequency that could only be heard if the material brushed him. When her lover opened the closet, the dog climbed onto her shoes. “The wall,” she said, but he closed the door, and the dog quieted. “You keep the remote,” he said. “Find something else tomorrow.”

The next morning, when the weather made no difference, the dog scratched at the closet until she rose to leash it. She walked it for half an hour. Her lover slept until ten.

That evening, they couldn’t find the dog, coming home from a restaurant to such emptiness she believed the dog had slipped out with them as they’d left.  “Impossible,” he said, but every place for the dog—the tiny bathroom, the space under the bed, the scratch-marred closet–was empty. 

Outside again, she asked her lover to search in one direction while she chose another. She walked the streets for an hour, returning in tears.  Her lover, a beer in his hand, was watching television, his feet beside three empty bottles on the coffee table, his shoes, she noticed, still on.

He looked so happy to be alone that she stayed in the kitchen, sitting on the floor with her back against the refrigerator.  When a woman’s voice swelled louder from the television, speaking earnestly at length, she heard a noise from under the sink, a scraping and sigh, the door so slightly ajar it was as if the dog had closed it behind him. When she opened it, the dog snuffled and settled deeper among the soaps and cleansers while that woman’s voice was joined by another and another as if a chorus of women were needed for comfort, each answering the other because all of them loved hearing the frequency for faithful.

Gary Fincke

Gary Fincke’s latest collection is The Sorrows (Stephen F. Austin, 2020). His story “The Corridors of Longing” appears in Best Small Fictions 2020. An essay, “After the Three-Moon Era,” appears in Best American Essays 2020. He is co-editor of the anthology series Best Microfiction.