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Twilight

TWILIGHT – noun, from the Old English twi two  + LIGHT

twilight

Lullaby

He told them that Jimmy had always had a crush on them, ever since they’d moved in next door.  They were pretty girls, the two of them, blonde, slim, young – a couple of years older than Jimmy.  He told them because Jimmy was too shy, and it seemed important now, somehow. The girls nodded without looking at him, their eyes studying the floor.

He turned and scanned the small beige room for his wife.  She stood at the far end, like him, surrounded by so many earnest faces, so many hands held out, grasped and reluctantly released.   Did he know all these people?  Jimmy was up front too, but there would be time for Jimmy later, when all the others had gone.

He heard his wife saying softly, “Thank you, thank you so much.” Over and over again.  She hadn’t said much else in the last few days.  Nothing ever came between them like Jimmy.

As he watched his wife through the small, tight crowd of people hugging their coats, he noticed a group of Jimmy’s friends in the corner. They stood identically with hands jammed impossibly deep into pockets, coltish and awkward in their new dark suits.  Many of them had yet to fully lose the baby fat that softened their features, rounded their cheeks and made them look impish and vulnerable, despite their concerted efforts to look worldly and jaded.   One of the boys glanced over at Jimmy and abruptly turned away with that quick jerk of the head boys sometimes use to flick hair from their eyes. And in that flash of movement, he saw Jimmy.  Saw him clearly, and then felt it all as it spilled out in front of him, and spread over him, until he was awash in his son’s firsts: first bicycle, first day of school, first best friend, and first father and son argument. The substance of that argument long forgotten, but not the agonizing tightness in his chest, hurting him, until he recognized his son’s clumsy charge towards independence.  Independence from him.  It had frightened them both a little.

He had waited in equal parts of wonder and fear for other firsts.  And they came more rapidly than he could comprehend.  First girl, first broken heart, first drink, first broken curfew – and then the firsts as a father: the first time he couldn’t kiss away the hurt, and the first time he stood back and let Jimmy suffer his mistake.  All this with love, and few harsh words between them.

And now his son had made a monstrous mistake, an adolescent miscalculation, a question of timing and capacity, and the fickleness of both.  He wanted to tear through all these people, to the front of the room, and scream at his son, “RUN.”   My God, just get up and run.  Drive until you hit the mountains, make love under a canopy of aspens dripping gold, watch the stars roll over a wild and inky ocean, fly low over corn quilted fields and climb into clouds sweet as icing.  His boy, his son, still needed to ride those unhappy rivers that would always rage, and contemplate fears he would never conquer.  But he was barely seventeen, his Jimmy, and there always seemed to be so much time.

He looked back at the boys.  They were watching him.  He smiled; a reassurance he knew would mean a great deal to them – coming from Jimmy’s dad.

He searched for his wife again.  She had moved to the center of the low ceilinged room.  One of Jimmy’s teachers held both of her hands and was earnestly pressing a point.  He couldn’t hear what he was saying to her, but she looked hungry for his every word, seeming to work them deep into her memory, storing them safely where she could access them in the coming days, months, years.  He knew that hunger.

He wanted to be by her side. But the thought of working his way through all these people, assembled like little black birds, however well intentioned, voraciously pecking at his emotions, exposing the raw flesh of them, made him physically ill.  He excused himself abruptly and walked quickly down the hall toward the men’s room, continued walking past it and exited a door marked ‘Employees ONLY’.  It opened onto a back alley and delivery ramp.

He stood in the dark, trying to control his breathing.  He sat on the ground, the cement under his legs and the brick against his back, cold and welcome.  Muted sounds rose from the parking lot around the corner of the building; rapid footsteps, mingled voices, and car doors closing.  The somber echoes of departure.  He whispered, “Leave us alone” to the darkness. Waiting until his legs could support him, he rose slowly and braced himself against the door till the dizziness past.  He adjusted his tie, brushed off his suit and opened the door.

His eyes adjusted slowly to the light in the now nearly empty room.  He watched his wife usher the last of them through the door, still nodding, murmuring low, and taking hands.  He had failed her.  She handled them all alone.   He wanted to grab her and Jimmy and escape into the colorless November street.

As he watched her walk down the aisle toward him he tried to remember the last time she had laughed.  Had they not been happy?  How else could he have loved the silliness of that laugh, the way she squeezed her eyes shut and tilted her head.  Would they now grieve as deeply as they had loved?

“You need to say goodbye,” she said to him.  He looked around, puzzled.

“To Jimmy,” she said, looking past him.

Her hand was cold through his sleeve as she led him past the rows of empty chairs to the front of the room. Ahead he saw the clustered blur of bright flowers and the ugly yellow light washing the walls.  He looked away, then down at his feet. His shoes, he noticed, were scuffed.  Was she being strong?  He didn’t know.  He wanted to tell her that they had done well by their son.  But she knew that.  He wanted to tell her it was an accident, that it was stupid and careless and no one’s fault, not theirs, not Jimmy’s.  But she knew that.  He wanted her to talk again, to look at him, and see him again.

When they stopped, he stood but a foot away from his son. She looked at Jimmy, but he couldn’t, so he looked at her. He had spent the last few days terrified that he would lose them both.  One to God and one to grief.  She did not look back at him, and after a moment he reluctantly turned to face his son.  Jimmy looked so beautiful, so young and pure, he wanted to hold him.  Like a baby.  He wanted to smell his hair, kiss his forehead. He put one trembling hand on the casket and the other around his wife’s waist, pulling her close.  They stood there for a long time, connected, tethered, just as they had all once been.

When she began to sing he thought for one wild nauseating moment that he had indeed lost her.  But then the melody came to him. From a blue-hued nursery with a tiny crib.  They had stood before that crib many nights, just like this, arms around each other, watching Jimmy.  When her voice faltered, he joined her, and together they sang their son to sleep.

 Morning

“C’mon out,” he said softly.  “I won’t hurt you.”

He heard rustling near a large overturned cardboard box, half of which was buried in an ugly swath of orange stained snow.  Garbage lay everywhere, and an open trash bin yawned wide with ruptured plastic bags.  The coming night, blue with cold, was punctuated with harsh yellow pyramids of light streaming from the tall street lamps that marched uniformly down the long canyon of high windowless warehouses. Steam rose from the alley’s manhole covers. The dark brick of the buildings glistened with iridescent streaks of frost. He could see all the way to Franklin Street, when the mist of his breath wasn’t in the way.  It was so awful, it was almost beautiful.

The fluid in his eyes felt frozen to the inside of his lids as he squinted into the corner where he could have sworn he’d seen the dark shape crawl away.  He stamped his feet.  Damn it was cold. “C’mon,” he said again.  “You’ll die out here tonight.”  He pulled the wool cap further down on his big head. “It’s warm in the truck,” he added, tugging at his gloves.  He could hear it idling not twenty feet away, the radio low and muted behind the closed doors.  It was really warm in there, he thought impatiently. He walked a few feet and heard a muffled groan.

He bent down to move a few large bags out of the way, and peered more deeply at the prone shape. “Jeez,” he said, startled, “you are a mess! You been in a fight?  Half your nose is gone.” He shook his head in pity.  “I’m gonna help you up,” he said, as if talking to a child, “and you are going to let me.  Like I said, it’s warm in the truck.”   He jumped back slightly at the low growl.  “Now listen to me,” he said firmly, “I know you’re not going to hurt me.  You’re cold, and sick, and dear God you smell something awful.  And you know I have food.  So let’s not play this game.  I’m too cold and too old.”

He looked back at his truck fairly confident he could help this wretch lying at his feet navigate the distance.  He was a large man.  And once he was scary strong.  That’s what his wife would say after he’d lifted something for her, or the time he carried her, laughing, for two blocks after she’d complained about walking in her high heels.  “You are just some kind of scary strong.”  He smiled at the memory, it included her face as he remembered it, framed in that impossibly black hair, those bleached-blue eyes.  In a fit of impatience one day, early in their relationship, he had accused her of sharing a bloodline with Siberian Huskies.  It had so absurdly hit the mark that they both burst out laughing.  It became the joke they shared with each other, and then with their son.  Another Husky.

He liked that he still looked the part, although he had yet to come to terms with the fact that his strength had abandoned him for the most part. And so he struggled mightily in the cold with this new passenger, staggering a bit under their combined weight, the two of them wrestling each other in a kind of slow waltz to the dark truck, enveloped in its pink-hued exhaust.  The frozen road beneath their feet, alternately glass slick, or strewn with frozen chunks as hard and immovable as granite, made the short journey difficult.  He managed to get the passenger door open with one hand while struggling to keep from slipping into the tire ruts of black ice.  “Go on,” he said breathing hard. “Get in.”

He ran around to the driver’s side and climbed in.  His large frame seemed to shrink the cabin of the truck, which rocked softly under his weight.  He rubbed his hands energetically for a few moments, cursing the cold.  “It’s got to be ten below,” he said.  “I need to move somewhere warm.  These winters keep getting longer.”

He looked over at the passenger side.  “Aren’t you going to be more comfortable on the seat instead of down there on the floor?” he said patting the seat next to him.  “Suit yourself,” he shrugged, and reached behind his seat to pull out a small duffel bag.  It belonged to his son.  He had not thrown away a single thing that boy had touched.  Pulling out a bottle of water and some beef jerky, he poured water into a large plastic cup, and placed it on the floor next to his passenger.

“I know you’re not going to tell me your name,” he said to the dark shape huddled as close to the door as possible.  He pulled off his thick gloves and struggled to rip open the bag of jerky.  “So, I’m going to call you Franklin, since that’s about where we met up.”

The slippery bag was giving him trouble, his fingers numb from the cold, so he used his teeth to tear into it, and as the bag gave way, he caught the ebony eyes staring up at him from the floor.  He switched on the dome light.  The water hadn’t been touched.  It occurred to him that there probably weren’t enough sound teeth in that mouth, which gaped slightly open at him, to chew jerky, and he cursed himself for not thinking of it.  Tossing the bag of jerky on the passenger seat, he rummaged through the rest of the duffel bag.  Nothing.

He checked the pockets of his big down jacket, swearing liberally at all the tiny zipper pulls and Velcro, designed for some mountain climbing fool with the fingers of a leprechaun, as he tried to maneuver his bulk in the few inches the steering wheel and seat gave him.  It was getting hot.  He impatiently yanked off his cap, unveiling a dense expanse of close cut grey hair.  “Feels good to take off that damn hat.”   Running his fingers over the soft bristles he began scratching vigorously.   He resumed his pocket search.  “Aha!” he said victoriously as he pulled out a small package of cheese and crackers.  He tore it open, and placed it carefully where Franklin could reach for it.  “I know you’re hungry,” he said while putting the truck in reverse, “and you can start with that.  Something much better coming your way when we get home.”

He switched off the internal light, which plunged them back into the frigid cobalt of the alley, and drove backwards down the narrow, rutted road, avoiding the larger mounds of trash; the large flatbed truck solid and steady on the snow and ice.  The alley opened onto a wide and usually busy street, near deserted on cold weekends.  He pulled out smoothly onto the well-lit road, crusty with salt.  He could hear it pop under his wheels.

“Salt trucks came out early this year,” he said.  “This is more snow than we’ve had for a long, long time.  Last time we had this much snow, Jimmy wasn’t more than 3 years old.” He cleared his throat briskly.  His hands ran shakily over his crew cut scalp.  He checked his rear view mirror and shifted uncomfortably in his seat.  Taking a long deep breath to settle himself a bit he looked over at his new passenger.

“Too cold to eat, Franklin?” he said gently, “Or just too tired?”  The truck bumped along. He was hitting most of the green lights.  Once in a while another car would pass them, but there would be no eye contact tonight.  When it got this cold there were only destinations, no joys or curiosities in the journey.  People stared straight ahead, and left long plumes of ground hugging exhaust in their wake.

“Wonder how long you’ve been out there.  I have to tell you, and don’t take any offense at this,” he glanced quickly over at his passenger, “but you smell like something rotting.  We have to get all those sores looked at.  You have big chunks missing in a fair amount of places.  My guess is you get into a lot of scrapes.”  The dark shape of Franklin sighed loudly and seemed to collapse onto itself.

They drove in silence for a few minutes.  “Problem with all that fighting,” he continued, “is that as you get older you can’t hold your own long enough.  You get hurt more often.  You get hurt more deeply.  And it takes longer to recover.”   He glanced over at Franklin. The dark eyes were closed.  The street lights revealed staccato glimpses of a garish open sore covering half his nose and a festering wound at the brow line.  The long, slack curve of his lips was scarred in numerous places. He peered more closely at the ear facing him.  It looked as if it had been chewed to the cartilage and the blood had pooled darkly down the side of Franklin’s neck.  He was covered in deep ugly sores.  The stench coming from the now warming body was overwhelming, and as he turned his attention back to the road, he wondered if he would ever get that stink off of his own coat, much less off this poor thing lying on the floor like death itself.

“Yep,” he continued, “you and I both know what it was like to be young.  You could smell when you could take someone down.  It hit you before you even needed to think about landing a punch.  If you were lucky, the other guy knew it too.  He’d walk away or give you an out.  Problem is, when you are always the top dog, you never learn to smell it on yourself.  And you, my friend, smell old and used up.  Just saying.  You don’t stop in time, it’ll kill you for sure.”

The truck, with its big snow tires, devoured the road noiselessly and the cabin was quiet and warm.  “I bet that heat feels good,” he said.   Franklin did not move.  He noticed that the water and crackers hadn’t been touched. Ahead of him, January bled into the horizon, leaving pools of red on his dashboard.

They drove for another mile and he turned onto the highway.  “I usually avoid this expressway, because it’s not so express.”   The first time he’d said that, so many years ago, he had pounded the steering wheel in exasperation, and Jimmy in the back seat, clapped and kicked his feet against his car seat.  He watched his son through the rear view mirror laughing, and it hit him that he was the master mold for this boy’s life. He knew about responsibility to family, and knew he was good at it: the security, the food, the house, the schools, the cars, but this?  What was this?  This kid – that he had made – was far from finished and he would need to show him character, morals, love, soul, generosity, spirit, my God, the more he thought about it, the more he couldn’t breathe.  He about had a full-blown anxiety attack right there on the gridlocked expressway.  Suddenly conscious of how he drove, he quickly assumed the 10 and 2 position on the wheel.  Jimmy would mimic the way he drove.  The way he dressed.  The way he looked at the world.  Would they find the same things funny?  He tried to think of something else to say to the round smiling face sitting behind him, now fully absorbed in the traffic around him.   Jimmy pointed his chubby finger at something out the window.  How could he not have appreciated the enormity of this responsibility until now?  What opportunities had he missed?  What opportunities would he miss?

He remembered how he had pulled into his driveway that day – a near wreck.  Before liberating Jimmy from the car seat he covered the giggling, trapped boy with kisses from head to foot.  The boy struggled and laughed, screaming, “Dop it Daddy,” at the same time offering his deliciously dimpled little hands and feet for more.  He kissed him till they were both crying; Jimmy with joy, and he in a kind of fear that would visit him often.  He carried his now exhausted, contented son to the house.  He could feel Jimmy’s small feet softly tapping against his ribs with every step.  Walking toward his wife, who stood backlit in the doorway, watching them, he sandwiched the boy between them, and held them till she protested.  “You don’t know your own strength, sometimes,” she chided, taking Jimmy from his arms.  He looked into those icy-blue eyes and didn’t think his heart could hold all he had been given.

“And once you stop fighting,” he said to Franklin, “things might come a bit easier to you.  It was that way for me.  And the funny thing is, I lost to a woman!”  He laughed out loud.  “A woman.  What a cliché, huh?”  He rubbed his eyes and stubbled chin, and refocused on the road.  He would have turned down the heat, but he was sweating in a down coat while his passenger was still thawing out.  “It’s a funny story really.  How we met.  You read about all this stuff and see it in the movies and you always think it’s a bunch of Hollywoodass crazy shit that will never happen to you.  How two people meet and every moment after that is changed.  It’s all music and fields of flowers and puppies falling all over themselves.  HA!  I’m here to tell you it happens.  But then, I got more luck than I deserved.”   He paused and wiped his eyes again.  “At least in the beginning I did.  It’s been different lately.”   He glanced at Franklin.  After a long moment he said, “And you know, if someone asked me, would I do it all again, knowing how it would turn out, I,  I wouldn’t change it.  Even though it’s killing me.  I wouldn’t erase it.”

They drove in silence for some time.  He flinched at the light from an oncoming car and blinked his eyes hard.

“You know,” he continued, “when I held Jimmy for the first time, my first thought was, ‘please God, no wars, please, I don’t want him far away and afraid’.  And my second was, ‘thank you God, he’s perfect.’”

He turned down the heat in the truck; along with the hum of the engine it was beginning to make him sleepy.  Struggling to get his coat off, he knocked the bag of jerky off the passenger seat, but Franklin didn’t flinch.  “Exhausted, huh?” he said.  “Well, just keep those eyes closed, you’re safe here.”

“My wife is the strong one,” he continued once he was comfortable again.  “I know it’s another cliché, but there you have it.  I can lift and carry most anything, but she does the hard stuff.  Oh man, the first time Jimmy got really hurt, I lost it!  And she was all over it.  I could see her just sucking up that fear, and going after it.  He was bleeding, I was blubbering, and she was a drill sergeant in full battle triage.  She was on the phone talking to the doctor like they were discussing the weather, and cooing at her screaming son at the same time.  When she told me to get a towel and press it down hard to stop the bleeding, I don’t mind telling you that it took everything I had.  He was just so goddamned little.”

He grabbed for some of the jerky strewn on the passenger seat and chewed thoughtfully for a few moments.  He’d spent much of the last few months looking backwards, reminiscing, regretting, then feeling lucky he had had so much to regret, and then return to regretting and reminiscing.

The day Jimmy was born – husbands sat nervously in vanilla waiting rooms, twitching every time a door opened or closed.  Nurses wore white caps and those god-awful shoes that made every step sound like someone menacing a full balloon.  Some of the men attempted conversation, others looking so horrified; it was hard to look at them.  The day Jimmy was born, a doctor came into the waiting room and called his name.  They had met but once before. The doctor was not smiling. They shook hands.  “It’s a boy.  He’s fine.  Small, but fine.”  And yet he knew there was more and so he put his hands into his jacket pockets to quiet them, and searched the doctor’s face.  He was led down the hall to another, smaller room. He could barely breathe. It had been a difficult delivery, they had done all they could, she was very ill, would recover in time, but Jimmy, their first, would be their last.  “That’s always hard for a woman,” the doctor had said as they shook hands again.

That day had been so windy it had blown the clouds into dark, flat-bottomed dories skidding rapidly over his head and off to the East.  He watched them for a time.  He was a father today.  And yet.  He drove to the large nursery, and walked among the rows of plastic covered domes.   They quivered in the wind, the plants nestled inside looking oddly unprotected – already bent with the knowledge that the real world would be hard.  A tall sturdy woman, nearly colorless in the green world that surrounded her, approached him.  She wiped the dirt from her hands down the front of brown overalls, the pockets crammed full of gloves and tools.  “Can I help you find something?” she rasped at him.  Her long thin blonde hair whipped in the wind.

“Grass.” he said abruptly, “Tall grass.  My wife. She likes the sound.  We spent a week on the shore once, and we sat in the tall grass. In the dunes.  She loved the sound of the grass in the wind.”  He went on, uncontrolled, breathlessly.  She was in the hospital.  It was their first child, she would be sitting in the white chair by the window in the little nursery that he knew he would now paint blue, and she would be rocking their son to sleep.  He saw it all.   And he wanted her to hear the wind in the grass while she sat with their son.  It would calm her, he knew.

The woman looked him over carefully. Her lined face, robbed of youth by the wind and sun, was unreadable. “Roger!” she screamed out of the side of her mouth, startling him.  They waited. Her eyes never left his face. He stood nervously as the woman continued to size him up. “Get over here,” she roared again after a long minute.

Roger, it turned out, was a young boy built like a barbed wire fence, all scrawn and long tendons and spiky bones poking about.  But his face; it belonged to this woman.

“Roger, get those grasses over there,” she said.  “Line ‘em up.  Three of kind in each group and space them a couple of feet apart.  As many kinds as we got, line ‘em up right along here.”  As she directed, he helped Roger carry the pots over to the long line of half a dozen groupings forming along the edge of the parking lot.  When they were finished, she said, “And now we’re going to listen.”  If Roger thought any of this was strange he gave no indication, and the three of them crouched next to each set of pots and listened as the wind whistled through.

The fountain grass in the flatbed swayed crazily in his rear view mirror as he drove slowly home. He planted the grasses directly outside the bedroom window that night in the dark.  He painted the small bedroom blue, and he scrubbed the kitchen till his back hurt.  He watched the sunrise standing at his open front door with a cup of coffee, as if waiting for visitors.  The next day he brought flowers to the hospital and bought flowers for the kitchen table, which he arranged several times before he was satisfied.  The food his neighbors dropped off, he carefully wrapped in tinfoil and stacked in the tiny freezer.  The phone rang often; each call torture.  He had little to say.  He ate his meals late, after the hospital visits, standing at the kitchen counter.  It felt odd to sit at the table by himself.  Odd that he dwarfed it, when it had seemed so perfectly sized for the two of them.  When did the kitchen get so tiny? The house so small?

He replaced the flowers on the kitchen table.  The freezer groaned with the tiny aluminum bricks.  The grass played with every breeze. He went back to work, spent evenings at the hospital and often worked on the house through the night.  He avoided sleep until he was exhausted and his mind was still.  One morning while making the bed, he felt the sheets give up the heat of his body, and he touched the warmth as if she had just left it.  He crawled into it and wept.  He wept until it scared him.  She had taken the news so stoically that he was left alone to grieve. He took to sleeping on the couch.

The hospital finally released them both into his care: Jimmy had grown bigger and healthier, and she so weak and reduced, he was afraid to touch her. He laid Jimmy in his crib for the first time.  They stood over him for a time and watched him sleep.  He showed her all he had done, talking quickly so he could get it all in before she got tired, and when they stood at the window and watched the grass dance, she turned to him.  “Oh, hon,” she said.  “Oh hon.” He opened his arms so that she could come home again.

“Franklin, my friend,” he said quietly, “I almost lost her back then.  She’s not a tiny woman, but that’s what came home to me.  My God, it was like hugging a breadstick.  And the woman didn’t cry, didn’t complain. Got up the next day, sent me off to work with a kiss from her and a nuzzle from Jimmy.  I came home for lunch every day for weeks, just to make sure she slowed down for at least that hour I was with her.”

He reached for the water bottle and took a long pull.  “And the nights, well, they took a while.  Of that, we were both a little afraid.”  He glanced over at Franklin, the body rocking fluidly with the truck, like dark mercury at the bottom of a glass.

The monstrous illuminated signs for gas stations, like sentinels, tracked him along the highway.  They were constant companions on these recent night forays; the home of over-lit mini marts, the immigrant attendants eyeing him suspiciously and handing him his change as if he were robbing them.  How easy it would be to succumb to the only real temptation they offered.   He had quit long ago, but these last months, and especially on these nights, he wanted nothing more than to hold a cigarette’s spongy filter between his fingers, narrow his eyes and take the long pull, watch the paper burn, the tobacco glow and feel the harsh biting smoke hit his lungs like sodden velvet.  He missed the delicious, almost urgent, exhale that left his tongue prickling and his head effervescent.  It could set the world right – but for a moment – the yearning far greater than any indulgence could satisfy.

He laughed and shook his head to rid himself of the want. “Franklin,” he said, “marrying her made me feel capable of great things.”

They were silent the rest of the way as they left the highway and drove through the deserted streets flanked by dark houses and the black silhouettes of trees and mailboxes.  Christmas lights punctuated the dark neighborhood sporadically, blinking playfully, almost obscenely in the quiet blue of the night.

The large house on the corner was white with lights from every window.  Even the snow on the roof  looked lit from within. He pulled the truck into the driveway. “Well Franklin, here we are.” He turned off the engine. “I’ll put you up in the garage,” he said.  “It’s warm.  Got everything you need.  The house will be quiet,” he continued to himself.  “Too quiet.”  He listened to the engine tick for a moment.  He pulled on his thick gloves, reluctantly opened the door and stepped out into the cold.

He walked over to the passenger side, opening the door very slowly. His last passenger had nearly jumped out and bit him.  They don’t like to be surprised, no matter how hungry and cold they are. He opened the door wide, letting the cold air and light into the warm dark place where Franklin lay.  Franklin didn’t move.  Searching for a place to put his hand on skin that wasn’t torn or scabbed, he softly nudged a leg. “Franklin?” he said, “Hey buddy, we’re here.”

Fully exposed to the light, the poor dog’s ugliness was staggering.  Ribs held taut under marred skin stood out like clenched claws about to spring,  Short mangled ears, an extended snout, and long curled incisor teeth gave the creature a look of pure menace. Even at rest it looked lethal.  And yet, the oozing sores and countless injuries made it possible to overlook the initial intimidation.  This was a dog that did not receive much pity or compassion.

He laid his hands on the dog’s belly and gently nudged him again.  Franklin’s head lolled back and he finally grasped that the dog was dead.  He stood staring, unbelieving.  The horrible moment was broken by the sound of a car slowly driving by and a newspaper skidding across the neighbor’s porch.  He pulled Franklin out as gently as he could, but the body was heavy and unyielding, and he ended up slowly sliding him down the side of the door and with a thump, onto the cold cement of the driveway.  The dog lay as if splayed.  He rearranged the body to look more dignified, and felt the cold of the driveway shoot through him, through his coat and gloves, and he couldn’t bear to think that this poor thing would be as cold in death as it had been in life.  He took off his coat and wrapped Franklin as best he could.  He tucked it deep under the unmoving bundle on the ground.

He stepped back and sat down heavily on the front stoop, bewildered.  The door behind him opened and closed, and he heard her footsteps crackling on the salted walkway. At her approach he could feel himself dissolve into tears.  But as she stood behind him, putting her hand lightly on his shoulder, he could see it all.   He screamed NO in his head.  Then he roared, “NO,” into the night.  He grabbed her hand and pulled her around, hard, so that she landed in his lap.  Her coat fell open, and with her blouse askew he could see little goose bumps form on her chest.  He held her head, her hair spilling over his large hands, and looked into her eyes, “NO,” he said firmly.  The look of utter shock on her face was more than he needed.  “NO,” he said, more gently, and kissed her forehead, “NO,” and kissed her neck, “NO,” he whispered and nudged her blouse till his lips found the deep hollow between the neck and shoulder that he loved so much, a space he could fall in, die in, and he kissed it hard.  He felt her begin to shake and he watched her face as it crumpled into tears.  “NO,” he said, and kissed each tear as it came.  He held her for a long time.  Till the night bit keenly through his shirt and his ears burned with cold.  “I’m going to pick you up,” he told his sobbing wife,  “and you’re going to let me.”

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