Jeb Burt – THE DOGS

In various sizes and hues they came, coats darkened by flood—small fat ones buoyant cocktail weenies, long thin ones frail-looking as estuarial birds, and great ones, biblical beasts, wood barrels strapped at their chins. My girlfriend said these were saints but I didn’t see what she meant until I saw, silhouetted on rooftops, dogs howling at clouds as though against some necromancer’s spell as canines swirled by in the river in the street, heads desperately erect from its surface.

Curling on the couch, we watched water streak the glass and dogs spin through the night. These dogs were being drowned by forces beyond our control, martyred to things unseen.

You should know: my girlfriend is somnolescent. When she sleeps she’s dead as rock. Only water can wake her. Alarm clocks don’t work, nor thunder and lightning.

And: I love her.

Enraptured by rivulets on the glass and the silver sound of the river through the street, we gave ourselves over to our own damp pastime. When I woke she was gone. Clothes on the floor in mock flight: pants legs in mid-sprint fold toward the door, and the arms of her cream blouse in a Y of fright as if, caught by some horror, she combusted into the floor.

Next morning, the investigating detectives shook their heads and laughed. Twins but for their hair—one had none, the other a lot—the same smashed bulldog face hung from the fronts of their heads like trashed  masquerade masks.

“Women, and people, don’t vanish into thin air,” the bald one grunted, chewing a hairpin. I didn’t notice the pin when they came in, wondered if it was my girlfriend’s. Rooting through our belongings, drawers, closets and used-underwear hamper (the bald one lingered long in nipping pungency, hunting some ripe clue), they found nothing. They upturned my silk screener and surf apparel forging equipment, thinking them components of some elaborate clothing press. (Aquasilver and Hog Dog ponchos sold the best, talismans from the days of protective ozone and uranium-free ocean.) “And if they do, they leave something.”

I nodded to the clothes on the floor. “She left those. She was wearing them when she vanished.”

“You sound so sure, Ace. Why?”

“Would she leave naked?”

“All those silk asswraps in the closet are yours?”

The detective with hair didn’t laugh so much as grin by violent slurps, hocked pink thrilled snot into my sink. “Too skinny for those skirts. Look at his little legs.”

They looked at my legs. I crossed them and leaned against the hall doorframe. “I went through her clothes,” I said carefully. “None missing.”

The hairy detective’s eyebrows arched in delight: “You mean you know your girlfriend’s wardrobe by heart?”

I turned to the bald one, now seeming more of an ally if because slightly less of a dick. “The door was bolted from inside. Windows locked.”

A laugh of amused condescension came from his haired partner.

“So: she just disappeared,” the bald detective said.

“Another possibility?”

Scrunching his eyes, he put balled fist to chin, stared at the floor for a minute: “You got a cellar door?”

“It’s an apartment. No.”

“What do you mean, ‘No.’” He thrust an enormous knuckle to my breastbone. He pushed me to the couch, where I had mingled and wrangled with my girlfriend the night before, and shoved me down. “You hiding something?”

“Of course not.”

“Billy,” the bald one said. “Keep an eye on this slick ricket. I’m checking exit-entrance contingencies.”

I heard him in the bedroom, hallway and bathroom kicking things he examined five minutes earlier. Glass shattered, my hatchet fin trophy (imitation).

Billy, the detective with hair, walked to the window. Pale light through storm clouds glazed his face. Not staring out so much as in, as if viewing a diorama of a farcical disaster scenario, he passively scanned the waterlogged avenue. Red water braided through the gutter, caressing the swollen and fissured asphalt. “No trace of the dogs,” he said quietly, touching pinky knuckle to the glass. “It’s like they never were.”

I said nothing, listening to the hiss and squeal of the showerhead turned on in my bathroom, surely without the curtain drawn. Medicine cabinet slammed open, bottles and razors jittered onto tile, more shattering glass (the drinking glass in which I soaked my toothbrush in a tincture of bleach and distilled H2O). And then, after a curiously long silence and a zipper’s growl, the roar of a column of urine into my toilet, the swish and sizzle of the stream aimed around the bowl and through the center pool and beyond the rim. Toilet flushing. The bathroom door slammed open then closed. The bald detective sauntered into the kitchen, a tiny stove and sink set on parquet in the living room. Instead of washing his hands, he wiped them on the stove mittens. He smeared a German roach along the rim of the sink with his palm, wiped it on the stove mittens too. Then he washed his hands in the sink, dried them on wrinkled slacks.

“Lavish place you got here,” he observed. “You and your girl grease each other into that bed?”

“It’s small,” I said. “But also cheap.”

“With a view of money like that,” he said, “no wonder she left.”

“Vanished.”

“One word for it. Poof,” he said, hand blooming open in the air.

“She didn’t leave me.” They grinned, and outside my window a thick red rain battered the concrete and leaves of the potted trees along the street. After a silence, and a hard rattle-burst of drops against the glass, the roof dogs again set to howling. “She disappeared, and if you can’t figure how,” I said, “I’ll have to hire someone who can.”

My bold indignation shriveled in their stares.

The bald one turned to the window. “Billy,” he said to his partner. “What do you think of these acid rain squalls? More and more unpredictable, huh?”

They exchanged encrypted glances. “Violent and unpredictable,” Billy said, throwing me a sidelong glare. “Can’t tell when they’re gonna hit. Crazy. And unpredictable. They make people do things, you know, Ron. The crime rate goes through the roof this time a’ year. Acid goes to people’s heads. Family kill each other. Lovers kill each other. Then, when they regain their senses, they try to cover it up.”

They watched me.

“Some,” Billy went on, “don’t even realize they murdered someone. The acid fumes force them to forget. Sometimes only we can serve as memory-jumpers, by collecting evidence and showing it to them. In a court of law.”

Ron, the bald one, grunted. “It’s a crying shame.”

I crossed my legs. Uncrossed them. “Where could all those dogs have gone?”

Billy said: “The same place those missing family members go— husbands, mothers, girlfriends.”

“Brothers.”

“Daughters.”

“Family friends. Grandmas.”

“Dogs.”

I waited for them to tell me.

“Well?” I said.

“You don’t know?”

“Why would I know?”

“Why would he know,” Ron asked Billy. “Huh? Why would he know?”

“Don’t know,” Billy said. “Maybe he’s too smart to know. Maybe he isn’t.”

They looked through the suddenly calm air to two tired silos along the horizon, beyond the end of the boulevard that led past my apartment to the bay. The silos marked the western edge of town and the beginning of the turbid, cold ocean and a stretch of dunes pregnant with outmoded landmines.

“I’ll tell you where they are,” Ron told me: “Under investigation. Like you.”

Billy, in a contemplative mood, freed from the repartee, stood staring out the glass. “What did you and your girlfriend see through this window?”

“Dogs,” I said, “floating.”

“Of course,” he nodded. “And you sat with her, here, and watched—” he moved his hand slowly, palm down, from one side of the window to the other, a dog floating calmly by.

“Yes—”

“And touched her. Felt her—”

“What’s that have to do with—”

“Answer the question,” Ron hissed. He rooted casually through the freezer. Closing it, he grabbed a broom from the corner. He thrust its handle-tip to the floor, and into the cabinets over the sink, a sadistic dentist probing for caries to my nerve.

“Yes,” I said to Billy. “I touched her.”

“Here,” Billy said, blessing.

“There.”

Billy nodded with slow savor, as if rolling the sole clue he needed along his tongue. “So strange,” he said, staring out the glass, “the way people touch each other. Magnetic fields, squids. Here we are, we’ve touched you, and it’ll affect you, but we don’t know how yet. Do we? Did you love her?”

“What do you mean?”

“What do I mean?” Billy asked Ron.

“What does he mean?” Ron stabbed the broom through the back plaster of a cabinet. He stared at me. “He means, when you greased her into that bed, did you grease any parts especially tender, he means.”

Ron, seeing no one would laugh, roved the broom through the cabinets explosively, tore cans and foodstuffs onto the parquet.

Billy moved to my desk. Lifting a small snow globe from the papers, he peered into its divided hemispheres, one a tableaux of Santa kneeled amid a group of jubilant styrene children, the other a nightscape of burnt homes and skeleton-strewn stone. Billy grinned at Santa Claus and shook the globe to make it snow. Through swirling motes of cellophane he noticed the bone-decorated side.

He looked at me. “What the fuck is this?”

“Where could those dogs have gone?” I said quickly.

Billy cradled the paperweight like he might thrust it through my eye. “What’s the idea?”

“Man’s Faces, I guess.” The globe said so itself, a plaque at the base.

“A sick joke?”

“I think it’s a gimmick.”

Ron tore the last cabinet door from its hinges and tossed it on the cans on the parquet, yawned. “No alternative entrances in cabinets or floor,” he said. He speared the broom into the ceiling. Washes of dust came from the plaster. He announced officiously, “No contingencies in roof,” snapping the broom on his knee.

Billy, who’d been quietly examining me, said, “You’re the bastard who killed those dogs.”

“What?”

“Dogs,” he said.

“They were killed?”

“What do you think ‘happened?’ God’s vengeance? Please,” he said. “It’s bastards like you that make this world hell.”

“What?” I said.

“The flood was your fault,” Billy said.

“How could I have caused the flood? I’m a normal man.”

Billy thinned his eyes. “Sabotage.”

“Of what?”

He stepped forward. “You tell me.”

“No,” I said. “I mean,” I said, “I have no idea.”

Watching my face, he put the globe to my nose. “Where’s the good?”

It shattered against the wall; glass and styrene children’s parts strewed through the room.

“Where’s the good in a flood? Or in my girlfriend vanishing?” I shouted. “Did I cause that?”

“You confess?”

“I profess, gentleman, you’re the brightest radiation twins I ever met.”

Billy lunged but his partner, there anyway, swung the handle of the broom into my eye.

__

They left in the early afternoon. The streets were dry. They left me with their cards, in the sides of my mouth, as I fought from the bedframe they’d tied me to with her clothes. As they left they told me they’d get her abductor—who was me. A matter of compiling the evidence or, they said, making time to fake it. “Don’t worry, Ace. We’ll solve your case.”

They left me with her pants—they took her blouses, sandals to their wives. I wore her pants around my neck and stared through the glass, listening to the silence that follows rain.

I heard a howl. On the building across the street a dog, tall and black, watched me. It lashed its tail against the sky, crying accusations, each slowly falling to the broken street past my closed window.
———————————-
Jeb Burt lives in New York. His work has been published in the Lilies and Cannonballs Review and he has had plays produced at Columbia University.
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