Sometimes they walked that Infinity Loop for hours. Pine cones as big as newborns dropped on that trail. Dogs drank water that collected at the root of a tree, preferring it to the fresh stuff piped in. It was that kind of dog park. It provided fresh water in an enormous aluminum bowl and plastic bags for waste. Everyone was smiling and drinking coffee from mugs. Everyone had a UTA (usual time of arrival.) Locals compared doggy day cares and doggy summer camps and some of the dogs were on raw food diets. There were rarely fights at that dog park, but when a tussle did break out, the women cooed apologies and the men talked on about DIY.
He and she would meet and walk their dogs, both female, one black and socially at ease, one brindled and skittish in a pack. The dogs lived for the scent and sight of each other, the thud of chest against chest, the snag of tooth and lip in play. They would haughtily exclude other dogs from the romp at the park—and in leg-trembling dreams for the rest of their lives.
By the west gate, the woman leaned against the concrete wall. A month prior, the man had written their initials on the wall in a heart with a broken piece of brick. The man cleared away some pine needles and twigs that had fallen and retraced P & A.
“I didn’t sleep last night,” the woman said. “Kona kept me up.”
“Was she sick?” the man said.
“She was seeing things and growling. It was freaky,” the woman said. “My eyes are puffy.” She covered her eyes with her fingers. The man peeled them away and kissed each eyelid twice. He straightened her hat.
“Probably headlights coming down the hill or something.”
“Her nose was twitching like she was trying to get a whiff of whatever it was.”
“A ghost, maybe.”
“Dogs can’t stop ghosts. Not even Kona.”
“She’d never let bad energy near you.”
“I saw a show where a cat jumped a burglar on the head and the guy fled. They found him by tracking blood. He was nursing his face in a gas station bathroom.”
“Between Kona and your cats, nobody’s going to hurt you.”
The man drove down her street when they had nothing planned. He didn’t know that she had seen him do it often. Her friends said this was creepy. She told them that it was normal, that her house was between his house and the dog park.
After their dog park walks, the woman would come home and dance with the vacuum cleaner. She’d mop. Her hardwood floors began to sparkle. Her cats could see their underbellies in the shine. Kona would stand on her hind legs and spin.
The women told her concerned friends that she and the man were sure they had met as children on the beach—back east.
“You tormented me, even then,” the man remembered.
“You were cute. What happened?” the woman said. She didn’t care that she was using corny jokes on him. “I want a photo of you as a boy,” she said.
“Can’t,” the man said. “We lost everything in a house fire. Except my pet duck.”
She told her friends he had that accent she was familiar with, one none of the west coast men, who were too immobilized by political correctness, had. There were roles for men and roles for women. The woman lost all inhibitions for him faster than she had for any other. She believed the man and the dogs were teaching her lessons on how to play (rough) and make up, to live fully in the pleasure of each fraction of a second.
The man had told her all sorts of childhood animal stories. He’d been a regular Doctor Doolittle. He saved his younger sister from a snake by shoving a stick right into its open mouth and pinning it through its brain to the ground. He rode a bike that he assembled himself from bike parts he’d picked from the dump, with his pet bird Sammy on the handlebars. His one front tooth was slightly shorter than the other because he had chipped it flying over the handlebars. He’d been in a coma for five days. He never saw Sammy again.
“Have you seen the brown bird with the red underwings that flies through here?” the woman said. “It’s like he’s carrying fire.”
“The Wake-Up,” the man said.
“That’s not its scientific name.”
“Have you seen the falcon?” the man said.
“Do falcons even live here?”
“Did you ever see a vulture?”
“They’re death itself,” the woman said.
“Death isn’t always ugly,” the man said.
“It’s some kind of woodpecker. I’ve tracked it through the trees.”
“The Wake-Up. It’s a ground feeder. This part of town is infested with ants.”
“I watched a trail of ants on my bedroom wall,” the woman said. “They were marching to the trap I set. Each poisoned departing ant stopped and waved his feelers at the arriving ants, like drunk gentlemen tipping little black top hats to the unsuspecting, the sober.”
“It’s a love-hate relationship,” the man said.
“The human and the ant.”
Before the woman invested in the traps and the ants were only invading her kitchen, she would half crush just one. She would press it a little between her finger and the pink tile. Its feelers and a leg or two would wave urgently. The woman knew the dying ant emitted a cry or a scent, because the other ants would scurry. If they would just hold that warning in memory, she could stop committing her small cruelty. Then again, to the ant, her cruelty was huge.
“Traps are more humane than smooshing,” the woman said.
“Being smooshed is uglier, but it’s quicker,” the man said.
Not the way the woman did it.
Kona was still learning that she had to drop the ball before it could be thrown again. “Drop. Drop. Leave it,” the woman said. She threw the ball. She didn’t throw like a girl.
“Give the command once or you’ll be saying ‘drop’ five times before she does it,” the man said.
The dogs tore off and dirt flew across the patches of bright white sun that skittered on the ground. It was a fall day and the clouds came and went over the park, switching the lighting like a film crew would.
“I said it twice. She dropped it.”
“Would you rather say it once or twice?”
“Drop? It’s one syllable. What’s the difference if I say it once or twice?”
“You need to show Kona who’s boss.”
Indy and Kona circled the woman and the man. Indy jumped on the woman, her shiny black legs as lanky as a spider’s. Kona’s legs were stocky. There was more wolf to Indy than shepherd, more Pit Bull to Kona than Boxer. The man’s dog had a body like the woman’s and the woman’s dog had a body like the man’s.
“Off!” the woman said to the man’s dog. “Who’s the unruly girl?”
“She can’t help it. She loves you.”
Indy broke the rules because it was love, but Kona was “untrainable.”
“Death isn’t always ugly,” the woman said. “What did you mean by that?”
“Adolf Hitler’s death,” the man said. “That was ugly. But think of Jesus’ death.”
At the center of the Infinity Loop was a large sky-filled clearing where the dogs gathered. Fresh woodchips had been dumped, but not spread. A Rottie and a Weimerander played King of the Hill. The man who kept treats in his hat and brought four dogs (not allowed!) sat on the bench. He never talked to people but his dogs were the noisiest. The big-boned blonde girl who had been bitten twice in the belly by her own dog was yelling at it, “Be a good boy! Be nice!”
“Let’s not stop here,” the woman said. “I hate that girl’s dog.”
“Don’t blame the dog,” the man said. “Blame the owner.”
“What kind of death do you think you’ll have?”
Steep steps built of old railroad ties ascended from the center of the Loop, north, to the road that wound like a corkscrew to the top of the park. At the top of the park was the Victory Loop and a view of the city, its buildings shining pink in the summer and glimmering gray like pieces of broken mirror in the winter. The woman used to run all the way up to the Victory Loop. Her route included a slow steady incline covered in pine needles, a few laps around one of the city’s open reservoirs, then a direct line up, where she would say to herself “Victory, victory, victory.”
The man paused at the steps.
“A Jesus death or a Hilter death?” he said.
“Wow,” the woman said. She looked up the steps; her legs were burning to run them. Before she had discovered the Infinity Loop, she’d had a strict schedule and somehow there’d been more hours to her days. She walked on towards the cover of the forest. “What are you talking about?”
“The question shouldn’t bother you.”
The woman heard the peck of the bird she knew not by name—but by glow. She stopped. Under the dark green canopy it was just a shadow, a fluttering of wings; it’s landing somewhere far too high to see, confirmed only by stillness overhead. At the edge of the clearing and the woods, where she and the man stood now, that bird, if it flew by, would draw red light like a party streamer between the trees.
The man nudged her and because they were on a slope, she wobbled.
“I think it’s a shitty question,” she said.
“Questions keep you alive. Don’t you want to grow?”
The man could dance. And he walked like he could dance. When the woman had her body aligned to music and to his body, she hadn’t a doubt. But his questions, lately, didn’t lead her to an answer, just to the question, “How did I get here?”
She was losing her voice trying to keep up with answers. Sometimes she heard herself at 4:00 in the afternoon, on the phone, sounding like she had just woken up. Sometimes at 4:00 in the afternoon, she and the man were in bed.
“Jesus, to get enough air to utter his final words,” the woman said, “to fight the collapse of his lungs from his own body weight hanging there, he had to press his feet against the nails pinning him. That’s not pretty. And you can’t assume Hitler’s death was ugly, even if his head splattered. He got off on death. Just because he was a murderer doesn’t mean he was bothered by it even in the end. Or that the thousands of souls he annihilated gathered around him and it hurt him when they did.”
“It doesn’t matter if Hitler believed he led a good life or not,” the man said. “The bad guys get what’s coming to them. You saw Ghost.”
The woman loved that movie still: the penny on the door, Demi Moore’s overalls and the way tears burst horizontally from her eyes. But she didn’t want the man reminding her of the sound those spirits made when they devoured Patrick Swayze’s old BFF. That was the sound of her worst times alone.
“I see the point in living a good life just in case,” she said. “But justice at death is only something we like to believe.”
“It happens just after the light.”
“What happens?” the woman said. “Scary black smudges come out if you’ve been a dick?”
“We’re talking about judgment.”
“Aren’t we talking about how we can never really know?”
“Don’t forget,” the man said, “I was in a coma.”
“And you could talk to the animals,” the woman said.
Indy was running toward a small gap in the chain link fence. The man called for her. It was only a block south to Division, a deadly thoroughfare, and every once in awhile a dog escaped and then absolute sadness would seep like tar over the dog park. Dark are the consequences, the humans would be reminded, for the dog that does not heed the master’s call.
The man threw the ball. “Are you doing your best to ensure you won’t run in fear when God looks you straight in the eye?” he said.
“I know if I say ‘Yes,’ you’re going to shrug.”
Early on, the man’s shrugs had seemed part of his walk, or his laughter. A beat. His shoulders had been places to steady oneself on, places to land, to bite. Now the shoulders seemed to say, “That isn’t what we wanted to hear.”
“Why are you so defensive?” the man said.
“You bring it out,” the woman said.
“I can’t bring it out if it’s not already in you.”
The firebird wasn’t going to fly its ruby tracers through the now gray sky. Just the same old dogs at the same old hour. Just the same old dog owners and their vet bill talk and their thumbs up or thumbs down for the Dog Whisperer or the Monks of New Skete. And those eternally happy faces on Kona and Indy—chasing after each other.
“I’m tired of questions about death,” the woman said.
“You brought it up.”
Indy was peeing on a fern. Kona feigned interest in a rock, but sniffed the wet spot as soon as Indy trotted on.
“Why are you so afraid of questions?” the man asked.
“When are you going to move out of your girlfriend’s house?” the woman asked. She wished she had stayed a cat person. This whole dog thing was an experiment, a way to force her to socialize.
“You’re never going to meditate,” the man said. “You’re going to be that person with faux gold statues of Ganesh from Target and never—”
“You don’t know that there’s any light. First, or not, or ever. You don’t know if it hurts the soul to die. You don’t know if god is thoroughly fucking fed up with judgment,” the woman said.
The man picked up a large branch from the path and cracked it in half. “I do know,” he said. He called to Indy and threw the stick. Kona considered dropping her ball, but held it deep, her muzzle set into a wide, blissed-out smile. Indy carried her stick like a cigar and the two of them pranced with their treasures, side by side.
The man and the dogs seemed in that now moment on that Loop to have what they needed.
“Once you’ve watched your own mind, you know the minds of others,” the man said.
“You make me want to strangle Buddha!” the woman said. She kicked a pinecone. “Ouch!”
“If my questions turn you this negative, wait until you have to answer to God.”
“I’m not scared of death,” the woman said. “I’ve died once or twice at a DJ show.”
“Are you dancing tonight?” the man asked. “I’ll sneak out.”
Shadows were falling between the high branches of the trees and slithering down the trunks. The woman tried to imagine herself as separate from the two dogs and the man who seemed to have the answer to every question but one.
“Nobody good’s playing,” she lied.
The lights, the incense, the earthbound bass pulsing through dimensions for hours, invading the woman’s eyes, nose, and skin, weaving a thin thread inside her—like a flowered vine supporting all magic buzzing alive things with nectar.
She already knew what she’d wear to the show. She would take with her the small gift the man had made one afternoon in her kitchen—a tinfoil monkey holding a Yogi tea message like a testament—and she would drop it on the crowded dance floor so that the life would be crushed out of it in joyous rhythm under the foot of a detached stranger. The woman’s belief in symbolism separated her from the dogs and connected her to the man, but tonight she would go alone to where god moved through her and the dark sounds—of the nights the man could not spend with her—would be transformed by syncopation.
The woman hurried ahead of the pack. “Hey girls,” the man said. There was the sound of his voice, the way he carried himself, the pheromones and order of it all. Kona eyeballed most dogs into submission, made herself appear larger than she was. She barked, rushed, retreated. But Kona with Indy, was balanced. That dog brought out the best in this one. That bird knew when to be still and when to fly south. Ants, they simply marched on. The woman envied species with built-in systems—species that didn’t need to search for god and then ask him for the strength to keep circling the same old path.
by Christine Fadden