I’m back home at my father’s shotgun house off of Highway 59, where at night the big trucks barreling down the road sound like waves of the ocean. Only here do I sleep like the dead. I’ve got a modest suitcase to unpack. I left everything there with her—couldn’t bear to carry all that weight across several state lines—I like things dramatic. So I turn out all the lights and put a flame to ten candles. I sit on the bed and sigh real loud, tired, knowing I won’t be able to rest until I undo it all.
My father’s already asleep. I heard his feet shuffling towards his bedroom and the door slam shut. After all these years, he still sits alone at a table in the late evening, balanced on the arm of the sofa for a seat, watching television over something simple like sardines. Tonight it was fire and brimstone with saltine crackers and Peter Pan peanut butter. These mundane details delight me—like his sagging brown skin held together by a faded white wife-beater, or how he grinned from ear to ear when he opened the door to me this evening before retreating to his end of the house, and I to mine.
After all these years he still doesn’t ask where I’ve been or where I’m going.
On top of everything in my suitcase is an old copy of “The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter” that I forgot to return to the library when I was about thirteen years old. I haven’t even read it since then. Don’t even remember what it’s about. But somehow I’m under the impression that this is my favorite book—I tell people this all the time—and it’s the only thing I’m determined to hold onto after all the acquiring and losing of things. I hate patterns, I think, as I pull out four of the same solid shirts in different colors. Then I stop abruptly. I’ve forgot to call her and tell her that I’d made it. She says “alright, thanks for letting me know,” and I feel as dejected as I did when I was a child, telling her something important. I blow out all the candles. The ritual is over. I flick the switch of a proper light. . . and then there’s crying.
I pry open the blinds and peek out the window but don’t see anything.
So I go outside and follow the trail of tears until it leads me to a little black puppy in the flower bed. I scoop it up ‘cause if my father sees it he’ll shoot at it. I take it inside and lay it on the bed next to my suitcase, small and delicate, the cries, extinguished. It’s dirty, but I don’t care. I look at the ticking hands of my wristwatch and decide to call it Midnight since it’s around that time.
I say, “Midnight, I’m gonna draw you a bath, then I’m gonna make you a warm little bed to sleep in. Tomorrow we’ll figure things out.”
Those big puppy dog eyes say thank you. He or she seems prone to falling and stepping in poops and puddles.
I run a small bit of lukewarm water into a foot tub, then I put the dog in and carefully clean all the dirt that’s caked in its matted fur with a washcloth. I have no idea how to take care of a dog, but I trust myself because I turned out alright.
“How’d you get left behind?” I ask Midnight, splashing water here and there as I rinse the washcloth of filth.
There’s isn’t a lot of noise and splashing like there is in the movies. Drowning is quiet.