MARCH 2007 – NO. 13
Our Dog Riley
The second short story selected by our fourth Guest Fiction Editor, Pauls Toutonghi
The boy's smell is of cool sweat in late May, of the broken tufts of grass that he trod through on the lawn.
Hayden does not stop to greet Riley by passing his hand along the short brown fur or touching the black nose on the slender face. He ascends the stairs to his room, winded from his walk. The force with which Hayden lands each foot on a stair causes the stainless steel shelf that holds photographs and keepsakes in the hall to rattle. A thin shell picked from a beach in Mexico makes the most noise, chattering against its neighbor like a dry leaf.
Riley waits for the missed greeting, pacing the landing.
Their house is at the end of a cul-de-sac. When Hayden was much younger he thought cul-de-sac was a word that forced everyone to speak in a nasal tone. He thought it must be spelled coldersack, but when he gave his proposed spelling from the backseat of the car, his mother craned her head back and laughed. She told him how it was really spelled, and that it was French. All of the houses on the street — his own house even — seemed different. When his mother turned her head back around the sun illuminated her profile; nose cartilage showed red, and the small hairs trailed the path from ear to jaw.
That is why Hayden remembers this now. Because, Dawn is on the phone, by the window, and the late afternoon sunlight breaks through her flesh and casts a web of her feathery hair.
Dawn sees Hayden come in and rests the receiver in the crook of her neck. Her son walks with his head at an angle, the beginning of a bow. To Dawn, it looks like a permanent wince.
"Do you want to say hello to your sister?" Dawn says. He does not stop. "Hayden, hey!"
It is this about his name that he does not like, that he cannot tell if "hey" is just an abbreviated version of his given name, or if it is simply the call from one person to another. A call to punctuate the air and raise attention. When he was young it seemed that all the world called for him; but he now feels that with his name, there are few places to hide, where he will not think of the flabs of skin that bounce along under his loose T-shirts, the extra flesh that has grown on his stomach, back, and arms — and yet his legs are skinny as baseball bats. His mother hangs up the phone. Riley looks to her from the landing, up to Hayden, and sits back on his paws to see which direction they will each go.
"Don't you want a drink or something?" Dawn says.
"No," Hayden replies. "I don't need anything."
"Joanna's going to take a sailing class out on the lake. Sounds nice, right?" His sister, Joanna, is at college but calls every day. Joanna has dark hair that flows like his, but in a way that does not run counter to her neck. Their parents talk of her so often now, she is more of a presence in the house than when she was living there — now an absent presence, no longer leaving sopping towels on the bathroom floor, or running shorts on the stairs, her high laugh bouncing on each wall.
Dawn picks up a file of papers and lodges a pencil above her ear. She will pass the rest of the afternoon searching for jobs and concocting cover letters. She was fired a few months earlier, and the one thing that got her through packing her things was that she would be able to spend time with her son. Perhaps she could find, again, the ease she used to feel just to be with him. But he comes home one afternoon after another and goes to his room as if a rehabilitated criminal in a halfway house.
Dawn drifts through cyberspace and finds one listing after another. Riley comes in to sit beside her and listen to the familiar tapping and clicking. She dangles her hand down and he licks it, but then Dawn finds a listing of interest and takes her hand back to hover over the keyboard. She leans back, hunching, pecking again through the listings, forward two clicks, back again. Riley goes to the corner of the room and curls up to rest. He brings a touch of meaty warmth and the smell of spilled orange juice he stepped in this morning on the kitchen floor. The light grows dim in the room; Dawn does not notice until the walls become not the cream color she picked, but a tinny blue.
Art walks in the front door and turns on the light in the hall, where Riley presents himself for a greeting, leaning his brown body against Art's trench coat. Art rubs his hand along the dog's fur, and places the other hand on his own head, smoothing the tight gray curls that had been pressed against the headrest on his drive home.
"Hi," Dawn says, as he walks into the office. She swivels the chair. She had not heard the front door, but is not surprised by him walking through the door as the evening lengthens. Dawn reaches her arms up to remind her back muscles of their purpose regarding her spine. She stretches towards Art, but he stands in the doorway. From their years together, Dawn knows that it is not coldness though, not a recoiling from touch. He is like this when he comes home from work, a place where breaking thresholds of rooms — offices of the seniors at his company — is done with trepidation. He is still partly in that other place, in his mind.
"What's new?" Art asks.
"Everything is old," Dawn says. Her shoulders drop. "I'm too old for these jobs." Now Art steps forward. He kisses her cheek and looks at the lines of her face, the shades and planes of bones and flesh. Days scanning the computer screen have formed billowed pouches beneath her eyes and grimaced lips. Riley has followed Art back into the office with Dawn. He lies down by the chair. Dawn gives the dog's back a quick scratch and pat.
"I'll change," Art says. "Then we can eat." Dawn shakes her head no.
"Haven't cooked anything yet," she says.
"Okay, that's fine — I just thought I smelled something on the stove," he says. "No. I'm sorry," she says. She lifts her nose in the air as if to smell for herself. Perhaps he had hoped for it, because for a few weeks she had put together nice meals. Nothing elaborate, but just with more care than when they both worked, and took turns changing their clothes and stirring a pot on the stove, cutting up vegetables, and yelling at their children to come help.
"I'll just be a minute, and then we can make something together," he says
"Together, alright," she says. "I'll finish up."
"Is he?" Art points upstairs. Since the loud footsteps on the stairs, there has not been a sound.
"He's home. The usual," Dawn says. She doesn't know why Art even asks anymore.
Hayden is lying on the floor in between twin beds in his room. It is like Ricky and Lucy live here, not him. When he was born, airplanes were thought to be his thing. There are holes in the ceiling where he removed hooks that held them. He constellates sometimes, in the morning, when holes look especially dark in his white ceiling. The other bed is the one they moved from his sister's room when she lobbied for a larger one. A queen-sized bed, a share of their mother's car, a share of their parents' time. These are the things that Joanna seemed to feel entitled to that Hayden doesn't want.
"Hayden, dinner's almost ready," his mother calls. He sits up, rolling over his gut and leans against the edge of the bed. Hayden finds himself catching his body on the edge of things a lot. On the corner of a hallway or a desk at school, the ten digits of his hands holding on.
Art pares a bit off his thumb while peeling the carrots because he is watching news coverage of a house fire on the kitchen television so intently. It is not even a house fire in their town; it is on the other side of the county.
"Here," Dawn says. She hands him a bandage. Takes his knife, cuts the remaining vegetables and he leans against a stool.
"Joanna call?" Art asks. He knows that she will have. Dawn nods. Their daughter doesn't wait to call when they are both home.
"She wanted to know if she could go home with her roommate for fall break," Dawn says. "I said I'd talk to you."
"Okay," Art says. He means for the negotiation to begin. He wants to hear that they'll make plans to visit her at the leafy, stone-walled campus — the castle on the hill — or that she'll be home early for Thanksgiving. Dawn tosses the pasta.
"I think it's okay too," she said. "If she wants to go there, let her do what makes her happy." Joanna is gone. His talkative daughter who asked for his opinion on what would happen if she never cut her fingernails, or what he thought of flag burning, or the cannibalistic lifestyle of fish. And he imparted to her a tolerant, moderate approach to all subjects. She must question first, and then slowly decide the best course. Now, Joanna asked only her mother for advice, as if she had been sent to a finishing school and not a bastion of state university education.
Hayden comes to the kitchen, his socks flopping a little at the toes. There are holes in them because he forgets to cut his toenails, so he folds them over in his shoes. Dawn is serving their food onto three plates, and when she sees the flapping socks she thinks not of holes, but of when he was a baby, when the socks would not stay on his feet. When he was beautiful. The dark unruly hair he has now was once a ruddy, rusty brown, with wispy curls that rose as if by their own wind. The hair on his arms has recently grown thick, and though Dawn does not mind this on her husband's arms, she does not like it on the arms of her son. He sits in a chair like his bones have suddenly disappeared.
"So, how was it?" Art says. "Your day."
"It was," Hayden says. He puts as much chicken teriyaki in his mouth as he can manage in one bite. A bit of peanut lodges between his molars.
"There are nuts in this," he says. "A lot of people are allergic to nuts, you shouldn't sneak them into food." The piece will not dislodge from his tooth. Riley rises from his nap to the smell of food and walks into the kitchen. He presses his head on Art's lap.
"Later, boy — Hayden, when you cook dinner, then you can decide whether or not to put nuts into your food," Art says.
"We like nuts," Dawn says.
"I could live without the nuts," Hayden says.
"Actually, I could too," Art says. Dawn looks up at their reflections in the stainless steel light fixture that hangs three feet over the salad bowl. All that Hayden will hear is Art's desperation. Too high a price for conversation. Hayden continues chewing, but pauses to gulp water, Art sips, and Riley laps from his bowl on the floor. Dawn tightens at the sounds of careless intake, the washing down of large mouthfuls.
"Do you even know what you're eating?" Dawn says to Hayden. "I can't believe you even noticed the peanuts." Hayden shovels in salad now.
"Your sister, now, she would have dissected everything," Art says.
"Yes, that's true," Dawn says. Hayden thinks that it has been years since Joanna used her fork and knife to separate the food as if it were layers of skin tissue and muscle, and still their parents cling to it.
"What's wrong with how I eat?" Hayden says. "I chew enough times. I eat my vegetables." He moves uncomfortably in his chair, feeling the padded layers of fat around his middle. He puts down his fork.
Dawn would like to suggest that they just set up a feeding tube — she'll put everything in the blender and pump it directly into his stomach. They can cut a hole in the ceiling. She remembers a similar sentiment from the winter when Hayden was nine. This was not for feeding Hayden though — it was for Riley. The puppy often whined for biscuits in the night. Their new brown dog became hungry but unwilling to navigate the slick stairs on his shaky legs. The muscles quivered, all of his muscles in fact. He'd urinate when he saw something interesting. A Frisbee, a cat, a truck. These things would cause him to nearly choke on his own saliva and wet the floor beneath. A dog's joy at being alive.
When Riley whined Hayden would rise from sleep and get the dog a biscuit, and fall back to sleep — sometimes in the hallway at Riley's side on the old blankets. But one night Dawn heard Riley, and instead of the soft sounds of her son's feet plodding down the stairs, the skittering of something crawling upwards. She rose from bed as if it were smoke. By faint glow from the bathroom nightlight Dawn saw a thick white string. It reached from under Hayden's closed door down the stairs. Riley sat at the top of the landing, tail knocking against the wall. Dawn sat on the landing next to the puppy and he leaned against her warm body in pink flannel pajamas. The string moved, and rasping against wooden steps, knocking from one side to the next, was a dog biscuit at the end. Riley could smell it before he could see it. A biscuit conjured from air, just for him. The movements of his tail alone could not contain him; his entire body twitched. When the biscuit climbed the last step, Riley jumped on the treat with a convulsed cry deep in his throat. He crunched at the biscuit, tore it from the string and bolted it down. Then he circled and went back to sleep. The string inched into Hayden's room. That night, Dawn leaned against the wall and relaxed into the happiness of the new puppy, the clever son, the apex of the young sleeping family.
Art sits across the dinner table from Dawn and Hayden, and tries to think of the reasons why he has looked forward to coming home. Being lucky to have people to come home to is how he thinks of it. Simply that. But now, the withdrawn son, his glazed wife, frosted by light of the computer screen. If he were the one at home, he would spend every day in the hammock, reading. He cannot understand why she spends hers cramped in a chair and behind a desk. The gray office is his monotonous life, so what lies within these walls must be, by process of elimination, the joy.
"I'll have a little more," he says. "Anyone else?"
"No thanks," Dawn says. She looks over to the stove to see if there will be enough left to make a lunch tomorrow, after Art has put more food on his plate. He follows her glance and moves some back into the pan.
Hayden is thinking of the things before him. He practices at this, because what is always being asked of him is to live first in the past. Quantitative measurement of petrified trees on the road trip. That is what they are speaking of when Art settles down at the table with seconds.
"Someone at work was asking me about our trip out West. He wants to take his kids to the petrified forest," Art says.
"Do you remember when we went there, Hayden, it was two summers ago," Dawn says.
"Was it before or after we stayed in Monument Valley?" Art says. Hayden wonders if he stayed fixed in place, and was covered by a bog, if he too would be petrified someday. Eternal. But it is not just the past. For suddenly they are not planning the future for him. They are posing questions as if he has a choice finally, when he has not been groomed for choices. But with all of the summers in the back of the car, in the back of the house, or sitting on edges of swimming pools, he cannot now learn the way to swim toward center.
"I heard you had a meeting with your guidance counselor," Dawn says to him. This is true. But all the counselor asked him was, "What kind of colleges are you thinking about?" They might as well have asked him to go to the moon.
"No, I didn't," Hayden says. "It was rescheduled."
Riley moans under the table, a low query from a dog who wonders how much time will pass until they take him out to smell the air and empty his bladder. He stands and makes for the door.
"Didn't you take him out before?" Art asks Dawn and Hayden.
"He wasn't complaining before," Dawn says. She does not remember that he came to her, at the computer.
"Wait a minute, boy, I'll take you out," Art says, but the dog doesn't understand. He hears "boy" and "out" and becomes more impatient. He puts his brown paws over Art's feet. "Is everybody done here?" Art says, and his wife and son look up at him. Dawn nods, and Hayden doesn't bother to. Art leans against the door, and Riley pushes on it to slip out. He takes the stairs in the awkward strides of an antelope.
"Get back here," Art says. But there must be something in his voice that sounds like a game, because Riley darts forward into the darkness and then back to Art, who clips on the leash.
Dawn carries dishes to the sink and Hayden goes back upstairs, evaporating into the shadows of the dish hutch, and the sink, and then into the landscape of the living room.
"Let's go," Art says, and they walk down the street faster. Riley two-steps if he smells something of interest that died in a dip of the road. It is a broad street, and quiet – too quiet for sidewalks and streetlights. They walk along the shoulder downhill to where the road curves and there is a ravine. It is not a long walk, but long enough that the house seems far and hidden by hedges and trees. Sometimes people stop their cars and throw things down into the gulley. Mostly they throw brush, branches, or leaves that they don't want to pay the town to pick up. But occasionally appliances appear, gleaming from where they end up, half buried on the hillside. A toilet, diving board, doors, and a legion of broken bottles. The town posts signs about heavy fines that will be collected if you are caught. But it is inviting and dark.
The smell of dog and dry pavement and lights from houses flashing in Riley's eyes soothes Art. He stops breathing the shallow breaths that come from his brain, that leak across a desk to convince someone that his idea is the right one. He walks beside Riley and his breaths draw deep now, from the cavities of his back, from his abdomen, from between the bones of his ribs. He is now the husband, the father, in a wrinkled sweater that Joanna knit, without an ID clipped to his front pocket, the corny jokester, Dad, who can pick up his two young children at the same time, can feel the thinness of their wrists and elbows and brush flour from his wife's neck when she bakes.
The ravine smells rich tonight, practically gurgling down below where the creek runs high. It takes all of Art's energy to keep the dog under control, because the ravine calls, because the smells are an unbelievable boon to the canine, whose nose and mouth open to gulp the air. After the stale smells of his own cast-off fur and food, the smells of the boy, man, and woman he lives with, their soap and deodorant and kitchen cleansers, this is his prize at the end of the day. Riley pulls forward, Art holds him. A car drives slowly up the street. A neighbor, watching to see if Art will pick up the dog's excrement, or if he is one of those who will leave it to become trapped in the grooves of a car tire, or a shoe.
Art stands by the gulley, holding leash. The dog snuffles through deeper pockets of leaves and around Art's legs. Art looks towards their house at the end of the cul-de-sac. When he turns, Riley pulls back the other way, and Art looks at the dog in surprise — now there is some slack on the leash, and Riley frees himself from Art's hand. He tears off down the ravine. He is a good dog, but there is something in the night that smells, that he must stick his face in and roll through.
"Damn it," Art says. He claps his hands. The dog doesn't return. Art whistles, shifting from side to side. He calls Riley's name, and adds something different each time:
"Riley, get back here."
"Riley, come on."
But still the dog does not come. The minutes pass. This is not a game now; this is a dog that has gone out of the range of obedience, a place that he hasn't been since he was a puppy. Art puts his hand to his head and then sits on the metal barrier next to the ravine and shuffles at leaves with his sneakers. Then he begins simply calling the dog's name. His calls run from patient to impatient, from a low tenor singsong to a baritone blast of authority. When his voice begins to strain, Art pulls two branches from the other side of the guardrail and slaps them together, clapping for the dog to come. He sits and listens to low sounds of passing cars on the high road, the faint call of water from below, and listens for the slightest hints of dashing dog legs against dry leaves. There are other eyes in the bushes, but none of them come forward to become his dog. Art shivers in the middle of the road. Finally, he turns and heads for home.
Dawn is back at her computer screen, shuffling papers with her hands and scrolling with her eyes. She did not do the dishes — she left them in the sink hoping that Art's dog walking doesn't preclude dishes, or perhaps wishes for an epiphany on cleaning from her son. She wishes more for his company. He used to sit kicking at the rungs of his chair with worksheets spread in front of him, calling to her over sounds of gushing water. Words blur on the computer screen, her knees stiff like hardening cement. Art walks in quickly, too quickly for him, his usual steps complacent, toes turned out.
"Did Riley come back on his own?" he says.
"No, what happened?" Dawn says.
"He ran off, down the ravine," Art says, with a swooping movement of his hands, as if the dog has been swept away into decaying leaves and brittle branches.
"Our dog, Riley?" she nearly laughs. She has often taken the dog off his leash during brief daytime walks on their still street, so far from her mind is the thought that he would run off.
"Our dog, Riley. I stood and called for a long time. I thought maybe he'd come back by himself," Art says.
"Flashlights," Dawn says. She has risen from her chair and gone to a junk drawer. "What else? We need to find him tonight. There's so much traffic on the road in the mornings."
"Maybe his treats," Art says. "I'll carry some in my pocket."
"What else?" Dawn says.
"Hayden," Art says. Dawn doesn't answer at first; she opens the closet for another flashlight.
"So go ask."
Three of them are on the street, their footsteps loud on flat pavement, a small battalion. Hayden stays a little behind, a little slow. He tried to escape this. The book to read for school that he hadn't opened until tonight, and that he had not planned to read until the moment his father told him about the lost dog, the ravine and the flashlights.
"I just can't believe him," his mother says, again. It is a small comfort to know that she is talking about the dog this time, not him. Hayden wears the red hooded sweatshirt of a football team that he never watches on television. He likes it though; it holds new grown girth in a way that makes his arms look bigger than they are — his stomach smaller. Maybe this is why the athletes dress this way, he thinks, watching his mother's swishing magenta jacket, his father's sweater that is a little twisted and bunched about the elbow.
It is like those damp Halloween nights, shivering under thin costumes, when he was a cat, or a knight, or a ninja. When he walked too close to the edge of the road, the prickly branches of bushes grabbing at his costume. His mother took them out, and Joanna rang each doorbell and smiled for neighbors. Hayden stood by his mother, pressed against the rough fabric of her coat. He didn't like the wet smell of rotting leaves that would bring in, on the next day, the bitter aroma of November.
The beam of Art's flashlight strikes forsythia along the edge of the road, and the flowers show up bright yellow against the dark. He swishes light back and forth running along the edges of the road, the places where he knows the dog likes to linger. Dawn calls "Riley" softly every few steps, but not too loud so the neighbors will turn on porch lights or open the doors of their houses. Hayden's light is on the ground right in front of him. He tries to turn it off, but when he does, both parents glare backwards at him, their ears attuned to that click the button makes. He begins to whistle. He sees that when he starts, both of their shoulders drop a little, relief that he is helping in some way. Hayden wonders for a moment if they have freed the dog for this reason, so that he would come out of his room and breathe in the night air, the full smell of plants that settles down after all of the cars have been put in their driveways and garages.
They come to the ravine and Art leans over the guardrail to shine his flashlight on the small trees Riley disappeared into. The trees never make it past a few years, because the soil slides down and their roots are not strong enough yet to sustain life without padding. Art, Dawn, and Hayden stand and listen, and then they stand and call. Call and listen. Over and again.
"Okay, I'm going down there," Art says.
"Don't be ridiculous," Dawn says. "If Riley is down there, he'd hear us. If he heard us, he'd come." Hayden says nothing, and nothing is asked of him, but he points his flashlight through the trees.
"No, I'm going down there," Art says.
"Dad," Hayden says. "What the hell." Wrinkles form on his brow. Dawn feels something small, a catch, release in her, as she hears her son become involved.
"Yeah, Art," she says. "What the hell." To feel again that she is on a side going somewhere with Hayden. As Art did before, with those nuts at dinner.
"Riley," Art calls, in his singsong way that means there is a treat or a walk or a ball at the end of the sound. He doesn't look at Dawn or Hayden as he straddles the guardrail, and plows through the leaves, holding on to trees just beginning to bloom in their first green. A fecund smell washes up in his wake, as he moves through layers of dirt. Flickers of Dawn and Hayden's flashlights brush his ears. He crashes through dead branches, and rough brush. His leg scrapes against something metal, and hard; it could be a bed frame, or a car door. He thinks that this is what Riley felt. At the bottom of the ravine the creek buzzes, and, though he can't see it, feels his leg has sunk into a small pool. When he shuffles through to the other side of the creek, broken glass and aluminum cans rattle and settle again. There are no sounds from the road above, and there is no Riley down here. Art shines the flashlight around looking for — what, the dog hanged by his own leash, or cut and bleeding against a tree? He'd rather not see these things anyway. He'd hear the dog nearby if he was simply frolicking in water. He leans against a large rock that juts out from the creek. Rests his cheek against the coolness and breathes in the smell of wet stones and branches.
Dawn and Hayden stand at the top of the hill.
"This is so Twilight Zone," Hayden says.
"Have you ever even seen the Twilight Zone?" Dawn asks. They are both pointing their flashlights down the ravine, but they don't call out anymore and they don't hear Art. They are just holding the lights out of habit, and feeling now a breeze rush through trees that top each side of the ravine.
Hayden doesn't answer. He's not so sure he has seen the Twilight Zone.
"This is exactly the kind of thing that would happen," he says. "People would go out looking for their lost dog and then they'd find some vortex to another world."
"No, it would be aliens who lived in the soil of the canyon. They'd enslave the worms and capture live flesh for food," Dawn says. She feels fear, suddenly — but she realizes it is for Riley, not Art.
"I guess it's more like Lassie, anyway," Hayden says, nodding. His hair falls over his face, melding into a curtain with thick eyebrows.
"Riley — Art," Dawn calls, correcting herself mid-thought.
"I've got to pee," Hayden says. Art finally ascends, sliding back down a little and then getting a grip. They both shine their lights on him. He puts his hand up to deflect the glare while clawing for roots and thin branches.
"No," he says, when he reaches the top. He draws long breaths and wipes his head with his sweater's sleeve. Small leaves and dark patches of soil cling to the weave.
"Let's go home," Dawn says. She takes Art's hand.
"He'll find his way, I guess," Art says. He looks back, though. Hayden shoves his flashlight in his pocket and walks back a few paces ahead of them.
At the house, Art circles to the back, stands and calls for Riley again. He thinks he hears the dog's whine for a moment, but it's hammock ropes in the wind. Art wishes only for his dog by his side. The one who needs to be walked, who still needs something from him. When he reaches the front of the house again, Hayden has sat on the stairs, his leg tucked into a squat, and Art remembers the nights he found his son curled up to sleep with Riley out in the hallway. He rests his hand on the railing above his son.
"I'm going in," Hayden says. Art nods. Hayden is trying to recall the last time he even noticed the dog separate from any furniture in the house. He rises and goes inside. He does not take off his shoes and does not notice when mud traces through the kitchen. He leaves his flashlight on the counter and goes up to his room. Hayden stops straining his ears for sounds of a dog running at night — and when he turns off the light to sleep covers them with his pillow in order to stop hearing the plaintive calls of his parents, their bleats against the crickets, that meld into the corners of his dreams.
Dawn listens and calls with Art, but then she, too, gives up and goes inside. She is not thinking of the day they got Riley. She is instead thinking again of the night that Hayden tugged on the string and pulled up the biscuit. But instead of remembering how impressed she was by Hayden's ingenuity, she remembers the second time she found the dog waiting for a biscuit on the string. In his haste to eat this second miracle, Riley swallowed a good bit of string and found that he could not dislodge it from his mouth. He vomited in panic. Dawn woke to the sounds of it. She yelled at Hayden in the morning, and scrubbed the carpet.
"It's late. Maybe he'll be back in the morning," Dawn says to Art. She feels a light rain start; it patters on wood and runs down the porch. Art built it a decade ago, and the ground has settled in a slump.
"I'll stay out just a little longer," Art says. He folds his arms together. Dawn goes around the house and inside the back door, through the kitchen, where she takes off her muddy shoes and leaves her flashlight next to Hayden's on the counter. She goes up to the bedroom and curls her body on the bed. The room smells like the artificial sea foam of the dryer sheets. After being outside, it is a musty, false smell. She goes to open the window and smells the air. Then she reaches for the phone. She will call Joanna to tell her about Riley.
When he sees their bedroom light turn on, Art walks down the road. He calls Riley's name as he lies against the glacial rock. He feels the pull of home ebb. He cannot imagine waking up the next day and not taking the dog for a walk before he gets in the car and pilots himself to his brown office building. He cannot imagine eating breakfast without the warm body of the dog leaning against his legs under the table. Art cannot bring himself to lie beside Dawn in bed, with only emptiness in the hallway between their room and Hayden's, where Riley spent every night listening to their sleep.
Original art courtesy Rob Grom.
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