Saul waited til seven o'clock to leave the office. He was the second-to-last person to step outside the doors and enter the sprawling parking lot beaded with white Pontiacs. The sun was lodged securely in the sky although dusk's glow was imminently approaching. Saul had parked in his usual spot. There was another ding on the driver's side door but he didn't care. He'd been relieved when he noticed the first scratch - when something's flawless it's only a matter of time before the first imperfection comes along. He opened the door and let it hang for a moment before he got inside. Saul hated the baked sticky warmth of his car after a day in the sun. He felt canned, a processed piece of human shuttling himself from place to place.
Saul started the car and eased out of the parking lot. Even though he hated the heat, Saul was uncomfortable rolling down the windows. He didn't like feeling exposed at traffic lights - alongside strangers without the walls of glass. He'd spent a lot of time in the car as a child, moving from town to town with his father. Even now, living in one place, he felt like a nomad. Few connections, fewer relationships. He liked feeling transitory, it made him untouchable. It's hard to get tired of something brief. A human eclipse. His job was temporary. His life was temporary. His cell phone rang. Saul didn't recognize the number so he didn't pick up. It was probably his step-sister. She'd left him a message on Tuesday. He hadn't heard from her in years and then there was the message. Saul didn't want to call her back. She was reckless and unloving - she was the reason he was stuck with the dog, the burden. "Burden." He felt the letters, individual and unique.
Saul stopped at a red light, watching the cars stream past, so many colors and shapes. He liked the glimmering movement of the road. It was comforting - never the same image twice. Stream-like and indistinct.
Saul tried to open the door to his apartment but it was stuck. With his shoulder he pushed as hard as he could, creating a gap to fit through. Linda was sitting against the door, her dog hinds parked solidly. Saul shook his head and moved past her into the kitchen. He poured some gin into a glass and looked in the fridge. It was barren except for a mostly empty bottle of tonic water on the shelf on the door. He poured the flat tonic on top of the gin. The freezer bore no ice. He picked up a fake lime filled with concentrated juice and shot some into the glass. Saul sighed and moved over to the couch. Linda was now in the living room stretched across the sofa. He took a paw and forcefully pulled her from the couch. He sat down and turned on the television. Linda went to sit directly in front of the screen. Saul closed his eyes and leaned back. He'd never thought a creature could be evil, but here was Linda.
Saul muted the TV and went back to the kitchen. Among a pile of papers on the table was a tape recorder and an unopened package of cassette tapes. He grabbed the recorder and went back to the living room, using his teeth to tear a tape's plastic wrapping. He settled himself on the sofa, loaded the tape and closed his eyes. Saul pushed the red button. Click.
"It's a Wednesday. An evening. This is what evening feels like." Click. What was he supposed to say? He tried to picture the initial impetus for this project. It was the letter "a." His brain choked by a single tiny letter, festering, fattening up, fleshy. Click. "My name is Saul. Saul Peters. I…no. I…." Click. Click. "I'm at home right now. It's me and Linda. I guess it's always me and Linda." Click. Saul felt embarrassed. He should be able to talk to himself - there were things he wanted to say.
A soulless howl radiated from the animal adjacent to the muted television.
Saul sat up. There was Linda. There was always Linda. Click. "I live with a dog. A hound. A fleshy worthless piece of animal that howls at night and gets in the way and breathes like a leaking air ship. Her face is falling apart. At night. At night I see this animal face. This pile of leaking jowls. She climbs on top of me sometimes. I wake up and there's no sunlight. There's curtains of flesh, of hanging skin. White and brown and splotchy. She follows me into the kitchen. I think she'd follow me anywhere if I let her." Click.
Saul grabbed his drink off the coffee table taking a few hurried gulps. Click. "They say people look like their pets. Maybe people feel the way their pets look. Sometimes I wonder if Linda is real." Click. Click. "Is it so bad to be followed? Saul. Saul. Name four things Saul. Any four things. Bird hat rabbit trapeze. Moron. Silence." Click. Saul needed a break. Emptying his mind was exhausting apparently. Linda would need to go outside soon.
"Linda. Linda where are you?" He looked around his apartment, the sad couch and Ikea coffee table. He went to the kitchen and poured himself another drink. "Linda?" They played this game of marco polo daily. Name, howl, repeat.
Sometimes Linda hid inside his closet. There was a small cabinet with a door that wouldn't stay closed. Linda had found a way to force her body through the gap, hunkering down in the darkness. Saul wondered if she thought she were a bear, hibernating and unable to birth cubs.
"Alright hound. Let's go." Linda wiggled awkwardly in the cabinet. She was stuck. Linda was always stuck. Using both hands he pulled her out by the legs. She yelped softly. Saul felt a pang of guilt. "When are you gonna learn? You don't fit Linda. You don't fit." Saul went into his bathroom and splashed cold water on his face. His eyes were bloodshot. Why? It was probably allergies. He went back to the living room and picked up the tape recorder. What to say next? How to describe Linda's howls - what part of the soul did that sound come from? Did he have that same acreage of loneliness buried somewhere inside? Exhausting. Click. "Exhausting." Click. Tired as Saul was, it wasn't until many hours later that he fell into restless sleep. Stone cold, blacked-out and dogged.
The dream took place in the field behind Saul's elementary school. It was springtime. Buttercups and goldenrods glistened in the sunlight, an effervescent shimmer. Children were everywhere and Saul was among them. He was seven years old, a small boy in blue corduroys. The action was always the same. One little girl would start running and slowly, gradually every child would start moving. It was like they were gliding, a silent cavorting throng of children. At first Saul was afraid of the movement, the earth trembling underneath so many pairs of tiny legs but then he would notice that he too was running. They were all moving forward, they were all looking straight ahead. Wordless and determined. Slowly Saul turned to his right without slowing his pace. Here was a young girl, blonde hair in pigtails, white summer dress, high cheek bones and gentle chin. And to the left, a boy his age, rugged jaw and coal black hair. They were perfect and he was part of their movement, whatever it was. It was a good feeling - endorphins rushing and humanity gathering. But then something would change. There was a dripping, a liquid. Saul was running but something was leaking onto his moving hands. A pink colored juice was everywhere. What was it? He reached his hand up to touch his face and there it was. His face was leaking, his jaw line a waterfall of fat, a structure-less blur of melting pigment. Who was he? What child was he? He fell back as the other children ran forward, sculpted chins and necks. Further and further away they were, the distance widening, insurmountable. He was left behind. He was alone.
Saul awoke in a rush, clutching his face. Not again. The dream was a plague. One, two, three times a week for how many years now? It had to stop. Why did it keep happening. It was Linda. She was the problem, her sadness, her melting drooping features. He would get rid of the dog. He'd show the world who he was. It was the only thing that made sense. Saul was slave to no creature.
He took a drink of water and went to the living room to find the tape recorder. Click. "Tomorrow morning. Goodbye hound." Click. Glancing around the room on the way back to bed he saw Linda sitting by the window. She turned as she felt Saul watching her and began to move toward him. He held up a hand but she kept coming. She didn't want to be alone. It wasn't fair.
Early the next morning Saul loaded Linda into the backseat of his two door coupe. She didn't fight back - she was docile, sedate. "Dog gone." Saul could feel the weight lifting as they drove, imagined the fleshy folds evaporating into the air. It was nice.
An hour into the drive Saul began to feel less euphoric although he couldn't pinpoint why. Maybe it had something to do with the way Linda was acting. She wasn't herself, all slumped over, dog eyes closed, vacant and unresponsive.
Saul found himself needing to whistle - anything to break this overwhelming silence. Never before had he known her to be so quiet. So stoic. He didn't know where he was heading. Was there a specific place one went to dump old animals, relics and rejects of one's past life? "Where do we go? Where do you want to go?"
The longer he drove the more it felt like there would never be a perfect destination. This was unnerving. Saul was skipping work. It was something he'd never done. "Linda. I'm missing work because of this. Because of you. Maybe because of me?"
Again he was met with silence.
They were passing citrus groves, farmland, miles of flat Florida sunshine. The monotony was soothing, rhythmic. Saul saw himself from outside of the car. A man, stern and frowning, a white button down shirt, a dented car. The image hurt the pit of his stomach. He looked like his father. No wait, he didn't. It was his father he was picturing. And he was in the backseat? So he was Linda, he was being driven somewhere. A languid living object parked in the backseat of a dented car. Saul glanced in the rearview mirror hoping to catch Linda's eyes. He didn't. She was staring out the window, her dog brain slowly ambling forward, a prisoner in her fleshly folds.
Saul felt a wave of responsibility. Where they went, where they ended up, this was his call, his doing. He thought about his apartment. The furniture he owned. Saul was a person. Why was this so difficult for him to understand? In a way wasn't he a parent? Was Linda his child?
Linda stared out the window. Things were going by, yellow things and blue things. Houses? Trees, some tall, some less tall. She was hungry but she didn't want to howl again. He didn't seem to like it when she howled. Food, food, sleep.
It was late in the afternoon on Thursday and Saul couldn't seem to stop driving. He needed to take a break. He pulled off of the Bee Line highway onto a smaller side road. The earth was swampy, moist and mosquito ridden. It was a terrible place to stop but Saul didn't know where else to go. He stopped the car, got out and opened Linda's door. The hound hesitated but hopped out after a moment. Saul watched her move slowly through the grass, tongue hanging out, jowls sagging in the breezeless air. Was he going to leave her here? She'd no doubt wind up in the belly of a gator. No, it wasn't the right place.
"Come on Linda. Get back in the car."
Linda sat watching Saul. His mouth opening and closing. What did he want from her? What was she supposed to be doing?
"Come on already. Get back in. Come on." Saul swatted away a mosquito. He put his hands on his head forcing back his hair. Sweat was making the back of his shirt stick to his skin. He should have worn an undershirt. "Come on dog." He moved over to where Linda was sitting on the ground and tried to pull her into the car. She wasn't moving.
"You're gonna die out here. Get back in the damn car." Was she thirsty? Saul grabbed a water bottle from the front seat. He unscrewed the cap and knelt on the ground, pouring the water into his cupped hand and offering it to Linda. She raised her eyes to Saul and slowly started drinking. She was so goddamn dependent. He hated it. He let Linda drink for a few moments, rough tongue lapping against his fingers and then he managed to get her back inside the car.
He found his way back to the highway and kept driving until he hit a gas station. As gasoline pumped into the car's empty tank Saul leaned back against the door. The air was sticky. He wished it were dry and dusty. He felt like an outlaw. Heading west, escaping The Man. This had to be the craziest thing he'd ever done in his life.
He closed his eyes as hard as he could and let his exhaustion play kaleidoscopic games with his eyes. Beads of green and purple, like stained glass, flitted through the darkness. Then he saw an image, something he hadn't thought about in years. He was a little kid at a gas station. His dad had stopped for gas and they were on their way to Florida for some reason he couldn't quite remember. There was another car across the way with two little boys in the back seat. It was a hot dusty day and their faces were dirty. It seemed like one of them was wearing overalls without a shirt. The rear windows were rolled down - this he remembered. It was a beat-up white Cadillac. These were other kids with different lives, when their car started they would be going somewhere else, and he remembered thinking about his dad, about how he loved him and he didn't want to be in that other car. He didn't want to be going somewhere else.
Saul's eyes snapped open as the gas pump clicked indicating a full tank. What the hell was he doing? He closed the tank cover and got inside the car. It was time to find a place to sleep. Tomorrow Saul would go home. He would drive back the way he'd come and dump Linda on the way. Today was the preamble. Tomorrow, life would be serious.
Saul and Linda spent the night at a crappy motel. Early in the morning Saul fed Linda some dog food he'd brought with him and when she was done eating they climbed into the car. This was the drive homeward. It was Tuesday morning. Saul hadn't eaten anything since Sunday. As he drove he listened to the gurgling of his stomach. He tried to isolate each feeling he was experiencing. It was difficult to do. The turbulence inside his mind felt at an all time high. His cell phone vibrated but he ignored the buzz. The world didn't exist outside of his car.
Saul imagined the white dashes on the road as a silent metronome. He tried to count the beats and the pulses, to measure the length of time until he was home, until it was the best time to stop. How would he know where to drop Linda? Somewhere safe, somewhere that needed a hound dog. He hadn't found a place the day before because he'd been too wrapped up in his own mind. It would be easier today. He thought about his step-sister. Where would she abandon Linda, if not with him? This is how he had to think.
They drove. Palm trees and lush greens. Sun up high, perched throne-like in the cloudless sky. Hours passed, time evaporating like dew. And then it was afternoon. Saul watched the scenery. He'd changed the route home so he was driving through small towns. He didn't know what he was looking for until he saw it. It was on the outskirts of a strip of broken-down houses, desolate and unhappy. There was a picnic bench, grown over and deserted. A tall sign nearby advertising Mello Yello, enjoy. Saul stopped the car. He got out and stretched his legs. This was it. This was goodbye. He walked around to the side of the car and opened Linda's door. She didn't move. She sat on the seat, tongue lolling and watched him.
"Come on girl. Come on out. It's time for your new life."
Linda didn't move.
"I said come on. Get out. Please. Do this for me. I don't want you around any more. I don't want you in my life. I never wanted you. You must know that right? I never wanted you. So let's go. Come on girl." He knelt down on the ground and patted the grass.
Linda looked at Saul. Her dog eyes wide and disconsolate. He wondered if she knew what was coming next. And then Linda moved. She hopped out of the car and started walking toward the picnic table. She crawled underneath the table and lay down. Saul stood watching, feeling like a silhouette of himself. He was the black outline of a human being, not a real person.
Saul drove and didn't look back.
He drove for an hour and then he stopped. He pulled off the side of the road and put his car in park. He looked in the backseat. His life was dog-less. Here he was, just like his step-sister. He rubbed the sides of his face. He felt his chin. What had he done? He needed someone to talk to but there wasn't anyone around. Linda had left some hair in the backseat. This was the remains of someone he'd known. Was she someone he'd really known?
All of his life Saul had felt like a left-behind. He pictured Linda tucked under the bench. Her life was no longer concrete, darkness would fall and she would be alone, left behind by one person and now another. It wasn't fair. Those little boys in that white Cadillac. His father. His grandmother. The faces of everyone he'd known, crowded into the backseat of his car, complaining about the dog hair - but he didn't care. She was a dog and she had hair. This was something she couldn't help.
Saul put his car in drive. He needed to go back. The sun looked fuchsia, split open and breathing heat, rays he could touch. Saul sped, windows lowered, left arm extended like a wing. The tires sped along the white-hot road. Saul imagined a tiny version of himself sprinting alongside the car. Haste. This was the word. Or necessity? Immediacy and need. He put a hand to his chest. His heart was leaking. He knew this feeling, was it loss? He was the cause of his own emotions. This was true.
It took Saul forty-five minutes to reach the picnic table. He left the car running, swung open his door. Eyes scanning wildly.
There was Linda. On top of the table, eyes on the road. She watched Saul approach, her tail wagging, expectant. Linda knew he was coming back. He beckoned her toward him and she obliged, hopping off the bench and into the car. She let out one staccato bark. A welcome? A warning? Saul couldn't tell.
They were quiet as Saul drove. Eventually he turned on the radio, allowed a symphony to soften the air, meld the molecules together.
When they were close to home Saul lowered all the windows and Linda hopped into the front seat. He raised a hand to his face, touching the bones and structure. Linda's tongue lolled as the wind rocked her jowls. The sun sagged low in the horizon, rays bent and drooping, fleshy and soft against the stark earth. Saul drove. Mile by mile. Inch by inch. They were returning. He and Linda. They were going home.
M C R
This work is copyrighted by the author, Rebecca Bernard. All rights reserved.