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Dante
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“Who, Grant or the dog? I wish you would be careful what you say around him.”
“He doesn’t speak English.”
“He knows what people are thinking. Look at him.”
“Now I have to be careful what I think around him?”
“I can’t get rid of him. He doesn’t like anybody else. Except you.”
“Well, don’t look at me.” She folds up her sketchpad, ending the session without comment. Maybe she’ll work from a photograph. That was the original plan. Before Dante proved himself a poser. “So, he’d have to be put to sleep or something. I know. That’s hard. But…”
“Can we talk about something else? You’re really freaking him out.” Dante has crawled over her lap and is trying to hide between Ellen and the window, but she’s not big enough to provide the cover he needs.“Maybe I’ll have to try women.”
“He doesn’t like women either.”
“No, that’s true. Just you.”
“Definitely don’t look at me.” She swings her coat on, stands by the door.
“Don’t worry. He doesn’t like you as much as he used to.”
"Is this about the dog, Ellen? Or is this about Grant?”
She has to think. She doesn’t like questions that make her think. She likes Carrie for hardly ever asking them. “Because he loves me. And because I loved Grant.”
Carrie’s eyebrows react. “I thought that was mostly sex.”
“Yeah. Me too.” Until she tried to replace it.
“I’ll call you,” Carrie says as the door swings shut.

When her footsteps are gone, Dante sits up. She puts her arms around him. Feels a slight tremble in his muscles as she holds him. “We both miss him. Huh, Dante?” She gets up quickly to make a cup of tea. Unable to identify what that will solve. How tea will be an antidote for loss.

Dante whines, long and low, and when she’s left the room, looses a long, modulated, unnerving howl which raises goosebumps on her skin. And leaves her thinking that she can never find just the right words.

Lately I’ve been troubled by vivid limited memories of Grant, and they make me worry about love. I don’t like so many questions being raised at a time in my life when I feel I should have some answers.

One thing I know for sure about love. It’s a bitch of a thing to identify in retrospect. Concerning a dead man. But I guess, dead or married it’s all the same to me at the bottom line. Only, dead is safer.

In one memory, I come up on him sitting in a chair, putting his socks on, and I kiss the very top of his forehead. Where I’m sure he had hair in his youth, but not much at the time. See, something else to fault him for, but it doesn’t work. I remember his chest, easing down on me, I think this must be a sexier thought if the guy had a flatter, tighter stomach. Less hair on his chest and more on his head. But, Dwight was young, handsome and hung and I don’t think about him much anymore.

It’s not that I like older, balder, smaller, soft-muscled men better, because the world is full of them if that was the only problem. It’s something about the exact sum of Grant, like a DNA strand, and any substitution seems to ruin the equation.

See, I worry that I might have just described love.

I met a guy who didn’t seem to feel my strange dog was an undue hardship. In fact, I think he respected that about me. So I told him at great length how I happened to come by Dante. When I was sure he would never call me again, my relief felt so tangible that I had to admit I did it on purpose.

Carrie says, “I changed my mind. I don’t think you should get rid of the dog. I think this might be good for you.”
Ellen says, “What do you mean?” She knows what Carrie means. She has considered this, too, at some length.
“How old is that dog?”
“He’s supposed to be about seven. Maybe eight by now.”
“So, he’ll live to be about 10, right?”
“Or 12. Or 14.”
“Anyway, the town just voted you least likely to get robbed or raped. That’s something.”
“Yeah, that’s something. I’m certified uneventful.”

Ellen moves to a different house in an even more remote location. She hopes Dante lives to be 15, at least. More time to think.

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This article first appeared in The Bark,
Issue 44: Sep/Oct 2007
Catherine Ryan Hyde is the author of the story collection Earthquake Weather as well as numerous novels, including Pay it Forward (which was adapted for film and has been translated into 20 languages),Chasing Windmills (Doubleday, Spring '08) and The Day I Killed James (Knopf, Summer '08).

Photograph by Marcy Robinson

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