When they got home, Everett watched Polly disappear into the bedroom to watch TV.He made himself a martini and sat down in the living room with the paper.His was a lonely life, he realized, even with a nubile girlfriend. Polly greeted him and chatted with him and kissed him and made love to him with youthful energy and cheer, but it was as if she did those things from across a great divide. The dog had followed him now and pushed his face between Everett and the newspaper, laying his muzzle comfortably on Everett’s leg. Everett was too sad to scold the dog at that moment. He didn’t stir. The dog didn’t stir. A gentle quiet descended. Everett realized he liked the feeling of the dog’s head on his leg, the warmth of a living being so close to him, demanding nothing, just there.He patted Howdy with one hand and held the martini glass with another. The dog had such silky ears, such a golden, silky face.He listened to the rhythmic tranquility of the dog’s breathing.
“Howdy,” he said softly.
Howdy looked up, his head cocked, his eyes dark and somehow reassuring.
Everett experienced an unfamiliar sensation.He looked into the dog’s eyes, and he was suddenly, intensely aware of the room around him, of the soft order of his furnishings and his life, of the soft order outside where day was giving way to night, of the TV sounds and the cold wet of the martini glass, of the smudgy feel of newsprint on his fingers, but mostly he was aware of joy —the wild, clattering joy of being alive.
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“Howdy,” he whispered. “Howdy.” Howdy thumped his tail against the floor, and the two of them gazed into each other’s eyes, like lovers.
When Howdy jumped on Everett’s bed that night, Polly said, “Off!”
But Howdy, instead of jumping down, turned and looked at Everett, as if for further instructions.
Everett did not know any dog commands. “Just for a little while,” he said, which is what he used to tell Emily, but Howdy seemed to understand him perfectly and stretched out with a comfortable grunt.
“You’ve changed your tune,” Polly said.
“I’m only human,” he said.
A few days later, Polly and her brother George received a telephone call from their mother in California reminding them of the date of her sixtieth birthday and offering them frequent flier miles.
“A summons,” George said when they’d hung up. “Like traffic court.Might as well get it over with.”
“Or we’ll get hit with more fines?”
Polly shrugged. She had some vacation days due. It seemed a shame to waste them on family, but it would be fun to see her high school friends who had stayed in California. Then she had a startling thought.
“The dog!” she said.
George looked stunned.
“I forgot about him,” he said, looking guiltily at the sleeping hulk in the corner.
The problem was resolved in a way neither of them would have predicted. Everett offered to take care of Howdy while they were away. Polly was pleased and felt her importance in having such a devoted boyfriend. On the other hand, she was a little disappointed that Everett didn’t seem at all anxious about her impending absence.
“I’ll only be gone for a few days,” she said, prompting him. But he just nodded and said it wasn’t much time for Howdy and him to get to know each other, but it was a start. Everett, for his part, could hardly believe his luck.Howdy was coming to pad around his empty apartment. Howdy’s big plumed tail would swish across his coffee table. Howdy would sprawl on his bed, his couch, his carpet.He immediately began straightening pictures on the wall and plumping cushions, as if Howdy were a fastidious houseguest.
George didn’t like the idea of leaving the dog with Everett, but he saw no other possibilities. He had dropped hints to Jamie, but Jamie had responded with studied incomprehension. So on Friday afternoon, he gathered up Howdy’s toys and food. Polly was meeting him at the airport and he was to take the dog up to Everett.
Everett had left work early in order to be home when the transfer was made, and he opened the door when George rang, squatted down, and offered his face for Howdy’s greeting.George watched with grudging approval.
“Here’s his food,” he said, handing Everett a shopping bag with dry food and several cans.
Everett looked in the shopping bag, which also contained Howdy’s toys, a box of treats, and a detailed list of his schedule of walking and eating. Then Everett produced his own shopping bag and its contents: a new blue rubber ball, a squeaky plush hedgehog, and a ceramic dog dish with soft green stripes.
“Jonathan Adler,” he said, handing the dish to George. George looked puzzled.
“He designed it,” Everett said.“He’s a designer.”
George handed the bowl back to Everett.
“You can call to check up on Howdy,” Everett said. “Do you want my cell phone number, too?”
This was the friendliest Everett had ever been to George. “Howdy,”Everett was saying softly.“Howdy,Howdy,Howdy.” He patted his chest and Howdy immediately put his front paws there. The two of them stood gazing into each other’s eyes. George couldn’t help but smile.
Everett saw the smile and smiled back. George felt suddenly happy, as if the sun had come out. Oh, he said to himself. I get it. This is what happened to Polly. The smile.
“It’s so nice of you to take the dog,” he said.He almost meant it. He watched Howdy wagging his tail, and he had a sudden realization.He looked at Howdy, now lying on his back, then at Everett, now scratching the dog’s belly, and he thought, I am jealous of my sister’s boyfriend. And not even because Everett was his sister’s boyfriend, but because his sister’s boyfriend was taking care of his sister’s dog.
Oh, well, he thought, as he left the happy couple. I’m only human.
Everett clipped on Howdy’s leash a few minutes later and took the dog for a celebratory promenade up the block. At the real-estate agency around the corner on Columbus he stopped as he often did to examine the placards displaying tempting photographs of loftlike gems and spacious sun-filled one-of-akind marvels. But he found he was less intrigued than usual and led Howdy over to a fluffy white dog, introduced by her owner as Lola, and he peacefully watched the two dogs in their amiable examination of each other’s genitals.