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October 2023

Dogs of California
by Allie King

            If Saul was a Pitbull, or a German Shephard I would’ve understood, but he was a one hundred percent Ashkenazy Jew with a degree in accounting, a thirty-year mortgage and seven pairs of shoes. A podiatrist he met at our cousin’s Bar Mitzvah told him never wear the same pair of shoes two days in a row, and Saul being both a rule follower and an advice taker to hearter created a shoe rotation to support his falling arches and his compliant ambitions. Along with all this fine organization Saul had one bad habit and one serious flaw. Some nights, might be on the full moon, might be on Rosh Hodesh, he’d go out and dig up the yard. In the morning unearthed tree roots would show their naked flesh and Saul would crawl into the house carrying a stick in his mouth, his arms, legs, and face covered with mud - unrepentant. I blamed it on Ben, his boyfriend of five years, dumping him for another dentist.

            This continued through the summer and fall, but when winter arrived, and snow covered the ground it became dangerous.

            “Miriam, I think I have frostbite in my mouth,” Saul said.

I am always the one he calls when there’s a need for medical care, or bail, or a place to crash.

            “Were you digging in the yard?” I knew the answer, but you have to start a conversation somewhere.

            “Ughuh. Nobody gets hurt, consenting adults,” Saul said mumbling as if his tongue ached.

            “Doctor or dentist?” I needed to find out if it was a tooth problem or a soft tissue problem.

            “Doctor. You talk, hurt too much.” Saul avoided dentists at any cost – more of Ben’s malignant influence.

            I told him I’d pick him up and we could go to urgent care.
On the way over I tried to devise a plausible explanation for the doc in a box, so they wouldn’t send him for a psych eval.

            “My cousin’s fine, but since his boyfriend left him, sometimes he has to dig up the yard and chew sticks.” Sure, that would go over well. Maybe since he’s white and has insurance, it’s less likely they’ll try to 5150 him.

            Saul limped up to the car, his Sunday shoes covered in mud, his jeans encrusted with dirt and moss and soaking wet.

            “It might be hours of waiting, you can’t sit around in wet clothes,” I said.

Wearing clean corduroys and Monday’s shoes he made it through the Urgent Care ordeal and was sent home with some lidocaine and a referral to a social worker.

            “Is it getting worse?” It was a calculated question because this was the first time Saul needed medical care after a romp in the yard.

            “I miss Ben,” Saul said and dissolved into tears in my arms. His mother raised him right and there was a fresh box of tissues on the coffee table perched on a tea tray. I plucked two out and shoveled them into his hands careful not to touch his battered face.

After he calmed down and applied the lidocaine, I offered to heat up some soup. Saul waved me away, changed into flannel pajamas and went to bed.

 

I paced his tidy living room, thought about calling his ex-boyfriend Ben, called my sister, got voice mail, and went home. I never considered calling my aunt, Saul’s mother, because she only has time for her own woes and any call to her meant forty-five minutes of uh-huhs, and oh reallys.

 

My dog Ruben, a big honking labradoodle greeted me at the door with yips of pleasure, joyously circled around me and returned with his leash in his mouth. On our walk I talked with him about Saul and his deteriorating mental health. Ruben sat and barked at me. Well, why hadn’t I thought of that.

            I waited until after dinner to call Saul.

            “I know what you need to do,”

            “Huh?” Saul said.

            “You need to get a dog. If you had a dog, you wouldn’t need to act like one. You could get your gratification from watching the dog instead of having to do it yourself.”

            Saul agreed we could go to the animal shelter on Sunday.

            “Next Sunday. I don’t think they’ll let you adopt a dog with your red, green, and purple face. Promise me no more digging in the yard. If you need to chew on something get one of those cinnamon sticks they give to people trying to quit smoking.”

            Saul abstained from digging in the yard and on a bright winter Sunday he brought Charlie, a Dachshund Pekingese mix, home.

You could tell from the minute they met, Saul kneeling down to pet little Charlie, that it was true love at first sight.

            Saul showed Charlie the yard, his water dish and bed. I left them curled up on the couch. Saul reading the New York Times aloud.

            After three weeks without a panicked call from Saul I dropped by to see if all was well.

Saul and Charlie were side by side in the yard playing chase the ball.

            Saul took the stick out of his mouth and said “Thanks Miriam. Charlie and I love each other; he’s my soul mate. You can stand down – we’ve got it from here.”

            From the car I called my sister.

            “Gay love, bi love, asexuality, grey sexuality all fine, but this could get him arrested.”

            “I don’t think he means it like that.” I sighed and rested my face against the cold window. “I think he means they understand each other, they like to do the same things.”

            “Yeah, but Saul has to go to work in an office some times. How does he explain Charlie?”

            “Maybe we can get Charlie designated as an emotional support animal.” I called the social worker to talk about getting a certificate for Charlie. She said there’s a process and a test for the certification.

            “We could get Charlie certified as an emotional support animal,” I dropped by and reported to Saul. He was sitting on the floor, Charlie on his lap.

            Saul pulled himself up to his full six-foot height, and I realized how long it had been since I saw him up on two legs.

            “That’s an insult. Unless we get me certified as an emotional support animal to him too. We’re equals.”

            “Except you work, drive to the grocery store and buy kibble,” I wasn’t sure what argument might be persuasive.

            “Charlie doesn’t eat kibble,” Saul still upright and indignant stalked toward me.

            “We eat gourmet meals; I prepare them myself from fresh organic local ingredients.” He plucked the top off a simmering pot on the stove.

            “Smells bland,” I said.

            “Charlie can’t eat anything spicy. You know that.”

Being a conscientious dog owner, I knew not to feed dogs onions, garlic, or raisins.

            “Saul are you ok? I mean do you think you’re ok?”

            “I’m fine,” he said dropping onto hands and knees.

The truth is he looked good. His bruises were healed and there was light in his eyes. Charlie came over and nudged at Saul’s leg with a ball dropping the red plastic sphere to the carpet. Saul picked up the ball in his mouth and made a feint at Charlie. Charlie jumped onto Saul’s back barking. Saul rolled over catching Charlie and hugging him to his belly.

            “Who am I to judge,” I said. “Come for dinner Friday?”

            “We’d love to.” Saul said and Charlie licked his chin. “Charlie has excellent table manners.”

            After I lit the candles, passed the wine, and shared the challah we ate.

Saul was right, Charlie sat on his chair, didn’t beg, didn’t whine, didn’t fart. I’d laid a plastic mat on the floor to catch any debris, but Charlie was tidy.

            “Did you enjoy dinner?” Saul seemed to expect Charlie to answer. Charlie gave a low woo woo and jumped down. Saul joined the dog on the floor and they rolled around, Saul laughing and Charlie woo wooing.

            In preparation for the visit, I put my dog Ruben in the bedroom afraid he might learn bad habits, but Charlie remained a perfect gentleman all evening including sitting and offering his paw before leaving.

            I called my sister to report on the visit.

            “They seem really good.”

            “You sound like you’re talking about a happy married couple,” she said.

            “Maybe I am,” I said scratching my head.

            “Do I have to start worrying about you and Ruben? Are you going to start digging in the yard with him?” I laughed.

            “I don’t like the taste of dirt.”

I called Saul to check in because when we were growing up he was afraid of spiders and snakes and worms.

            “How can you dig in the dirt and chew on sticks when you’re terrified of insects?”

            “Charlie would protect me from anything dangerous. His sense of smell is ten thousand times better than mine.”

            “What’s good about chewing on sticks?”

            “It’s very satisfying.”

            I couldn’t believe I was willing to consider chewing on stick might be a reasonable, healthy thing. My cousin Saul, the calm, rational, boring cousin, the one whose socks and belt always matched, the one who remembered everyone’s birthdays, advocated chewing on sticks.

            “Charlie and I are going for a hike next weekend. Want to come? Charlie picked a trail on Mt. Tam.”

            On behalf of myself and Ruben, I accepted.

Saul showed up with a backpack, water bottle and sensible shoes. Charlie sported a matching outfit – minus the shoes.

Hiking the trial they seemed to communicate telepathically, stopping and cocking their heads in unison when a bird sang out.

 

            I called my sister to report.

            “We hiked for four hours. Saul didn’t mention Ben even once,” This was a big change from the first months after Ben left when Saul called me daily to report on the million times he missed Ben.

“Maybe he didn’t want Charlie to get jealous,” I said.

            “You’re starting to lose it. Do I have to start worrying about you?”

            “You know how much I spent to get these teeth looking good. I’m not going to jeopardize them.” But I wondered what sinking my teeth into a soft stick would feel like.

            I called Saul.

            “Are some sticks better than others? Do some taste better or are they more fun to chew?”

            “I like the ones that aren’t too long. Charlie’s willing to drag his across the yard, but I like the compact ones – easier to carry.”

            I knew my sister would kick me if she heard this conversation. We were comparing the relative merits of sticks as if they were bottles of wine, or gourmet cheeses.

            “This is my best relationship ever. I thought what I had with Ben was amazing, but Charlie’s attuned to my every mood. He can tell by my tone of voice how I feel. I never have to explain myself. He accepts me as I am.”

            I did my own compare and contrast between my past relationships and my current relationship with Ruben. He was right. No relationship could be better than mine and Ruben’s.

            “Can you promise me you won’t hurt yourself digging in the yard and chewing on tree roots again?” I hated to bring it up, but it was the elephant in the room.

            “Charlie doesn’t believe in chewing on living roots. We only like abandoned sticks. You know, the ones the trees don’t need anymore.”

            Now Charlie makes the rules. It used to be Ben, now it’s Charlie.

            “Good night,” I said.

Ruben watched me brush my teeth and settled on the bed, placing his shaggy head on his pillow.

I kissed his snout, cuddled down under the covers and dreamed of sheep.

Bio

Allie King enjoys reading and writing about people, animals, and people who know they are animals.

BEE LB

 

mod podge

once, i spent each day tracing my face onto the page. nothing changed

but my perception of self. the angle of my jaw, the shape of my eye,

the curve and spike of my hair. i was a child, though i didn’t know it then.

 

always, i’ve wanted to be more. always, my eyes have been stuck looking

back. i used the flat side of my pencil to shade. my grip was so tight i’d make

myself sore from creation. i’m sure i still have that month tucked away somewhere.

 

but i don’t reach for it. i’ve stopped searching for mementos. the past is not

laid to rest but it has been buried. i’m not in mourning but i do grieve my small selves. 

the bounce of my cheek, the rust in my throat, every piece of me i cut down

 

in order to keep living. i’ve never been as alone as i felt. there are things i know

to be true and there are things i feel stronger than reality. i believed then as i do

now that emotion is a force to bend at will, to be felt or discarded. if the colors

 

i see are not the colors you see, how will we know? if my eyes are to be trusted

who can i depend on? if memory can smear from my touch what is it that comes

away on my fingers afterward? charcoal, oil pastel, lead, sediment, paint?

 

everyone wants me to talk to the past but the truth is they won’t hear me.

i’m not even talking about logic or reality but i remember then, i remember

who i was and who i would listen to and it was never me, i never knew

 

better. the only voice i’d follow is that of cruelty inside me. i’m sure i’ll grow

though i don’t know i’ll grow out of it. i paint now. i spoiled my last drawing

i made and gave up. an accident is only as meaningful as the damage that results.

 

some people use coffee as paint. i cry over every small spill. if i close my eyes i can

remember the acrid scent of rubber cement. i still don’t know my own face. i’ve given up trying to find out what i look like, or who i am. i keep my art in a rainbow craft box.

 

on one side, rope. on the other, gold. inside, everything i don’t know how to say.

Bio:

BEE LB is an array of letters, bound to impulse; a writer creating delicate connections. they have called any number of places home; currently, a single yellow wall in Michigan. they have been published in FOLIO, Figure 1, and The Offing, among others. they are a poetry reader for Capsule Stories. their portfolio can be found at twinbrights.carrd.co

Like being drawn by a soaring choir to an ancient cathedral high on the ramparts of an enchanting city I am in thrall to scungy streets replayed in my mind. I see lampposts disappear into fog in my early boyhood near London, austere images reminiscent of Whistler. My mother who is old, heading for forty, wears a headscarf, her walk always hasty. I hustle, little legs jogtrotting to keep pace. A petrol smell can trigger this memory. My father’s workman’s flat cap shades a spare thin cigarette tucked behind his ear he rolls from tobacco with a gadget; my gimcrack birthday present from Woolworth’s for him. Strident cockney humour drifts from a neighbour’s wireless. These eked days resemble happiness.

I see our house online in a street on our old estate where all the houses look alike, enjoying finding it, but not wanting to live there again. A black and white purring cat’s paws prick my thighs. We have just enough food, nothing wasted, but few books. In our back lane the little girl next door and I show each other our genitals, outraging my mother who catches us. Walking down the main road approaching the gasworks where she told him to take me for creosote to protect the chicken coop my lungs fill with tar fumes. Oh, that heady cold air! From dark sheds wide-belted men, all vanished now, call out my father’s nickname, Smudge, the same as mine.

 

A street meeting the terminus of a city railway line in Australia, my past rushing at me: the station’s platform ramp emptying into a bus stop and taxi-rank, is where I, a recent immigrant schoolboy, earn change on weekends toting travellers’ heavy suitcases, a porter without a trolley. This is where scenes about the world’s end would later be shot. These are not days of heaven at home. My struggling mother, homeland abandoned, my father a disappointment, thought our location appropriate for a dystopian tale. Between train arrivals, fantasising about being invisible, I smoke cigarettes I roll without a gadget, plotting my escape to all the glittering cities, to a swaggering long life.

After many streets in interesting places throughout this world I find the smell of bitumen after rain, lights in small windows, evoke those first streets I feel remote stirrings towards: the ways, avenues, and closes of childhood. There in the scullery is my mother home again from shopping in drizzling rain, sipping brewed tea she prepared even before removing her winter coat, where, gasping, she soaks her chilblains in a chipped bowl. Her swollen feet. Outside, a drift of leaves I love to kick through piles against our fence. Next door, our kind neighbour, midwife at my birth in our front room, cares for her disabled adult daughter. In a puddle’s reflection I practise faces, the future mysterious. Recall includes rationing, and, yes, glimpses of sun through that constant drizzle. A kind of beauty. Yes.

Archivist

By Ian  C. Smith

Bio

Ian C Smith's work has been widely published. He writes in the Gippsland Lakes region of Victoria, and on Flinders Island, Tasmania..

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