Steven. Steven, is loose.
Loose, so I had to go looking for him.
I’d been meaning to fix the gate. The gate needs fixing, but perhaps it wasn’t the gate?
The old lady down the street with the Schnauzer says I ought to train him. She does a class with hers. Hers is called Winston. Like Churchill she says.
I put flyers up for Steven. I don’t have a picture of him, so I draw his likeness the best I can.
It’s not a bad likeness.
Betty can’t believe I don’t have a picture of him. I tell her such a matter does not rise to the level of disbelief. Steven lacking a picture is not like contemplating the breadth of Hegel. This, I also tell her.
She says coffee is off.
I could have guessed as much. So I go and put up more flyers for Steven.
The flyers say Steven is lost, but I am not certain this is accurate.
Steven may not be lost at all. He may be perfectly well acquainted to wherever he has gone. This thought saddens me, Steven willfully departing, unhappy, or unsatisfied.
I know he likes tennis balls and the ones in the yard are tattered and worn. They are lacking that requisite firmness that Steven likes so much. Tensile strength, Steven might say.
I could have bought him fresh tennis balls. It would have been a nice gesture.
I wake in the dark and I think I hear Steven barking. I am afraid. There is an entire world out there and I am not familiar with its reasoning. Steven’s face lingers in my half-sleep, his sand spotted soft coat and velvety ears that flop in his face like careless children swinging from a rope dance across my restless night.
I drink 1/3 a cup of buttermilk and then try to sleep again.
Betty says I need to put my phone number on the flyers for Steven. I say I should have thought of that. Betty quotes something from Jung, but I can’t place it. Maybe it was Hume? No matter. The rhythms of logic don’t comport with emotional kinship.
I kind of make this point, but you know… the shoving? What is a bridge too far? Still a bridge, right?
I can’t take it right now Betty, I tell her, but she’s already gone into the distance, and of course someone, somewhere, everywhere it seems at night inside the walls, is weeping.
Then I remember Steven has a collar on which has my phone number and then I wish Betty were still around so I could tell her this. Relish her obliteration.
I fry two eggs and eat them with some burnt toast, but Steven is not there to lick the plate and then I know what they mean when they say empty.
It is like that.
Then summer starts to quit and I know it might be foolish to keep waiting. But I wait. And soon, those months are gone too.
It reminds me of the story about the bear and his cave. You know the one?
Yes, well, anyway… It seems the bear had trouble finding its cave.
It wasn’t a parable, simply a moral declination.
The old lady down the street picks up Winston’s turds with tinfoil. I waive to her, but she doesn’t see me. Or she sees me and doesn’t wave back. My mother used to say that God was just an old women walking hither and thither.
I must confess that I do regret the part of me that would love nothing more than to see Winston-like-Churchill get flattened by a delivery truck. Not for the carnage, but for the camaraderie.
Someone stapled an advertisement for a pancake breakfast at the Methodist Church over my flyer for Steven.
I stormed in there with it and slapped it on the lady’s desk. The essence of a cat was surely present.
“Steven is missing and all you can pray for are pancakes!” This I yelled, except you know, I should not have, and in the retelling maybe I should leave out the bit about the desk and the falling and screaming…She had a poor hip I now know. Honest oversight.
Then the police. Then the moments of thought and turmoil from such moments of thought and oversight.
I had lost that grip that they say you should not lose.
“Steven is gone,” I tell the authorities.
They have me do some roofing for them at the new jail. I don’t know much about shingles, but they give me some maps that show how things should go.
I do my best.
The worst part is all the ways one can fall at so many different angles on so many different occasions all from one roof.
Later, at the function, Chip offers me nog. “Nog?” says Chip.
“No,” I say. “No nog for me, Chip.”
Chip retreats like a gentleman.
I cede the moment to grief and sit alone by the wall fixture, burdened, saddened.
I have spaghetti on the stove when the phone rings. The voice on the line says: “Lamar’s Tavern, go in back, and bring cash.” Then the voice hangs up.
I don’t know how much money is necessary. Then there is the matter of Lamar, who I am not acquainted with, and the issues of what and who and all those other things that pile up as I begin to really hunker down and think on it; and before I know it the smoke alarm is going off, because the bread in the oven is on fire and the pasta is paste and the sauce is on the floor, splattered like the scene of a sad ending.
The firemen are not happy. It’s a Sunday. They play cards. I don’t have much I can say.
They cuff me and I’m there again, back in that low place with the lack of knowhow and one of them keeps hitting me in the ribs with some kind of hard brush.
“I’ve got to get better at cooking,” I tell one of the guards.
He smiles and turns the page of his paper. “Just get some sleep,” he says. “You’ll be gone tomorrow and then the whole world will need to get a little better at cooking.”
The rough blanket they give me is too small and everything smells like damp shoes. I just curl up and try to keep warm. Somewhere Steven is curled up too.
I take $200. That’s the best I can figure.
The place attracts a crooked looking sort. They eye me. They don’t say hello. I try for a ginger ale, but the bar man yells at me and makes graffiti with language.
So I get a beer. One with color to it.
He doesn’t like me. He tells me he thinks I might be a cop. I tell him I just want Steven. No metaphors. No vituperations.
In the back is a table with some large men around it.
“I’m here about Steven,” I say and throw the money on the table.
One of them picks it up slowly and counts it. There is a certain scent and tension that is not unlike the draining of a long bath.
“Toto send you?” He asks.
“I just want Steven,” I say. “I put up flyers.”
There is some discussion in Spanish. I do not speak Spanish. My great uncle spoke Polish, but I never knew much of it anyway and it did not matter, Polish would not help me get Steven.
“You want Steven dead?” Says the man.
“Dead? No, I want him back.”
“Back form the dead?” another says and makes a cross on his chest.
“No back from being gone,” I say and take a seat on one of the overturned crates.
“Who’s this Steven?” they want to know.
“There are flyers. Although some have been usurped by a non-secular pancake breakfast, of which there has already been an incident and I don’t care to get into that right now.”
“Steven is not a good name,” one says. “Santayana is good. Or Eugene.”
My patience is lost. I forget the way I am supposed to move. Then, in turn, there is the laughter.
I awake to the barking again. I am filled with regret, with a dandelion kind of sickness.
Then he is there, his warm breath on my face, the cushion of his frame in the folds of my legs and I cannot seem to reach the light to see if it is true or if it is all just a mistake that the mind can make.
So I bark, just to make sure. Then I wait. And I hear him. The sound of the world, both inside and out.
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