The back gate closes with a groan as she carefully descends the three steps to the alley aside our house. As I check for cars, I hear her nails skritch, skritch on the paving stones laid there well over a century ago.
The air sends chills as it drifts across my face and open collar. “It’s okay,” I tell myself, “just a short walk.”
We do this every night. She expects it… and you know what they say about dogs, they do have their rituals. This is her time… and mine too… as we abandon the warmth inside to commune with the spirits. It’s almost one in the morning… I expect we’re the last creatures out tonight.
We’re through the alley and turn right onto a bricked sidewalk lined with Red Maple, White Oak and the occasional Tulip tree. She’ll stop at each tree box, ready to catch the scent of whatever fellow wanderers passed earlier. I hear nothing but our footsteps… and the slow pulse of breath.
An old girl, she pants. I think about all the generations of beings that tread upon this sidewalk. Their spirits meander with us as we drift from one tree to the next.
A curled leaf skittles down the sidewalk, buffeted by the breeze. No signs of life or light escape the shuttered dwellings lining my block. At night, even birds have no song. I think about those who’ve left the day behind. Cozy in their beds, they rest behind wood, glass and brick.
My footsteps give a faint clump, clump, clump as a distant, mournful horn announces the Northeast Regional arriving on the well-worn tracks of Union Station. Time stretches out, the world opens up…
Powering the Day
A hurly-burly morning — marching feet, a crush of sound. Everything so brittle and bright. The glare challenges my eyes as it beams across the bustling street. Cars boom out snatches of hip hop, punctured by angry horns. A grey suit with brown shoes strides by, telling unseen ears, “I’m killing it, too bad Jay.” Two women click by — handbags, yoga mats and briefcases draped over hunched shoulders. A treadmill of brown shoes and serious suits, heels and dresses. And blue shirts. So many blue shirts, power striding to the Metro four blocks away.
In the daylight, no need for vision – I see the same buildings I’ve walked past for 34 years — slow swimming in a steady sea. Things are anchored down, everything in its place. No quest for new lands, just the day’s plans: errands to run, tasks to finish, promises to keep.
Keen with her own agenda, the dog’s paws carry us along the same well traveled path. She ignores the cars but stops for people, hoping for praise or a hand to stroke her silky fur. I try to move us forward. Her leash pulls me back — her short stubby legs braced against my tugging. My tongue click clicks, urging her onward. A new scent to explore, she doesn’t move.
A Zen exercise… I fail every morning.
Snout grazing the ground, she traces each scent back to its source. I try to be patient, mindful of her mission. Everything blurs as more cars zoom by. The day’s crackling energy flurries around me.
Thoughts churning, I’m getting ahead of myself. Not her. She lifts her head, eyes locked on a distant shape. Her nose quivers to capture a trace of the wiry black dog trotting onto our street. Friend or rival? Testing the air, she’s content to await the answer. I’m anxious to move on, stoptending to her canine rhythms and gin up my own.
My eyes track a mocking bird as it swoops down to my neighbor’s Redbud tree, screeching in protest — we’re too close to his nest. Ready to move, I look down to see a snatch of greasy napkin disappear into the dog’s maw. Damn! Lizard brain hisses, “Step up! Grab it.” My lip curls, authority challenged. She’ll growl a warning and snap if I reach for it. I grit my teeth, sigh, and let it go. Head high, she strolls on, proud with her prize.
She’ll carry it a while then chomp it down, a lovely morning snack. It’s not like we don’t feed her…
Sky Castles and Sweet Nectar
At night, anything goes. I build sky castles, unravel mysteries, construct brilliant passages in my mind’s eye. I see so clearly at night. Everything shimmers with possibilities.
At one with the spirits, I commune with my parents. They float in the air around me, like reeds fluttering in the breeze. Sometimes we talk. I tell them how I’m doing, what I’ve been pondering. I wonder if they hear me…
I thank them for giving me life.
Some days I have plans… a schedule to keep. Sometimes. But most days I stop to smell the honeysuckle wrapped around the ramshackle picket fence leaning into our path like a tipsy sailor. I pick some, bite off the ends and suck the sweet nectar like when I was a kid.
We Trace the Same Path
In sunlight I drift around like a teenager. I stop and listen to an insect’s buzz as it circles breakfast. My eyes scan the treetops to glimpse a woodpecker pounding a staccato beat. The scent of purple irises sends me back to when I first discovered them in Mrs. Palmer’s garden. They stood so tall, row after row. Purple and white, white and purple. The dog investigates a lovely odor. I play statue and freeze until she starts to move — my cue to follow her lead.
Nighttime there’s none of that. I’m just alone with my thoughts and the ghosts, and the sense that life can stretch out so far before it starts to boomerang back to where it’s been. Time is a rubber band. I’m young and so excited about getting older, old and excited thinking about when I was young. Expanding this way and that, opening up and letting go… holding on, holding tight.
The emotional stew that peppers my days, simmers at night. I take a deep breath and cool air fills my lungs. The air feels clean, clear, embracing. I’m still alive and there’s still time.
A moth caught by streetlight drifts up in the night sky, pale yellow against blackened leaves and branches… a lost soul on its journey to heaven. I recall a story from my childhood about how the Devil captured souls, fluttering like moths, awaiting their doom in his black purse. I like the imagery… wonder what form my soul will take when I pass, or if I’ll just vanish into the mists.
We trace the same path every night, every day, my dog and me. She’s having a hard time walking. I don’t want to challenge her too much, so we keep it simple. That’s what my mom would always advise me when I’d go on about what was bothering me… or my latest anxiety… or some new epiphany I discovered… or wondering how to find my way in the world. I was always trying to figure it out, bending her ear, shifting back and forth between exuberance and depression. So now, hovering between the light and the darkness, my dog is there as my ballast. Keeping it steady as she goes.