The morning after they decided to end things, she walked idly through the snow in the park behind their house. Exercise, she had told herself. It would help. She had petitioned the dog to come with her, and, after assessing the snow outside the house with one gingerly placed paw, the dog had decided to keep her company.
The exercise would take her mind off him and all that terrible stuff that happened next; the divison of things. The not talking. Having to avoid places he might be. Moving, but sad moving, rather than happy moving. The broken seconds of the first minutes of each day for weeks after, where you forget what has happened because the pillows smell of him and hope and love.
The snow crunched under foot and this warmed her mood a bit. She thought back to how hot it was in the August just gone. How he would meet her in the park with a picnic and the dog. They’d walk for hours, drink beers and throw sticks. The dog would always end the walk with a jump in the river, emerging caked in mud to disapproval from them both. A sad hosing down for the hound before they headed home, both of them frowning and scowling as they picked leaves and mud out of the dog’s coat.
She still loved him very much. His energy, his pride. His secret sadness and his determination not to let it define him. She still wasn’t sure what had happened or when or how. It had only been one day since they decided to part and she ached.
The dog padded ahead through the snow, sniffing at trees and following imaginary quests for dog treasures. To be a simple creature, she thought. To be unburdened and light, to live for the things that mean nothing and everything at once. To not see meaning or understand what meaning even means. The dog paused for a moment and angled his head. ‘There’s a squirrel here somewhere’, the dog thought. The dog detective.
They got to the river, and the beast jumped in. He disappeared for a while. When he clambered out on the other side of the bank, he was wretched and joyous and a dog-grin beamed so wide on his little face, his tongue lolled to the left like he had forgotten how it was part of him. So happy and so dirty, as if they were the same thing. He had captured his foe, his quest complete; a knobbly stick, bigger than his own leg. The triumphant hound, a puppy for a moment despite his years. And then, that feeling. The feeling of having been here before maybe. He was happy, that was for sure, but there was something crawling past it, something elusive and oblique. A tremor, a cloud. The opposite of the river feeling. He had been naughty, maybe. He looked back at his master to see if he had been naughty or a bad dog. He felt like he had been, but was unsure. The bad feeling that came after the river feeling was not a good feeling.
Today was different. There was no telling off. The dog watched the master, but the master watched the light from the little screen in her hand. And as the master looked forlornly to see if she had any new messages, her face a pale glow like the white park, some birds flew by, and the dog shifted from watching the master to enviously eyeing the birds. Birds and squirrels, sticks and rivers. All with no master and no after river feelings.
The lamp made amber the hall of the house, the half-light of January tea time waiting outside. The noise of the keys on the coffee table told the dog that certain things were to happen next, and that meant there was some water in that bowl in the kitchen, and there would be a lie down now, maybe the fire. No fire for the squirrel, the dog thought. Or the bird. He smiled a little as his heavy, happy eyelids tried to stay open, each stroke from her hand ruffling the fur on the top of his head. She turned the TV on and they watched Poirot together.