A pack of wild dogs runs south through the business district, sending flocks of birds into the air in its barreling trail. As the pack moves, it grows, and more dogs file in from every corner of the city, barking and howling and bringing life to the trees, which shudder as they yawn in the morning sun. Flowers bloom on their delicate branches, and each tiny bud gives birth to petal after petal of yellow, pink, white, red, orange, purple, blue. Around the trees, amidst the city streets, between the pastel petal-clusters through which the dog pack runs, only green prevails. Not just one green, but every shade of green. From forest to jungle, lime to apple, olive to chartreuse, from the minty green of the vines which crawl up building after obsolete building, to the deep green of the ocean, which lights up at the horizon – a safe and tranquil horizon – stretching so far into the distance that nothing out there even matters anymore, as if anything here still did.
In the clock tower the minute hand still ticks its heavy toll, counting up and down the time, reminding nobody that the earth is still turning and the sun is still shining and the city, at least, is not dead. To the south, by the harbor, there is a grove of apple trees, and at the center of the grove, under one petite, shady tree, there is a stone bench. It is at this bench where he and she met only a day ago, and it is on this bench where they now sit, breathing as if oxygen never tasted so bad.
“Are you thinking about me?” he asks.
“I’m not thinking about anything,” she replies. She is nearly fifteen years older than the man, whom she figures isn’t even twenty-five. He reminds her of someone she cannot recall. She says, “Does it matter?”
His hair is long and tangled. By habit he brushes it out of his face, revealing his pale cheeks and teenager’s beard. His hands hang awkwardly at his sides, his fingers shaking. “I was just wondering,” he says to her. “You haven’t spoken today.”
The woman sighs but does not answer. Her skirt is matted and dirty. The now off-white blouse that rests carelessly on her shoulders falls unbuttoned down her front, revealing her laced brassiere and the loose skin of her belly. The man’s eyes wander. He waits a moment and then speaks again. “Do you want to know what I’m thinking?”
“I already know,” she replies. “You want to fuck.”
The man is taken aback by her bluntness and accuracy. His lips quiver. He plans a reply and fails. “No,” he says finally. “I just think we should.”
She slowly lowers herself from the bench and lies down in the long grass below him, closing her eyes, unabashed.
“To be honest,” he says, “it’s not that I’m very attracted to you. I mean, that sounded bad but I, I mean I just think we ought to, right?”
She remains silent.
“I thought you would be thinking the same,” he says, looking down at her still white figure in the green. “Apparently not.”
To the sound of cooing birds above her the woman begins, for the first time today, to think – not about him or her, or the apple tree under which they rest, but instead she thinks of an older time and an older day. She thinks about the Hotel Deluxe.
It was just after Christmas, the day after the New Year, and a month before it happened, and everyone in the city was starting to hate each other again. She could tell that the holiday spirit had worn off by the way the cashiers in the supermarket looked at her when she pulled her cart down the aisle, by the people behind her sitting on their horns when she didn’t realize the light had turned green, and by the fact that her husband, her son, and her boss had all forgotten that it was her birthday.
She stopped at the Hotel Deluxe bar on her way back from work, as she used to do now and then. She ordered a drink and sat at the end of the bar alone, as she also made habit of in those years. In those years – five years ago were they? ten? – it was not uncommon for her to stop here after a long day. It was uncommon, however, for her to have more than one drink. Yet, it was her birthday – how old? – and it was a Monday – was it? – and she knew in her heart that she was miserable. After three drinks and a long conversation with the bald man who had eyed her from the other end of the bar and eventually sat down next to her, she was invited up to his hotel room. She accepted, and then he had her in the shower, and it wasn’t until after, when she was putting her clothes on in the bathroom, that she remembered she hadn’t called home, as she had always done, to tell her husband she had stayed late at the office. She also remembered that the man, who just had her in the shower and now was putting his clothes on too in the room next door, had never told her his name.
Once she had freshened up, she walked out of the bathroom and opened the door to the hallway, stepping halfway out of the room before stopping to look back. The bald man had by then found his way to his bed, where he sat in silence, propped up by pillows and watching a painfully quiet television. The remote hung loosely from his hand, which rested on his protruding gut, and his eyes did not waver from the screen. He was not attractive, she noticed. The woman waited, taking three deep breaths, and by the third breath the man had closed his eyes, still upright on the bed. She wondered, standing there half in the room and half out, as to who the man was and why he was in the city and why, of all the people in the world, it was he, plump, bald and lust-filled, who had sat down next to her at the bar. Then she closed the door quietly so as not to wake him, and walked back down the hall. Her husband looked up as the elevator door opened and she stepped inside. Still tucking in his shirt and staring at her, as shocked as she, he said, “Funny meeting you here.”
“So what do you think?” asks the man on the bench.
The woman stares at a particularly large, green apple lying in the grass beside her face. She examines it with bizarre interest, inspecting each blotch of bruise and shine. After a long sigh and before an ant reaches the fruit’s soft flesh, she picks it from the ground, rises again to the bench, and takes a bite. She chews it loudly, juice dribbling from the corners of her mouth, and then, between crunches of apple, mumbles, “I think I’m not really in the mood.”
“The mood?” he says.
“To have sex,” she replies. “That’s what you meant, right? By ‘what do you think?’”
The man grunts. “I suppose. But don’t you feel a bit obligated?”
She takes another big bite of the apple before letting the rest drop to the ground. “Do you?”
The man turns and looks down at her exposed chest. Nervously, he places three fingers on her shoulder. She turns her neck and locks eyes with his. His fingers move from her shoulder down her arm, from her elbow to her wrist and then, in an awkward leap, to her thigh, where his hand comes to a rest. His eyes close. She closes hers as well, breathing in deeply and then exhaling in a smooth sustain. His hand begins to inch up her coarse, pale leg. Her spine tickles and she slaps him across the side of the jaw, causing him to recoil like a snake.
His eyes open. He puts a soft hand to his cheek. “God dammit,” he says.
Her answer is silence.
They sit together for a long time – how long? – before he gets up from the bench. He brushes off his pants, and without a word or even a glance, walks off. The woman watches him until he has left the grove, a little ways off, to disappear or reappear somewhere else, somewhere not here, and shortly after she hears it coming from the north. Barking and howling still, the wild pack of dogs hurdles through the orchard past her, and by this point the pack has grown to about thirty strong, boasting every size and shape of the species. It lasts only for a moment, but in that moment the woman notices a Jack Russell in the middle of the pack, yipping along at the heels of its running mates. She is reminded of the little puppy she had as a child – how long ago? – and tries to remember its name but can’t. Soon enough the dogs clear the orchard and continue forward, leaving the woman behind, sitting there on the bench tossing an apple in her hand. Up and down. Up and down. Up and down.
Beyond her, the pack brings its uproar south for miles, traversing grass and road and beach, winding down city avenues and blazing through the overgrown streets. It gains strength and force as it escapes the city, dogs from all around joining in, rampant and wild. Each empty town they pass donates more and more animals, and the commotion continues south along the coast with an unending fervor. For miles the dogs run, and soon the birds join in too, flying overhead and calling to each other, claiming each new valley theirs. Their coos and calls become one with the howls of the dogs, which echo loud up to the heavens as they shake their clanging collars loose. The colors and the sounds of the wild take the countryside like a wave, and as the sun begins to set, the pack splits up, sending dog and bird and fur and feather to the south and east and in every direction, closing in on the shadowy, calm lakes and rivers and collapsed sheds and faded red farmhouses and tattered flags and orchards upon orchards upon orchards of apple trees, embracing the blues and the purples and the pinks of the sky, and by nightfall the land is quiet.
(Photo courtesy of http://picturesklix.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/City-Skyline-Picture21.jpg)