Bombs in Dogs
My ex Shelly and her new husband are moving out of town, a little over an hour’s drive from here. It’s a planned community on what’s now a golf course, but the whole thing used to be the municipal airfield back before the regional airport went in. They say they’ve treated the soil so it’s not contaminated with jet fuel or de-icers or whatever they find in the graveyards of old planes. I didn’t believe it, so went out and tasted the dirt, trying like hell to object to something. Did I think it would taste like the smell of a filling station? It didn’t. Even if it did, I don’t know what I would’ve done.
Shelly and I have a little girl. Ally. She’s nine now. Her birth was—no offense to Ally—the beginning of the end for Shelly and me. Smell her, Shelly told me in the hospital, shoving the baby’s head right in my face. Smell her. “Smells like old cheese,” I joked, and that was the wrong thing. Made Shelly cry in these gulping sobs that the nurse said was just the hormones, but even then, I knew I’d broken something.
See, you’re supposed to love the way a baby’s head smells, and this is one of those things that I didn’t know. There were a lot of those things I didn’t know, like that married guys are supposed to suddenly love hiking. Or that chalk-white water rings on the coffee table wood isn’t just what happens to coffee table wood. Or that a journeyman electrician isn’t as good a catch as an electrical engineer, even one with receding hair and a bad-teeth smile. But I found all those things out.
And now I’m leaving town too. From Illinois all the way to Dubai, which is a place I had to look up to know that it was in Asia. My uncle is a lighting contractor out there and he’s raking it in—says that I can rent a nice place, hire someone to keep it clean, even to cook, and still clear triple what I’m taking home now. Save up some money real quick, he says. Put something away so Ally can go to college. But I can’t leave my daughter, I say. Bring her with, he says.
“It’s just for a month,” I tell Shelly. This is at the bank in town, because my lawyer says I need notarized permission to take Ally out of the country. “We agreed. A month out of the summer while I’m over there. Just so she still knows my face.”
“I never thought you were serious about this,” Shelly spits. “They put bombs in dogs out there, you know. Bombs in dogs!”
“Where did you hear that?”
“That’s not real, Shel. Someone’s just trying to scare you.”
“You’ve never been afraid of the right things,” Shelly says under a breath I used to feel on my chest while she slept against me. But she signs the paper. Maybe she figures she owes me, seeing as how I hadn’t balked at her moving out of town. Or maybe she’s just tasted the soil on my side, and can’t find an argument.
“It’s just a month. You have her for the other eleven,” I say again, taking the paper and folding it into my jacket pocket. “I won’t be over there for good. And Ally deserves to see something new.” Which I didn’t know I thought until I said it. But I stopped there. Because I’ve learned there are things you say, and things you don’t. Bombs in dogs. Jet fuel under your sod. Ally needs to get away, smell something unspoiled, see that there’s more than just this life, and all the heartbreak leached into it.
It was raining again the last time I saw you. I had just pulled into Eisner’s parking lot to get crackers for chili, and you were walking in to fill a paper sack full of meals without me.
It was raining when we met, too. After the basketball game, I walked you home, we shared an umbrella. Our first thing as a couple, you said. Everything was wet promise. Even the gum on the sidewalk looked chewable again. I told you not to go that far.
My first impulse was to protect you, to keep your hair from losing its shape, to keep your shoulders dry. I gave you more than half the umbrella—your side, plus half of mine. I think that’s the way it’s supposed to be. A man lays his coat over a mud puddle. He walks closest to the road to keep the dirt from splashing up onto the dress of the woman on their arm. He works and comes home and doesn’t complain. He rubs your back before he falls asleep. He gets up, goes to work again the next morning, and doesn’t ask why there’s not coffee.
It’s true that things grow when they’re unattended, and I guess that’s what happened between you and me. The rain, it will do things to a landscape. The ivy on the side of the house—our house, now just mine again—is actually growing under the clapboard and into the walls. I don’t have the heart to pull them out. So our house—my house—is one big looming hug of vine, this dank green that smells like water left in a tire.
I’d asked for the rug that you took when you left. “I loved that rug,” I said. “You didn’t even know we had a rug until it was gone,” you said. “But I miss it now that it’s not there,” I said. You gave me $40. “Get a new one,” you said, and those were the last words. I never got a new rug. Kept those two twenties in my wallet.
Until that day at the grocery store. I saw you walking in shoes I recognized. I fished an envelope out of the glovebox and flattened the two twenties inside and sealed it. On the front I wrote It wasn’t about the rug and didn’t sign it. I ran over to your car without an umbrella to put it under your wipers, knowing it would get soaked, knowing you wouldn’t care, because rain polishes everything, it builds, and it ruins, but mostly it’s us, you and I, our story upside down and washed away, like some beautiful raindrop dream.
Teague von Bohlen is an Associate Professor of Creative Writing at CU Denver, where he serves as one of the fiction editors for the national literary magazine Copper Nickel. Bohlen is currently a regular contributor to the Denver alt-weekly Westword, where he works the literary beat. His short stories have been published widely both in print and online, and his first novel, The Pull of the Earth, won the Colorado Book Award for Fiction in 2007. His recent collection of Midwestern flash fiction and photography, Flatland, is available now at Bronze Man Books, or through his website at teaguevonbohlen.com.