Fiction · 07/22/2015

Tying the Knot

The place I am going — that place is called home.

I have this fantasy where I get rid of it all, put a down payment on a little red car, quit my job, adopt a dog, and drive right out of the sunset.

The dog’s name is Charlie, like the dog in All Dogs Go to Heaven. Charlie and I don’t speak the same language, per se, but we can communicate with our eyes, and through the moving glass door I let Charlie know I just bought him some time. Charlie looks right back at me and blinks, “So what’s new?” and I think, “Charlie, you’re all right,” and Charlie barks, right on cue.

We hit the road soon after because my old landlord vouches my stability over the phone, and — I’ll tell you this now — we were never confidants until I explained why I am leaving, and how.

This landlord, he’s a romantic.

He told me that in exchange for the first bit of information — that I am in love. L-O-V-E. I spelled it out backwards in the air with my finger on my final trip to the laundry room. He clapped me on the shoulder and I was reminded that for two years I was also the only student tenant who paid her rent on time.

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Charlie and I, we end up in the southwest soon enough, where each bar is a saloon and every car is actually a truck, and Charlie is all tongue and tail wags as we make our journey, which gives me hope. Charlie gets it.

I have to admit that sometimes I don’t, not at all. Not after the previous being-in-love led to torn knuckles slammed around and more than one burnt up flowerpot, and the one before that reached its pinnacle when I found myself running after that love down the famous Nevsky Prospekt in St. Petersburg.

Now look at me. It’s the adventurist in me, that landlord hope, a recently converted devotee to the saguaro cactus lit up in headlights against midnight constellations I cannot name, the world simply an excuse for a night sky where I find myself compelled to ponder if we aren’t just in some unshaken snow globe, crystals for stars dazzling up a hand-crafted heaven. The new me, heading for the old home.

At 3:04 a.m. I am switching the radio from “How does it feel, to be on your own,” to “Oh honey, tramps like us,” because the latter is more Charlie’s and my speed.

105 in an ominously unmarked desert zone, heading for the heartland, that is.

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Do not think me a fool. I have my reservations. This of course leads to a motel room some miles out of Las Cruces, New Mexico, where the white sand dunes shine under a harvest moon if you plan the trip just right.

Because I have, the room accommodates for dogs, and together Charlie and I watch late-night reruns of Oprah, making meaningful eye contact at certain moments of the program, and especially the commercial breaks.

Oprah was wrong, I’m telling Charlie. It’s not so much “aha” moments (picture the light bulb) as it is “oh” moments — not little gifts of enlightenment divvied out through a life of good will and trying hard, your brain flickering incandescent when you realize some new mistake and the meaning of it all, but that one bright light you are given to begin with getting steadily dimmer.

Oh, oh, oh.

“Ruff,” Charlie says, which also doubles as his one English word, and I lean my nose into his for support, and they are both wet.

To be in love, after what I’ve seen and done, is to hold myself suspect. As long as we are both clear on this fact, maybe we can swing it. As my friend across the ocean says, sometimes things work out so well you’ve got to wonder who’s running the show. After all, it’s not like she started out on that side of the ocean.

For my part, I’m thinking about it like this: mistake?

The question mark represents one half a cartoon heart and all my optimism; perhaps your own mirroring question completes the image, and we’re inside this thing together, like two curls of hair coiled in a locket.

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This is no fantasy.

I am really writing a postcard to my mother in an Arkansas soda fountain, which boasts preservation of The Natural State.

Dear Mother, I write, the whole world is going to hell in a handbasket. But get ready, I’ll be home soon! Love, Me and sign off by drawing a heart in a party hat, dancing with stick legs to quarter notes.

The waitress here is already wary of our particular party, as dogs are not typically allowed.

“What if it was Scooby-Doo?” I asked upon altercation, and she looked at me like I’d said something rhetorical, but I hadn’t, a sign on the wall doing its best to remind me the present is a gift, and I was moved for once in my life towards simple wonder and curiosity. Could this place in good faith turn away the likes of an upwards walking, nearly talking, mystery-solving dog and his unlikely accomplice? We are now sequestered in a distant booth and Charlie is sitting, gentlemanly, gazing out the window.

Here’s the thing I didn’t tell you about Charlie. He’s not really a mutt, but a Great Pyrenees. You assume the worst with shelter dogs, but can’t with Charlie. I had to fight a woman all the way from southern California to get him. I’m not sure how much good I accomplished in doing this, other than actualizing my own happiness, which isn’t exactly charity in the end. He wasn’t unwanted, but, in fact, very much wanted.

We walk around some places on this trip, and people think he adopted me.

I tell a man (only because he expresses interest in my situation from a neighbor booth) about the visions I have — about how I play a game in my head to convince myself I am dying and anticipate what would my regrets be and what would be my last thoughts. I see the lakes of my childhood, midsummer, and I’d regret not going back to them, and to you.

“You seem like a well-read gal,” is all I think he’s got to say as he scratches Charlie’s chin, and I tell him I still find myself surprised, like when I learned decathect means to withdraw one’s feelings in anticipation of a future loss, how that’s a word. However, this man bests me with ataraxia.

“That’s — ?” I ask.

A state of freedom from emotional disturbance and anxiety. Tranquility.

“Well, I’ll be,” I say, and he gets up to pay both our bills, and is gone.

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Consider this:

Spacestationed astronauts say if you look at the world from orbit now you’ll see an intricate lace design of light — conglomerations and speckles for our great cities, our grids, every meandering highway.

It naturally gets me thinking. If you took a time-lapse photo of all the accumulated headlights in my life, the paths I’ve had to take, and the ones you’ve had as well, and pooled them within a frame, it would be revealed we have travelled the shape of a bow the size of our nation.

Or at least, that will be the image upon my return, once I complete this shoe-lacing route. And when I eventually get there, Charlie will be snapping at the fireflies he’s never known out west, and we — you and I — will have tied a peculiar knot in the middle, a bow of light beneath cornfields, the present lit up by glowing pinpricks shuttering off and on, the night slowly becoming brighter and brighter.

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Jennifer Christie received her MFA in Fiction from Oregon State University where her master’s thesis (a collection of short stories) won the OSU Outstanding Thesis Award, and her short story “The Festival” won the 2012 Salem College Reynolds Price Fiction Award, judged by Kate Bernheimer. Nominated for a Pushcart Prize, her stories have been published or are forthcoming online at Elsewhere, PANK, and Grist Journal’s Online Companion. She currently lives, writes, and works in southern Illinois, and is the Assistant Small Press Editor for the literary website Entropy.