Before’s and after’s

trimming trees
Durings.

This morning when I was out walking the dog, we passed a woman I’d seen at a wedding over the weekend. I don’t know her but I see her all the time, walking her dog or with her kids or out running. Always with her hair pulled back, a scrubbed-looking face, in jeans or running shorts or dog-walking gear like she had on this morning, a Labradoodle by her side. I can’t believe Microsoft Word doesn’t recognize Labradoodle.

But at the wedding she was stunning. Simple dress, hair down, just a little makeup, luminous. I couldn’t place her at first, until my friend said, “You know her. She’s got the Doodle.” When we passed each other, the dogs sniffing in other directions, I said, “Now I know what you look like all glammed out.” I realized too late that it sounded creepy. Like I had something on her. All I meant was that I hadn’t realized how beautiful she was. But that’s also sort of creepy. Like, who cares? We don’t even know each other.

The fruit trees in our yard got trimmed yesterday. We’ve been waiting and waiting for that to happen, because they were far too high, their spindly branches reaching well above the power lines that run along the back fence line in the alley. There were all sorts of delays, even after we’d booked the tree guys, because of ComEd and scheduling and weather. But finally yesterday, in all that wind, they came and reshaped them into the small dwarf fruit trees they were meant to be. I’ve always had a hard time saying dwarf. I’m still not sure which is right. Do you pronounce the “w” or not?

Afterward I went out into the yard, expecting to bask in the glow of our newly proportional surroundings. Instead, the yard felt suddenly smaller and more bleak. The garbage cans in the alley seemed closer, crowding into view. The yard felt sad. “What happened?” I asked. “It’s supposed to look nicer now.” Dave didn’t answer. He was inside. It was freaking windy and cold outside.

At the reading last night, I was almost stupidly nervous beforehand. I keep telling myself I don’t get nervous at these things because you get to hold your script and you’re only being yourself. But still. Dave and I got there early as instructed, and I introduced myself to the hosts. One of them said, “Yeah, we met before, when you did a story at This Much Is True.”

“It’s the same story,” I joked.

“Really?” he looked at me seriously.

“Yeah, I just have the one,” I said. I backed away before I could say anything else. Luckily Syd came in. I tried to talk to her normally but my nervousness kept twisting my tongue. She opened a shopping bag to show me a gift-wrapped box. “You get a goff?” I asked. It was loud enough that she didn’t seem to notice. “Yeah, I’ve been running errands,” she answered.

Another friend walked up and remembered meeting Syd at our old book club. Syd said, “I’m going to see if I can find my book club book before it starts.” I didn’t want this friend to think we were excluding her from our no longer existent book club so I said, “Syd now in real bockup.” The friend smiled and went to her seat.

A third friend showed up and gave me a peaceful incense talisman she got at a retreat over the weekend. I sniffed it a few times before I went up. And after I went up I wasn’t nervous anymore.

Smelling the dog

Othello text
Don't peek.

“Come smell the dog,” I said to Dave tonight, and he knew just what I meant. I didn’t even know quite what I meant.

He wasn’t far away, just sitting on the other end of the couch. The dog was curled up between us. We’d been talking about the story I was going to read for Essay Fiesta (this Monday). I’d decided it wasn’t quite the right piece and Dave was explaining why it was. Who else on earth would do this? He went up and printed it out, then brought it down and read it while I skimmed episode summaries of the first four episodes of Man Men Season 5. Dave had spent most of the evening at his Othello class, which came after a scene rehearsal, so it was a long evening for him, but still he read each line carefully enough that he could explain in detail what he liked about it.

He also suggested a rehearsal strategy: “Print each paragraph on a separate sheet, so you stay fully in each world.” He got it from a Shakespeare book he’s reading for his class. The author says to cover a page of Shakespeare text with a sheet of paper and reveal only a line at a time. “It’s amazing,” said Dave, “Everything becomes crystal clear when you can’t see what’s ahead.”

The dog’s legs were all crisscrossed over each other. I had one of those sudden panicked realizations that I can’t imagine life without her. She’s been in our relationship as long as we have. “In just a couple of years, I said, “she’s going to kindergarten.”

“Um, Mar, she’s eleven and a half,” said Dave.

“Ssh,” I motioned, like Malcolm the toddler did earlier tonight when he tried to sneak upstairs to visit the dog, who was locked in a bedroom.

Ever since my brother Joey told us about his hairstylist calling her parents’ dog “the baby,” we’ve been calling the dog “the baby.” It’s so wrong and creepy that we can’t stop doing it. “The baby.” The more I know someone will think I’m weird for doing it, the more I want to. “The baby.” It would be less funny if she had a happy dog face. But the more wretchedly she stares ahead when I bury my face in her fur, waiting for the moment she can spring out of my grasp, the more I want to annoy her.

Tonight, for some reason, she wasn’t annoyed. She tolerated me like she does once a month or so. She smelled like clean fur and corn chips. Faintly like canola oil. I tried to save the smell of her in my memory for when she’s gone, like that would help. “You know we’ll have to clone her,” said Dave. “You do realize that, don’t you?”

“Clone baby,” I said, and we laughed hysterically.

Miraculously, for she doesn’t tolerate loud noises, she remained on the couch. It was time to turn off the lights and go to bed. Dave picked up his glass and sighed. “Come smell the dog,” I said. He put down his glass and leaned in to smell the dog.