UNITED STATES—The months went by. The days got shorter and colder. There Robbie sat alongside Rolf, the giant black schnauzer, at the outdoor patio table threatened by cold and icy rain. Robbie was trembling under his cardigan sweater. The warm and humid breath from the good old dog’s muzzle warmed the stiff joints in his fingers. It was terrifically cold. The dog’s breathing came out this winter morning like fog from a vaper.
The steamy spectacle made Robbie crave smoking again, though he’d sworn it off ages ago. A wonderful therapist had cured him practically overnight by telling him, “You’re not a smoker.”
“Black dog. Black dog. Black dog,” Robbie cried.
Wouldn’t mind a cigarette now, not at all. It was the condition that befell him some mornings now that people asked by rote, “How are you?” and he toyed with telling them the truth. Robbie’s creed, however, prevented him from spilling it out. Even thinking about it was to be avoided.
The co-owner of Coffeeville made the mistake, that particular morning when Robbie had struggled with getting Rolf out of the house and into the rain, so his concentrated yellow pee could mingle on the wet sidewalk and drain into the gutter.
“This inspector is so meticulous,” she said. To Robbie’s sea of troubles was added the uncertainty: was her name Cynthia or Nina? It added to the sea of troubles already provoked by the text from his editor asking to change the end of the story. “Since the first inspection, when she spotted your dog, she asked us to move the refrigerator from the hallway. But I didn’t have room in the kitchen to move it in, so I put on a chain and padlock. Aren’t you cold?”
Cynthia or Nina leaned forward from her tentative perch on the chair she took after she delivered that little cup, so essential to the experience. The Matcha foam tickled his nose. It was that kind of weather day, out on the street where Robbie had been exiled these many months finally turned frigid. That first sweet tannic sip had been one of the reliable things as the calendar turned, yet again, to the Hannukah season.
Finally, Robbie spoke up Cynthia or Nina or whoever the hell she was.
He snorted. “I’m trying to do something here. Leave me alone.” People liked the results of what he did –the elaboration of crimes on paper– they didn’t like the process. He knew that from an ex-wife who had been driven away from his gruffness.
He didn’t like Rolf all that much sometimes. The fascination with smells was too much for his patience, the abrupt yanking at the leash upset the delicate process of hatching existential plots. To have the dog along with him now meant being exiled to the table outdoors, otherwise he couldn’t have the dog. And not to come here was a conundrum on a harsh cold day as the calendar days of the years swirled down the drain.
As he took methodical sips while working out problems with his crime story, the creamy concoction left green marks on the sides of the white ceramic cup like drain marks left by an evaporating reservoir. Robbie got a call from his old friend, his ex was getting married.
“Do you feel anything?” Robbie said.
“I’m supposed to be mad, but I wish them all the happiness.”
“You’re taking it well,” replied Robbie. As a student of the human condition, Robbie knew that people seldom voiced their innermost thoughts. Inside he felt the black dog come back, heralding the dark funky mood swings that afflicted him on a monthly, if not daily, basis. Then, abruptly, came the notion of taking a clever crime involving the health inspection off the paper and putting it into reality.
Graydon Miller is the Wizard of Fiction.