UNITED STATES—The next day, after Tina and Lee have witnessed the dog love knot, he feels inexplicably good and so does Tina, Joe’s sister. In their separate frames in the city, and they feel impervious to the petty struggles and stresses inflamed by the daily grind. This euphoria was a gift that came by proxy through the dogs.
When others are around, Lee tries to moderate his shouts and violent tugs at Deveraux’s leash. He gnashes his teeth less and shrieks rarely. Deveraux’s sudden veers on a fascinating scent seem deliberately at odds with Lee’s ferocious urge to get home and have a bite to eat—which amounts to a swollen fetish at the end of trying days–are better tolerated. Now he has learned to empathize:
“Sorry, buddy. You’re triggering me every two steps by going on another sniffing tangent. But can understand if you’re reveling in the smell of Cutie. Don’t worry, you guys’ll meet again.”
A peace accompanies Lee and Deveraux back to his balcony apartment. He gets in the door, his phone is ringing.
Lee steels his chin and answers. His friend Joe is the caller and he sounds upset.
“Joe, I thought we weren’t talking after Tina and I let the dogs put on a show in the living room.”
“We lost Cutie,” Joe says.
Hearing this alone is enough to spiral Lee from his placid pause. He patiently waits to hear and make sense of Joe’s call.
“Rafael was out in the garden with Cutie and she got out of the gate. He was lackadaisical. He went halfway down the street and came back before finding her. He gave up soon. He had to go to work.”
Joe recounts how he went down the street and put up posters. He talked two neighbors who had taken in Cutie and kept her for two days. They had been good neighbors. But when no one came looking for Cutie, they couldn’t keep her forever and called the city pound. They took Cutie away.
After the call from Joe, it seems to Lee that Deveraux is despondent and prone to whimper.
Tina is very sad, she eats cream puffs Lee has brought for her. She thanks him and then she gets mad.
“I was trying to do something nice,” Lee replies. “They’re organic cream puffs.”
“Like that makes it all right.”
A few days later Tina comes over to Lee’s side of town. Lee asks her to babysit Deveraux. She begins to come over and take care of Deveraux when his master is gone on business trips. She takes good care of the dog. A shared sadness over Cutie’s disappearance forms a bond between Tina and Lee.
One day Lee comes back from a trip to Los Gatos and finds Tina bubbling over with sweetness and giggles. He hasn’t seen her that way since the doggies let loose their doggy desires in the confines of the bungalow on Micheltorena, more than a year before.
They go walking together. Tina’s presence helps to moderate Lee’s frustration at Deveraux’s penchant for falling down the sniffing well. As they walk she tells him the story she’s bursting with some news:
“I was walking Deveraux all the way from Korea Town. It’s a nice old neighborhood, Sugar Hill. Big houses and nice gardens. Deveraux practically yanked me across Adams Boulevard. There was Cutie, behind a gate. Deveraux tried to get with her through rusty chain link.”
“‘He sure seems to like her a lot, a man in the garden commented. He explained to me how Cutie was returned to the family after the pound found a chip behind her pink ribbon. The family had missed her so much. The man had tears in his eyes. I didn’t have the heart to tell him we loved Cutie and what a big empty space she left in out house.”
“I guess Cutie wasn’t Rafa’s dog, after all.” says Lee. “That’s why he wasn’t in any hurry about finding her and bringing her back.”
Deveraux whimpers. Lee looks at Tina the same moment and plants a kiss on her lips. He can see the shock all over her face. She doesn’t slap him. That’s good. Deveraux is begging for some food.
“Not now,” Lee gently slaps him away.
“When we’re finished kissing, you mutt.”
Graydon Miller is the author of the acclaimed short story collection, “The Havana Brotherhood” https://amzn.to/2wMF1ax Havana