Alexander stood at the door, and licked at the tiny space between the door and the jamb. Miriam watched him and sighed. He was a very large dog of uncertain ancestry. He had black long knotty hair that grew over his eyes and nails. His tail was docked to a stubby bob and it seemed to vibrate rather than wag when he expressed happiness, excitement, anger, or pretty much any other emotion. He weighed more than Miriam.
He was the property of Miriam's absent roommate Deanna. One day Miriam discovered a letter on the arm of the sofa. It contained a years worth of post-dated rent checks, detailed instructions on Alexander's daily regimen (he was to be woken at six in the morning for a brushing, which Miriam promptly ignored--hence the knotty hair), and no word on where Deanna was off to (in her darker moments, she imagined that Deanna was in prison). Miriam resented being left with an animal who required so much care yet pretty much ignored her existence. The year was nearly up and Miriam often wondered if Deanna would be back or if her relationship with Alexander was more permanent.
Miriam sat down in the hall chair and put on her sneakers. Alexander kept licking the paint on the door.
"I hope that's lead-based," she said. Alexander ignored her. Miriam stood up and put on her jacket. She zipped it up all the way to the top so that her nose was behind the collar. She stared with resentment at the mass of black hair then turned the collar down. She bent down and adjusted the position of the knee pads she only had the foresight to start wearing a few weeks ago. With a sigh she took the leash from it's hook on the wall. Alexander kept licking but his bobtail vibrated. She hooked him to the leash and opened the wooden inner door. Frigid air swirled in.
Alexander butted his head against the screen on the outer door, bowing it out. He whined.
"Stop that!" said Miriam. She pulled tight on the leash and opened the screen door. Alexander wormed out, straining. Miriam struggled to shut and lock the inner door. Alexander lurched and Miriam lost her footing on the top step. She hit her mouth on the handle of the screen door before sliding down icy the steps. She tried to get up, but Alexander was running along the sidewalk already, pulling her behind like a sled.
"Stop! Stop! Stop!" It was all in vain. Miriam slid over the cement and ice. Then Alexander turned and leapt over a snowbank and into the road. Miriam followed, hitting the snowbank headfirst and swallowing a mouthful of dirt peppered snow.Alexander strained a bit, but freed Miriam and pulled her down onto the road. A pickup truck screeched to a stop with brakes that needed changing. The driver honked and yelled at her from the warmth of the cab. She saw his angry face briefly before being pulled up the snowbank on the other side. She found herself resting at the top of the snowbank. Alexander was investigating the bark of a tree with Sherlockian intensity. She started to stand up, but he was suddenly off again down the sidewalk and Miriam fell forward onto her elbows.
Alexander ran forward with powerful bulging muscles, and didn't seem to notice at all that he was dragging something nearly equal to his entire weight. He reveled in the crisp air, with it's wafts of smells ranging from diesel to pigeons to the exquisite mix of odors emanating from the various garbage cans along the sidewalk. He liked the cold way the snow felt as it clumped up in the hair between his toes. It soothed the constant itchiness he always had there. He liked the promise of infinite open spaces to explore.
Miriam started to cry.
"I hate you! I hate you!" she said over and over. Finally she unhooked her wrist from the loop at the end of the leash. Even though she was untethered from her tormenter, she continued forward several feet just from momentum. She sat up and rubbed her chafed wrist. She wiped tears from her eyes, and thought she must look like a child just sitting there. She watched as Alexander's backside bobbed up and down with each leaping stride until turned the corner down a cross street. She got up and looked around. It was still very early and no one was around. She quickly checked the windows of the house around her--there were no faces looking out and frowning at her ineptitude and irresponsible behavior. She looked in Alexander's last direction, and debated whether to follow.
Miriam turned and started walking back home. She started imagining her life free of Alexander. Free of clotted hair on the carpet and furniture, free of smelly dog food, free of the sound of lapping at water in the middle of the night, and free of picking up his ample, steaming waste with little baggies. She opened the door to the apartment, and walked in. She took off her shoes and coat, and threw the knee pads in the bottom of the closet. She spent the bulk of the day watching TV with her fingers wrapped around warm beverages.
At the back of her head though, was Alexander, with his beady dark eyes peering from behind slits in a heavy black curtain of hair. His pink tongue would dart out and lick his wet nose. She tried to banish his face with her favorite game show, but it was no use. Guilt crept in like a burglar and stole her contentment. She should have taken him to a shelter long ago instead of just letting him run away where he could be run over by cars or starve to death or contract rabies from sewer rats.
She went to the closet and took out her shoebox of photos. She thumbed through them, then took out her digital camera and flicked through the photos there, then on her computer, and there was not one of Alexander. It's as if he never existed, simply because she didn't like him and didn't think he was worthy of remembering. She felt a deep surge in her chest and she started sobbing, ashamed of her cruelty.
After an hour she lay prone on the sofa, all cried out and, staring at the ceiling. She should never have children she thought. She should never be allowed to have houseplants, or care for any living thing except herself. Her head spun with thoughts that she was a terrible, no-good, lowly, wormy person.
There was a knock on the screen door.
"Oh no," she said to herself. She thought it must be a dogcatcher, if they still existed given recent city budget cuts, or an angry neighbor with Alexander in tow, alive, or worse, his lifeless body, straining the seams of a large garbage bag.
She got up off the sofa and went to the door. There was a knock again. She peeped out the peephole but saw no one. It must be a child, she thought. There was a knock and a scrape. Miriam unlocked and opened the interior door.
There he was, looking up at her, panting, with hair matted completely with balls of snow.
"Alexander?!" she exclaimed.
There was vibration at the end of his spine.
"Oh my God, you're back! You're here! Oh come here!" She opened the door and he wiggled in, running straight to his water dish. He lapped deeply. Miriam went over and hugged him. "You're here, you're here, I can't believe it!"
Alexander turned and licked her face. She accepted his kiss with another hug, and he turned back to the water dish until he had his fill. Miriam ran to the bathroom and scooped up the freshest, best towels, the ones she reserved for guests. She brought the hair dryer and threw the towels over Alexander, and she worked on dematting him from the snow for an hour, all the while incredibly grateful that he was loyal enough to return.