Tuesday morning, Louisa stood at the kitchen sink with a mug of coffee. A radio burbled in the background, and the whoosh of a passing vehicle filtered in from the street. The kitchen window looked into a narrow side yard. By leaning forward and peering slantwise, Louisa could see trees, fences and vegetable plots. The back yards made up a collective garden that was lovely in summer. At this time of year, it was rather bleak.
Harold had chosen the house on Sycamore Avenue, at the northern edge of the historic district, soon after they were married. Maybe it wasn’t anyone’s dream house, but they could afford it. And the location was hard to beat, within walking distance of almost everything. By dogged persistence, they saved and improvised. They raised two children and paid off the mortgage. Then at age forty-seven, on the verge of freedom and security, he was “thrown in the slammer.” That was how he phrased it, lying on a gurney after his “cardiac arrest.”
A snuffle and whine at her feet made her look down. A small, black, wrinkled face looked up imploringly. The face was attached to a fawn-colored body on four stubby legs, a miniature clown with a tightly curled tail, a pug.
“Jasper, do you want to go out?”
Jasper wriggled in an orgy of yes. He had been Harold’s idea. The children wanted a dog, and Harold wanted one that was not too big and had personality. On a visit to the animal shelter, they found Jasper. Still a puppy, he was the runt of the litter, the last one left.
“He’s not just another pretty face,” Harold said.
“He’s so ugly, he’s cute,” Kate said. As a teen, she was always in cahoots with her father, in a secret alliance against her. “You have to love the little guy.”
Strangely enough, Louisa did. Years later, Kate was married and gone, Harold had cracked his last joke, and Jasper remained. And now he was getting old. The sneezes and snuffles sounded more desperate, and the stubby legs moved stiffly.
Her son Galahad was still living at home, but he kept different hours. He rarely appeared in the morning. He stayed up late into the night, listening to music or surfing the internet. A college graduate, he had left most of his belongings in his childhood bedroom, and now he had returned. Presumably, that’s where he was at this moment. For a young man with a degree in medieval studies, a job in his field was scarce even in good times. Louisa hoped that something would turn up. Common sense suggested it would have little to do with courtly romance or the search for the Holy Grail.
Louisa drained her mug, rinsed it, and set it in the sink. She walked to the hall with Jasper hot on her heels, took his leash from the coat tree, and clipped it to his collar. She slipped on a coat, the old one she wore for walking the dog. She grasped the leash firmly in her left hand, pulled open the door with her right, and they set forth.
Jasper trotted ahead, straining at the limit of the leash. Sycamore Avenue was a fascinating place. No matter how many times they went this way, there was something new to see and smell. At the house with the privet hedge, he became wary, and as they approached the gap he balked. A cat with long gray fur lurked in the path to the front door. It looked bigger than Jasper, and he was afraid.
“It’s only Iggy,” Louisa said. Ignatius the cat was friendly enough with people, but not above exploiting his advantage over smaller animals. He knew Jasper, and he hissed.
“Ignore the silly cat.” She walked briskly on, Jasper gathered courage from her presence, and in a moment he was busy again. They reached the corner of Main Street, and it was Louisa’s turn to stop.
“Local Musician Slain,” the Vindicator shrieked from its bright blue vending box. This was the story Mavis phoned about. The newspaper was delivered to her house, rolled and thrown from a bicycle, and Louisa had read the story. But she felt compelled to stand on the sidewalk and peer through the grimy glass. Jasper whined.
“You’re right, there’s no point in reading it again. Let’s cross the street after this car. Do you want to go as far as the creek?”
Jasper looked up and snuffled. His eyes bulged, bright with anticipation.
“All right, but if you get tired on the way back, don’t expect me to pick you up like a baby and carry you.”
Which is exactly what she did, of course.
About the Author
Robert Boucheron is an architect in Charlottesville, Virginia, website boucheronarch.com. His stories, essays and book reviews are in Atticus Review,Construction, Cossack Review, Digital Americana, Milo Review, Montreal Review, Mouse Tales Press, New England Review, New Orleans Review, Niche, Poydras Review, Virginia Business, and other magazines.