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The following material may not be appropriate for all ages and/or conservative workplaces.
If your child or boss is nearby, you might have some things to explain.
It’s a dark morning. Sometimes in the summer I forget. The light goes so quickly. Harry pads along in front of me, taking forever to do his business. He sees a squirrel, he freaks out. But it’s early. The sky is black. No squirrels now, or if there are, they’re sleeping.
The streets in Chicago are packed with snow. I’m glad it worked out that way. Winters in recent years are so warm you wouldn’t even know it. My wife says it would’ve been better without the snow, it would have reminded her of home in California. But something about that makes me sad. I’d rather it be different from home. It’s easier to process. This whole year has been eerie. Home and not home. Things look the same but everything’s different.
Harry heads forward, despite the ice. Frenchies have a good grip, turns out, bellies low to the ground. He’s over it, for the most part, even with the little jacket Sarah bought him. He stops, sniffing something that’s only alive in his world.
My brother said he’d call today, we’d Zoom for a bit before dinner, get my mom in on it if she figures out her computer. Home and not home. I’ll work on the turkey or something, keep my hands busy. The baby knows me through a screen. He claps his hands when I call like it’s Sesame Street.
Black ice coming up on the sidewalk. I pull Harry into the road. It’s Christmas. No cars out. We’ll be fine. Harry looks up, mournful. How long do we have to do this? If he made the rules we’d be in bed, the heater on. I give his head a squeeze. One more block and he’ll have his wish.
We turn onto Seeley and it’s pitch dark. The streetlight is out. Lightfoot saving money. Houses fast asleep. A security light glows from the corner of a front porch. It’s enough to get down the block, make it back to Grace. We walk for a minute. The security light goes out. No movement detected. Me and Harry stuck in the dark. We’re too far down the road to go back, so I take us forward. I take careful steps. There’s black ice everywhere.
Harry barks at nothing. Truth be told he’s a baby. The dark is scary, though. A sound in front of us. A footstep. Someone ahead.
The security light flicks on. Movement detected. He’s standing in front of me. An old man. He looks like my dad, but he’s not. The man looks down at Harry.
“He’s a good boy,” he says. Harry stops barking, observes him.
He never liked dogs, so he’s not. The same eyes, air blue, but he’s years older, fifty years, even. A great grandfather. Like he’s known the world. The man looks at me for a long moment. He smiles a little. The light flicks off again.
“Hello?” I call into the dark. The light flicks on. He’s gone.
I stand still. I worry I imagined it, that maybe I have cancer too, a blank spot in my head like the one that took my dad, back in what passed as normal time. But Harry was definitely looking at him, I tell myself. The light clicks off. It has no logic. That house must get robbed a lot.
I look up. The dawn is cracking, the sky a soft grey. The stars are still there, one a little bigger than the others. Maybe a planet. I’ll have to look it up.
I’ll tell Sarah. She’ll say I don’t sleep enough. She’s right about things like that.
We’re alone. We walk. Harry takes small steps, mirroring me, until we’re out on Grace again. “Almost home, buddy,” I mutter, breaking the quiet. He doesn’t look up. He already knows, trots along in the snow. I look back over my shoulder. He’s still gone.
I’ll call my brother, maybe catch the baby waking up. Santa and all. It’s something to do. The light is on in our window, Sarah moving around, probably making coffee. She’s turned on the tree like she does every day. It glows brighter in these early hours, a beacon out the window, a lighthouse shooting a path into the dark. We look up at it a minute, the dog and I, before we head in.