In Another Life I Used to Be a Dog
I’m about to touch Lina’s shoulder to ask for a controller, but Thomas pops out of the bathroom. He’s drying his hands in a twist of black Henley, sniffling, his pupils as huge and dark as gravity.
Flush, says the toilet, like a minute too late.
I’m flying into the far arm of the couch a little suddenly. I lean there, stiffly — a tilted L.
And Thomas says, “What.”
Gurgle, says the toilet. It makes its filling sound.
“Nothing,” I say.
“Why you sitting like that? You shit your pants?”
I say, “No?”
Lina, who’s been playing Tetris 64 all night, whose play I watched as her drops all tingled and thrilled, is saying, “You know Tetris, baby. You make the blocks go….” She looks searchingly from the TV to him and says, “…in?”
He picks up his controller and says, “What?”
He’s not talking to the TV. He’s talking to his hands.
When I was a kid, I had a little black mutt. It did nothing I told it to do. Sit. Roll over. Shake. It grew old on the couch, flicking an ear at my voice. Nobody walked it or played with it. It was the shittiest dog.
Thomas has put his gloves back on. He’s tapping his buttons with blunted fingers. “I don’t want to play this,” he says. “This isn’t helping.”
Now we’re all looking at him.
Lina stops swaying and takes a deep breath. She pulls her legs up under her, gathers up a pure rippling pond. She has a big announcement to make.
“This carpet,” I say.
He’s up, she’s down. I’m somewhere in between. I’m always trying to find the right wavelength. I’m not a kid anymore but I’m acting like a middle kid. I know. Still, this isn’t the worst option.
“This carpet,” I say, “is like artwork.”
But they’re already headed out to the porch.
Out there, they’re saying, blah blah blah.
What I’m trying to say is this carpet has a visual rhythm. Somebody did a good job vacuuming today. I can track the pushes and swoops in the fibers. They’re lovely. They’re like brushstrokes in artwork, a kind of telepathy.
Is it “crazy” to read intent there?
Is it “crazy” to read a girl’s mind?
Now Thomas unclips the police scanner from his belt and clunks it on the table. “Alright then! Maybe we shouldn’t.”
“Oh, you’re so boss!” I say. But actually I don’t. I’m not brave. I don’t say anything. I’m watching though. For now.
“You didn’t know?” he says, as she heads to her room. “Come on.”
“I want to change my clothes,” she says. “I don’t feel good anymore.”
What I’m trying to say is this carpet is not like my mom’s: the color of sick moss, the color of bad money.
And that dog. It just kept pissing on it.
Like — it kept pissing everywhere.
Well, now it’s crazy to say anything about a carpet, so I don’t. I hold the thought in like a hunk of resentment, the reddest of blocks, and I spin it.
Thomas asks, “What you up to?”
“Tetris,” I say. Isn’t it obvious? I clear a giant Tetris to the left of the screen. I clear another monster to the right. I clear those formations like a 7-10 split using lines I flipped vertical and popped in sweetly. Thank God. I’d been letting it all build up, those blocky sculptures getting jagged.
It looks like a mess until I clear it. And I do.
The trick is you need a plan.
I’m not trying to live like this forever. I have dreams I think.
Here comes Lina in a black turtleneck and black jeans. “Like this?” she says. She looks great. She looks better than great. In the doorway, she’s waiting for an answer. I have things I’d like to say, but Thomas asks me, “Why’d you stop?”
I turn to the frozen drip of blocks onscreen. I tell them, “I didn’t know I had.”
That little black terrier. What did he think about on that couch? Resting his chin on his forepaws, he tracked us across that room, back and forth, his whiskers growing white, for years. What was he waiting for?
Sometimes at night, I’ll hear her whisper, “Are you sleeping?”
In the dark, I whisper back, “I’m sleeping.”
Then, before anything, I’ll hear him, from closer than careless, “Yeah? Sleeping people don’t talk.”
Steve Chang is from the San Gabriel Valley, California. He holds an MFA from Cornell University and plays bass for Korean band GENIUS. His work has appeared in Guernica, Bull: Men’s Fiction, Atticus Review, and elsewhere. He tweets at @steveXisXok.
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