by Brent Fisk
The future is its own sort of ghost. It hovers above everything, a hand shaking the bed frame, billowing the curtains. It tries to tell you about the dog that hasn’t run off yet, your girlfriend’s moving boxes still holding gin bottles at the liquor store.
Oh, but you dreamed of it, the future.
You splurged on flowers once a week. Your girlfriend took night classes to better herself. She put up a Matisse print you couldn’t stand. You argued about the print, the cost of her classes, and the dog she brought home though your lease didn’t allow pets.
You wanted to love the dog as if it were your own, but it was hers, fully, right from the very beginning. She called the dog Ralph. You called the dog the dog. It slept between her legs, nestled its head on her thigh. When you were home alone, you’d try to coax the dog to sit next to you on the couch, but it would go find one of your girlfriend’s t-shirts and curl asleep with her scent in its nostrils. If you scooped the dog up and made it sit next to you, it would look at you pitifully until you felt sorry for it, and you would let it slip off the couch and slink away.
Neither you nor your girlfriend wanted a child, but now you were taking care of a dog, cleaning up its filth, letting it out all hours of the day, throwing away shoes it gnawed to pieces.
And then it happened. She got sick a few mornings one week, came home from the clinic with mascara all over the sleeve of her sweatshirt. All day you wanted to talk about it, but she slept, or pretended to. Later, she kept saying. Later.
When you lay beside her, moonlight bright in the windows, the room felt cold and clinical. You told her she’d be a great mother. You’d be a great father. You stared at the ceiling and imagined putting your ear on her belly, feeling the baby kick. You imagined weddings, her father giving her away. You tried to sleep.
The dog cried at the door. You let it out, the small lawn bristling with frost, and when it dawdled, you hissed, Let’s go, the breath snaking from your mouth in the biting air, but it wouldn’t come to you. You closed the door, waited for the dog to finish its business and scratch to be let in, but then you nodded off. In the morning, your girlfriend was in a panic. She stood in a scatter of dogfood. How could you, she screamed. How could you?
She wanted to look for the dog, but you had to go to work. Later, you said. Later.
You came back to find the apartment emptied of her things, two Sapphire Gin boxes broken down in the corner. The bed was stripped bare, the closet a jangle of hangers. On the wall, the ghost of a Matisse print you couldn’t stand. In the medicine cabinet, she’d left her birth control pills, but had taken the condoms.
You went to look for the dog, afraid of what you’d find.