When I woke up, sweating, shards of morning light sliced through a crack in the window shade. I knew where I was, in my room, with my clothes draped over an armchair and my grandmother’s old oak wardrobe towering against the opposite wall. Yet in my mind I was in the woods outside of town, and it was dark. The creek water rushed over the stones, and I was running, stumbling through the underbrush, my breathing harsh. Thorny vines grabbed at my legs, and tree branches slashed at my face. A shrill voice, a high keening cry, filled the air around me. Was it me, or did it come from back there?
I ran harder, tears running down my face. I couldn’t think about it, wouldn’t think about it, but the image followed me. Edmund Carlton, bent over a pool in the stream, completely soaked, reaching into the water. He was grabbing for something underwater, and then he got it, and pulled. It was heavy, and the water ran down off his head, but he kept pulling, and then I could see what it was—I didn’t want to think about it, but there it was, the sodden body of a dog. Edmund’s dog. The one he’d gotten for Christmas, and which every fourth grade boy had been jealous of, because of the television show. We’d all wanted a collie, but only Edmund got one.
He would walk that dog around town, and wouldn’t answer whenever one of us greeted him. “Don’t bother me, I’m training Maisie,” he’d say, and I’d just stand there and watch him go.
And now she was dead. Drowned. And Edmund had done it.
I knew that fact with as much certainly now, forty years later, as I had that day, running through the woods, but why was I dreaming about now? I hadn’t thought of that dog in years. The last time was when Maggie had wanted a dog, and the one she’d liked the best from the pound was a collie, and I’d said, “No, anything but a collie.”
“But Daddy!” she’d insisted, pulling on my arm, “She’s the best dog. She’s so sweet.”
But I hadn’t given in. We’d gotten a beagle instead, a short round little dog that was too stupid to even learn to sit and stay properly. We named her Dumpling, and Maggie loved her just fine.
Edmund had left town shortly afterwards. I didn’t know exactly why, but when I’d gotten home that day, and my parents had seen what state I was in, they insisted that I tell them what happened. I had, and my father had left the house, a grim look on his face.
The next day at school all the boys were talking. My father had gone over to the
He didn’t come to school. His dad didn’t go to work, and his mom didn’t go into town to do her shopping. There was talk of doctors, and the state institution, and then the
I sighed, heavy with memory, and my dream, and asked myself again: why now? What good could it possibly do to dredge up the past? I was better off focusing only on the now. Doing my job, fixing myself meals, watching television, planting my garden in the back yard. I had no need for other people, and certainly not for people who were long-gone. They’d do me no good now.