Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Norman, Part 3

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 Carlton’s, and there had been other dead animals. A cat in the ditch beside their driveway. Another dog, a German shepherd, in the field behind their barn, seven chickens in the chicken-yard, and even a goat with its head crushed in the rocky ravine across the pasture. And they said that Edmund had done it. I could believe it, having seen him pulling that dog out of the water, his dark hair plastered on his pale forehead, and his brown eyes completely dead-looking.

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 Carlton’s were gone. Their farm was put up for sale, but nobody bought it. It was still up for sale fifteen years later when Sarah and I were looking for a place to buy. She’d liked the looks of it from the road, but I said “no,” just like with the dog later. That was just as well, because as soon as Maggie was born, and Sarah decided she couldn’t stand small town life after all, and left, at the urging of her ridiculous, air-headed friend Eloise, who wanted to leave herself more than anything, I wouldn’t have been able to keep up with a farm. My little house in town was better. Maggie and I had been happy there. I still sometimes think I hear the sound of her voice ringing from the other room. I know I still hear the click of Dumpling’s toenails on the floor, even though she’s been gone almost as long as Maggie.

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.

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