Down on Willey Avenue

You can always say you were “just going to look.” You can even tell yourself that this was the case, years later, only half-joking, but you know that the plan was set in motion long before you and your girlfriend, now your fiancée, got in the car and trundled down to the Animal Protective League to see about a dog. It was a Saturday morning. Partly cloudy.

He perches watchfully on the windowsill. He tracks the afternoon traffic of West 6th Street down below, birds alighting on lampposts and tall pedestrians skittering between work and play. Clouds hang thinly at eye level. A broad windowsill decorated with houseplants and pillows and the hound himself. Forrest. You named him after another dog, the Forrest you read about in the paper. He’s part of a lineage of something you’ll never completely understand.

You walk into the howling den of wiry cages, the both of you, and look each dog in the eye. They’re afraid, angry, unsettled, anxiety-ridden and scattered. Gawky, furry. Canine psyches stretched to an uneasy breaking point in a low-slung building on Willey Avenue. It’s clamorous in here, and they keep running up against thin steel bars and jutting great jaws against the possibilities of a future with you. Maybe today’s the day! Maybe we’re going home!

He’s waiting one aisle over. Alone.

There’s a spot at the dog park, right beneath the ramp, where he digs a little hole each time you bring him to play. He contributes his ideas, puts in his time at the shop; every dog sort of takes his or her turn, digging, scraping at the pebbles and the dirt, tossing debris to the wind. It is an ongoing project. The project is the ongoingness of the thing. The goal is the continuation of something that never ends.

When another dog walks by, down along the crooked riverbank, he stands at the fence, alert. He sees a friend. Everyone’s a friend.

He whimpers. Head down. He paws gently at the cage. Whether it’s shame or not, you can’t tell. Boy’s got the blues, alright. He was adopted by a family three months back, you learn, later, when you’re out in the lobby asking about him. The name on the card is Capone. The family called him Chance. They brought him back three days ago. Returned to the shelter. What if the two of you had come last week?

What if you’d waited to go have a look?

Sleeps in your bed. Of course he sleeps in your bed. Most nights, he’ll start out on the couch in the living room. Toys everywhere. He loves the ones that squeak. The louder the better, frankly. Always ends up in the bed, though.

Stretching. Curling. Paws and limbs arranged at odd angles. He snores, too. Barks in his sleep. Runs in his sleep. Stretching. Curling.

They bring him out to you and your girlfriend. You’re in a little room off to the side of the place. A few tennis balls and ropes on the floor. How’s this gonna go? What are we doing here?

He likes the postal carrier, the sparrows, the denim-clad herd that rides motorcycles through the city. He likes the movement of life. He likes the sun. He likes walking with you two. The park around the corner, the one with the statue of Jesse Owens. He barks at the statue. Why’s that man standing so still? Shouldn’t he be moving like me?

Everything moves.

He loves car rides. There’s always a past and a future, and isn’t that the point? Sunbathing in the backseat.

You’re waiting, but you already know how the story goes. The narrative advances. The projector clicks.

There’s the park down by the lake, the one with the big willow tree and the rocks. Low waves crashing. Gulls overhead. He loves the gulls. And the fish in the sand. The smells. The atmospheric spray. You walk along the beach together, you and her and him. The family.

“He loves love,” you say to her.

He’s bounding into the room now, proceeds to sniff the walls, the corners, the chairs. He’s casing the joint. Getting a read on you. Could be another false start.

You pick up a red tennis ball.

Back at the dog park, another day. Click. He’s running with his friends. Playing a game, playing at something unseen. A ballet of dogs. You get the sense that this is what freedom looks like, if it looks like anything at all.

He’s feeling you out. He chases the ball, sniffs the floor, comes back and sniffs your shoes.

The only direction in life is forward. Flowing forward into the present, a verdant river emerging from the unknown fog before you. Time collapses in reverse.

There’s a picture of you and him. Smiling. He’s looking up at you. Just a Saturday morning in a little room at the animal shelter. Down on Willey Avenue. Partly cloudy, the morning charged with brisk energy. Smiling. You only went to look. Sure, but this was always the plan.

Running in circles now. Doggy grin a mile wide.

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