Thursday, December 10, 2009

Because It's Cold Outside

It's too cold to continue ranting about outsourcing today. Temps here in the Twin Cities nave been in the single digits all day, with wind chills in the NEGATIVE double-digits.

Just the type of day to curl up with a book, and a warm, fuzzy dog.

For those of you who don't have a warm fuzzy dog, or a book handy, never fear, Misplaced will provide you with both. Above is a photo of one of my former companions, Dexter. He was a Chow/Golden Retriever mix that I bought for twenty dollars in the fall of 1996 from a crackhead in Delaware Park who was about to sell him to a man I knew was a known dog fighter for five dollars. I didn't need another dog at the time, but willingly parted with twenty bucks to save him from what would have been a violent and horrific end as a "training tool" for pit bulls being trained as fighting dogs.

Dexter was a good boy, a happy dog, and I like to think I gave him a good life over the next nine years until he succumbed to cancer on August 28th, 2005.

Below is the first story I have included him in, written precisely four years to the day after his death, and just four days before I moved into my new place.

Rest In Peace Dexter... I miss you, and so does the family back in New York.

UNTITLED - by Jonathan K. Lee

Dexter sent both Bill Hoffman and his Great Dane to the hospital.

Being a Golden Retriever/Chow mix, Dexter was generally a gentle dog and got along fine with the other neighborhood pets and, Steve knew, even once had a romantic thing going with Mrs. Bishop's Springer Spaniel across the street. Steve and Dexter were jogging at night and the sky was full of distracting white stars and maybe that's why Steve didn't see the Great Dane from two houses down, the Hoffman's house, come tearing into the street, toenails clicking on the pavement. Dexter's first instinct was to run for home, to go in the opposite direction of the oncoming Dane but Steve wasn't quick enough. His own first instinct was to go completely still and hope that the danger passed. He didn't think of running, though he was only maybe thirty yards from his front door, until he felt Dexter tugging the leash in terror. And that was far too late.

The Great Dane, huge and white with a black head, was on Dexter, clamping down on his neck, his lips pulled back in an angry rictus. The darkness made things more frightening. Everything slow and jerky like watching an old silent movie, each frame distinguishable. He saw glimpses--bared teeth, fur damp with what might have been blood, maybe just saliva, twists of angry motion--all underscored with growls and whines of pain. Bill Hoffman and his wife, April, didn't come out of their yard, just stayed on the damp grass, calling their dog.

Steve understood that one should never interfere in a dog fight but he couldn't bring himself to let go of the leash. He felt that if he let go Dexter would be killed. He began beating the Dane with his fists and elbows. Steve was afraid to tears for Dexter. At that moment, he believed that he could not go on living if anything happened to his dog.

"Goddammit," he shouted to Hoffman, "get out here and grab your fucking dog. Right now."

Bill Hoffman edged nervously into the street, circling the fight, his wife pushing him forward, Steve being pulled around helplessly, still shouting at Hoffman, cursing at him. He threatened to burn their house down, while Hoffman and his wife slept, if anything happened to Dexter. Hoffman got behind his dog and grabbed him, one hand on his collar, one around his throat and the dogs for a brief instant came apart. What surprised Steve most was that Dexter didn't take the opportunity to retreat. Instead, he lunged for the Dane's neck, so suddenly that Steve could not stop him, and bit instead Hoffman's hand. Steve could hear the bone coming apart. Hoffman pulled his injured hand away, his whole body recoiling, and at the same time, he lifted the Dane by the collar with the other hand, forepaws off the ground, belly exposed. Dexter, that quick, bit the other dog on the balls and the Dane made a sound of true pain, a howl like nothing Steve had ever heard.

Dexter kept them moving back toward their yard with a volley of barks and growls and strained at the leash to get back into the fight. April Hoffman walked down the street to them. She was wearing cutoff jeans and a t-shirt, and her hair was down and her legs were nice. Steve was feeling strong and dizzy with adrenalin. She knelt by Dexter, who was himself again, pushing against her legs, letting her stroke his back. Her husband was screaming that they had to go to the hospital and Steve wasn't sure if he meant for himself or for his dog.

"You're a brave dog," she said to Dexter. "You wouldn't start a fight would you? It's just that awful dog of Bill's."

She looked up at Steve. He was panting and could not stop himself from smiling. He saw everything, the moon, the pale sheen of night clouds, branches silhouetted against light from windows. This woman with a smooth face and slightly arched eyebrows. Her husband was still calling her, getting angry, crying now. She stood slowly and looked once more at Steve before walking home.

His ex-wife, Kelly, was in his living room when he came in. She lived in the house directly behind his, separated from him only by a fence, and still had her key. In this neighborhood, though, Steve rarely locked his doors. They had been divorced for just over a year. Kelly was short and thin and it had been said by their friends, that Steve and Kelly looked startlingly alike. Both blue-eyed, with the same wiry brown hair, both with identically sharp features, both small. They had more than once, in the four years they were married, been mistaken for brother and sister. The fact of their resemblance came to bother Steve after a while. He believed it to be unusual and quite possibly unhealthy and once, coming face to face with her in a dark hallway, still drowsy from sleeping, he had thought he was seeing himself, having some sort of out of body experience. Steve was so shaken up that he slept on the couch for two nights and never explained to Kelly.

"I heard all the commotion," Kelly said. "Is Dexter okay?"

They sat on the floor, one on either side of Dexter, and searched for wounds. A few scratches, one cut behind his ear that was particularly nasty, that Steve promised he would have looked at on the way to work in the morning. Dexter beat the floor with his tail and tried to roll over so they could scratch his stomach.

"You should have seen him," Steve said. "We kicked ass, didn't we boy?"

"Don't make him think that fighting is good," Kelly said, irritated. "He could have been hurt."

"Kelly's right, Dexter. Don't fight. But if you have to fight, show no mercy. Go for the balls. Maximum violence with all available speed." He patted Dexter's stomach and scratched him until his leg began working the air.

Steve told Kelly about the fight, in detail, about beating the other dog with his fists and about thinking that Dexter was going to be killed. He paced the rug. When he got to the part about Dexter biting Bill Hoffman and then the Dane's testicles, imitating the sound the Dane made and doing a souped-up parody of Hoffman crying for his wife like a little boy, Kelly started laughing. She rocked back on the floor, hair spreading out beneath her and stomped her feet. He was excited from the telling and threw himself down next to her and tried to kiss her. She pushed him away, still laughing and said, "Serves the bastard right." There had been, shortly after the divorce and Kelly's move around the corner, a questionable omission from the guest list of a neighborhood party.

They watched television until the flashing lights of a police car splashed against the window. Kelly had fallen asleep with her head in his lap. They walked out together and stood embarrassed while the other neighbors came out onto their lawns to see the commotion, to see who had brought the police, lights flashing threats, into this part of town. Carol Bishop lived directly across the street and was standing alone on her porch, haloed by the light coming from the open door behind her. She was an older woman, white haired, long ago widowed. When Steve waved, she stepped back into the house, quickly, and shut the door. He could see a curtain ease back, the shape of her face at the window.

The policewoman, who was quite possibly the largest woman Steve had ever seen, explained that this was only routine, that any time someone came into the emergency room with a dog bite, it had to be looked into.

"Are they pressing charges?" Kelly said. "What sort of charges do you press in a case like this? Their dog started the fight."
The policewoman became confused when Kelly explained that, yes, she was one of the dog's owners, along with Steve, but that, no, she didn't actually see the fight or even actually live with Steve anymore but that, yes, she lived in the house directly behind his and yes, she had said they were divorced. She told too much. She said that they were no longer married but that they still cared for one another and that neither of them wanted to part with the dog. There were irreconcilable differences that they could not live with married but that they could accept divorced, as neighbors. Steve watched and listened, quietly, thankful that she didn't go into the differences. He was thinking that sometimes Kelly could be quite pretty and that this was one of those times. He liked the way her hands moved when she spoke.

"The law is that your dog has to be quarantined ten days for rabies observation," the officer said when Kelly finished. "Could I see the animal?"
Steve went inside and brought Dexter out on his leash. When Dexter saw this woman and the colored lights and all the neighbors watching, he tensed and began barking savagely. Steve tried to settle him down, tried to get a hold of his collar to show his tags and that he was up to date on his shots but Dexter wouldn't be still.

"No matter," the woman said. "Shots or no shots the dog has to be quarantined. Someone will be by in the morning to get him."
They watched her drive off, Dexter barking until the car was out of sight and the neighbors had gone back inside. Steve noticed that the Hoffman's car was still not in the driveway. Dexter settled down and everything got real quiet.

"Nice timing," Kelly said to the dog.

Steve woke bleary eyed and confused to a knock at the door. It was two men from the city come to take Dexter to quarantine. Steve met them at the porch and offered them coffee, still too close to sleep to understand that this was the enemy. The men, deadly serious about their errand, refused. Steve went inside to collect the dog and found his solidarity there, as well. Back on the porch, Steve said, "This is a travesty. If anything, you should be locking up the Hoffman's dog."

Dexter slapped their legs with his tail, happily.

One of the men looped a wire, attached to a long pole, around Dexter's neck and began to lead him to the van. They kept their distance, skirting Dexter, carefully, like bullfighters. Steve ran out into the yard. The grass was damp and newly cut and stuck to his feet. He knelt beside Dexter and hugged his neck.
"Do your time like a man, Dexter," he said. "Don't take any shit off anybody. I'll be by to visit this afternoon."

April Hoffman came by as Steve was knotting his tie for work. She looked tired and worried and was holding a plastic baggie full of bones. The house had seemed to Steve, before her appearance, terribly quiet without Dexter, though he couldn't recall specific sounds that Dexter made when he was there. Just that energy, the electric presence of another life. She sat on the couch and Steve brought her a cup of coffee. Through the windows behind her he could see Kelly's backyard. It had begun to rain, lightly, and Kelly's careful rows of vegetables, purple eggplant, red and green peppers, fragile tomatoes, looked wilted and burdened in the drizzle.

"This is the kind of rain you hear called beautiful," she said.

"Is it?" Steve said. He wasn't at all certain how he should treat her. He didn't know whether to be angry or apologetic.

"I brought these for Dexter." She shook the bag, smiling. "Bill saves the T-bones. He would kill me if he knew I was here. I feel awful about last night. Carol Bishop told me that the police came for Dexter."

Carol Bishop had once complained that Dexter was making overtures towards her Springer Spaniel and that while he was making overtures--those were her exact words--he was lifting his leg on her rose bushes. Kelly wanted to know what was wrong with Dexter, why he wasn't good enough for Mrs. Bishop's dog. Steve said the peeing was just a manifestation of canine courtship, though Kelly wasn't sure about that. She called Mrs. Bishop's dog a whore. She made a case for free will. She said, just because you don't approve of our living arrangement doesn't mean you have to take it out on our dog. Steve had watched the two women arguing in the street, heard the unnatural anger rising in their voices and he couldn't help feeling sad for Dexter. This moment was probably the end of his romance and he would never understand why. Steve knew about endings and the loss of love. Carol Bishop had avoided them since.

"He'll be incarcerated for ten days," Steve said. "How is Bill? His hand okay?"

"His hand is disgusting," she said. "He had to get a cast and his fingers are all swollen like sausages."

Steve was thinking that in all the time they had lived near the Hoffman's, maybe two years, he had never been alone with this woman. He couldn't recall ever actually speaking to her but he was sure that he must have, being neighbors. And here she was now on his couch, in a white blouse open at the neck and short skirt and sandals with straps, thin as paper, speaking as if they had known each other all their lives. He was strangely excited by her presence. He sat on the couch next to her and she crossed her legs so that her foot was just touching his shin. She looked at him over the rim of her cup.

"I'm really sorry about all this," he said. "It isn't your fault, really."

"If not for you," April said, "everything could have been a lot worse. Bill's hand will get better. Dexter could have been killed."

"I don't know," Steve said. "He was holding his own."

The phone rang and Steve walked into the kitchen to answer it. It was Kelly. Steve was nervous and excited both. He felt like he was up to something and it felt good. He pressed his fingers against the window pane, which was cool and clammy.

"Have they come for Dexter yet?" she said.

"This morning," he said. "I can't talk right now. April Hoffman is here apologizing. She brought some bones for Dexter."

"Make sure she doesn't sue," Kelly said, before hanging up.

April was looking out the window, past beads of rainwater, toward the backyard and Kelly's house. Steve wondered if she knew what she was looking at. Her hair was pulled back into a ponytail and she had pulled her knees up beneath her, covering her legs with her skirt, which was cotton and loose. Her toes were peeking out from beneath it, her toenails painted creamy red. He thought he had once heard Kelly call that color coral. He wanted to ask about her marriage but thought that was a bad idea, since it would possibly raise questions about his own marriage or lack thereof and that was not something he felt comfortable talking about.

Instead he said, "This was very nice of you to come by. We don't really know each other very well do we? That's too bad, since we're neighbors and all."
She smiled and narrowed her eyes at him and picked up her coffee cup with both hands. She wasn't exactly what he thought of as beautiful, her face a bit too long, her eyes set too far apart, but he found himself terribly excited by her. He couldn't stop picturing bedroom scenes with her. The two of them winding together, the covers knotted at the foot of the bed. April Hoffman on her back with his fingers in her mouth. He remembered, suddenly, the commandment about coveting thy neighbor's wife. He almost laughed and knew that his smile must have been crazy and obvious. The Bible didn't acknowledge that wives could also covet. In real life, he thought, women do all the seducing. They know what they want and no amount of drinks bought or lies told can change that fact. The best you can wish for is to be the person that they want you to be in that first hopeful moment.

"Come sit by me," April said.

The primary problem in Steve's marriage to Kelly had been the amount of time they were forced to be apart. The first few years had been marked by a slow tapering off of desire but this hadn't really bothered Steve. He believed it to be commonplace and attributed it, partly, to the fact of their physical closeness. They were comfortable and they were friends. It was when Kelly slept with her secretary, a young woman who Steve never found attractive, that his ability to perform with her stopped altogether. Kelly called it her fifteen minute flirtation with lesbianism. Steve didn't know what to call it. One of the worst things about her sleeping with a woman was that there had been no one to lash out at, no one to hit. The event had fueled his fantasy life for months but despite the fantasies, he could not actually bring himself up to the task of sleeping with Kelly.

Steve was too thrilled to go straight to work so he drove around the block and let himself in Kelly's front door. He called to her and she said she was in the tub and he went back and sat on the toilet across from her. When she saw the look on his face, she said, "Get the cigarettes."
Neither of them smoked but when they had been married, it had been their habit to keep a pack of cigarettes around for heart to heart talks. Steve found them in the refrigerator in the place set aside for storing butter. They smelled musty and antique, relics from their life together. It had taken almost a year to smoke the pack half empty and would probably take another year to finish it.

He lit a cigarette for Kelly and placed it between her lips while she dried her hands. Both of them took a few shallow drags, warming to the conversation, Steve now sitting on the cold tile, leaning his back against the tub. He turned and flicked his ash into the water. Kelly dropped hers on the soap dish and waited for Steve to begin what he had come to tell her.

"I had sex with April Hoffman," he said, finally, trying to be matter of fact.

"You were able to sleep with her?" Kelly said.

Steve ignored this remark, let it hang in the air like the white wisps of smoke on their breath. He felt good. Kelly lifted one leg from the water and ran a washcloth over it, past her knee, along her calf.

"Where?" she said.

Steve took the washcloth from her and helped her wash her foot and ankle. When he was finished Kelly brought the other leg up and he washed it, too, stopping to dip the cloth back in the water and ring it out. He flipped his tie over his shoulder to keep it dry.

"On the floor of the living room," he said. He was holding the cigarette in his mouth to wash her leg and his voice was funny. "And in the bedroom."

"Twice?" she said. "Wow."

"No, just the one time. The floor was uncomfortable so I carried her back to the bed," he said.

Her foot was slick with soap and slipped from his hands, splashing him. There were spots on his blue oxford from the water. He was holding his wet hands away from his body and squinting from the smoke in his eyes.

"Damn," he said.

"Sorry," she said, smiling. "Run the blow dryer over that. Clear it right up."

He took a long drag from his cigarette and jetted the smoke her direction. She flicked the water off her fingertips at him. Beneath the water her body looked wavy and nondescript. Steve stood and plugged in the blowdryer near the sink and began making savage passes with it over his shirt. He was looking at her in the mirror.

"I guess, now, they won't sue us for medical bills," Kelly said.

"What?" Steve couldn't hear her over the blowdryer.

"I guess now they won't sue."

"On the contrary," Steve shouted. "I think a suit is more inevitable now than ever. I did after all sleep with the man's wife."
He laughed and looked at his own reflection, then back at hers over his shoulder. He couldn't see her face, because of where the tub was situated, just her knees, rising like little islands from the water. He saw her hand appear briefly, drop an ash into the water between her knees and disappear again. His shirt was drying nicely.

"I wish you wouldn't sleep with her again…" Kelly said.

"What?" Steve said, not hearing clearly.

"Nevermind," she said.


Kelly leaned over the edge of the tub to look at him. In the mirror, he could see her face, flushed from being in the water so long, the damp ends of her hair, her breasts pushed against the wall of the tub. Nevermind, she said, again, but still he couldn't hear her. He could see her lips moving but couldn't understand what she was trying to say.

After some threatening glances and a surreptitious twenty palmed across the counter, the attendant at the pound allowed Steve to take Dexter outside for a little while. There was a yard in the back where they took the dogs to do their business. Dexter was being kept in a small kennel that they used for solitary confinement, hard cases only. He swaggered past the other dogs in the larger kennels, a different sort of criminal and they watched him pass, enviously, a little afraid, the way Steve imagined petty thieves goggled at mob assassins.

Steve left his job an hour early every day for his visits. Kelly took the afternoons, Steve the evenings. And the two of them, Steve and Dexter, sat at the fence, looking out, watching the streams of passing cars, Dexter's head turning slowly to follow each one. Steve brought the bones that April Hoffman had left and told his dog about their affair. About April coming over the last three mornings after her husband was gone. Telling him every detail, the way April breathed, deep and slow even at their most excited, the way her hair kept getting stuck to his lips. He liked that he could smell her on his clothes long after she was gone. The telling pleased him as much as the act itself. He asked about Kelly's visits, too, but Dexter didn't have anything to say, just listened without comment, cracking the bones with his teeth, the sound like branches snapping off in winter air.

"What do you two talk about out there?" the attendant said, mockingly, as Steve was on his way out.

"Women," Steve said.

They looked at each other, not speaking. The man opened his mouth, as if to say something, then snapped it shut and went back to the paperwork on his desk. Steve was surprised to find himself disappointed. Outside, the sun was shocking. It was as bright, Steve thought, as he had ever seen it.

A strange thing happened between Steve and Kelly when they got married. They had been living together for a year already and neither of them believed that a ceremony in a church for the sake of their parents would affect their relationship one way or another. Life would be business as usual, Kelly working for the county prosecutor's office, Steve overseeing the affairs of the private law firm he worked for. After dark, they would come home at roughly the same time, alternate nights cooking dinner, watch Letterman on the couch, make the kind of genial love they had grown used to, filled still with desire but regular and pretty and easy. Something did happen, though neither of them ever mentioned it, and it had nothing to do with the arm of the law or the eyes of God. It was as if a web, a delicate filigree, had been drawn between them and over the things that were theirs. This thing extended, lightly, over their past together and into the future, giving them shape, the way a sheet is thrown over the invisible man in movies to make him visible. Both of them felt it, though they might have described it differently, comforting and terrifying at the same time.

Kelly didn't want to talk about Steve's affair anymore, though he desperately wanted to tell her about it. He had to content himself with Dexter's quiet listening. She still came over at night or he went to her house and they talked of other things. The idiot associate the senior partners of his firm had hired. The case Kelly was trying. But mostly they talked about Dexter.

"I don't think they're treating him well enough, do you?" Kelly said. "He looks like he's lost weight."

"Maybe he's gone on hunger strike," Steve said.

"Don't joke," she said. "I'm serious."

"I love it when you're serious," he said.

"Look out," she said. "Somebody's being clever. Hit the dirt."

Kelly punched his arm playfully and he pretended that it hurt. He tickled her ribs and they rolled off the couch in her attempts to escape his fingers. Kelly pulled his hair and bit his shoulders and ears but not too hard and he kept on tickling her until she was in tears. The two of them rolled around this way, bunching the rug beneath them, until Kelly's leg, in a spasm of laughter, shot out and kicked a glass off the coffee table. It shattered, sprinkling the floor with shards, and brought them to their senses.

"Look what you made me do," she said. "Idiot."

Steve said, "You started it. Moron."

"Imbecile," she said.



Later, Kelly fell asleep, leaning back against Steve on the couch with her head on his shoulder, her face turned slightly inwards towards his. The television was on but he watched only her for a long time. In the dark, he could see the colors thrown off by the T. V., mostly blues and reds, reflected on her skin. He could feel her breath on his neck and beneath his chin. He wanted to kiss her but he didn't, just leaned forward gently, awkwardly, so that their cheeks were together, the corners of their lips just slightly touching.

April Hoffman called in the morning to tell him that she wouldn't be stopping by today. She said it just like that. I won't be stopping by today. Steve played the moment over in his head, then went further back, like rewinding a tape, searching his memory for something he might have done wrong, something he might have said. He couldn't remember anything. Steve wasn't certain how he was supposed to feel: angry, disappointed, afraid, broken-hearted. He knew he was supposed to feel something. At the time, he was sitting on a high stool in the kitchen, his feet hooked into its rungs, the phone on the wall near him. He felt along his arms, first one then the other, squeezing gently with his fingers, pressing against the bones, as if checking for fractures. At the elbow of the second arm, he stopped, satisfied, and let his mind wander to the coming evening. He smiled, thinking of telling Kelly that his affair was over and wondering how she would react to the news.

On his way to work, Steve ran into Carol Bishop. She was standing at the curb, rifling through the morning's mail, her hair tied down with a crimson scarf. The Spaniel was with her and trotted a circle around the car. He idled behind her and rolled down the passenger window.
"Good morning, Carol," he said, leaning across the seat, smiling.

She glanced at him over her shoulder and scowled. This time of year her roses were in full bloom, practically glowing on her lawn, open to the morning, each bush surrounded by a small chicken wire fence to keep the dogs away.

"Is there something wrong?" Steve said when she didn't answer.

"Don't talk to me," she said, tucking the envelopes into her purse. She stalked away, up the gently sloping driveway toward her house, swinging her arms angrily, her dog padding along in her wake.

"Mrs. Bishop, wait," Steve said, putting the car in park and getting out, "Why don't you like me? What have I ever done to you? Is this about Dexter and your rose bushes? Is this about the dogs?"

"I don't want to talk to you," she said without looking back.

Hearing footsteps running up behind him, Steve turned and recognized Bill Hoffman.

"Shit," Steve said.

Bill Hoffman reached him, gasping, and stood a moment, hands on his knees, trying to catch his breath. He was wearing a suit and tie and his cast jutted out from beneath his sleeve. His fingers were mottled blue.

"What are you doing here, Bill?" Steve said.

"Christ," Hoffman said. "Wait a minute. I haven't run that far since high school."

"What, Bill?" Steve said.

"What?" Hoffman said. "What Goddammit?"

He glanced up at Steve and their eyes met, just briefly, just long enough for Steve to notice that Hoffman's eyes were startlingly blue. Pool water blue. April must have told him everything. He doesn't know what else to do, Steve thought. He knew that feeling, desperate and weak and helpless with loss. They cut the look short at the exact same moment and both of them blushed, faces going hot, each of them having seen something private in the other's eyes.

"You don't have to go through with this," Steve said.

"You slept with my wife," Hoffman said, still breathing hard. Then to Mrs. Bishop, pointing with his cast, "This man slept with my wife."

Mrs. Bishop was absolutely still, frozen like an awkward bronze monument.

"Look, Bill, I'm not going to do this. I won't fight you," Steve said.

Right then, Hoffman straightened and hit Steve in the temple with his cast. From the ground, Steve could see Hoffman, doubled over in pain, clutching his injured arm to his chest and he could see the sky behind him, pale, brushed occasionally with clouds. He had been about to say, it was an accident, we hadn't planned anything, it meant nothing, though all of those things, he knew, were just things you said at a time like that, even if they were true. He had been about to say, I know how you feel, I'm sorry. He didn't hurt as much as he would have expected, was just sort of dreamy and light. The man and woman were shouting wildly for help. Steve got to his feet, shakily, not knowing what else to do, and kicked Bill Hoffman in the groin. In the process, he lost his balance and fell on top of Hoffman and they began beating each other as best they could in such close quarters, Hoffman with his cast, pulling Steve's hair with his good hand. Steve held Hoffman in tight so he couldn't use the cast effectively and butted with his head, used his knees and elbows. They fought halfheartedly, dutifully, almost sadly, doing no less damage to each other for their lack of passion, rolling down a subtle incline, picking up fallen leaves and twigs in their hair and on their clothes, until they fell apart exhausted. The two of them lay on the grass, side by side, Hoffman's arm, the one with the cast, draped across Steve's chest, rising and falling to the rhythm of his breathing. Steve wanted to ask Hoffman if, now that he knew, he was still in love his wife but he didn't say anything. After a few minutes, Bill Hoffman pushed himself up and left without another word.

Steve walked to Kelly's house and let himself in the back door with the key she kept beneath an empty red clay flower pot. He lay down on the couch in the living room and waited for her to come home. With his eyes closed, he took stock of his injuries. He must have somehow bitten his tongue, because it was swollen and felt heavy in his mouth, and by pressing it against the insides of his cheeks, he discovered a loose tooth. His face burned, as if someone had held him by the hair and dragged it back and forth across thick carpet. There was a throbbing, slow and even and only a little painful, in his temple. He could picture the bruise, a vivid discoloration, spreading back into his hairline, like a tattoo. Steve hadn't minded the horrified stares that strangers in other cars had given him on his way home. He believed, as surely as he had ever believed anything, that he deserved them. He thought of Carol Bishop, living alone in that house since her husband died. Of the morning she had called him and Kelly into her yard to tell them what Dexter had done. The roses drooping heavily on their stems, that day, the petals browning at the edges. They're so fragile, she had said, they can't bear even the slightest mistreatment. He had seen Carol Bishop in the rain, another time, tying trash bags over the little wire cages to keep the flowers from being drowned.

Kelly came in slowly, wary at having found her door unlocked and dropped her keys when she saw Steve lying in the evening shadows on her couch. He smiled crookedly at her surprise, his lips cracked and tight with dried blood.

"Oh my God," she said. "What happened to you? Were you in an accident?"

She crossed the room to him and pushed back his hair to examine his bruise. Steve moved her hands away. She was left poised, her hands inches from him, fingers curved to the shape of his head.

"Bill Hoffman and I got into a fight," he said.

"What?" she said. "That's insane. You're grown men."

"That doesn't make it any less the truth," he said.

"Let me guess," she said, holding his chin, despite his efforts to prevent her, and turning his face slowly back and forth, examining him. "Bill won. It serves you right. You look like you were thrown from a moving car."

Kelly put two fingers inside a rip in his shirt that he hadn't noticed before and touched his chest. Her fingers were cold and she left them there until they warmed a little on his skin. She plucked a bit of leaf from his hair. He turned on a lamp beside them and they squinted at each other in the new light. She was kneeling next to the couch, rocked back on her heels. He liked the way she was looking at him. Kelly stood and kicked off her shoes and padded into the kitchen.

"If he won," Steve said to the swinging door, "it was a Pyrrhic victory."

He could hear the sink running, drawers opening and closing.

"Dexter gets out tomorrow," he said. "I've been sitting here thinking we might go together to pick him up. He would like that."

"That sounds nice," she said over the rush of running water.

Kelly returned with two washcloths, one wrapping ice and another soaked in warm water. She made him slide over and sat on the edge of the couch next to him. She pressed the ice to his temple and lifted his hand to it, so he would hold it there. With the other cloth, she brushed his face, wiping his forehead first and working gently down along the bridge of his nose. The washcloth stung where it touched his wounds but in a strangely pleasant way, the way muscles ache after a long, satisfying exercise.

"I want you to tell me everything," Kelly said.

He didn't say anything for a long time, just lay still and let her press the washcloth to his cheeks, run it over his lips. She was turned to him in such a way that one side of her face was lit completely by the lamplight, the other side drawn in shadow. She pushed his eyelids gently closed with her fingertips. Water streamed down his cheeks and he thought it must have looked like he was crying.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

See you tomorrow.

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