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Dante
Memory as an antidote for loss.
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Dante - Catherine Ryan Hyde

Kennel man says, “Ever had a dog before?”
“When I was a kid we had a Cocker Spaniel.”
“This ain’t no Cocker Spaniel.”
The dog is in a run by himself. He doesn’t have to share with other dogs. Because he won’t. “What kind of dog is he?”
“I dunno. No kind of dog. Every kind of dog. Got some hound, maybe. Maybe not.”

He’s yellow. Very short hair, not shiny or lustrous. Strong looking. Ellen keeps thinking that. Not pretty, in fact, he gives her the creeps. He hasn’t looked at her yet.

Kennel man says, “You gotta take him?”
“No. I don’t have to.”
“You gotta take him otherwise you don’t get some big inheritance?”
“No. He is the inheritance. Just him.”
“Lucky you. Don’t take him.”
“Why not?” She gets down on her knees in front of his chain-link gate. The dog makes a greater effort to avoid her eyes.
“I just don’t trust that dog.”
“Did he bite you?”
“No.”
“Did he try?”
“No. But I can see him thinking about it. He’s too smart.”
“Too smart for who?”
“Look at his gate.Why do you think it’s padlocked? He learned how to put his paw through and work the latch. So we put a clothespin on it. So he learns how to bite the clothespin so it opens. God did not intend dogs to be that smart.”
God did not intend dogs, period, she thinks. They were our creation. But she doesn’t care to argue theology. “Why is he so skinny? Don’t you feed him?”
“Yeah, we feed him, but he don’t eat.”
“What’s his name again?”
“Danty, I think. Something like that. It’s on his card.”
“Why don’t you go get his card?” As soon as she’s alone with the dog, he turns his head and looks into her eyes. It’s a chilling moment. His eyes are yellow. She feels reduced by his stare. He averts his gaze again, because the kennel man is back.
Ellen reads the card.
“Dante,” she says. The dog’s head whips around. His lip curls back to expose monumental fangs. He wags his whole body, grovels across cold concrete on his belly to the gate.
“Why is he snarling at me?”
“I dunno, but he’s wagging his tail. Maybe he’s smiling. Some dogs do that when they feel cowed. You can tell he knows you. I’m glad he likes somebody.”

She has never met this dog before.

Against her better judgment, she puts the back of her hand to the chain link; he covers it with his wide tongue, thankfully.

“Open the gate,” she says.

He drops the key onto the aisle floor beside her. “You open it.”He clears the area before she can.

Dante leans out. Kisses her face excessively. It’s not pure friendliness, there’s something straining and desperate and apologetic about it.

She reaches in for his dish of untouched kibble, sits in the aisle, on the cold concrete, Dante lying heavy on her legs, and he eats kibbles one at a time out of her hand.

There’s something to be said for alcoholism, though I admit I’ve reached this conclusion vicariously. Carrie used to be one, and she told me all about it. She says she still is, but that’s beyond me. Alcoholics drink. Carrie doesn’t.

After 30 white-knuckle days of not calling Grant, nobody gave me a nice little medallion to wear on my keychain. At the vast watermark of a year, no cake. Nobody sang. At Grant’s memorial, even though I didn’t know those people, I was sharply aware of their potential failure to appreciate that accomplishment. It wasn’t as easy as it sounds.

We were on a hill, this bunch of strangers and me, looking out over Mariner’s Cove. A string quartet played, because Grant loved classical music. Of course he did. I never knew that about him until that moment. I remember being glad I’d never played Elvis Costello when he was over. Somehow I thought I’d left Grant just in time to avoid that moment where I realize I didn’t know him. That’s kind of a joke though, because I remember why I finally broke it off. You’re with a man for almost two years, you should know where he lives, and you should have met his dog. Even I can see that’s not natural.

You get angry, thinking about what you don’t know.

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