Academic journal article TriQuarterly

Small Adjustments

Academic journal article TriQuarterly

Small Adjustments

Article excerpt

It was the heady aroma of Her, the scent she left on her pillow and sheets, the fragrance he buried himself in when he made her bed. And it was her voice above his head, saying, "He has eyes just like my late husband's."

This must be heaven.

"I think he's got some wolf in him. What do you think?"

"Could be," said a voice in overalls. "He's got the long neck and square muzzle. His legs are a bit short, though. Looks like there's some dachshund in there, too."

Laughter.

Samuel's heart grew light and large as she came near the wire mesh. He felt her soft and loving eyes on him. She breathed into his face. "Will you look at that tail go!" she said.

He turned sharply to look behind him and saw, curving towards his head, a long, horizontal back covered with wiry, muddy-colored hair. At its end was a feathery tail that thumped, though he'd hardly been aware of it, against a black Labrador-mix on his left.

"He thinks he's a puppy. Don't you, pooch? Don't you?"

"Don't," said the attendant, opening the cage. But it was too late. Before Samuel could be separated from the whining crowd, Hazel had reached in to scratch his head.

He felt closer to her now than he had been in years. Eyes wide, he nudged her hand with his nose. He could smell every hidden fold of her skin, from her fingertips to the crevices between her toes. He smelled the wax in her ears, the sweat at the roots of her hair.

Hazel led him through the parking lot holding one end of a long leash. "Come, King," she said.

Feeling breathless, Samuel let his legs carry him, afraid he'd topple over if he thought too much about how they moved, towards each other, then away. He looked straight ahead at tires, wheel hubs and the knees of other pedestrians. He wished he were taller.

When she opened the door he instinctively slid behind the wheel.

"You're going to drive, are you?"

How long it had been since she had spoken to him like that, gently mocking, affectionate. He smiled. Of course he wouldn't, couldn't drive. One fatal mishap behind the wheel was enough. He lumbered over the front seat.

He had not felt so lighthearted in ages, not since their first years together, not since their honeymoon, perhaps, in Lake George. Hazel had worn an array of swimsuits but never gone near the water because she couldn't swim. Nor, it turned out later, could she cook or iron, and she stayed away from mechanical things like washing machines. He had taught her to drive -- not easy, especially on the car, which needed a new transmission before it was six months old. She cried when it was towed to the junkyard ten years later. Samuel, though moved by her attachment to an inanimate object, knew by then that she would never cry such tears for him. Even after thirty-five years of marriage, there remained something left undone, a small adjustment needed, an "if only" to be fulfilled before she could love him as much as she had loved her Studebaker.

In response to murmured condolences, Hazel replied, "I'm fine." Stroking him with one hand, she added, "I always wanted a dog."

Now that he was helpless as a baby she was more pleased with him than ever before.

"You'd hardly know Samuel was gone," her friends whispered when she was out of the room.

"You hardly ever knew he was here!"

Their laughter, cast up from the dark side of their hearts, sounded hideous to him.

"Did he ever take off those rubber gloves?"

"Only to tie his apron!"

How glad he was not to be human anymore. Now Hazel fed him meaty bones. She brushed him, lavished tenderness on him, even followed him on the street with a wad of paper towels in hand. All this attention made him lighthearted. Even his body felt light. His bare feet were soft but tough. The nails were long and clicked on hard surfaces as though he were wearing taps. He would run if he could see better, but what from? …

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