Mike watched his setter out of the corner of his eye while he ordered two hot dogs from the vendor. One with sauerkraut, onions and mustard and the other plain. He silently wished Cinnamon would stick his head back inside the vehicle, be a little less visible. He imagined explaining to his boss why his dog had to accompany him on today’s delivery run. Maybe he would understand.
Probably he wouldn’t.
It was so hot. Mike wiped his forehead with his sleeve before reaching out to drop the cash into the vendor’s hand in exchange for the hot dogs. If he were a dog, he’d have as much as he could fit outside the window, too. He caught the canine’s eye as he made his way to the van. Thankfully all the setter did was get to his feet and wag his tail. Mike could see the plume swaying in the shadows inside the van. Cinnamon wasn’t one to bark much.
“Scoot over, Mutt and let me in.” Cinnamon scrambled over to the passenger seat and faced the front as though he were ready to be moving.
“Lunch first,” Mike said in response. “Here you go, Boy.” He pulled the hot dogs out of the sack and put them up on the dash, tore the bag open and spread it like a placemat on the seat between them, and then unwrapped the plain hot dog and placed it before Cinammon. The dog looked at him with huge dark eyes begging for permission, and Mike couldn’t help but smile.
“Go for it!” he said, and the dog did just that. In the back of his mind, Mike wondered if he should have gotten Cinnamon two. Then he wondered how he’d get him water. Later. He’d think about that later. Along with all those other things he couldn’t think about just now.
After folding the paper down around his own lunch, Mike started the van and eased away from the curb. He heard the wet flap of the dog licking his chops and glanced down at the paper bag, which was being thoroughly sniffed for a stray morsel. “We’re almost through, Buddy. Then we’ll figure out what we’re going to do next.”
Then Mike started thinking about her, and found himself caught in that whirlpool that dragged his mind down a deep and bottomless hole every time. How could she be like this? How could a person change so utterly, so completely? And so fast. Almost overnight it seemed.
They had been married for five years. No, they weren’t the match-made-in-heaven couple that seemed to fill the movie screens. They had married too quickly and had put a lot of work into adjusting to one another over those first couple years. Still, they had built a life together. Mutual respect had been cultivated, as well as tolerance for each other’s quirks. They had their weekly pizza night and full-blown date evenings a couple times a month. Mike recalled long conversations they’d had over Saturday breakfast, often arguing good-naturedly over the op-ed column, and long easy walks through the park with Cinnamon in tow. He had been honestly happy. And thought she had been as well.
Now she wanted out. Not only that, she wanted to take everything with her. Even the dog.
Mike reached out and buried his fingers in the dog’s coat just below his collar and rubbed. Cinammon turned his big, grateful eyes on him for a moment, and then went back to watching the world go by out the passenger side window. Why on earth was she so adamant about the dog? It wasn’t like they had kids who would miss him. It wasn’t like she was the one who got up in the mornings and walked him. Lately she hadn’t even been taking him to the park in the evenings either. She had been working round the clock, only now Mike couldn’t help but wonder exactly what it was that she had been working at during those long hours.
The house was negotiable. As was the car, the furniture, the wedding pictures. He was ready to give her whatever she wanted as long as he wasn’t left destitute.
Without Cinnamon, he was destitute.
At the moment the company of the animal meant more than money or things. There was one living, breathing being on the earth that hadn’t turned on him, that gave him unconditional support and companionship, and of all the things she wanted, this was the one he would not even discuss.
When he saw her this morning, ready to back out of the drive with the animal in her shiny BMW, and Mike had nearly gone berserk. Probably stitched up every thread needed in a case for divorce due to insanity. He stood directly in her path as she began to back down the driveway, and she stopped with just inches between him and her rear bumper. After which he pounded forcefully on her trunk and saw her lower the window.
She was just taking him for a walk, she screamed. They had to get used to sharing these things, she said. But nothing could stop him from yanking the passenger door open, calmly calling the dog out and then putting him in the Wentworth’s Uniforms van at the curb, which was sorely in need of a wash he had noted in that odd way that had overtaken him. Details that meant nothing caught his attention like bait.
“The dog is not going to be shared,” he said, sharply and clearly when she paused at the end of the drive to say something else. “Non-negotiable.”
“We’ll see about that!” she yelled in return. She sped away. He climbed into the van and put it in reverse, trembling in relief.
Mike wondered now what, if anything, she had been up to. Honestly she’d have no reason to kidnap the dog. He wasn’t registered, trained or worth any money, which seemed to be her sole interest these days.
But the sight of her with Cinnamon raised all the jealousy that would have surfaced had she had her lover in the seat beside her. Maybe that’s what he’d seen. Or had been afraid of–that his dog’s affections could be swayed away from him. That he could be utterly and completely alone.
And so here they were, side by side, Mike and Cinnamon, delivering uniforms across Cleveland, both of them wondering exactly what came next. Cinnamon just seemed a bit more eager to know than Mike was at present.
Today’s prompt: (March 25, 2004) A cinnamon-colored Irish setter stares out the driver’s side window of a dirty white cargo van. Who owns him?