Home Alone

This story is part of our Summer Fiction Month 2020. Click here to view the stories featured this Fiction Month, as well as past fiction pieces.

On the drive to the store to buy dog food, Stacey listened vacantly to a radio wrap-up of a presidential debate that had happened last night. She had not seen it on live TV. One candidate had become known for the way he would kiss his niece on stage far too intimately. The store was the kind of place where you needed a membership card to get in the front door, which in a way emphasized that buying something made you part of a club or society of consumers, what anthropologists might call an ‘in-group’ and an ‘out-group.’ Wading through the parking lot to reach the entrance, she moved past the cars, feeling her body lithe and like a woman on a primordial gathering expedition. The heat was antagonistic and the light was bouncing off of the cars so she had to narrow her eyes into fine slits. 

Would you like a sample? asked a woman in a uniform just past the store’s threshold, gesturing out a sample in a small white cup, similarly to how pills were handed out in prisons on TV shows. The rows of food reached nearly to the ceiling of the store, so high they required a forklift to be lowered down to the patrons. A child begged her mother for a sample of an unfrozen fried Wonton appetizer, which her mother steadfastly denied. Sure, Stacey said, accepting the small cup, finding it pleasantly crunchy with afternotes of carrot.  

Deliberating over which kind of dog food to buy, Stacey eventually settled on dry organic kibble, though while waiting in line to pay she began to consider if this was not maybe a paradox of some kind: could something be both organic and at the same time mechanically compressed into small, brown, bite-size pellets? She picked up a tabloid and on the cover was a photograph of Angelina Jolie in a long black dress with a slit running up the side. Stacey pictured a beautiful white mansion in Beverly Hills where Angelina Jolie must live surrounded by a fleet of beautiful and curatedly diverse children, none of them her own, biologically speaking. 

It had been a few weeks ago that, on a desktop computer in her living room, Stacey wrote out the application to the dog foster agency and clicked the ‘send’ button. She scrolled through images of dogs in all sizes, long noses pointed directly at the camera. Some photos blended away the background, changing the depth of field, which she found sophisticated. The dogs, she thought, had somewhat cloying looks in their eyes, so ready to receive pity, unlike human eyes, where one felt the demands of return and reciprocation. What did humanize these animals, however, was that they greyed around the muzzle with age; it looked distinguished, a salt-and-pepper beard. 

The house smelled like wet fur. Stacey was concerned by this foster dog because he had recently fought with a neighbor’s dog, a considerably smaller creature, and drew blood on his spotted fur. Other dogs did not seem so vigorous, appeared in fact practically sedated, and lounging on big cushions. The neighborhood association had repeatedly complained about the barking but she didn’t mind. Why live in a gated community if you couldn’t occasionally host your own dogfight, she figured. Her husband roamed through the dark house, tepidly complaining. 

Please, Stacey, get rid of this dog, he said. Up until that point, on that long and empty Sunday, neither of them had said a word. She thought about nothing, dogs flashing in her head, running through big fields. She pulled at the bottom of her crisp sleeves, a shirt advertised as “uncreasable,” smooth, clean, and white without fail. And responded: 

Fostering is temporary. Until he finds a new home.

I don’t get it… do you really want all this? I think it’s too much responsibility. My allergies are really starting to act up. He pushed his thin, square-frame glasses up the bridge of his newly allergy-prone nose and continued to scroll on his phone with a light index finger. What they unspokenly decided, then, was to form a mutually anti-interventionist domestic policy. A series of small red and green numbers zipped across his screen, the summary of currencies rising and falling, with long passages of thin gray text on a black background. 

Her husband scrolled too fast on his phone and it frustrated her. He had no sense of pause. These numbers and words looked more like street signs on the edge of a highway, rather than still images, flashing for just a moment before accelerating away—the Doppler effect and the compression of lines representing waves of light as they grew closer together and nearer to an object. 

She felt angry but also knew that, as many had told her, it was special to be angry at someone. It was an extension of care. Like tending to fighting dogs, anger and care seemed closely linked, perhaps even interchangeable, in a way she could not quite articulate. It reminded her of when he had burnt his hand reaching into the stove, and he had begun to swear in a manner that broke his usual placid exterior. Stacey had helped him bandage it, with grace and efficiency, while he limply extended his forearm. Later the wound had formed thick and pus-filled blisters in a straight line across a dainty part that connects arm and hand. This wound was angry and hot; the healing cold and careful. 

In the line to check out at the store, she thought again about her husband’s question. Did she really want all this? It was like some days her life lacked the force of narrative, like a bad short story, something with far too many details and no particular momentum. She considered the possibility of a newborn child appearing on her doorstep, a newborn she could keep for herself, no strings attached. One day she would open her double doors and, couched between the concrete faux-Grecian columns, there would be a swaddled baby, crying, which she would pick up and comfort. Did this make her a better or worse feminist? Childhood, as we know it, was not really invented until the 20th century but, to her mind, neither was feminism, which meant that the two concepts must exist in some sort of parallel or at least asymptotic relationship. In that same moment, she considered buying a bumper sticker that said Dog is my co-pilot but decided against it, and she touched her contactless card to a machine that allowed her to buy the dog food before leaving the store. 

Stacey? a high pitched voice asked near the store exit. It was Mary, the woman who ran the neighborhood association. I knew it was you, she continued. Mary was tall in a way that did not particularly suit her. She cradled a large bag of groceries under one arm that was nearly overflowing. 

How is the dog? asked Mary. 

He is fine, thanks for asking, Stacey responded. I think he is growing on us. 

I’m glad, answered Mary. Stacey briefly considered answering Mary’s questions more honestly. The dogs were fighting, her husband aloof, she was left shopping alone on a Sunday in a world in which one could not even commit to purchasing a bumper sticker. But she could not say this out loud, of course, because what Stacey valued in herself was the ability to prioritize form over content. It had been kind of Mary to ask. Stacey felt towards her no ill will, despite the complaints that had been made by the neighborhood association. In fact, what Stacey felt at that moment was something like unbridled optimism. 

Her husband had made it big in a popular cryptocurrency, which is a thing that arose in recent years and had become more popular than money; it was like money in some ways, only it had no physical form and no one could explain how it worked. People had lately put a lot of trust into cryptocurrency because actually there was little left to trust that one could hold or touch, preferring the domain of the imaginary. Money was better this way, her husband had explained to her one night over a dinner at an Italian restaurant that was corny enough that it eventually resembled romantic. Less dirty and very secure, almost like a single, clean thought, he continued. It provides you with the chance to be anonymous and is removed from the centralization of the state. To which she responded, Don’t people buy guns with cryptocurrency online? He was unwilling to see the downside of this venture because of his proclivity for abstraction. He far preferred things that existed in the digital realm. He had left the company shortly before the currency toppled with great force.

They had met at an event at a networking event for young and upwardly mobile professionals. Stacey stood in a group of people holding a conversation about a friend of a friend who had recently moved to Berlin to join an e-gaming start-up that appeared to be thriving, particularly because of the low cost of living. The event was classy, an opportunity to meet people virtually identical to one another but with small, key differences. Various event attendees moved towards and then away from the round standing tables, the attendees organized like one singular, pulsating sea creature. She finished the hard seltzer that she was nursing, nibbled on the slice of under-ripe lime, and placed the empty can on the round table when she saw him, holding his arms a little too far from his body. 

Stacey asked him, Where are you from? and he responded, Santa Fe. Just moved here though. His speech clean, diplomatic, regimented. Somehow their conversation had journeyed to  a viral video of a woman falling down while stomping on grapes in a vineyard. He said, I just so rarely find things like this funny. Video clips this short, they don’t really mean much. Things that are funny take a much longer time to evolve, I think, but I don’t really know. Stacey suddenly felt very tenderly towards this man. He was serious and she liked this, thought it to be in fact an underserved virtue, and he exuded an easy sort of power. Most people around her seemed to be searching constantly for a punchline. It was noble that he appeared so unconcerned. Gravity, or maybe depth. What must it feel like to have your bare feet soaked in wine in its earliest stages like those women in the video and then to fall down in front of a camera? To see this video played over and over again? 

Stacey and her husband bought a house just far enough outside of Silicon Valley that it could feel a bit like LA, spacious and anti-pedestrian. She began to fear that the dogs upset him; he worked from home in one of the many largely untouched rooms upstairs. She knew his workflow was important to him. But, at the same time, she felt unwilling to compromise; she insisted that where compromise began she would begin to end as an individual. He typically yielded with enough time and unspoken force, their relationship was one of unexpressed will. He would forget the dog in the backyard and she would have to get up from bed, partially dressed, go downstairs, and let him out before he began to bark. Him, sleeping heavily.

Pulling into the driveway, bags of dry dog food in her arms, as well as a few boxes of frozen Wontons, a convenient option for dinner or possibly as an appetizer the next time they would entertain, the doors of the house were flung open and the garage door as well. This was disturbing because it was a waste of central air conditioning and because it meant any person from the street could have just walked into the house and helped themselves to the second fridge in the garage where they kept cold bottles of white wine and canned soda. The drink fridge, she appreciated, because she knew she could always tell someone, Help yourself to a drink, it’s in the fridge in the garage, and this hypothetical visitor would be able to go in there and see what abundant and luxurious drink options were available for consumption. It is said that what separates us from the animals is that we don’t shit where we eat, so naturally to divide a liquids fridge from a solids fridge would be the next step in a society that advanced rapidly, even radically, in the direction of progress and even greater civilizations. Given the state of the wide-open house, how porous it was, like a sponge being squeezed over the sink, the only conclusion left to draw was that her husband would be sitting alone on the couch and of course there would be no dogs to be seen. And a part of her, the part that still wanted, that part begging him to forget the dogs, be here, please still be sitting on that couch.

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