Image taken by Flickr user Giuseppe Milo

I’m sitting in Precita Park with my dying dog and a guy comes up to me and says, “You’re not Sam, right? You look exactly like this guy I used to know in college who moved out west.” I shake my head. I’m not Sam. My poor dog, she’s been such a good dog. Her nose is dry and cracked and bleeding. We tried to put moisturizer on it last night. She’s dying, the old girl, and she wants no part of people. She keeps going down to the basement to hide herself away. I keep following her down there and force feeding her baby food. She resents the process and would like me to drop dead myself. I haven’t felt the need to write anything for a while –months. I can’t really say why, but it must be because I’ve had nothing to say. It’s been nice. The silence in my head. Why speak if you’ve got nothing to say? I realize that this doesn’t seem to stop a lot of people. I’ve been trying to swear off what’s becoming known as content. The very idea of content makes me queasy. I have no interest in content. But today, in this notebook, with the dog beside me in the park breathing heavy, just after being mistaken for Sam, I thought I’d try and hold the moment. In a few hours we’re going to put her to sleep. Then she’ll be burned up. We’re going to scatter her ashes on Bolinas Beach where she likes to roll in the sand. But in the meantime, like I say, the two of us are sitting here. It’s late June and there’s a cold wind blowing. I’m shivering. The dog is shivering. But this might well be from hunger. She hasn’t eaten on her own in a week. What if I was Sam, old college friend who moved out west? I like the idea: Moved out west. There’s romance in it. Like I’m some wrangler instead of a guy in a thrift store overcoat freezing his ass off in June as his dog –

The silence in my head. Why speak if you’ve got nothing to say?

I’ve got a book with me. I grabbed it off the shelf and stuffed it under my arm just before I grabbed the dog’s hind legs and held them up. She can only move her front ones, and so I push her from behind like a wheelbarrow. The book is Honey by Elizabeth Talent and the story I’ve been reading is called “Ciudad Juarez.” In the opening scene, which is as far as I’ve gotten because this deathwatch is exhausting me, a couple in a car are on their way to Mexico. They haven’t spoken to each other in five hours, apparently not since Santé Fe. But at one point, as they near the border, the wife reaches out, takes hold of her husband’s wrist, and twists it toward her so she can check the time. The husband expected her to finally say something then. Some remark about how late it was. Anything. But she still doesn’t speak.

    In essence, despite touching him, she had not felt compelled to acknowledge his     existence.

And this is all right. This silence. This lack of acknowledgement. A woman seizing a man’s wrist to look at the time – without a word. An entire history of two lives in this gesture. Why mention it’s late when they both know it’s getting late? And isn’t it always getting late? Why say it? This will come as no original revelation, but, honestly, is there anything more ruinous to a moment than words?

A woman seizing a man’s wrist to look at the time – without a word.

The SFPD just rolled slowly by. They’re checking me and my dog out. All seems to be in order. Still cold. Today won’t get any warmer. I pet the dog. She looks up at me. If I could I’d describe her eyes. Above the park, the sky is a band of whiteblue. A dog is dying in San Francisco. What could this possibly mean to you?

Peter Orner

Peter Orner, a two-time recipient of the Pushcart Prize, is the author of five previous books, including the novel Love and Shame and Love and the collection Esther Stories, a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award. His fiction has appeared on this site, The Atlantic, The Paris Review, Tin House, and Granta, and has been anthologized in The Best American Short Stories. The winner of the Rome Prize and a Guggenheim Fellowship, Orner teaches at Dartmouth College.

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2 Comments on “Against Words

  1. This takes me back to the last 2 weeks of July, this year. The ‘deathwatch’ was exhausting but I clung on because I feared the finality even more.

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