I sat on the back steps, the afternoon sun on my face and a six-pack sitting beside me, keeping me company in the afternoon chill. It was the first day of Spring and my fancy had turned, as it always had, to thoughtless love.
Not my thoughtlessness, though. I had plenty of thoughts. Probably one for each swallow of beer and the beer wasn’t helping drown them, as if it ever really does.
According to the TV weather guy, the Sun was about to come back across the Equator from its Winter place. So I started thinking of Her again.
Okay, I was thoughtless, but that was years ago and she never really understood how I felt.
“I never knew,” she said the day I told her. It was in a tone that carried with it a sense of lost possibilities. No, lost probabilities. She’d already left her longtime fiancé and moved on to someone she said opened her up to a new life that most certainly wouldn’t include me.
All those years, I played the honorable soldier, and now the resigned swain. So I swallowed that bitter pill, washing it down with plenty of beer.
But every year around this time she would walk that sinuous walk of hers back into my consciousness. I always said it was because the sap was running, but I didn’t necessarily mean in the maple trees. I’d hear a song, almost any song, and form some sort of connection between its lyrics and us. Even though there never was or would be a Capital “U” Us.
The only Us that existed in my life was me and my Border Collie, Suzie. Okay, I’ll admit to naming Suzie with just enough of my Spring obsession’s name to make myself miserable, but she looked like a Suzie, so that’s who she was.
“Suzie, you fluff-butt, stop digging over there,” I called to the flagging tail flying over a spray of moist soil where I planted the flowers that She liked. Of course, a dog, even a PhD.-level intellect like a Border Collie, is not going to respond to a simple imperative sentence beyond its name and one or two-word command.
Suzie gave up digging just long enough to turn her head toward me, her red-brown eyes regarding me with what I construed as affection and indifference. The same I observed in You-Know-Who the last time we spoke. That’s what Spring will do to me.
I drained another bottle, slid it into its cardboard berth and withdrew its neighbor, popped its top and glugged down about a third of its mind-fogging elixir.
“Hey, Fluff, c’mon over here like a good girl. Leave those flowers alone,” I called again, this time with a bit more beer-muscled edge. Again, a turn and that look, the reflex reminder of Her eyes.
I’ve imagined those eyes many nights as I was lying in bed. I’d see them in the dark, on the ceiling, with mine closed, my head under the blankets or pillow, in the face of the girl who checked my license and sold me this beer, in my neighbor Mrs. Benedetto’s stare as I talked to Suzie like she was a human girl. Yeah, I saw Her eyes everywhere. Sometimes I liked thinking that she thought about my eyes, maybe seeing them in somebody’s face on the street or through a store window on a mannequin during a midday walk, if she still walked the route we’d walk when we were still “just friends.”
“Suzie, come. I mean it. Bad dog. I’m having enough trouble today without you digging up stuff. C’mon, Suzie, come,” I said. I emptied that bottle and noticed I only had one more left to drink. The contents of two bottles had disappeared without me noticing . Just as the past two hours had disappeared.
But the feelings of being the stupid good guy who followed the rules, too late to the fair (damsel), and living with regret, a Border Collie and only one more beer overcame me. Just as they had every year since I lowered my emotional guard and got a gut punch for my trouble.
“Suzie,” I yelled. “Get your fluffy ass out of those flowers now.” I was pissed, but not really at my dog. I planted those flowers and pretty much ignored them because it pained me to tend to them when I knew what they represented. But I couldn’t dig them up because…I knew what they represented.
I took that last bottle and tipped it up and drank most of it down in one long chain of swallows. Might as we’ll end the day and the beer going out big, because the feelings were still big.
I lowered the bottle with eyes my closed. I’d had enough of feeling sorry for myself. Yeah, these feelings were always there, most especially on this day. It was on the first day of Spring when I finally sowed my feelings for Her with hope they’d grow into something beautiful. For years I’d dreamed someday she’d look back and think, “Oh, wait…what if…?” But it’s really too late for that. I’ve lived too long without gathering what I’d planted with such hope. I realized a while ago I could live with that “without.”
I opened my eyes and found Suzie staring into them. She’d finally come over to me. In her soft mouth she clenched one of the Black-eyed Susans from the plot where she’d been digging for the past hour. I looked over and saw that it looked like a roti-tiller had torn it up for a new plating. Suzie dropped the flower between my feet and pressed her head against my knee. She’d chewed off the center of the bloom and the black eye was replaced by brown. I reached out and rubbed between her ears.
“Okay, I get it. Thanks, Fluff-butt. You’re my girl, huh?” I said. “It’s over. We’re stuck with one another and that’s okay. What do you say we go down to the dog park tomorrow and see if we can dig up something besides flowers and foolish memories.”
I picked up the flower Suzie gave me and put it in that last near-empty bottle. Then we both went into our house. The sun had just slid over the Equator and the roofs to the west and tomorrow new life would begin.
A first-draft quick response to Annie Fuller’s weekly Writing Outside the Lines prompt. This week, it was the photo you see at the top of the story. As is my wont more often than not, I was inspired to write about another close encounter of the third kind in the galaxy of the heart. Is it a story yet? Probably not. But it’s a good jumping off point for something later. Let’s say I’ve panted the seeds.