A biplane tails a shimmering string of text: The world is ending. Another, I hear, in Montana creates a font of clouds. Someone reported they added finally, but the letters dissolved before it could be confirmed. And I don’t believe it. That’s just what we’re all thinking. Finally. Finally, it’s over.
In Michigan, a secret cult gathers above a discount shoe store in a steamy kitchen while a man mixes powder and punch. Women with babies on hips, bouncing them, cooing, poking their fingers into the soft indents of their cheeks.
“Settle, settle,” they say, humming. “How long?” they ask, and the man, the appointed priest, a song buzzing in his throat, looks up and promises, “Soon.”
They find the bodies later, six men, twelve women, four babies, and two other children lying together in a heap in the living room, piled like old laundry.
Every one of them smiling.
I’m walking my chihuahua mix Daisy when the plane rumbles overhead. A woman leans out from her front porch. I can see that she’s weeping.
“It’s over!” she yells. Her voice is a wild, broken sound, a clatter of chimes against concrete. Daisy’s ears twitch. “It’s over! They just said!”
Our walking path takes us around the old frontier prison the town of Rawlins locked behind chains and made into a monument. All year they host tours of the dark stone walls inside. I went once, alone, because Max was working. A man with ear plugs the size of soda cans showed me the lightless cell blocks, the gas chamber, the bald dirt yard where the prisoners used to play baseball before they hanged the teamed catcher.
“A man was lynched right here,” the man said at one point. We stood before a narrow stack of cells. He sounded cheerful, almost proud, like a child pointing out their artwork on the refrigerator. “They threw him over the balcony.”
The town carved a walking path along the side of the prison for people and their dogs, a neglected wildlife oasis tucked in a bend of rocky hills.
From some hidden dip behind the prison, I hear cheering. A breakout of sobbing.
Daisy alone seems unaffected by the news. Her beige ears tilt like satellites as she dips to sniff a sage bush blooming in jaundiced florescence. Business attended, she trots forward, stopping when she feels the inert tug of the leash. She looks back at me, considering how afraid she should be by my face. This is what it means to be trusted by a dog. Her eyes are hazy with cataracts. I hate that she’s going blind and that she’s so small, it seems like it should be one or the other, that she should have some way of protecting herself. Even her teeth are falling out; one side of her mouth sunken, her grin lopsided for years now.
Daisy knows when I’m having a nightmare. Once I had a dream in which I needed to get somewhere—out of town, that’s all I knew—but I couldn’t find my way. I kept taking wrong turns. I was lost. And there was something behind me, a black cloud forming, a lightless mass bigger than any building. I told Max how Daisy knew I was in distress. How she kept scratching me, nuzzling her cold nose into my neck until I woke up. Max doesn’t believe dogs understand as much as they do.
“Dogs are animals,” Max said. “It’s dangerous to anthropomorphize them. You’re a food bowl to her. That’s it.”
“Dangerous to who?”
My eyes trailed Max as he worked his slim fingers over the buttons of his pants, which he let puddle to his ankles before stepping out of them. He picked them up and folded them, his palms ironing the creases into a perfect press. I hate that about him. How he can never let a mess stand. That little brush he keeps in the bathroom for cleaning his fingernails.
“Whom,” he said.
Daisy knows. It’s not the erupted cheers, the muffled sobs from the houses around us now gathering in volume as the news is passed. It’s the tension in my arm, or my scent, maybe. Dogs’ noses are so much stronger than ours. Everyone knows the targets they can be trained towards: the days-old press of a body in the woods, a cancerous cell, an imminent seizure. I once read a story about a cadaver dog taught to find drowning victims. The picture showed a German shepherd perched over the edge of a boat on Lake Eerie, body rigid as it waited for the lift of scent through all that water. I have no idea what chemicals my body is producing, the cortisol spike, or maybe release. I’m vibrating, my muscles palsied with the force of all this feeling.
“Home.” My voice is brittle with the force of its uplift. “Let’s go home.”
We turn around at the old prison cemetery. It’s a small, fenced square of land filled with nameless plots. Tombstones jut like tree stumps, their edges crumbled. The neglect here is made starker by the newer cemetery across the road, glossy marble rising from lush green lawn. It feels cruel to walk by the old cemetery every day, as if the prisoners’ ghosts might be injured by our freedom. It’s hard not to think of their bodies in there, the dusty ruin, though I know there’s nothing left of them by now. Whatever they were has rotted into the earth.
I know that. I know.
My mom used to throw parties she called funerals. “To the end!” she said, toasting a can of soda like it was champagne, rocking her hips around our living room though no music played. All those faulty finish line predictions; the bad arithmetic of day’s end filled our home with oxygen. Mom had no friends outside our home, so we danced with each other. She held me close to sway, then spun me under her outstretched arm while Dad sat on the couch, smiling vaguely at his knee, deciding to find her mania charming. The television’s blown speaker crackled at any upshot in noise. The underwater voices and laugh track the background to Mom’s private celebration. “It’s over!”
The only time I saw my parents kiss was during one of those funerals. After the day started to cool and Mom switched her soda for beer. Eyes heavy, she slid close to Dad on the couch and tipped her face towards his jaw, until eventually he gave in and nodded his lips against hers.
Afterwards, Mom crawled into bed with me. She punched her rough feet under my covers and turned towards me in the dark.
“Do you think it will be quick?”
I lowered her eyelids with my fingertips, one and then the other. “Definitely.”
She died three years ago. A paler, precision apocalypse; a world, ending. She would have loved this.
Daisy can feel my urgency on the way home. I don’t stop to let her sniff the thousand places she likes to stop and sniff, the same places that halt our progress every day. Her favorite tree is a towering, half-dead cottonwood encircled with a rosary of deer droppings. She snorts at the base of it, resisting my tugs on the leash. Her hackles twitch, lower, rise. I wonder if some other dog spoiled my efforts to keep it from her. She walks closer to my legs the rest of the way home, tail tucked, stiff as a bodyguard. There’s something she thinks I need protecting from.
It continues at home. She crowds my legs as I move around the kitchen in search of my phone. I trip over her when I turn around. “It’s okay, it’s fine,” I say, leading her to the couch, smoothing her hackles, circling my trembling thumb at the base of her ear.
I find my phone between the couch arm and cushion. No missed calls. No texts. I can’t believe Max didn’t call. But maybe he hasn’t heard yet. He doesn’t check his phone while he works. All his attention is absorbed by the clean arithmetic of his accounting job. I call him three times. I leave a message.
Daisy was given to us by a friend of Max’s. His dog had gotten pregnant through mysterious means and had a litter of one: Daisy. A whiny, nervous dog, shy and shivery, a mixed mutt with bat ears and watery, bulbous eyes, terrified always. They couldn’t get rid of her fast enough.
Max called me from the car. We were living in another apartment then, a square brick building with six units all filled, other than us, with drunks who lived off disability or state checks of some kind and with whom we tried to socialize as little as possible. Max was in the final year of his studies, and I was working as a bank teller making eleven dollars an hour, still on the edge of finding myself, believing myself close to being found.
“Come out,” Max said. “I have a surprise.”
There she was on his lap. A curled white thing, mostly ears and eyes.
A work friend of Max’s, a women named Yvette, met her husband while on a cruise. “We caught eyes, and it was like that, and I just knew.” She talked about the feeling that seized her body when they looked at each other, a quaking paralysis of limbs, like being locked into a roller coaster car, a twin sensation of stillness and motion.
I have never believed in love at first sight. I have never been struck blind with feeling for another person. My love for Max was like something left in the black depths of the ocean, trapped by debris before its slow, lonely drift to the surface, a weedy tangle brought forth by the tide, surprising us both with its appearance on shore.
Daisy crawled into my lap. Her eyes rolled up to look at me. And I loved her then, immediately, completely. My hands shook as I draped them over her the ridges in her spine. “She’s beautiful,” I said, which wasn’t enough. It wasn’t half. Instinctively, I knew to hide my love behind my teeth, blunt its edges for the benefit of other people. It feels unseemly, this love for an animal. The kind of love people assure you should only be felt for other people, for children, as if love can be parceled out that way, assigned to its most logical sources; as if love ever does anything we want it to do.
I brought Daisy inside. She crawled into my lap and stopped trembling for the first time. Max reached out a hand, and Daisy startled backwards, a piddle of pee sprinkling the floor, before lunging again for my lap. Max withdrew his hand as if she’d snapped at him.
“I don’t get it. She rode on my lap the whole way home.”
“She’s probably just tired,” I said, though I knew the truth. Love can do that, thread between two beings a kind of telepathy, a mutual, blood-deep understanding. I, too, understood the urge to feed yourself on half-love, the kind of settling that happens before you understand the bright wild heat of true kismet. What did she need him for now? We had each other.
Of course, that was when Max turned against her.
I call again when Max doesn’t phone within thirty minutes. Daisy follows me as I move around the house shutting all the curtains and double-checking the door locks. It’s our first apartment at ground level after years of leaky basement units.
“We’re adults!” we had cheered when we moved in.
Now all this light is unbearable. I shut the windows against the voices outside. I hear a gunshot, a pause, then two more. I pretend to confuse it for fireworks, which maybe it is. People will want to celebrate.
Daisy whines at my ankles. Today is unlike any other, but she has her routine. She needs to be fed. She needs her blanket set up on the couch for her morning nap. I fill her bowl with the little scoop I use to measure her portions. Today I give her twice as much. Why not feast?
She has this thing she does when she eats, looking up between each bite to grin at me as she chews. “She’s saying thank you, do you see?” I said once, but Max disagreed. “She’s watching you. She’s a predator, don’t forget. She’s making sure you’re not trying to steal her food.”
The thing I resent most about our relationship is that he doesn’t realize he’s the stupid one.
Max arrives home forty minutes later. His clothes look harassed, his eyes scrubbed red. “Did you hear?” he asks in the doorway. He lingers there before remembering himself. He steps fully inside and shuts it neatly behind him.
I pat the couch next to me. Daisy is curled into a ball against my opposite side, a blue lump in the blanket. Her piebald pink nose is the only part of her that is visible amongst the fleece folds.
Max falls onto the couch. He smells clean from his shower, soapy and slightly woody from the deodorant he uses. When I was fourteen, I made a list of the qualities I wanted in the man I’d marry. Girls were always making lists then. We listed our favorite movies, our top crushes, the places we wanted to travel. It was a way of cataloging ourselves, or a kind of wish making. Smells good. That was first on the list.
Max and I met in an elevator. I was on my way to an interview for a job I wouldn’t get, and Max worked in the building. Enclosed in that space, he looked at me and smiled, and his smell washed over me, and I decided it meant something. Us meeting like that. I didn’t know, when I was younger, the qualities I should want, the type of man I might hope to find. I should have written: Defies lists. The problem with Max is I can describe him perfectly.
We sit like that for a long time before Max reaches into my lap. He zippers his fingers through mine. We’re awkward hand holders, our wrists butting against each other at bad angles. He grips so tightly my fingers flush plump with blood. We watch television. News anchors face the cameras with wild, trembling smiles. The men aren’t wearing suits and ties, the women braless.
“This is really something, huh?” the weatherman says, trying for the false cheer he’s used to.
Two of the other anchors are crying; they don’t seem to realize it. Footage streams of time square, the bustling mass of bodies with their hands held high. The weatherman lifts an amber bottle of whisky to his lips before the camera moves away.
“We should do something,” Max says now and then.
But there is nothing we can think to do. We hold hands. We sit and watch the celebrations on television, the crowds of people buoyant with the freedom of the doomed.
That night, Max gropes under my shirt. My fingers find his penis, a doughy snail near his thigh.
“What should we do?” I say.
His mouth presses against my neck. “What do you mean?”
He’s already hard. He’s a champion at this, he’s never had the performance issues common in other men. I can always count on his little soldier to work when tasked to it, tirelessly rising when drafted to the cause. Max seems like the type who would be bad in bed, clumsy and confused by the mechanics of two people together, but he’s efficient as a machine. I can sense, his head nuzzled between my legs, the counter adjustments he makes, my moans catalogued, my orgasms streamlined by a series of processes we’re both proud of. It shouldn’t be enough reason to stay with someone for this long, but it’s horribly confusing, the attentive devotion he pays my clitoris—loving, almost.
“I don’t know. It feels like we should do something new. Something we’ve never done before.”
“I don’t know.”
If we had more time to plan, maybe, talk it out. Instead, our bodies fall into familiar patterns, my eventual orgasm a delirious undoing. In the soft light of our bedroom, it feels comforting to lie together, to touch each other in our same old ways. Goodbye, he says with every kiss, every fingertip laid against my skin. And mine, against the delicate hollow of his throat, the scar on his shoulder, the whirl of fine hair in the middle of his chest.
Daisy curls on my chest while Max gets ready for work. She’s snoring lightly, a hushed, guttural sound. Part of her lip is caught on her tooth and lifts in a sleepy snarl. Look, I want to point out to Max. I have tried for so long to infect him with love for her, to break through whatever immunity he’s built up. I stay quiet. I enjoy the moment, the weight and warmth of her small body.
“I don’t understand why you want to work. No one else is.”
“People are working.” Max scowls at some dog hair on his pants. “My boss didn’t say anything about not coming in, so.”
“What if it happens today?” It’s useless to argue. He’s always been this: a body out the door, a body turned to wherever I’m not.
“It’s not going to happen today. Experts have all agreed that it shouldn’t happen for a couple more days.”
What experts? Where did he hear this? I know the truth: He’s freaking out. His orderly world undone, flexing at the hinges. I let him go. I kiss him goodbye at the door, like it’s any other day, ignoring the hazy smoke outside. The sky is the sour, acrid color of bile.
“Be safe,” I say.
He waves, not getting the joke.
Daisy has fine bones in her neck I can feel with my fingers. Her skull fits perfectly in my palm. People are taking their kids to basements, cradling them in their laps, singing to them. They are holding them, hard, petting the silky hair along the napes of their necks. They kiss them on the temple. They replace their lips with a gun.
Pets are easier. Grip, twist.
I press against Daisy’s spine firmly. I expect Daisy to twist away, or stiffen, somehow alert to the danger of this new way of touching. She blinks at me, body relaxed against my hand. She licks clean her right front paw. It’s because I’ve never hurt her; she has no reason to think I would start now. Her brain is unwired for the kind of danger possessed in those who love us most.
In the end, I can’t do it. Mercy or not, I can’t hurt her. And I don’t want it to end yet, not a moment before it has to. I don’t want to miss her.
In Bolivia, a stray dog begged for scraps from a butcher every day for six weeks. Whatever he was given, he saved half and carried it away. Curious, the butcher followed the dog one day to see him dropping the other half of the offal in a storm drain. He found a litter of five kittens trapped in there, kept alive by this starving dog.
They freed the kittens, who were all adopted. The dog was not.
All this to say I can’t think of a single person I’m going to miss. I’m sick to death of people.
We spend our last moments outside. I leave Daisy unleashed and sit in a small patch of dry yard near our front door. I watch her sniff the yellowed grass, hackles twitching in response to the energy in the air, the vibrant static of a dying earth. She’s fussy, this dog, structured, almost militaristic in her need for routine, grumpy with other dogs and people, wary of everything. It makes it sweeter, the way she is with flowers, the serene drift of her eyes as she smells each limp dandelion sprouting in the grass.
I argued with Max once about the divinity of dogs.
“Look at how they love us,” I had said. “It’s the way God is supposed to love us.”
It is the closest to communion I’ve ever been.
“Christ,” Max had said.
He doesn’t believe in God. Maybe I don’t either. Everything after this—I’m trying not to think about it. I don’t want to be afraid.
I want to be full on love, I wrote on my teenage list, then scratched it out, but tentatively, with one fine, striking line, so I could still read the text underneath.
A neighbor is sitting outside on his porch. “It’s about to happen,” he says to what appears to be his son.
A boy, maybe twelve, sitting on his lap, though he’s too big for it. Both his legs touch the ground. They watch the sky turn steadily orange.
“Can you feel it?”
The boy nods. Of course he can. We all can.
My phone rings, but I don’t look at the screen. There is no one I want to speak to in this moment. Daisy’s tail dips. She can sense it, too, and looks at me. I smile and pat my leg. “Come here, Daisy May.”
She crawls into my lap and stretches forward to lick my face. Her body is trembling slightly, and I hold her close, trying to wrap her with my body’s warmth. The worst thing about dogs is that they can’t understand us, not really. I love you, I try to communicate with the way I hold her, the hand I stroke over her back. This is real, this feeling. This is rare and good.
My mom once had a dog who learned how to bare her teeth in mimic of a smile. Dogs will do that, I read, to show they don’t mean any harm. They see the way people greet each other, our lips peeled, teeth gleaming, to erase fear in another person. And this dog worked muscles that were unnatural to her so she could prove the same thing—so she could greet us all in safety, so she could be loved.
I don’t care what Max says. What is more graceful than this kind of love?
What is more divine?