Friday, September 3, 2010
Living in a city without a car, I tend to have to kill time as I go from one job/appointment to another. One day I opted to sit on a bench in a nearby dog park and read. As I opened my book, I found myself distracted by all of the activity going on around me. There were so many different dynamics between humans and dogs alike. I put my book down and started taking notes. Some of what I overheard became lines of dialogue in this little summertime story.
Caroline grabbed Antonio Banderas’ leash and attached it to his collar. He had been such a good boy, not making any accidents on her new apartment floor. She had learned to reward such behavior with a treat, so she fed him a Buddy Bone and thought he would enjoy a romp outside. There wouldn’t be too many nice summer days left before autumn descended for a few moments and winter bulldozed in for an interminable amount of time.
She got to the elevator and pressed the down arrow and waited. Antonio Banderas was a rescue dog. They weren’t sure exactly what breed of dog he was. Maybe terrier with some corgi and maybe even some beagle. Caroline didn’t care. He was smallish and wiry and with those chocolate malt ball eyes, she was sold. She took him home that day and it was the best relationship she ever had with another living thing. He was loyal and loving and kind and a good listener and seemingly incapable of lying. This last point was a real bonus.
Caroline bought him when she moved into her new condo. It was a big step. Her heart palpitated when she signed on all of the dotted lines. It was a commitment, one that she would be paying off for a long time. But her promotion at work helped solidify her decision. She was only thirty-two and she was already an account executive at the office interior design agency. Her student loan was paid off from the work she did for the Peace Corps, which consisted of three years spent in Ghana working on clean water systems. She came home with a financial clean slate, landed a great job, moved up meticulously, and bought a condo and then a dog.
Her mother anticipated that a husband was the next logical step. In most twenty-something heterosexual female cases it was, but Caroline found it difficult to explain to her mother that a husband, a mate for life, wasn’t something you check off a to-do list. She had never been able to settle. There had been guys who showed interest but she wasn’t interested in them and on the flip side of that coin, the guys she thought were really interesting never stuck around. Her mother had hope though.
“Caroline, I just heard that Reneé is seeing someone,” her mother left on a phone message.
Caroline doesn’t know anyone named Reneé. Neither does her mom. Her mother was referring to Reneé Zelwegger. Reneé Zelwegger started dating a young Hollywood alpha male and was name-dropping her as someone for Caroline to compare her life’s progress. Caroline loved how her mother prefaced information like this with “I heard,” as if she was running in their circles rather than admitting that she was scouring the tabloid rag in the grocery checkout line. She didn’t know which was worse, being compared to untouchable starlets who lived outrageously and insultingly different lives than she did or to the girls she did know who seemed to be marrying left and right to her mother’s frustration. Caroline was certain that her mother had already started planning her wedding. The groom would be a mere detail.
She had to give her mother credit though when it came to Antonio Banderas. Caroline had been having a difficult time getting used to living alone in such a large complex. Her condo was really, really quiet. This wasn’t an apartment building with thin rotting walls that allowed you to hear your neighbors’ most private moments. In her last apartment, Caroline had to live vicariously through her upstairs neighbor’s sexual proclivities. She had heard enough, “oh God’s,” “I’m going to come,” “Right there” and her favorite, “On my face! On my face!” to last her a lifetime.
So when the quiet descended upon her like a pillow covering her face, Caroline panicked. Her mother did not. She arrived the next day and took Caroline to the rescue pound and introduced her daughter to the new love of her life. Antonio Banderas. Caroline liked how the name rolled of her tongue. It was fun to say and in a weird way it just fit. Her mother didn’t like it as much. “What would Melanie say?” she asked with complete sincerity.
Caroline shrugged and bit her tongue from spitting out that she didn’t care what some plastic Hollywood actress thought of her dog’s name. But why ruin a perfectly good day, so she kissed her mother on the tip of her nose instead.
“Now you have someone to take to that dog park across the street so you can meet some new people,” she said as Caroline took a deep breath and counted to ten silently.
Ding. The elevator spat them out onto the marble floored lobby. Antonio always slipped on the floor as he scurried his four little legs over the cold slick surface. His tail wagged with excitement to go outside and feel the sun shine on his fur. This was his favorite part of the day. The smells alone drove him to distraction. Once out the door he instinctively veered to the right, past the fire hydrant and towards the patch of squared off grass but he felt an abrupt tug. The lady was pulling him away from the route. She was guiding him to a place he had never been.
Just then a breeze filtered a scent into the air that made Antonio Banderas get very excited. He smelled his own.
Honk. Caroline had to hold on tight to the leash as her dog tried to dart into traffic. She could tell that he picked up on the other dog’s scents in the park. Once the light changed, she relented and let herself be pulled to the big green open pasture of grass that lay before them. She looked out and saw all the people mingling with the other dog owners while the four-legged friends mostly ran free. There were Labs sprinting around, Chihuahuas prancing about, Retrievers bounding on and at least twenty other canine varieties on display. It really was lovely verging on idyllic. Everyone looked so nice and friendly, young and professional. The dogs emanated that too. The unblemished blue sky that enveloped it all made it seem like a moving painting. Or a pharmaceutical commercial after the medication has proven to be effective.
Snap. I’m free! I’m free! The grass! The trees! Oops, I should probably mark that. Who’s that? Hey! Hey you with the red hair! I want to run with you! Wait up! No. No. Don’t wait up. Let me catch you. Another tree! Mark it. Where’d he go? Hey, you big fella! I like your smell. Is this place amazing or what!? I never saw anything like this! These trees just keeping popping out of nowhere! Got it! Lost him. I just want to roll around in all of this grass. Oh God that feels good. Ooooh. Right there on the back. That sun is tickling my belly! Whoa. Who are you? Whoa there, little missy, them there’s the privates and all. We hardly know each other. Wow, you are forward, aren’t you? Go ahead, I’ll let you sniff up in there. I would like to compliment you on your collar. Very pretty. Okay, my turn to sniff. Turn it around. There we go. Very nice. Very nice. Ow!
“Back off Bea, bitch!” yelled a feminine yet masculine voice.
Caroline was trying to catch her breath as she jogged over to get her dog and put him back on his leash.
“Whoa! I got. I got,” she said holding the leather strap out towards her dog to calm the guy down who looked like he was going to back hand Antonio Banderas across the snout.
“You gotta get that mongrel on a leash! I cannot have Bea having babies, not with that,” he said as he picked up his perfectly pruned pooch.
“He got away. I’m sorry. But to be honest it looked like your dog was the one who jumped mine,” she said trying to break the tension.
“Oh please, your dog was so getting ready to stick it in her,” he said petting the flyaway white fur on top of its head. “You’re just lucky I was able to stop him. I would’ve sued your ass for doggie rape.”
Caroline looked at the man waiting for him to say he was joking, but it was becoming very clear to her that he wasn’t.
“Well, again I’m sorry. This is our first time out here and I didn’t mean for him to get loose. But your dog was running around too, so lets just say we were both at fault.”
“My cockabichon is never at fault” he said with a smug look on his very pretty face.
“Your cocka-what?” she asked.
“Ugh. Cock-a-bichon. Bea is a pure bread.”
“Congratulations. You must be very proud. I’m Caroline and this is Antonio Banderas. He’s a mixed breed,” she said in a whisper cupping her hands to her mouth feigning embarrassment. She then thrust her hand out towards him.
The man glared at her extended hand as if it had dog shit on it.
“Doug!” said a voice attempting to intervene. “There you are. Running after Bea again?” A good-looking man had jogged up and patted Doug on the back and extended his hand out to Caroline. “Hi, I’m Ken, this is Doug. Doug, Bea is out of control, my friend. Did she try to hump your dog too?”
“Bea doesn’t hump,” Doug said as he sniffed his nose up to avoid looking at either one of them, “she’s a lady.”
“She’s a canine sexual predator,” Ken said to Doug then turning to Caroline, “How dare you,” Doug gasped. “Take that back, “ he said pulling Bea closer to his chest.
“Doug, I can’t take back what is truth,” Ken said as he patted Doug on the back.
“Well you should talk, “ Doug said and flicked his head back as if he had a long mane of hair and walked away swaying his hips in defiance.
Caroline and Ken looked on in silence as the statuesque Doug trailed off towards the far end of the park. Ken smiled at Caroline and touched the brim of his Sox baseball hat and gently bowed his head to her.
“So you met Doug,” he said as he clapped his hands toward an alert white dog whose head responding immediately to its sound as if it contained a honing device. The dog ran directly to his master and sat next to Ken’s leg and look at the new additions in front of him. His snout sniffed the air, though his body remained unmoved. Antonio Banderas pranced up to the larger dog and sniffed all around.
“Gorgeous dog. What kind is he?” Caroline asked.
“First of all, he’s a she. Second, she is a Kishu Ken,” he said smiling at her not once breaking eye contact. Both he and his dog were staring directly at her, making Caroline blush. She didn’t like being the center of attention at least not simultaneously from a man and his dog. “And third, her name is Barbie.”
Caroline laughed out loud. “Clever,” she said. “Ken and Barbie.”
“What’s this little guy’s name,” Ken asked as he scratched Antonio behind the ears.
“That is hilarious,” Ken said standing up. “Are you really into him or something?”
“Are you really into Barbie?” Caroline retorted trying not to smile.
“Touché,” he responded and smiled sheepishly, “I like that. I think its fair to tell you that someone once told me that I reminded them of a younger Antonio Banderas.”
“I think its fair that I tell you that I didn’t name my dog that because I think Antonio Banderas is a particularly good looking guy. I just liked how his name rolled off my tongue,” she said.
“Touché again. How do you think Ken rolls off your tongue?” he asked.
Caroline felt her face blush. She never blushes. No one has ever made her blush, not in this way. She looked down and smiled and saw their two dogs now playing with each other. A warm feeling swept through her.
Wow! You’re really really clean! But you still smell all dog. I like that. I hate when dogs smell like humans. Ruins it for me. Boy you run fast! Those legs are long, let me tell you! Me, I just got these little ones but I’m not complaining. No sir. Now that I have a good home and get food, I mean really good food; I am on top of the world. That lady over there. I’d do anything for her. You bet I would. She saved me you know. No lie. She picked me out of all the other mutts and took me home with her. I thought I won the lottery. My old owner let me tell you, was not a nice person. Kept me outside. Even in winter, don’t you know. Hey am I talking too much? I can do that. Let me know. I can shut up. I can, truly. I just have to focus on that. Hey! A butterfly!
“We should get together for coffee some time. I can buy you an official “welcome to the neighborhood” cup of something caffeinated. What do you say?” he asked as his fingers grazed her sleeve. Caroline smiled.
“Ken!” shrieked a loud female voice from behind them.
Everyone froze, dogs and humans, as they watched a bottle blonde in an all-too-tight hot pink Juicy Couture sweat suit bounce towards them.
“I have been texting you! Turn your phone on. Daddy called and he’s taking us to dinner in, like, fifteen minutes. Ew. All I smell is dog,” she said as she looked suspiciously at Caroline.
Caroline gaped at the woman. She had to gently shake her head to snap herself back and hide the fascination of the toy in front of her. “Are you Ken’s sister?” she asked holding out her hand.
“I’m his wife,” she spurted, “Who are you?”
“Ashlynne, honey, this is Caroline. She just moved into the neighborhood,” Ken said awkwardly putting his arm around his wife, while not once taking his eyes off Caroline.
Ashlynne looked at Caroline and with dead eyes said, “Welcome.”
They all stood there in silence while the dogs pranced around at their feet.
“Well, it was really nice meeting you Ken and Ashley,” Caroline said as she beckoned over Antonio Banderas.
“I’m sorry?” Caroline asked.
“My name is Ashlynne. You said Ashley. It’s not. It’s Ashlynne,” she said as she twisted her left-handed rings so that the diamonds caught the sunlight and beamed them into Caroline’s eyes as if to burn away any thoughts of her husband from her mind.
Caroline, wanting to get away from their saccharine smiles, finally got the leash on Antonio Banderas and waved, not bothering to look at either of them. She hated that. Now she felt stupid and naive. He was flirting with her. She may not have a ton of experience but she knew when someone was turning it on and he had it on full blast. She didn’t care that he was married, but she hated that he was married and didn’t wear a ring and was openly coming on to her and worst of all that she had fallen for it. For one moment, she saw their dog’s playing together in their fenced-in backyard behind their house in the suburbs with the two of them sitting on lawn chairs drinking gin and tonics and discussing each other’s work day. In the five minutes that she talked to him she had mapped out their entire future that truth be told was more her mom’s fantasy than hers.
She was the one who didn’t care about all that marriage-y stuff. Wasn’t she? Or maybe underneath her sensible shoes and muted toned wardrobe there was a hot pink bubble waiting to be let out. No. She was not Ashley-Anne, or whatever her name was. Far from it. God maybe she was lonelier than she thought. It had been over six months since she slept with someone and that was only to break up the eight-month drought before that. Caroline shook her head as if answering her own question. She refused to be with someone just because she was lonely.
As if reading her thoughts, Antonio Banderas barked. Caroline smiled down at her new best friend and took off into a run so that they both could shake the odd dust off.
I love you! I love running! I love running with you! I wish every day was like this! So many new friends and hold up! Tree. Mark it with me. Let’s go!
Antonio pulled her arm and off they were again across the green carpet that undulated with the slight breeze that whipped through their hair. God, Caroline thought, this really did feel like a commercial. Finally winded, Caroline plopped down on the ground and wrestled with Antonio Banderas and scratched his belly. Caroline outstretched her arms and lay down on the ground to soak up the last summer drops of warmth. Her skin was like a sponge, trying to store away the heat for the upcoming colder months that were soon going to follow. She closed her eyes and let herself sink into the cool earth.
Just then a weight pounded on her stomach. It made her lurch upward and cry out, not so much out of pain but out of surprise. She saw a lithe grey dog run away off into the distance. Antonio ran after him.
“Bocce!” yelled a voice coming up on Caroline quickly. “Are you alright? I tried to stop him but he just got away.”
Caroline dusted herself off as a man’s hand reached out as an offering to her. In one movement he pulled her up onto her feet. He was strong. “Thank you,” she said, still slightly shaken.
“My dog saw yours and started running for him and off they went,” he said as he flashed the whitest teeth Caroline had ever seen.
She was hypnotized by the sheer gleam of his perfect, perfect teeth. These were movie star teeth. Teeth that could advertise toothpaste. She felt compelled to ask him what brand he used but stopped herself. He was still wearing his work clothes, though he was now holding his tie and his sleeves were rolled up revealing very defined forearms. God, what was happening to her?
“That’s okay. I needed to get up anyway,” she smiled as she brushed grass off of her behind.
“I like to take him out for run before I head out to the gym. Today I load up on cards, you know, running, elliptical and I am trying to make a kick boxing class. I love Thursdays! I usually try to mix it up, you know, weights and strength training but nothing gets me off like pumping up my heart rate. It’s the best high I ever had, you know?” he said nodding to her expecting her to reciprocate, which she instinctively did.
Her head nodded in motion to his though he was speaking a strange and foreign language to her. She felt like she should turn around to see if he was talking to someone else. Caroline wasn’t visibly out of shape but she was never confused with those girls, well, those girls who worked hard to look like Ashlynne. She lacked that gene that made her get up and go to the gym. She didn’t belong to that world. It made her feel nervous. Just like this guy did.
“I don’t go to the gym,” she admitted still nodding.
“Oh you’ve got to come down to The Pump. It’s the gym I belong to and it is awesome. I can hook you up with my personal trainer, Goran, who will change your life. I promise. Look I gotta go catch that class but if you ever want me to show you around the gym, I will do it. Here’s my card. Call me,” he said as he handed her a card and winked all at the same time. It was suck a clean and smooth transaction that Caroline had no other choice but to hold out her hand and accept the card and the wink.
“Thanks,” she said bewildered looking at Luca’s business card. He hadn’t told her his name. Luca Ferragano. He was a broker for a large firm downtown. It seemed as thought he was doing well for himself. She flicked the edges of the cards between her fingernails as she looked at this model of masculinity before her. He was a true alpha-dog. Caroline was fascinated if nothing else.
“Bocce!” Luca yelled across the park to an unresponsive dog. “Bocce! Bocce! Get over here! Get over here right now!” Luca ran after his weimaraner and the dog thinking its owner was playing darted in the other direction. “Bocce! I’m not kidding. Get over here right now!” His face was red now and the large vein on his forehead was popping out. Everyone in the park was now looking at this man failing to gain control of his dog.
“Bocce! Over here now or I’m going to beat the shit out of you!” Luca screamed as he finally caught his dog and slammed the leash around his neck. He yanked it so hard the dog yelped.
Caroline looked down, embarrassed that she had even talked to him. He reminded her of one of those mothers who hits her kids in the supermarket, but instead of Caroline intervening to stop it, she just ignored it.
She looked down and threw the business card on the ground as if it was burning her hands. She didn’t want anything of that guy remotely near her. That was called dodging a bullet. Just then the sweetest thing came into her view. Antonio Banderas. He was happily running towards her. She bent down and scooped the little guys up into her arms and gave him a little squeeze. This fur ball was enough for her right now.
Ah, yeah, there’s the lady! Let’s go home! I could go for a big bowl of meaty treats. Dinner! You’re the best! Wait! You just past that tree. You didn’t stop! Don’t worry. I’ll get it tomorrow!
His tiny tail wagged back and forth. He was happy. She walked them both across the street, into the lobby and pressed the up button and waited. Ding. She loved Antonio Banderas. The dog.