Alistair’s Magnets

by Mathew Allan Garcia

“This one’s amazing,” I said, the morning of the incident, and pulled the wooden magnet from the fridge. I turned it around in my hand.

Alistair’s basement room was in its usual state. Newspapers were piled waist high beside the refrigerator, and the basement window overlooking mom’s foxglove flower garden laid above them like a makeshift coffee table. Droppings and shredded newspaper bits were scattered on his shag carpet, evidence of uninvited guests. His old, real, coffee table leaned on the far wall by the bathroom after Fergusson, my parent’s miniature schnauzer, smelled the rat urine and decomposed food, and decided it would be a suitable spot and shit on it.

The refrigerator was the only spot that Alistair, my dad, cleaned. It’s face had never dulled, and retained its Arctic white color, barely visible now from all the magnets that littered its surface.

Alistair’s chest puffed up, and he walked around the the fridge, a smile blooming out of the corner of his lips. It was the second to last smile I would see on my dad’s lips.

“When’d you get this one?” I asked.

“The VP of accounting went to Holland for a few weeks. He gave it to me when he returned about a month ago,” Alistair said. “You’d have seen it before if you visited me more often, son.”

The magnet was a miniature wooden replica of the brothel houses in the red light district of Amsterdam, the wood carved to look like a brick, three story building. A street sign on the front marked the location as De Wallen Avenue. Two windows on each floor revealed two busty women with painted not-so-round black blotches for eyes. Rates were etched on a sign above the doorway. I held the magnet up diagonally, peering into each ladies’ room. They were backdropped by an angry red wall, and each room contained a stool and a small, purple bed.

Alistair watched me the entire time. He smiled, inhaling deeply and taking the magnet from my hand.

“Wait till you see this,” Alistair said and flipped a small unseen switch. Above the second windows, the words AMSTERDAM SEXCLUB lit up in fluorescent orange letters. The rooms were also illuminated, baking the inhabitants of De Wallen Avenue in an infernal glow. Runny streaks under the figurine’s eyes made them appear as though they were crying.

“Pretty sick,” I said.

“Sick? No, I thought it was neat,” Alistair said, a little hurt.

“That’s what I…Sorry, never mind,” I said.

Alistair placed it back on the fridge. He watched it for a second and sighed, a shadow of his former smile on his lips. He flipped the switch off and turned to look at me.

“Battery costs more than the magnet, believe it or not.”

We didn’t say much after that, and for about a minute we just stared at his fridge. I didn’t come down to his room often. The weight of our silence bore down on me.

“You should go,” I said, finally, tracing my finger on the refrigerator’s handle. “To Holland, I mean.”

It came out sounding flat, with not much hope. I still don’t even know why I said it.

“Maybe,” Alistair said, bending down and admiring his collection. I had already lost him. “Heidi gave me this double decker bus magnet from London when she went on her honeymoon. Five summers ago, I think.”

I rolled my eyes.

One from Brazil was simply two enormous ass cheeks with a small, barely visible thong tucked in between. A small goldfish magnet from Japan that was carved from stained opal. An Egyptian pyramid made from glass that had golden flakes trapped inside. A cross from Jerusalem. A bottle opener from India that had nothing to do with the country, and was probably made in a Chinese sweat shop and embossed with India’s flag. There was the Great Wall of China. Countless others.

“The intern brought the Brazil one,” Alistair added. It was a little too raunchy for him.

“Oh!” I said, remembering why I had come down to his room in the first place. “Mom asked me to bring this down to you.”

I reached into my pocket and fished out a package, wrapped in crinkled parchment paper.

“Mail from your clients, I guess. Probably another magnet. Pakistan, maybe,” I said and handed him the package.

Alistair was a financial consultant for various accounting firms. On occasion, his clients would send him magnets from their travels around the world. They would find a home, and company, on the face of his refrigerator. When out of space, the older magnets were boxed until Alistair decided to rotate them out.

“This one doesn’t have a return address,” Alistair whispered, talking to himself. He tapped his index finger on his lips.

The package didn’t have postage either.

“Let’s have a look,” Alistair said, ripping the package open and dropping its contents onto his hand.

A magnet, like I had thought. At first glance, when it plopped in Alistair’s hand, I thought it was a piece of coal, and the no return address made sense. Then the depth of the blackness struck me, and I knew it was something more. It was as black as the closet seems when cracked an inch too wide, and as vast as the space under my bed seemed when I was five-years-old. It filled me with the same dread of real danger, though I couldn’t explain why.

It was a small, oval shaped obsidian stone. Its surface appeared smooth, powdery in texture. At different angles, tiny crystals flickered out like an bouquet of flames. Alistair closed his fist around his new magnet and shut his eyes. He breathed in deep, and opened his fist. Touched it with his fingers, petting it. He couldn’t stop himself.

Despite my reservations, I plucked it from his hand. It was cold, and heavier than I would’ve thought. I placed it on the face of the fridge, shuddering.

Alistair gazed at the magnet, rubbing the palm of his hand with his fingers as though it left a pleasant residue behind.

A dimple on his face spread into a smile that took up the space from ear to ear.


The way mom recounted it when the police came, she was sitting on the couch watching Jeopardy when the TV went out. I was there by the time they showed up, sitting beside my mom and holding her hand. She was shaking, watching out the window as if expecting Alistair to walk in at any moment.

The TV popped once, as Alex Trebek revealed the double jeopardy answer.

Pop. Puh-Puh-Puh POP.

Then Alex was sucked into a void from the edges of the television into a small point in the middle of the screen. The scent of burnt elastic touched her. It smelled of burning tires and exhaust. She wrinkled her nose at it.

“Alistair!” She called.

No answer.

The rat-at-tat of the broken fan drowned out her voice. It was summer, and triple digit heat hit them like a plague of inappropriately costumed tweens in October. The fan had been running non stop for days. .

She got up and walked over to the basement door. A big woman, my mom normally avoided going down the basement steps. Her belly had become a hazard to herself, and I was always afraid she’d miss a step and land herself in the hospital from a broken neck or, worse, in the morgue.

“Alistair?” She called again.

She walked down the steps to her husband’s basement room.

The familiar odor of re-worn gym socks, decomposed TV dinners, and sweat greeted her midway down the steps like an intolerable family member.

Alistair?” Martha said, worry entering her bloodstream and escaping through her words.

“It smelled like dying,” Mom said to the cop. Then she laughed, sounding like a sharp exhale of pent up worry and shame.

“It’s a working man’s smell. That’s all,” she added. It was one of her countless excuses for my father’s odd behavior.


Alistair realized the SEXCLUB’s lights were still on a few hours after I had left. He went over to it and watched it for a few minutes. I could imagine him hearing the hustle and bustle on the street of De Wallen Avenue, seeing the cyclists weaving in and out of traffic like a flock of doves, the passing pedestrians exclaiming and pointing at the lovely escorts, sitting at the display windows like perfectly packaged Barbie dolls.

“Psst! You!”

Alistair’s turned around towards the staircase, although the voice did not belong to Mom.

“YOU! OLD MAN!”

A small hand waved from within the Amsterdam Sexclub’s topmost window. Blotches of tar for eyes, still steaming and trailing down the figurine’s cheeks, stared out at him.

“You don’t want to come here,” the figurine said.

Alistair fumbled for words.

Another popped it’s head out of the bottom window and chimed in. “It’s full of sex. S-E-X. Twelve year old hookers with gonorrhea taking creeps older than you into their mouths like candy.”

His soccer hooligan double-decker bus’s doors swung open and a tribe of Manchester United fans marched out onto the white face of the refrigerator and looked up at Alistair. Their faces could barely be made out they were so puny.

“Don’t come here either,” they said in unison, sounding like a chant. “Full o’ us. We’ll knock your head in. Use your teeth to make bracelets to sell back to tourists like you.”

Then the whole face of the refrigerator erupted with voices with the same message.

The rowdy soccer hooligans, noticing the brothel and escorts just a few feet away from them, massed towards it and broke open the door, pulling the dolls, screaming, back into their rooms and closing their blinds.

Alistair opened his mouth to scream, but a noise that sounded like a hot tea kettle, or the way a wild rabbit screeches when it’s caught came from his throat and was drowned out by the rat-at-tat of his broken fan and mob of animated, rowdy magnets.


“And he was gone when you looked in the basement?” The police officer asked, clearly irritated at the normalcy of the situation. It wasn’t a missing persons case until more time had passed. “Could he have gone to the store? It’s only been a few hours.”

“He didn’t take the car,” Mom said, wiping her tears from the corner of her eyes, which were now puffy and red.

“I assume he can walk, can’t he?” The police scratched his head, looking stone faced at my mom as though she were crazy. I suppose in some ways she was.

Mom didn’t say anything.

“Mam,” the police said, “at this junction there’s nothing we can do. If he hasn’t returned in two days then call us. Unfortunately, these things–”

“He never leaves his room,” Mom said, barely above a whisper. She was looking down at her feet.

What?” The officer said, with a cocked eyebrow. What a prick, I thought.

“HE NEVER LEAVES HIS ROOM!” Mom yelled, bursting out in tears from the desperation she felt. “HE HASN’T LEFT THIS HOUSE FOR OVER TWENTY YEARS!”

The officer looked first at her, then at me. Dumbfounded. He scratched something on his notepad, asked a few more questions, assured us he’d find him, and then left.

As he was walking out Mom tapped him softly on the shoulder.

“Please help him, officer.” She looked past him as she talked, “I’d hate to think what Alistair would do without me.”


There was a hole in the sound of the other magnets’s jeers and taunts.

The sounds from the magnets closest to the obsidian stone were warped, the way speakers sound right before going out. The crystals within the stone had not been this bright before, either. It carried a message also. It’s message was carried through the throngs of other magnets, and in the chaos of everyone’s separate message Alistair heard the stone’s, the way a collage of differently dressed people form a larger picture.

Step inside,

the stone told Alistair. Then, follow me.

Alistair took the stone from the refrigerator, holding it in his hand. He smiled. The stone was warm, and it felt good. It felt the way a stone feels after it’s been sitting in the sun all afternoon, and you hold it just after taking a cold dip in the pond. The rim of the refrigerator’s rubber lining glowed. Alistair gasped in surprise, and took a step backwards.

The noise from the magnets was immediate and powerful, reverberating through every inch of his body as though it were a tuning fork.

NO!

Alistair reached forward, and the voices calmed. He pulled open the door, and the light from the other side hurt his eyes. It was more than sunlight, it was something else. Something beautiful. Alistair crawled into the refrigerator on hands and knees.

And then he was gone.

The obsidian stone fell to the floor moments later, and when Martha came down to find her husband a few hours later, she kicked it under the refrigerator.

A year later I found it.


I learned of what happened to my father exactly a year after his disappearance and the day my mom decided the time to grieve had passed. I found the obsidian stone under the fridge as we were cleaning out his room. I held it for a second, remembering the foreboding I had felt when I took it in my hand, a year ago. It held none of that anymore, and the shimmer it had was gone. I placed it back on the fridge. Only the Amsterdam magnet remained of his collection. Mom had given the others away, and others still were stolen by cousins and nephews who’s kleptomaniac fingers knew no bounds. They were forgotten in a boy’s tub of toys, to be donated and then purchased with other oddities and knickknacks at a thrift store in Los Angeles.

“He’s not here anymore.” The figurine in the top window said, after telling me what had happened. “He’s in another place, but not dead. No, not dead.”

As time passed, her speech was slurred as if a serene sleepiness had overcome her. I supposed later that the power of the stone had worn off, and she was going back to wherever talking magnets came from. What I took from the ordeal was that my father, for this first time in his life, went on a vacation.

And never came back.

The Wizard

by Robin Wyatt Dunn

Chock a block, I ride now but I know what has come for us.  Cough, man, ride it under here:  I smell a man in a wind.  The fell whirl was right in the way:  obnoxious.  Slippery and hungry.  It knows we are here but it cannot come closer.  I must dance.

Why a hat?  Only tradition?  It does keep the rain from my short beard.  What can you see, here?  Have you been to Eneffria?  Let me show you.  I live in a weir, under the Cliff of Saints, and my people are gone, gone away to the south.  If we are to live here again I must succeed.  I must succeed.  I am fortunate to have my boy with me.

“Make the fire, boy.  I must think.”  He is a good boy.  Only nine, but strong and intelligent.

It is growing dark faster, here in the month of Janus.  Guardian of gates and ways, beginnings and ends.  In Roman times his temple was closed only in times of peace.  Of course I may worship openly now.  And what does it mean for a war to end?  There is always another.

“Which way do we go now, wizard?” asks the boy.  He is not my son, but my servant, given me to educate.  I do not think he will be a wizard.  A messenger, perhaps.  Or a bailiff.

“Eat, boy.”

He eats. 

“We continue east,” I tell him.  “It will be cold.  Take my sweater from my pack.  You’ll need it.”


Chock a block, I hack and weave, I am only some small center but I am here still, I breathe, I breathe, I know what you intend, being, old being and young, I know you think to live here but you will not.

I have my limits, though I admit I do not know what they are.  Have you seen the beings come?  Or felt them, anyway?  Some dismiss it as madness but this is always the way of it:  that which is dismissed grows, grows wide and angry, like a dismissed servant, come back to reap his justice.

The being wants to live here, you see, just another interdimensional traveler.  I can smell it in the wind.  Feel it on my skin.  Taste it on my tongue.  Not evil, the term is meaningless, merely hungry and foreign, which is enough. 


I have heard of them of course.  But only in stories and in books and once, a man came from the far north, a man I knew was soon to die, and he told me that they move in ranks, three across, like columns of air, follow the chill in and you can wound it, maybe even kill it, with the right spell.  But he did not know what the right spell would be.  Fire seems wrong.  And I am not good with ice.

The boy holds tight to my waist as we ride.  I turn my head and say, “Do you feel the chill?”

The boy nods.  He is afraid.  But he is a brave boy.  It would be better to leave him, of course, and come back.  But I have run out of time.  He would not do well alone here with these approaching things.


And then I am choking.  The column of cold, running along this long and narrow valley, right through the middle of it, is trying to shift me out of its path, into an eddy where I can be its food.  I cannot breathe.

“Wizard!” shouts the boy.  He shouts into my ear but I can barely hear him. 

I open my mouth:

“Gold wind and sigh,” I say through gritted teeth.  “You come for my boy?”  And maybe the wind laughs, I do not know, but I get in a small breath. 

I turn and seize the boy and toss him, curling him as I toss, like a sack of flour, I know he will land well.  I grab the reins and turn, and leap from my horse;  the boy is screaming.  He knows I am using him as bait.

He lands in grass and rolls, and where he stops he starts to cough.  I stand with my left hand in front of me, my hand of power.

I move my left foot forward and there is a sound, like a woman, young or old, I do not know, the wind is speaking.  The she-wind says:

“I felt a breath on my back I thought it was him, are you come?  Are you come to me?  Please, lord, be come.  Bring your boy too.”

The sky is strange.  I am only a man, whatever others say.  Only one man.  Colors are moving over the mountains.

I whisper:  “Yes, she-wind, I am he, come to you.  Show yourself to me.”

And now she sounds like half a man:  “How do I know that you are he?”

And I see a twitch by the boy’s head and leap for it, clutching air in my left hand and I have it, somehow, it wants to enter my body but I will not let it, some key, some servant of this unwelcome visitor.

The wind moans.  I thrust the wind-key into my sabretache, it twisting in my hand.  And I lift up the boy and tie him to my waist on the horse.  He will be fine.


We ride, we ride deeper into the valley and it is night now, though it came too soon.  The boy is awake now but he says nothing.  And the she-wind whispers now to me constantly, telling me how she will serve me with her body, with her eyes, with her mouth, with her cunt.  I find I am grinning, a death grin, I breathe deep to smell where the coldest path is into the center of this thing.

The boy is crying, but quietly.


Chock-a-block, people of mine.  You told me I was unneeded;  I suppose I am sorry you were wrong.  We will always need magic again.  Though it changes us in ways we never wish.


I am screaming, and I drive my fist into the cold and it is outrageous, this thing is amused, and the boys eyes are on fire, blue fire, and I scream:

“Die, by wail and weal, old hunter in this night of ours.  I hunt here, not you!”

And I begin my chant, though blood oozes from my pores.

“Right and real, understeel:  by fast or feel we greet you undergoer overshaker, by hail wrack and deals old and forgotten, we have our hoar and we have our WET MAY, old May that never was!  Old May who dies!  Old May who wed Vulcan and killed him after April left!  You have none!”

More from my anger than my words it stills;  the sky changes.  Because I belong here. 

“Boy.  Do you see it leave?”

But the boy’s smile is not right and I slap him, then I shake him, hard.  Then I look in his eyes again, and his fear is back.  Fear is so healthy.

“Are you ready to leave?”

He can only nod.


At night we camp again.  It is better.

“What is a spirit, really, boy?  What is the difference between the darkness in me and the darkness that covers the sky?”

“I don’t know, Wizard.”

“What did you see, there when I killed the wind?”

“You didn’t kill it.”

“What did you see?”

“I saw you, your eyes, they were like . . . like the sky, you’re right.  Dark, and blue, and then I was asleep, but I could hear you.”

“I fear you may become a wizard like me, boy.”

“That’s what I want, Wizard.  To be a wizard, like you.”

“Why would you want that?”

“Because I love you.”

“That is not a good reason.  Eat the rest of the soup, I am not hungry.”


We return to our village and I make the signs that will bring our people back; a knock on the mountaintop, and a fire in our field.

I stand by the boy at the blaze and hold my hand on his shoulder, watching the flames.  With my other hand I toss my sabretache into the fire.

Dog’s Honest Island

by Michael Chaney

My life cracked with that electric candle. It had been raining like crazy. Judy acted funny when she said she didn’t want to walk the dog. I returned soaked with apologies freshly learned from freezing rain. But no one was home, except for an uncaring cat and an unplugged candle, toppled like a defeated king on a chessboard. I probably dropped the dog leash and I suppose Baxter whimpered by my leg. All I remember for sure is that stupid candle laying there a plastic corpse.

After Judy left, I quit my job, stopped talking to my brother, and rarely shaved. The only thing that made me feel any better was walking Baxter and watching him play.

One morning, I got up reluctantly as usual with Baxter’s nose nudging me out of bed and the cat blinking at me from the corner of the room. Baxter nudged; the cat blinked. Business as usual, but something slightly different about Baxter. Those sad eyes of his held something else I couldn’t quite place. The dog park confirmed my suspicions.

“Baxter looks sluggish to me,” said Jeffers, the dog expert.

“How can you tell,” I asked.

“It’s in his run. His nose is down. That’s the blues.”

“He’s sad?”

“How should I know,” Jeffers said. Then he looked around the field, as if anyone could have crept up to eavesdrop on what he was about to say: “Why don’t you ask him?”

“Ask who? Baxter?”

Jeffers made the kind of face you rarely see on men his age—eyes so wide they drank up the sky with a glisten to rival the river stones beneath the ice.

“Don’t you know about the Dog’s Honest Island?” he whispered.

I said I didn’t and then a white terrier appeared. It ran to sniff and play with Baxter and Jeffers’ black lab. Jeffers’ face turned to parchment as the terrier’s owner approached—white hair, deep set eyes, a death mask for a face and a prehistoric bone for a walking stick.

“Did I hear you telling about the island?” she asked.

Jeffers trembled. “His dog looked to me like—”

“That island ain’t no regular stretch of rock in the river.” When she turned to me I wish she hadn’t. “They say it juts from the other world into this one. Dog’s talk there, they say.”

“That’s absurd,” I said.

“Those what’s done it don’t think so,” she replied.

Jeffers clapped his hands to his ears agitated by some loud noise. He mumbled an excuse, collected his dog, and wandered off, his hands still clutching his head. Baxter lumbered to me, that air of melancholy still hovering about him.

“I see what Jeffers means,” said the woman. “Your dog wants to tell you something. Perhaps you should go to Dog’s Honest Island.”

All politeness gone, I laughed. She ignored me and pointed out a shallow lick of pebble about the size of a rowboat in the middle of the river.

“That’s Dog’s Honest Island. You take your animal there at night when the rains are pouring down good and you’ll see what’s so funny then, by god.”

I wanted to laugh again, but I heard her white terrier splashing in the water. It clawed itself onto the very island she was pointing to out in the river. It shook off water and puffed triumphant barks of vapor at us.

“That’s the spot,” she said. “Take him when night rains and you’ll get the truth.”

Baxter whimpered. The woman tapped her bone of stick against a rock and walked on. Her terrier plunged back into the river to follow her to wherever she was headed upstream.

I walked back to the apartment with Baxter pouting at my side. The place looked so dour from the outside. I tried to cheer things inside with music, which was a mistake. After crying my eyes out, I came back to my senses. The cat blinked at me, indifference with the slightest hint of disdain. My poor dog was curled up on the sofa. The fact that he was still hungry reassured me that he wasn’t physically ill. But something was definitely wrong with him. I leaned down to where Baxter’s head, the color of autumn leaves, lay on his forelegs, his brown eyes downcast.

“What is it, buddy? What’s the matter?”

The dog exhaled. It sounded so human.

“Are you sick, Baxter?”

I caressed his legs.

“Baxter? Are you okay, good boy?”

I shook his legs.

“Baxter?”

That’s when it hit me.

“Baxter!”

My dog was not looking at me.

“Baxter? Hey, Baxter!”

Nothing worked. My dog put its brown eyes everywhere my eyes weren’t. I couldn’t believe it, but it was true. No eye contact whatsoever. I thought for a while that there was something wrong with his eyes. Then I got scared thinking it was me. I went over to where the cat was perched on the arm of the loveseat by the front window. She blinked and looked away, as usual. When I put my nose against my dog’s—cooing loving, childish things, stroking his head, scratching his chin, and saying his name in ways that ranged from sweet to stern—nothing. He would not look at me even when I tried to force him.

I became somewhat afraid of my own dog. Although he was as docile as ever, I locked myself in my bedroom that night listening to the rain on the window. Baxter spent the night on the couch. The cat stood guard, alert to nothing in particular.

The next day I took Baxter to the dogpark, where he played in the mud with the other lab, Charley, whose owner, Darlene, was pretty and easy to talk to. That is why I always found it so difficult to talk to her.

“You can tell this winter is going to be hard based on how thick the ice gets around the banks in November.” She scanned the river and was about to launch into another round of weather observations when I blurted out—

“Baxter won’t look me in the eye.”

She stood stalk still, eyes widening.

I said, “Some old woman told me about the island out there and—”

Darlene put her hands to her ears startled by some blasphemy only she could hear. Oddly, she smiled through the gesture and shouted politely, as though her voice had to carry over some interference: “You should take him there, if you want the truth.”

Then, still smiling and covering her ears so tightly her fingers were white with the pressure, she sidled off, whistling for Charley to follow. Baxter returned to my side. I looked down at him. He glanced toward the island. I began planning it. We would need a boat. It was time to call my brother.

“Where’ve you been?” My brother sounded angry. “You don’t answer the phone for weeks and now you want my canoe? You in some kind of trouble?”

I adjusted my tone to sound less desperate than I was. “No trouble. I just want to do some fishing with Baxter.”

“You drinking again?”

I breathed before answering. I had a counselor once tell me about a breathing technique that worked the last time I visited my brother with Judy, and he started asking her all the questions about where and how we met.

“I’m not drinking okay? Look, here’s the thing. I want to explore the river on the canoe with Baxter. So can I borrow the canoe or not?”

“You’re not going to the island are you?”

I thought I misheard him, so I asked him what he said and there was a long silence over the phone. I kept saying hello and repeating my brother’s name. I could hear a faint rasp on the other line, the sound shells make in your ear. Nothing and the ocean have the same voice, as it turns out, and my brother imitated them both for a while. Eventually, he said he’d see me after work the next day and hung up.

Talking over the phone was easier than seeing him. He dropped off the canoe and the pads for mounting it on my car. He made me feel like we were kids again. It was raining lightly and after he showed me how to strap it to the hood and back fender of my car, he wanted to see me do it myself. The strap kept sliding out of my hand on account of the drizzle.

Before he left he asked the inevitable questions: “You drinking again? You in some kind of trouble?” The only part about it that was remotely enjoyable was watching him try to ask about the island, crippled over, cradling his head, and skittering into his pickup.

The rain was coming down harder when I went inside to prepare. I rummaged for clothes that were waterproof. The cat was not pleased about this as she had to vacate her perch in the corner of my closet. That’s where I found the box with the old Christmas lights that Judy had brought from her old apartment. The bulbs were the exact same size as the one that was broken on the candle. I went down to test them and sure enough, the red one fit. The candle snapped to vivid life in the window.

I put on my boots and parka and tried to make Baxter look me in the eye until it was time for us to go. He had taken to closing his eyes whenever I got close. I could sense his anticipation. I swear he knew what was happening.

To get away from him and to pass the time until nightfall, I set about cleaning the apartment, something I hadn’t done for months. I straightened up the clothes in the corner, again disturbing one of the cat’s favorite nooks, and took all the empty bottles out to the bin. I made the bed and wiped away the frosted dust from the front window warmed by the red glow of the electric candle.

Finally, it was time. I loaded Baxter into the car and drove down to the dogpark beside the river, straining to see as rain flooded the windshield. I unstrapped the canoe, tucked the paddle under one arm and dragged the boat across the gravel parking lot to the river. Baxter hated the rain and barked violently at the grumbling of the boat against the rocks. He was afraid to get in the canoe at first but I lured him with a handful of cat food, which I took from the cat’s bowl before we left, knowing how much Baxter loved those forbidden treasures.

It took me some time but I paddled us to the island, whose pebbly surface shimmered beneath the bloated waves. You could hardly tell that there was an island there at all and I almost tipped the canoe trying to get out. As I steadied the boat on the rock to anchor it, Baxter barked and barked, until the barking barked into something else.

“Damn boat! Damn boat! Damn boat!”

“Baxter! You can talk.”

“Of course, I can talk,” said the dog. “And so can this boat and I don’t like it.”

I clapped my freezing hands. “It’s a miracle.”

“Maybe,” said the dog ducking his head as the rain pelted.

I looked down at my boots. The flooding made it seem that I could walk on water.

“Baxter, why haven’t you been looking me in the eye?”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” said the dog.

“Why not?”

“If I answered that I would be talking about it, now wouldn’t I?”

“I suppose,” I said. “I’m only worried about you is all.”

“About me?” Baxter shook off the rain. “I’m worried about you.”

“Because of Judy?”

“She doesn’t care if we drown now. Face that. Until you do, I can’t face you.”

We stood there for a while on that tiny island being swallowed by the tempest, watching each other’s breath twisted up by rain. And then Baxter looked at me. It had been a while. I had almost forgotten how huge his eyes were, moons in tandem orbit.

I had nothing more to say. When I got the canoe ready to leave, Baxter said, “Don’t bring me here again. I don’t want to come here again.” I nodded and we started back to shore.

The way back was the worst part of it. There was a terrible shrieking sound in my ears whenever I thought about the island and the words Baxter said. The only way to stop that earth-shattering siren in my ears was to take my mind off of the island. So I thought of a song in my head and sang it while dragging the canoe back to the car in the drenching rains. Baxter barked ferociously at the canoe again. I sang so loud that it didn’t matter that the strap kept slipping. I secured the boat and sang the whole way home.

As soon as we turned the corner, I noticed how dark the apartment looked.  Smears of ink for windows. When I opened the door, the cat shot past me. I called out to her but the rain swallowed it and she was gone, long gone, into the night. By the front window, the electric candle had marks chewed into its side where it lay on the wooden floor like a hit and run accident.

Although I never got another cat, I tried having other girlfriends. It seldom worked out. Who can blame them for refusing to come between Baxter and me? The awkwardness of it all so loud it makes my ears rain just thinking about it.