“Draw your chair up close to the edge of the precipice and I’ll tell you a story.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald
Calvin’s Head – Excerpt
by David Swatling
A strong wind blows wispy clouds across a bright full moon. I realize this is why I have been anxious all evening, agitated, with an unreasonable desire to go to a bar and get shit-faced. The Cancer side of my cusp is powerfully affected by the pull of the moon. On those rare occasions when I actually know in advance the full moon is approaching, I lock myself inside as one would a nascent werewolf. Too many nights lost to too much alcohol have proved this necessary. It was Willy who first noticed how much hotter I was when a full moon shone through the skylight of our bedroom.
I don’t want to think about that tonight, must not must not must not think about that tonight. I lock the door and automatically start walking left toward the little park. I stop when I realize Calvin is not ahead of me. Turning around, I see him standing poised to head off in the opposite direction.
I don’t want little park, Dekker. We went to little park this morning. I want canal walk.
– Fine. We’ll do the canal walk tonight.
Calvin leads the way, tail bouncing happily.
I won. I won. I won.
We have not walked the Admiralengracht in a few days. It’s a little farther away than I prefer to go at this hour, but it’s a mild night, apart from the wind, and I feel like being outside. Even though there’s no street traffic, Calvin waits for me to catch up at each corner.
We cross together. People who see this are impressed by how well trained he is but it wasn’t difficult to teach him not to cross the street alone. He doesn’t even chase his ball into the street, always waits at the curb for me to retrieve it for him. He didn’t bring a ball tonight.
No ball for canal walk.
In front of the snack bar at the corner, a pair of Moroccan youths pretend to fight, egged on by a couple of friends. Calvin stops and growls at them.
Bad boys. Bad boys fear Calvin. The leash he carries in his mouth muffles a bark.
The youths stop their horseplay, back off a bit. I don’t know what it is about Arabic culture that makes them so fearful of dogs. Okay, Calvin is almost fifty kilos of growling menace right now, but I’ve seen similar reactions to puppies.
– Come on, Cal. Let’s go.
He shoots them one last warning look before following me.
Arriving at the canal, Calvin drops the leash for me to carry and begins sniffing the grass that borders the water. It must be full of messages left by his canine neighbors but almost immediately he is distracted by a sound, a soft plaintive woman’s voice.
– Aaaaaandy. Andy. Aaaaaaandy.
Cal looks around, ears alert, and spots an old woman across the street. I think she must be trying to find a lost cat because no one calls a dog so quietly. The anxiety in her voice upsets Calvin.
Where is Andy? Must find Andy. His head darts up and down the canal, searching. He sniffs under parked cars. I assume he’s hunting for another dog since he has little interest in cats.
– Calvin, let’s walk. The lady is looking for her cat. You’ll just scare it away.
Calvin is still concerned as we head off along the canal, but within a few meters the old woman’s voice is lost in the wind.
We reach the next bridge, cross over, and begin to walk back down the other side of the canal. Ducks line the edge between two docked boats until Calvin spooks them into the black water. Ripples reflect the moonlight.
Calvin stops, stands rigidly at attention for a moment, then takes off at a quick trot. Up ahead I see Sela, a gorgeous Siberian husky, almost as big as Calvin. We’ve encountered her a couple of times, and she’s always friendly. But Calvin has little interest in her. He once snapped at her nose when she continued to ignore his threatening growls.
Tonight is different. Maybe it’s the full moon. Or more likely, Sela is nearly in heat. I assume not fully or her handsome young owner would have her firmly in tow on a leash. That’s another thing about the full moon. Almost every man suddenly looks more attractive.
Sela takes charge of this encounter and Calvin is reduced to a pathetic, lovesick puppy. All signs of his machismo norm vanish as he attempts to get a good sniff of her rear end. She teases him mercilessly, twisting her body away from his prying nose after a few seconds, and then hugging up against him seductively. She never allows him enough time to assume the position, running circles around his growing frustration. Calvin gives her a sharp bark, and for a moment she appears receptive, rolling onto the grass, belly up, smelly fanny fully exposed. As soon as Calvin is close enough to give her a good lick, she rolls away and jumps quickly to her feet.
Come and get me, big boy!
Calvin is left with his tongue hanging out, drooling like a sex-starved tourist in the red-light district. He looks at me with a forlorn expression.
Could you help me out here, Dekker? Please?
– Sorry, Cal, you’re on your own.
By now Sela’s dad has caught up with her. I always remember the names of the dogs but never their owners, especially when they’re as obviously straight as this young hunk. With some difficulty, he manages to get the leash clipped to her collar.
Calvin uses this opportunity for a last futile attempt to get a good lick of Sela’s ass. It’s her turn to snarl him off, obviously annoyed with her boss’s intervention. I grab Calvin’s collar and begin to drag him away, tail between his legs in despair. He actually starts to whine like a child.
Please, Dekker, please, she smells so good, Dekker, please.
– How about a little dignity, Calvin, huh?
When Sela has been led far enough away, I release him. He takes one long look back at his nearly beloved, raises a leg to piss a love note, and we continue our walk along the canal.
– Aaaaaaandy. Andy. Aaaaaaandy.
The old woman is standing on the bridge we normally cross to get back home. Her long gray curls are windswept and she looks so frail I fear she might be blown into the canal. She grasps the railing tightly and continues to call out for her missing cat. Calvin has lost interest in her plight, avidly tracking a trail left behind by Sela.
– Aaaaaaandy. Andy. Aaaaaaandy.
It sounds like a mantra, more chanted than called, as if part of a nightly ritual. An unnerving thought insinuates itself into my psyche. Perhaps Andy has been lost for more than a few hours. Perhaps Andy has been missing for days or weeks, months or even years. Perhaps Andy was not her cat but her husband. Maybe she doesn’t do this every night, only those lonely nights when she feels his absence like an amputated limb, when his voice is heard in the rattle of the wind on the window, when his heart beats in the ticking of the old clock on the wall, when she reaches for an empty space on the bed.
– Wiiiiiilly. Willy. Wiiiiiilly.
I pass the bridge quickly, trying to block out the old woman’s voice. I must not must not must not think these thoughts tonight, tonight of all nights. Not while the moon is full and Calvin in love and Andy lost and Willy gone and Dekker on the verge of losing his mind. I stumble along the canal until I reach a bench, midway to the next bridge, collapse on it, my whole body shaking.
Minutes or hours later I open my eyes. Calvin sits in front of me, leveling his ever-inquisitive gaze into my face.
What’s up? We don’t sit on a bench in nighttime.
I look back toward the bridge. The old woman is gone. The streets are empty but the moon is still full. I decide to take a roundabout route back to the house. I don’t want to hear her haunting cries again this night.
Two blocks from home, I see her crouch by a parked car. Her voice is barely a whisper as she coaxes a frightened white kitten into her arms. I’m convinced this is not Andy. This is some stray she found to replace the empty basket in her heart. If not Andy, any cat will do. She disappears around the corner, ghost cat in her arms, two lost spirits in the mist.
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