I was afraid of him and infatuated at the same time. His gaunt face, pouty, lazy mouth, and red hair. His eyes felt as if they could slice me in two if I stared into them for a moment longer than I should. His name was Prague and his dog was Bess. He named her Bess, a play on the word “best”, since that’s what he considered her to be. She’d been his only girl for so long, the room for someone else had inched to barely anything at all.
Prague’s tattered t-shirt felt familiar, the pads of my fingers knew the outlines of the holes by heart. This was his favorite shirt. A faded blue t-shirt that he’d had for years. A shirt that had seen concerts, bar fights, girl’s underwear, airplanes, hotel rooms, burger joints, and many hangovers during their time together.
Underneath his skin smelled like old orange rinds. A salty flesh and lightly chapped lips that comforted me because they meant he walked in the cold to see me from the train station. The fear drew me closer to him. The idea that at any moment he could overpower me and permanently end my life. His eyes looking into mine as he allowed me my last breath. How thrilling! I remembered once before he told me he wanted to hit rock bottom with me to see what it felt like. With no other girl could he fathom being so low with. Bess would never hit bottom with him. I wondered if this was a compliment or something I should find offensive and telling of my nature but he swore it was a good thing.
The sunlight outlined his head like a glowing halo as he leaned over. The morning air slipped through the open window like a thief. His bare shoulders jutted from his frail frame. The closer he leaned in, the more I could make out his features. The details would be a memory for years to come. Bess licked at his feet, his attention promptly leaving me to attend to the bitch.
Prague left the room to take Bess for a walk. I tiptoed around the room getting dressed like I was avoiding waking anyone else up. He lived alone so it didn’t matter but for some reason I didn’t feel alone there. That’s how heavy his presence was.
His pile of dirty clothes didn’t collect in a hamper. He was a pile on the floor kind of guy. Straight, no chaser. A photo he took of an owl in Oregon sat on the edge of his desk, next to a photo we took at a carnival last Spring. It was our first photo together, and since then we’ve taken only a handful of others. I have photos of him in my head. Still images captured from my experiences with him. The look on his face when our canoe tipped over. The way he looks when he rubs Bess’ belly. The way he brushes his teeth with vigor, spitting the spittle into the sink. Images that would never leave me. It’s funny how that happens. How you can forget so many things and remember others. There are things you’d love to forget but you can’t. There are things you’d pay to remember, but you can’t. Why is that?
I have to go home. I have to brave the morning rush in yesterday’s clothes to go shower, before I go to a job I hate with people I despise. It must be nice to work from home like Prague. All the more quality time with Bess. I could never replace her. Granted, she’s a good dog. I know I’m a good woman, but there’s something about automatically being “man’s best friend”, something I’m just now learning how to do after pushing my failures aside.
-by Brie Cook