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The dust of 100 dogs, p.13
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       The Dust of 100 Dogs, p.13

           A. S. King
 
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  I got up four times to pee during the night. Each time, I was increasingly agitated about not sleeping. Finally, at four thirty, after listening to delivery trucks honk outside the supermarket across the street, I turned on the blinding fluorescent bathroom light, stared at my reflection, and decided to trust myself.

  The only mirror in Fred Livingstone’s office was behind a small bar in the corner. It often captured Fred’s nose or chin in its beveled edge, causing a distorted reflection he could not help but stare at.

  A week had passed since Winston brought back the new deeds from Miami. Fred knew he had to go to the bank to deposit them with the rest of his paperwork, but it seemed an eternity, forty minutes each way on the treacherous Jamaican country roads. Plus, there would be Winston, chatting and singing and generally being annoying.

  “I can go tomorrow,” he said, and propped his feet on his desk.

  It was eleven o’clock and there was no one on the beach. He hadn’t seen Sarah since the day she stood him up and enough time had passed, he figured, to know that she wasn’t interested.

  He closed his eyes and imagined her. “You look stunning,” he said. “Beyond words you are beautiful, Sarah.”

  Get to work, you flabby prick. Go to the bank.

  “Shut up! Sarah, excuse him. He is a rude, rude man. Where were we? Oh yes, you look stunning. That silk hangs so well on you. Versace? Oh yes, it was made for you, dear, made for you.”

  You sound like a faggot, Fred.

  “I am not a faggot.”

  You like men, Fred. You are a faggot.

  “Sarah, please, don’t go. I can make him stop. Security! Sarah! Don’t believe him!”

  Faggot.

  “You’re the faggot,” Fred said, pouting.

  It was 11:05 and there was no one on the beach but Rusty, making paw prints in the wet sand and watching them disappear with the tide.

  Winston knocked on the office door and called to him.

  Fred didn’t move from the chair, just laid his head back and feigned sleep. He heard the door open and then close again, gently. “You’re the faggot,” he whispered.

  He got up and walked to his bedroom. He dressed in khaki shorts and a white dress shirt and put on a white pair of sport socks, but then peeled them off again and arrived back in the office ten minutes later in a pair of fungicide-dusted tartan slippers. It was 11:15 and no one was on the beach. It was June, for Christ’s sake. Where was everyone?

  Fred sat down at his desk, which was still covered in planning maps and property deeds, and wondered if 1990 would be the year the worst would finally happen. He had a plan for it, at least—he would sell the Florida land first, back to the Yank at a grotesque profit, and then move there himself. That way he wouldn’t have to be in Billy’s Bay when the stuffy Europeans showed up to view their holiday resort sites and found nothing but vegetation and an empty, rocky beach. He had nothing to worry about, really. They couldn’t sue him. He would always have money.

  You won’t if you keep giving it to that Jamaican poof, he told himself.

  “I pay him fairly.”

  For what?

  “For working for me.”

  Is that what you call it?

  “You’re the faggot.”

  It was 11:30 and the beach was still empty. Fred picked up his telescope and scanned the surface of the sea. Far out, there were two enormous shipping vessels and to the west, there were the usual three or so glass-bottomed boats for snorkeling day trips from the tourist village two miles away. Closer still was the small fleet of local fishermen heading out to empty their pots, which they’d laid out at midnight the night before. And then she appeared.

  She was blurred at first, before he had time to focus the telescope and catch up with her moving through the foreground. Immediately, he could sense that she was something special. She was walking fast, and his hand was too shaky to follow her, balanced only on the arm of his chair. He pushed himself up, rolled over to the glass table, and steadied his elbows. He could tell she was young; her small, firm breasts barely bounced at all. Her legs were as slim as any he’d ever seen. Her ass was exquisite, and she didn’t let it fall from side to side like older women. She had no hips to swing as of yet.

  “And too young to be married,” he mumbled.

  And too young to ever notice you, you blubbery ponce.

  “You’re the ponce.”

  Why do you do this to yourself, man? You would never actually do anything with that little girl out there.

  “I’ve just been waiting for the right moment.”

  Like your moment with Sarah last week? Like that moment?

  “She’s a prick tease. I don’t know how that husband of hers can stand it.”

  You think so?

  “I know so.”

  I’ve heard them screwing, Fred. They do screw.

  “You’re just a pervert, then, listening to other people screw.”

  And you’re just a fat queer with a telescope.

  “You’re the queer.”

  He held his hand out to silence the air and watched. She walked slower now, kicking the water with her delicate feet, letting the foam race up her white thighs and stream down again. Her fair, medium-length hair hung down her back in a wet lump and Fred could see that her skin was peeling in places.

  “Would you like me to put some cream on your back?” he asked.

  Yes, please! I keep getting burned, she answered pertly, handing him a bottle.

  “I can do the backs of your legs too.”

  I’m sure it all washed off from my swim this morning. Please, just get it everywhere.

  “Everywhere?”

  She looked at him and blinked twice. Yes, everywhere.

  Fred began applying tanning lotion to every part of her body. He lathered the inside of her legs, stopping just short of her flat crotch, and slowly worked toward her belly. His over-lubricated hands dipped under her coral pink bikini and around her breasts. Her nipples hardened, her breath grew heavy, her legs fell open. Fred reached down to his zipper. Then Rusty barked from the pool.

  Fred’s hard-on transformed itself into a frustrated fist. If only the office were soundproof. If only he had the energy to get up and beat the dog senseless. She was nearly at the end of his sight line, and he caught one last glimpse of her through his scope before the usual questions presented themselves. How long was she staying? Where is she staying? Where is she from? Is she here with her parents? A boyfriend? More girls?

  He watched all day, but she never returned. Not during one o’clock Oprah (one bourbon) or two o’clock girl-on-girl flick (two bourbons) or four o’clock McHale’s Navy (a beer and two more bourbons) or the five o’clock news, when Winston arrived home with two bags full of groceries and a new painting for the condo. Fred was remotely aware that he was home, and saw Rusty eating food from a bowl on the patio soon after, but he didn’t get up from the chair. Instead, he fell into a pre-sleep, coral pink coma until night came, and then dragged himself to bed to have coral pink dreams.

  As if the universe could read his mind, she was the first person he saw the next morning while he nursed his hangover after a cold shower at 7:15. She was wading, thigh-deep, in the sea. Fred reached for his telescope and sat back in the chair.

  You came, she said.

  “I would follow you anywhere,” he answered, walking slowly into the warm, lapping water.

  Hey asshole, snap out of it.

  “Shut up! You’ll ruin it!”

  You’re ruining it.

  “I am not. I’m creating it. I’m making it happen.”

  You’re not. You’ll never talk to her.

  “Shut up!”

  You shut up. You shut up and I’ll shut up.

  She dried herself and walked e
ast, slowly vanishing from Fred’s view.

  Why don’t you walk down to the beach like a normal person? Go and ask her to lunch. Go and do something!

  “I’m going out tomorrow. I can do it then.”

  You won’t do it.

  “I will.”

  You’re a fat queer who won’t do it.

  “I am not and I will.”

  Then go. Do it now. Go and catch up with her.

  Fred’s heart raced. His temples pounded with decision. He looked down at himself and twirled his ankle around and admired his calf muscle. Why not ask her to lunch? Why not try doing something for real?

  He stepped out onto the second-story sun deck and made his way toward the staircase that led to the beach. Just as he got to the banister, the coral-clad girl stepped back into view, making him jump a little. Rusty barked and ran down the beach gracefully. Fred watched, but couldn’t move.

  “Rusty!” he called. “Rusty!”

  She looked up at him and squinted. He was sure she saw him, but she didn’t wave. What was wrong with her? Why didn’t she wave? She stopped to pet the dog and then continued walking, out of sight to the west. Rusty followed her for a hundred yards and then came trotting back to the house.

  Still balancing at the top of the stairs, Fred Livingstone had lost his chance.

  You blew it, asshole.

  “I didn’t blow it.”

  You did. You didn’t even wave.

  “I can wave next time.”

  When he could finally unhinge his left hand from the banister and forcefully unparalyze the hand that had never waved to beautiful bikini girl, Fred walked back into his office. Longing to feel better about himself, he began organizing his desk. He rolled up his maps and stacked folders. He separated out a small pile of things that had to go to the bank safe and gathered other things to put in his own.

  Removing a large modern painting from the wall, Fred opened his safe and placed his new deeds in it. Moving back the way he came, he kicked a heap of dirty clothing to the top of the stairs where Winston would find them. It had been twenty-five minutes since he’d seen the girl in the coral bikini, and he still couldn’t erase her from his mind.

  “I will talk to her next time,” he said, and no one answered back.

  Fred turned on the TV just in time for the weather report. June in Billy’s Bay is much like any other month—eighty-five and sunny. Sometimes the rainy season brought a bad storm or even an early hurricane, but most years it passed by unnoticed. So far that year the weather had been perfect, and Fred wondered again why the beach was so empty.

  He heard Winston using the shower downstairs.

  “It’s about time I got out and did things. All this daydreaming is getting me nowhere,” he said, and there was no answer. So he moved his morning business to the sun deck to tan his toned calves and enjoy the scenery. After a half-hour nap in the sun, he heard Winston knocking.

  “Come in!”

  Winston moved slowly through the office and out the sliding door.

  “You cleaned up, Fred!” he said.

  “You know, I can do that sort of thing from time to time.”

  “You feeling all right now, mon?”

  Fred threw him a dirty look. “I never felt otherwise.”

  “You been cranky for tree days now, Fred. I can tell dese things.” Winston smiled, and reached out to touch Fred’s shoulder.

  Fred flinched. “What do you want? I’m working!”

  “Still dat way, yeh?”

  “What do you WANT?” Fred boomed.

  Winston spoke through a stifled grin. “I’m goin’ to Black River today for some tings, mon. You wan go to the bank?”

  “No. Not today. I’ll go tomorrow.”

  “You sure, mon?”

  Fred wiggled his hand in Winston’s direction. “Whatever, whatever. Just leave me alone. I have work to do!”

  “All right, mon, no problem.”

  “Sure, yeah.”

  Fred looked up at him from the handmade wooden lounge chair on the deck. Winston stood there smiling at him, goofily.

  “What?”

  “Just you, mon. I dunno.”

  “Well, go and figure it out somewhere else.”

  Winston laughed. “When you get so mean to yourself, Fred?”

  “Just go away,” Fred answered. And Winston left, still giggling to himself. Sometimes under his breath, he spoke like a Jamaican woman, like his own mother, in psalms and songs that Fred could not understand. On his way through the sliding doors he said, “Who feels it knows it, Lord,” and yelped to himself as if that were a really funny thing to say. Fred heard him get in the car and drive away, still laughing. He ripped a large corner from one of his papers and wrote Stop saying that annoying rubbish in block letters, and placed it neatly on top of Winston’s folder.

  And then she appeared again.

  “God! What timing!” Fred marveled to himself.

  When she was halfway across his beach, he stood and approached the stairway again. This time, when he knew she was looking his way, he waved. She squinted again, and covered her brow with her hand and waved back, but kept walking.

  Rusty appeared and began to trot toward the sea, and Fred hurried down the steps to grab him.

  “You’ll stay!” he said to the dog, holding him forcefully by the scruff of his neck, every so often squeezing so hard that Rusty would squeak in pain. The girl looked back to the house and squinted again, but could not see Fred where he now stood with the dog. He waved, but she didn’t wave back. He kicked the dog for that, and then watched as she vanished again behind the tree line to the left.

  “Well, she did wave,” he said.

  She wasn’t waving at you, Fred.

  “Yes, she was. Of course she was.”

  She probably couldn’t really see you.

  “Oh, she saw me. She saw me yesterday. She came back today, didn’t she?”

  Not for you.

  “What for, then?”

  She’s just a tourist, Fred. You’ll have to do more than wave at her to make something happen.

  “I will, I will. Next time.”

  Sure, Fred, next time.

  Once an hour had passed, he peeled his eyes from the beach view and made a few calls. He had some selling to do if he was to cut his losses on the Billy’s Bay property. Five hours and fifteen phone calls later, he was back on the sun deck scanning the pink horizon.

  For over an hour, he gazed through his binoculars at three pelicans fishing. Then she came walking slowly into his view from the east, nearly a silhouette.

  She stopped again, to adjust her short sundress, and then did something spectacular. Pulling the sundress over her head and leaving it on the sand, she walked slowly into the waves and continued walking until she was about chest-deep. There, she dropped down and floated face up, dove in and out of the sea like a dolphin and then stood up again, wet, glistening, and in water thigh-high. Her nipples jutted through the swimsuit and made Fred wince.

  She walked so slowly toward the shore again that Fred was sure this was for him.

  He reached for his zipper. “Jesus, where’s the camera,” he said, not caring about where it was.

  Fred, stop perving. She wouldn’t ride you if you were the last man on this island.

  “She’s looking right at me,” he said.

  She’s looking at the reflection of the setting sun on the glass in front of you, you fat fool.

  “She’s not. She’s taunting me,” he answered, sighing.

  Before he could argue with himself any more, he watched her slip the dress back over her body and walk away, squeezing the seawater from her hair. He was so distracted by this performance that he never heard Winston come home, and was genuin
ely surprised when Winston walked into the office.

  An hour later, Fred sat on the edge of his bed applying foot cream.

  “You have to go to Miami again tomorrow. You’ll need to pack now, because I have you on the first flight in the morning.”

  “But—”

  “But nothing—you work for me, don’t you? Well then, you do as I say. Now get out of here. You’re stinking up my bed.”

  DOG FACT #5

  Humping Among Friends

  Humans often credit their dogs with human emotion, logic, and forethought. They say things like, “I just don’t know what Rover was thinking running out in front of a car like that!” Though he is man’s best friend, it’s important to remember that your dog is not the same as a human being.

  Science can explain everything a pet owner might describe as doggie “emotion.” It’s a dog’s nature, as it is most wild creatures’, to return to a place if he’s fed there and to be loyal to a person repeatedly feeding him. It’s a dog’s nature to fetch things that you’ve thrown, to repeat a trick if he gets a reward. The modern dog is much like a modern computer. You must train a dog to be your companion the way you have to install software before a computer will work. Some dogs are slower than others, running on an outdated or overbred motherboard, forgetting where they left their favorite toy only seconds before, walking into stationary objects. Some have one hundred gigabytes of memory, and can jump through hoops of fire and pee squatting over your toilet. But unlike our human idea of soul mates, your dog would be just as happy if someone other than you had picked them from the litter and trained them to do the same stuff.

  I knew a pack of dogs once who gathered every night in their village green. I lived in Dublin, Ireland, in a growing suburb called Stillorgan. Most of the dogs there were well fed; we had a few strays from the traveler’s camp up the road, and the odd fight when they tried to work our turf. I say our turf, but I wasn’t part of the pack. I lived as a house pet—a rather attractive, fair-haired Chihuahua—and only saw the back garden for my occasional run.

 
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