Monday, February 27, 2006

Texas, Part 2

Texas, Part 1

I jumped back from the window and kicked wildly through the lassagne of clothes, magazines, books, and boots which typically covers my bed room floor when I'm not dating anyone. I pulled on a pair of cutoff sweatpants and jammed my bare feet into the first two paddock boots I grabbed. I hopped over to the doorway and clawed through the silver dish holding the spare keys to friends houses, cars and apartments, extracted Mike's familiar set, and bolted for the stairs, grabbing the newel to make the turn and pounding down the flight onto the street leaving the doors open behind me.

The colonnade of sycamore trees along the sidewalk screened my view of the house fronts, so I dashed into the street for a better angle, almost tripping on the uneven heel heights of mismatched boots. I strained to see the distinguishing features of railings, doors and porch furniture through the haze as I ran; the elderly couple's varnished walnut door with the proud shiny brass Ukrainian seal knocker, the spinning instructor's 1940's streamlined aluminum railing, and mercifully undisturbed, Mike's chrome and red vinyl kitchen chairs, clustered conversationally and unconcerned on the green Astro Turf porch. Beyond them was the aluminum clad enclosure of the Bolivian nursing student's porch, and next to that the yellow and black stripes of the firemen, swarming like bumblebees through the hacked away door and into the burning house.

I took the steps three at a time to the landing and up to the door. Behind me the fire truck lights spun on the underside of the leafy green canopy vaulting the street and over the house fronts. Neighbors gathered on the east side porches and stone step bleachers, mesmerized by the spectacle of flames consuming a house exactly like their own. On Mike's porch the breeze blew through the open sash and fluttered the curtains, from beyond them I heard uncharacteristic whining, which turned into anxious barking as I fumbled with the locks, swearing, thinking I'd brought the wrong keys. "Hey buddy! I'm commin' dog boy!" the tumblers gave and I spilled inside.

Texas scramble away from the door swing and then scrambled back in as I slammed it shut behind me, his nails skating in all directions on the long dulled pathway he'd long ago scratched into the varnished oak planks. I dropped to my knees and he jumped up, paws on my shoulders. "Atta boy Texas! Fireproof dog! Inflammable dog!" he licked my face. "Good boy!" He was shaking. I sank down further, crossing my legs and planting myself on the well worn spot. He stood straddling my lap and pressing his flank against me. I rubbed the thick lion's ruff around his neck as I hugged him, sending shedding hairs floating off into the thin white smoke eddying around us. The raking morning sun illuminated the swirling particulates and the dog hairs. Like Texas himself the hair was always present. As I stroked him I thought, incongruously, of how his fur perfectly matched the oak floors, and how it formed almost invisible tumble weeds around the perimeter of the room. I thought about how it disapeared into a Carhart jacket even when thickly napped on the stiff canvas, and of how well he coordinated with the interior of my convertible when we drove around town, his nose straining into the wind. Now his nose was pressed against my neck, and the yellow fur stuck to the sweat of my bare chest as I squeezed him against me, and to the tears on my cheeks as I buried my face in his mane.

The fire was over amazingly quickly. The whole procedure lasting no more than fifteen minutes after the truck's arrival. I opened all the windows and doors to let the breeze blow the smoke away. Suddenly Mike burst into the room , eyes maniacally wild. "Texas! Texas! He implored desperately. His demeanor changed instantly, like a flip doll or a mime passing a hand over his face to transition from satanic to beatific, when he saw his dog was unharmed. He thanked me profusely for coming over to check on Texas. What else could I have done? I followed them down the steps out the back, noticing that Texas wasn't as spry as he'd once been. Though pragmatic and disciplined, Mike lived in the moment in many ways. Things which violated his sense of order were simply ignored. I watched them head down the alley, the two of them trotting off away from the chaos as though nothing had happened, or ever would.

On returning to the street I watched the aftermath and clean up. The homeowners had arrived, and now stood on the porch directly across from their own black and soggy one. The scorched brick opening where their bay window had burned away formed a proscenium through which they could view the sad pageant of the second gang of firefighters raking smoldering bureaus and wire mattress skeletons over the porch roof and into the tiny obliterated garden below. They were stoic and sternly observed their loss. Fully insured, they rebuilt and moved back in in only a few months. The firefighters (especially a thirty-something fire plug of a Sargent who could have stepped directly from the scene and onto the set of a Titan video) engagingly removed their helmets and coats, stripped down to t-shirts and wife beaters, and poured bottled water provided by grateful neighbors over their sooty, sweaty, faces, chests and necks. I was distracted though. What if the fire had been two door up the block and an still and stiff yellow dog had been dragged out with the soggy carpets and chared furniture? Thinking about it made my throat tighten and my eyes well up again. Like the burned out neighbors had so harshly experienced, nothing lasts for ever, no matter how much you might want it to. Texas was ten years old, and he wouldn't be around for many more years. That realization stuck knotted in my gut. How could I cope with that, and how could Mike?
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