The light comes into the room slowly, by second and third degrees, bouncing down from the third story skylight, gleaming on the chrome and granite in the kitchen, trickling down through the ground floor and at last into the vast cube of space where Janice lies on her back, still in her paint-speckled overalls, wiping sleep from her eyes. Her temples ache, a Lilliputian construction team jackhammering over the bone. She knows that as soon as she moves her stomach will spasm around its toxic contents and she will have a grotesquely accurate Jackson Pollock reproduction on her couch. She hears Minnie coughing, again.
Her throat feels like a chimney. After a chimney fire and a rough scrubbing with a wire brush.
She turns her head slightly – the bedroom door is open, the sheets twisted on the empty bed. The pain in her lower back, from a night spent hunched over the lower regions of the canvas that dominates the basement studio space, is slowly ratcheting. Ultimately, it’s Minnie’s wet, hacking cough that gets her up, one hand over her eyes, one hand pressed between her breasts, against the hard edge of her sternum beneath her t-shirt.
She knocks the second – or maybe it was third, or fourth – bottle out of the way and finds the leash. Minnie, groaning, struggles to her feet and waddles over, rheumy eyes still half-closed. The dog coughs again, gags, and swallows. It’s everything Janice can do not to lose it right there, out of sympathy or disgust or both, and having leashed Minnie she half-drags the dog outside, thankful that her side of the street is still shaded.
The cold air feels good, and Janice stands, leaning against a tree, wishing she had grabbed cash for cigarettes. The coffee shop across the street is still closed, the gate half-lowered over the door, but she can see one of the morning guys – the quiet, tattooed one, she thinks, not the bitchy, rollerblading queen – moving behind the counter. Minnie finally decides on a spot and starts scrunching up her spine.
Janice pats down her overalls but, of course, she’s forgotten to bring plastic bags. Bankers, walking down through Tribeca to the Goldman Sachs building, pass her obliviously, but the mothers, returning already from the preschool, eye the steaming pile of shit and then her. She mugs sheepishly while thinking, seriously? Pick up shit, in New York? It’d be like tidying up Beirut. But the reference is dated – and this neighborhood, which is not Janice’s anymore, has been theme-park clean for years – and so Janice says nothing. Instead, she glances at the café, ties Minnie’s leash to the tree, and crosses the street. She stops in the window of the boutique next to the café and tries to pull her hair into a ponytail – her best look – but can’t find anything to secure it with. So, cursing again under her breath, she collects herself and marches into the coffee-shop with as much confidence as a hung-over, bra-less, and middle-aged woman in paint-stained overalls possibly can.
The door creaks and he calls out, a little surly:
“Morning, not quite there yet.”
She’s forgotten his name, again, which isn’t making things easier. His back is still to her, reaching up for something behind the counter. His shirt pulls up a little and she watches the tapering muscles in his lower back. She allows herself a moment – picturing him, lifting one of her canvases, heavy and awkward as a refrigerator – and then pushes herself onwards.
“That’s okay, I hate to bother you, um— but, Minnie, she’s, well she has…”
“Under the counter.”
He turns over his shoulder, flashes a smile, and nods at the front counter, cluttered with empty pastry plates. She loves his smile, slightly crooked. Whenever she comes by the place in the morning it’s clogged with trophy wives, vacuum-sealed into Lycra pants and – having recently sprouted five-figure breast implants – low-cut yoga tops. The coffee is guy is always polite – ‘yes ma’am,’ and ‘of course, ma’am’ – in a way that, despite his Brooklyn accent, strikes her as southern. She always gets her meals to go – unable to sit and endure the sideways glances of the wives, the mothers – and he never says anything about it. She’s sure he, a fellow outsider, can sense it. It’s there in that smile. She leans over the counter, wincing, her head a quail-egg under a jackboot. Sure enough, there’s a small plastic bin stuffed full of to-go bags. She grabs one and tucks it into her pocket.
The coffee guy returns from the back. He pauses for a second, looking at her. It’s a different kind of look – a different species of gaze, she might have said back in those heady, acid-dropping art-school days – than the one she gets during business hours and Janice finds herself doing an old drawing exercise, extrapolating a sketch of his physique, based on the visible musculature of his forearms and neck. She imagines the dense build and a cushion of fat that she finds somehow comforting, not like Mickey’s Iggy Pop striations, or the frightening perfection of those tamed Patrick Batemans, her one night stands, culled from crowds that fill the sports bars after the markets close, avoiding their perfect, boring wives. She’s in the middle of tracing the old-school lines of his tattoos up under his shirt-sleeve when she’s struck by the sudden and irrational fear that she’s not wearing a t-shirt under her overalls, though of course she is. She’s aged well – she tells herself – and surely even the most self-absorbed businessmen would have batted at least an eye at her, topless save for two thin corduroy straps across breasts that – amongst their au naturel peers – are quite competitive. Then she realizes he’s looking at her face.
“Late night? Coffee’s almost up.”
“Yeah. I like to sneak a cup, before it’s done brewing – stronger. Need it, right?”
He pours himself a mug of coffee, then holds up a mug and a paper cup.
“Stay or go?”
“Stay. Go. I have to go. Minnie’s tied up.”
“I saw. Pretty dog. Looking good, you know, considering. How old?”
He fills the paper cup.
“Not that old, you know.”
“No. Just, black. Thanks.”
Janice takes the coffee and fumbles in her pocket for money. He’s shaking his head.
“Don’t worry about it.”
“Oh, I couldn’t.”
“Register’s not even on. Fuggehtaboutit, okay?”
She nods with a little laugh.
“Okay. I’ll get you next time, you know.”
“Just put it in my tip jar, if you want.”
“You wouldn’t happen to have a cigarette, would you?”
He laughs. Janice’s stomach twitches and she leans on the counter to steady herself.
“Had to quit. Couldn’t afford the sin tax, you know. Vice is expensive.”
She laughs, louder than she means to.
“Yes. Okay, well,” she pats her pocket, “thanks for the bag, and the coffee.”
“Anytime. Janice, right?”
She nods, blushing, and – her stomach clenching again – she hurries herself out of the café. Back across the street, Minnie lets out a high, squeaking bark when she sees Janice come out of the coffee shop. Janice hurries across the street and bends over Minnie, rubbing her ears and cooing until the dog quiets down. It’s only then that she turns, at last, to the pile of dog shit, runny and shot through with dark strands of blood.
“Mickey – Mickey? – I think Minnie’s sick, she’s got blood in her— Mick!”
Bustling through the door, setting down a water bowl for Minnie, shouting for her boyfriend, Janice had somehow not heard it but now it envelopes her – the slurping, the smacking, the groaning, the muffled, faux-orgasmic cries. Mickey is sitting on the couch, jaw slack, pants around his ankles. On the flat-screen – a birthday gift from her – is a pornographic shot so close up that, were it not for the ‘oh, yes, fuck me harder, yes’ and the synth-bass, Janice might have mistaken it for a show about the love life of mollusks or squids.
Mickey’s cock is lying limply against his hip; he stares down at himself and then up at her, slowly smacking his lips and then croaking out, “have you seen my works?”
Though she’s seen the DVDs and the internet history and – on each of their vacations – signed for innumerable ‘Films’ on hotel bills, she’s rarely actually sat down and watched a porn, which she does now, slowly lowering herself onto an easy-chair, transfixed by the almost abstracted contortions of flesh, losing track of male and female, nodding slowly to the rhythmic pumping noises. Mickey, struggling to pull his pants up, gets to his feet.
“Janice, my – fuck, fuck! – my works, I’m all…fucking, soft, and…”
Mickey sits back down on the arm of the couch, sniffling and looking up at the skylight, as if he’s been divinely jilted, shat upon from Olympian heights.
“I think—,” Janice trails off, still staring.
Janice, jolted by an abrupt scene change as much as by Mickey’s rising voice, stands up.
“Christ, Mickey, you don’t have to shout. I think your stuff’s in the fridge.”
“In the fucking… fridge? The refrigerator? It’s not fucking insulin Janny, it’s not a fucking… perishable item, Greek fucking yogurt. You should know better.”
Mickey storms past her, up the stairs into the kitchen, slamming open the door against the granite counter. Janice walks over to turn off the television but finds to her faint amusement that she can only manage to pause it. After a few minutes – although perhaps it’s longer – Mickey comes back down the stairs, eyes half-closed, smiling loosely.
“Now… darling, sorry for the fuss, you were saying…something – something about something.”
He drops back down on the couch, smiling, eyes unfocused.
“Minnie has blood in her stool, and with the coughing, I think we should take her to the vet.”
“Oh, come on. They just work you over, they guilt us out of two, three grand every time.”
“I’m serious, Mickey, she’s old, you know. Dogs get sick and people can’t tell, because they can’t tell them.”
“What, darling, the fuck? The fuck are you talking about?”
“Dogs can’t tell people. Not like children. Dogs just suffer in silence.”
Mickey narrows his eyes and then calls the dog. Janice hears Minnie’s tags jingling and then the dog shuffles slowly into the room, trots over to the couch and slowly climbs up next to Mickey, licking his bare feet.
“See, right as rain baby. If she’s still coughing tomorrow, we’ll go.”
Janice folds her arms. Mickey rubs the dog’s ears.
“Tomorrow? You promise?”
Mickey pats the dog one more time and gets to his feet. He walks over and puts his arms around Janice. She puts her face into his chest, feeling the tight muscles across his chest, the pressure of his cock against her belly. He kisses her forehead, then the side of her face, then lightly bites her lower lip.
“I promise. Now, look, I’m all better, and you know I can go for hours. What do you say?”
“Can you turn that off?”
“What, that? Don’t worry about that. Let’s go downstairs.”
“You go, I’ll be right down.”
Mickey smiles and, with a slight wobble, makes his way downstairs into her studio and then into her bedroom – a fair description, Janice thinks, of his entrance into her life in general. She walks upstairs and takes a fresh bottle of white burgundy out of the fridge. She tries to ignore the needle on the counter, the rubber tubing, the sterling-silver spoon, scorched and bent. She’s been ignoring it for twenty years, since they met, really, when Tribeca had more painters than parents. Her work was in galleries, his album was on the charts; as a couple they did a spread for Vogue, another for Esquire. Her favorite, a photo for Italian Glamour, is framed over the kitchen table: the two of them, naked and streaked with paint. Mickey is holding a guitar in one hand, her waist in the other. Their bodies are a study of contrast, curve against sinew, faces cool – detached and ironic – but eyes bright. She uncorks the bottle and pours a glass – almost a goblet, it swallows up half the bottle – and walks over to pick up the picture. She hadn’t noticed, at the time, the Band-Aid on the crook of his arm. A symptom, she thinks. A sign. Not that it matters. He would’ve have lied – would’ve said something about giving plasma back home for a quick quid, a Hep-C test for a dodgy tattoo or the dreaded HIV test that they all had to muster up the courage for back then. He would’ve lied and she would have believed him. In all the years that he’s been in and out of her life, he’s only overdosed once – ‘I’m a professional’ he’d said, once, ‘a proper lifer…’ – and kicks for a month every year. ‘Heroin Ramadan,’ he calls it.
This month he’s been using heavily, a celebration after some rapper – born and raised in Florida with a gangster’s regional distrust of New York, to say nothing of London – spent six figures on one of Mickey’s tracks, a B-side called ‘Not Alone, For Now’ that snuck onto a soundtrack and then onto the charts. The icy, shimmering guitar chords were replaced with klaxons and Miama-beach synth stabs, but the hook and chorus had stayed. The hook bought Mickey – who still had that unshakable sadomasochistic thing with the aristocracy – an understated Jaguar sedan, parked in a private garage amongst the flashier Maseratis and Lamborghinis. The chorus bought him a month’s worth of Afghani heroin, smuggled – Mickey had claimed, though Janice has her doubts – by an old Brighton friend who now did contract work for the Army Corps of Engineers.
There’s been talk of a tour, cashing in, hitting big stadiums in Atlanta and Tampa for crowds of women who’ve never heard of Mickey but who will, Janice knows, crowd around his dressing room, products of Pavlovian conditioning, panties drenched and eyes wide. He’ll fuck them all – or as many as his opiated libido will allow – and then he’ll come home and lie about it. And, although it’s a logical impossibility, she will believe him – as he believes her when she lies about her stock-brokers and bankers. The map of their love, she imagines, is a mural by Escher.
But for now, he’s here and she is not alone. She shakes her head and takes a long swallow.
“It’s not even fucking eight,” she says – to nobody, of course – and then tops the glass off and heads downstairs.
The sex – it’s not quite theatrical enough to be fucking, and neither one of them is in the mood for lovemaking – is good. Another apt synopsis of their relationship, Janice thinks. In the shower, she stands under the water and feels the slow tremors still rippling through her legs. She thinks about Mickey’s long, lean torso, his stomach contorted in joy, and wonders what those slick school-house theorists would say about them, if the south-facing wall of their apartment was ripped out, replaced with glass, and their lives turned into a performance piece. She imagines the Marxists and the Freudians, each with an arsenal of fetishes, the gender-theorists and their winking suggestions about androgyny, in the studio and bedroom, the post-colonial scholars throwing their hands up in disgust and confusion at their decadent, imperial mistakes.
Janice dries off and – still thinking about that four-story glass wall – dresses nicely: matching underwear, fitted jeans, a lace Armani top. She walks upstairs to see the cup of coffee, still full and now room-temperature, and pulls the beans out of the freezer to make another cup. The grinder wakes Mickey from his post-coital daze and she can hear him banging around in the bedroom, plunking out chords on his guitar, the chorus to his resurrected ‘classic.’ A few minutes later, Janice pours herself a mug before the brew-cycle is done, thinking – with a flash of a smile – about the coffee guy. She walks back down to the studio and looks at the canvas, a hundred square feet of meticulous abstraction, explosions of color arranged as if coalescing into orbit around the empty center of the painting.
Mickey stops playing and walks out of the bedroom, still naked and holding the guitar in one hand. Before she can stop herself, Janice finds herself saying, “What do you think, baby?”
“Those who can do, those who can’t Duchamp.”
Janice glares at him.
“Why would you say that?”
“I don’t know babe. It’s just not my thing. Nothing personal. Is that coffee fresh?”
Mickey heads up the stairs, Janice shouts after him.
“Why would you say that? Mickey! Hey!”
Mickey reappears, mug in one hand, gear in the other, and comes back downstairs, smiling.
“Look at me, nude descending staircase.”
“Fuck you, Mickey.”
He taps his lower lip with the needle and sets his coffee mug down. He reaches down and touches himself, his cock again straining to attention.
“Okay baby, okay. I was just kidding. You know I’m an idiot. I don’t know shit about art.”
He fixes his eyes on her.
“Just enough to be a giant asshole.”
Janice feels the slight itching in the corners of her eyes, knowing that tears are coming, also knowing that she wants him – wants that look in his eyes, the gaze in which she exists, regardless of what objectified, fetishized, degraded way it might be. The feminists, if they are watching from the far side of her menagerie wall, are gnashing their teeth at this point, watching Janice set her coffee mug down and approaching Mickey, touching his arm, his side, his hip in one slow stroke, brushing just over his skin. But this, this isn’t feminism, she thinks, this is bare-bones existentialism: existence versus non-existence. Survivalism. Mickey kisses her lightly, then again, harder. The cold logic of physics demands, she imagines, that at some subatomic level there must be a sexual-magnetic field, twinkling between wave and particle, warping space and binding bodies together. Mickey reaches down and undoes the buttons on her shirt and then those on her jeans. The air between them sparks and twists into tiny crackling vortexes. There is a danger of romance in the idea, but in the end, sensing the boundless and inescapable reach of the field, in its inexorable need to crush and collapse things together, is like waking one day and watching as a black hole rises over the horizon in place of the sun.
Then, on the threshold of the bedroom, Janice stops.
Mickey turns, looking hurt.
“No. No, you can’t just stomp on my heart and then fuck me.”
“Stomp on my heart? What bullshit teen romance did you get that from?”
Janice sighs in acknowledgement and collects herself.
“Mickey, sometimes, I get tired of being ironic, all the time, every fucking day. Sometimes, I would like something more than sex.”
“It’s a little late for a fucking paradigm shift now,” Mickey laughs, “Fucking paradigm – get it?”
Janice slaps him hard, her hand landing flat against the side of his eye and drawing blood with her ring. Mickey slowly reaches up and touches his face, bringing a drop of blood on his fingertip to his mouth.
“Baby. Fucking is what we do. If you don’t want to fuck, that’s fine. But don’t be a cunt about it.”
Janice hits him again, this time with her hand closed, her knuckles catching him under the ear, at the back of the jaw. His hands fly up to grab hers. He shoves her arms into her chest and then pushes her into a low table. Coffee and broken glass spray across the floor and Janice looks up at him. Mickey shakes his head.
“Once. You can hit me once, if you’re mad. I’ll cut you that slack, because you’re a woman – and I’m a gentleman, after all – but do it again, and I’ll properly fuck you up.”
Janice pulls herself up to her feet, buttons her shirt.
“You’re awful, you know that?”
Mickey cocks his head at her.
“What’s gotten into you? Jesus. I’m going to go watch a movie.”
Mickey walks over to pick up his gear and then disappears into the bedroom. After a moment, the wet slapping sounds start up, the bass-line now joined – with a cruel kind of absurdity – by an upbeat saxophone part that sounds, to Janice, like something that would accompany a happy-go-lucky cartoon animal. This is actually what she’s thinking about – hand-drawn animation cells, boisterous, cheery music – when Minnie appears, dragging herself to the edge of the stairs, and vomits blood on the stairs.
Janice sits at the top of the stairs, cradling Minnie’s head in her lap, dabbing her muzzle with the edge of her silk shirt and hating herself for thinking, at this moment, that she’ll never get the blood out of it.
From the bedroom the porno funk bounces along. Mickey says nothing. Janice sets Minnie’s head down gently on the carpet and runs downstairs to find Mickey passed out on the bed, needle in arm, dick in hand. A white bolt of rage – I hope he’s fucking dead – pierces her but then, of course, she kneels by his side and places two fingers on his neck. His pulse is slow but regular and so she turns and scrambles back up the stairs and outside.
The sun is nearly directly overhead and Janice stumbles, one hand over her eyes, darting between a town car and a taxi towards the coffee shop. Stepping inside without giving herself time to recover, she finds herself out of breath when the coffee guy turns and smiles.
“Hey, need another round?”
The shop is empty, the mid-morning crowd of mothers gone and the lunch-crowd not yet arrived and she can hear herself panting.
“Minnie – throwing up blood, and Mickey, he’s no good. No good.”
He looks at her for a moment, the same soft, disarming gaze as before, furrowing his heavy brow.
“Hey, hey, sit down,” he comes around the counter and pulls a chair out, touching Janice’s shoulder lightly as she drops into the chair. He takes a bottle of water from the cooler and opens it for her.
“Now, tell me, what’s the matter?”
“My dog – Minnie – she’s sick. And my boyfriend, he’s sick too, I guess, but I have to take Minnie – to the hospital, the vet – and I don’t want to, I can’t, I can’t go alone.”
He takes a deep breath and looks around, cursing quietly.
“Okay, shit. Okay. Hold on.”
He reaches under the counter and pulls out an over-sized marker. He takes a paper menu from the table and, flipping it over to its blank sides, writes in block letters, CLOSED – BACK IN ONE HOUR. He tapes the sign in the window and looks at Janice, who is sitting quietly now, sipping the cold water, transfixed by the economy of his movements, the deliberateness of each thing he does.
“Show me, okay? Let’s go.”
Back across the street, she lets him into the apartment and he stops short. She follows his eyes as they drift up to the skylight, the liquid waterfall of sunlight that pours down floor by floor and pools in her studio below them. He whistles quietly and then spots the bloodied vomit on the edge of the stairs.
“That hers? Minnie’s?”
She nods and calls to the dog, listening for the jangling tags and realizing, with a full-body wince, that the pornographic orchestra – the choral cries of ‘fuck me’ and the ‘oh baby,’ the slap-and-pop bass octaves, the wah-wah guitar squelches – is still playing from her bedroom. And – as if, Janice thinks, the music wouldn’t be enough – in the living room the flat-screen is frozen on the shot of a waxed anus, buttocks pulled apart by a pair of hands, the fingertips manicured in bright neon pink. For a moment, the coffee shop guy stares into the black hole, unblinking, and then starts laughing, turning to her with one eyebrow raised.
“Look, I don’t know what this is, but I’m not – I mean, I’m not judging, right? –but I’m not…”
Janice chokes back a rising geyser of vomit and pusher her hair out of her face.
“No, that’s Mickey’s. Look, it’s not what it looks like.”
He laughs again.
“Looks like an asshole.”
“Please,” Janice blurts out, “please just help me.”
He closes his mouth, glances at the vomit on the stairs, the flat-screen, the smashed table in the studio.
“Okay. Where’s Minnie?”
Janice calls the dog again and this time hears the faint jangling. The coffee guy hears it too and, even as Janice is calling out to him – “Wait, just let me get her” – he’s down the stairs, so quick and nimble over the wreckage in her studio that she’s slow to catch him, standing at her bedroom door, shaking his head.
Mickey, naked and bleeding from the arm, is lying in bed, stroking himself to the porn playing on the bedroom television. Minnie is curled up by his feet, licking Mickey’s ankles. For a minute, Janice is standing between them, arms up, and then Mickey is screaming and tackling the coffee guy. The two men are crashing through Janice’s paint-cart, grappling each other and shouting. The coffee guy seems more concerned with holding Mickey’s naked body at arm’s length than with actually striking him, and the two men end up shoving each other against the walls. Finally, Mickey gets loose and runs upstairs, reappearing with a kitchen knife – a small, almost comically tiny one, Janice notices, even in the midst of everything – and screaming, “Who is this motherfucker? Is this the piece of shit you’re fucking! Who the fuck – fuck you buddy! – who the fuck? I’m gonna gut this motherfucker!”
The coffee guy looks at her and then back at Mickey. With remarkable calm he shouts:
“Hey, man, I’m just here for the dog!”
Mickey screams something unintelligible and waves the knife over his head, his naked body red with anger and slick with exertion, muscles twitching in waves. For one horrifying second he perches on the edge of the stairs – Janice can see him flinging himself down like a manic, purple-assed baboon, crazed with bloodlust – and then, abruptly, he turns and goes up to the third floor, to the guest bedroom, and slams the door. Janice looks up the stairs, and then at the coffee guy, and finally at Minnie, whimpering softly and crouched behind the mattress. Janice whispers, she’s not entirely sure to whom, repeating softly:
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry—”
The coffee guy straightens his shirt, stoops and picks up his hat from a pile of broken glass, joking – half to himself, it seems – out loud, “I think I need a shower.”
He looks at Janice and then glances at the canvas and adds, “I like it, by the way. Never seen your work.”
“Look, I’m sorry, ma’am, but I’ve got go. I shouldn’t have…we have the lunch rush. I’ve got to go.”
Janice winces at the ‘ma’am,’ and turns away to pick up Minnie, cradling the dog to her chest.
He walks up the stairs to the foyer and the stops, out of view, and says, loud enough for her to hear, “Are you going to be okay?”
She’s quiet for a minute. The porn in the bedroom reaches its conclusion, the voices – one male, two or three female, of course – cry out in extinguishing ecstasy and go silent. The music, without climax or denouement, ends a moment later. The apartment is soundless and Janet stands with the sun, the limelight of some highly theatrical god, beating down on her. She imagines an audience on the far side of her wall, the held breath of the sentimentalists, the rolling eyes of the ironists.
“Janice? Are you going to be okay?”
She walks up to the stairs, holding Minnie carefully and then sets the dog down on the couch.
“What’s your name?”
He takes off his hat and rubs his face as she walks up to him, stopping very close to him.
She smiles at him, meets his eyes and holds his gaze, though it flickers down to her chest, her lips. His mouth is dry, she sees, and he dabs his upper lip quickly with his tongue. She thinks about kissing him, about taking him downstairs to the bedroom, locking the door, and doing pornographic things with him – even as her enraged and drug-addled boyfriend beat on the walls with his sad little knife. She thinks about the inevitable result of their proximity, the collapse of their separate fields, sexual entropy destroying their separate identities. She touches his arm, feels the current flowing, the force beneath the illusion of solid bodies. This, raw and quivering, beneath all the lovely things people said about the body and the soul.
“Do you think I’m pretty, Jeff?”
He swallows hard and says, “Yes.”
In the darkness, beyond the stage, the feminists groan. The survivalists nod.
“Jeff, thank you for your help, but this isn’t your problem. I’ll be okay.”
He puts his hat back on.
“Okay. Come by for coffee, some time?”
She shakes her head.
“No. No, I don’t think so.”
He nods, hand on the door.
She watches him leave and then phones the vet, pleading her way into an appointment that afternoon. Then she phones the police, reporting Mickey for possession and domestic abuse. While she waits for the officers to come by, she pours herself another glass of wine and calls Minnie. The dog struggles up from the couch, shuffles over and sits at her feet, looking up at her. She reaches down and strokes the dog’s ears, bending down and pushing her face into the dog’s nose, which is now warm, rough and dry. She kisses the dog’s forehead, still stroking the ears – certain now that Minnie has little time remaining – and whispering quietly, “It’s okay. It’s okay.”