By Mr. Fish
It said DOG on his food bowl, and because he showed no signs that he’d ever learn how to read or write, she decided that he must be dyslexic. So she called him GOD.
God, like his considerably more famous namesake, was something of a mutt. He was composed of parts and features so numerous that not only did his eye color not match, but his coat was as motley as sandstone and his appetite ran the gamut from bacon to raisins, from breath mints to bedroom slippers, from the company of the most despicable people to the most affable. Consequently, it was always a question as to whether his excessively generous affections reflected a vast intelligence or the sort of crippling stupidity that made discrimination even between extremes impossible. His love affair with life was either an expression of the robust and confident compatibility he had with existence itself, or it was just another demonstration of dimwitted glee, something that a moron feels when ogling the mundane and drooling over the banality of what his stupidity is able to make fabulous.
Her name was Sawyer Dey, and she told me that the other reason why she named him God was because he was a Christmas present from her mother, Fey, who had gotten him over winter break during Sawyer’s senior year in high school—the rationale being that without a dog to miss, her daughter would’ve only known joy and deep relief upon moving away to college in the fall. “You see,” she explained to me when God was 7, two years after she graduated from Bryn Mawr with a degree in obsolete verbal esoterics, right around the time when she and her dog and I started living together in a gentrified suburb of Philadelphia called Manayunk in 1990, “my mother is so deliberately ungracious when it comes to recognizing the tendency of the universe to sometimes resolve without first considering her feelings … no, wait a minute.” She gathered her curly black hair into a loose ponytail and unfastened her jeans in anticipation of getting into the bathtub. “My mother doesn’t have any feelings. It’s more that she has a problem with reality contradicting her lavishly narcissistic, Jesus-was-born-in-a-Pottery-Barn-and-I-keep-a-covenant-with-his-teachings-with-a-fucking-credit-card worldview. Anyway, I couldn’t help thinking that it would be the perfect metaphor to have her, for the four years while I was away at school, snapping God onto a leash every day because she didn’t trust his loyalty to her absolute authority.”
“I would’ve never guessed that your mother was religious,” I said, only half paying attention because I was busy drawing a picture of Uncle Sam yanking a bloody wishbone from a freshly slaughtered dove.
“Oh, no,” she said, suddenly topless, “she’s not religious, except as a precaution. She believes in a Caucasian Jesus who is a heterosexual Kennedy Democrat, sure, all of her friends do, but as far as acquiescing to his so-called moral teachings or anything like that, she thinks that by simply subscribing to all the Condé Nast publications that reflect all the facets of his persnickety and oh so minty personality she’s pretty much guaranteed a place in heaven.” Her panties slid noiselessly to the floor and she stepped out of them. “For her, Jesus died for our love of sequels, that’s about it.”
“Right,” I said, watching her walk away bare-ass naked down the hallway while the significance of her insight dissipated like the scentless verbosity of a meticulous recipe that is driven away by the visceral succulence of a fabulous plate of food capable of drawing out a hunger that one, almost in a panic, suddenly realizes is there.
I woke up nude on the living room floor with God licking my face and pestering me with the most annoying, feathery little whines. I was super-heated beneath the comforter that Sawyer and I usually kept on our bed and my pants were balled up under my head like a pillow. It was still dark outside and my morning boner, balanced atop a bladder near to bursting, was pressed into the small of my girlfriend’s back, as if I’d been attempting to rob her in my sleep. “God, no!” I whispered, pushing the dog’s snout away and trying to crunch myself closer to Sawyer. “Go lay down!” I said, all at once preferring the relief that I knew more sleep would bring over the hard-won relief I’d get from throwing off the warm covers and groggily climbing the stairs to stand on freezing tiles in front of a cold toilet and attempting to piss through a Flak 36 anti-aircraft urine cannon trained on the sky. Again, God whimpered and then groaned, pawing at my shoulder before shoving his nose into the back of my head and snorting into my hair, his own bladder as heavy as a saddlebag full of coins, no doubt.
Five minutes later I was flushing the upstairs john and shushing him as he ran up and down the hallway with his leash in his mouth, the carabiner bouncing along the floor like a tiny iron fist wrapped around a flattened jingle bell. By the time I’d climbed into my thickest pair of jeans, pulled two T-shirts and a sweatshirt down over my head, dragged on two pairs of thick socks, threw a baseball cap onto my head and tied two perfect bows into the grubby shoelaces on my Chuck Taylor sneakers, God was moaning and bending his black lips around what sounded like actual words, like Swedish expletives played backward. All it took was for me to stand up from the corner of the upstairs bed to send him thundering down the steps ahead of me and tearing through the living room and skidding across the linoleum in the kitchen, his big dumb tail wagging hard enough to metronome against the face of the dishwasher. With him too far away to hush anymore, I moved quickly through the house, taking elephant steps on the balls of my feet, before finally meeting him at the backdoor. “Jesus, God—relax, Princess!” I said, fastening the leash to his collar.
When I opened the backdoor the outside hit us like a bright light. The cold rushed in with the weight of water, flowing over our faces and freezing our noses immediately. In the dim light of morning I saw that the sky was the color of wet cement and that snow was everywhere. Everything was white and rounded, as if the whole world had been imagined only halfway by a groggy creator with socks on his hands, and it was still snowing. I waited for a moment before opening the screen door, pausing to appreciate how absolutely quiet it was, amazed at how the planet Earth was able to disappear so completely during the night without waking me up, when God opened the door for me, using his nose and exploding off the back porch and running around the side of the house, trailing his leash behind him. I gently pulled the door closed behind me and ran after him, with my sneakers crunching through the snow. It was the only sound in town.
When I got around to the front of the house I couldn’t believe how beautiful Manayunk looked. As far as I could see in both directions up and down the street, there were no footprints or tire tracks on the ground, nor were there lights on in any of the houses. There was just snow. It reminded me of growing up with my big brother, Jeff, down at the Jersey Shore and how he and I would wake up at 5 a.m. on snow days and pull on our thermals in the dark and, too impatient to wait for confirmation from the radio that school would be closed, sneak out so that we could run through the streets, deliberately ignorant of all property boundaries, our hearts bursting from the unique joy that comes with being the first men on the moon. Unstartled by my appearance, God stood hypnotized by the profound relief he was feeling at getting to pound a thick line of green morning piss into the ground at the base of the neighbor’s mailbox, a mini-soufflé of foam forming within the evaporated hollow created by his effort. Relative to nothing more substantive than the comfort and beauty of routine, I bent over and trawled my hand across the ground and scooped up a hunk of snow and stood to make a snowball, the bitter coldness against my naked flesh feeling almost immediately like burlap being pressed into a sunburn.
Finally finished peeing, God took one step forward, stopped and turned back around to examine the steam rising out of the snow, as if the stench of urine, as gregarious as a hot onion, had something to say about salvation. “Ball?” I asked, tossing my snowball from hand to hand, suddenly regretting my tawdry offer to replace his profound interaction with the music of the spheres with the cheap and easy pornography of sport just because my fingers were cold. Of course, seeing his ears spring to attention, his head cock to one side and his whole body shift toward mine, and then to feel something lovely somersault inside the center of my chest, I wondered if maybe I wasn’t providing both of us with the meaning of life. After all, by giving meaning to the moment and knowing that the biggest increment of time that either one of us is able to occupy at any given time is a moment, was I not merely bringing enlightenment to the smallest increment of infinity and therefore bringing enlightenment to the whole universe by proxy? “Ready?” I said, watching God bring wide separation to his front paws and arch his back. “Here it is, the meaning of life!” In a great pantomime of a magician releasing a dove from oblivion, I lobbed the snowball into the air and willed the significance of mine and God’s lives around its temporary weightlessness before it landed without bouncing and disappeared.
God searched through the snow with his muzzle for almost an entire minute before I made a move to tackle him, always ready when it came to ambush-wrestling to take full advantage of his knees being on backward and his thumbs being nothing but flabby little nubs on his wrists. He, of course, always ready to take full advantage of his superior hearing, phenomenal peripheral vision and instinctual distrust of monkeys wearing clothes and corrective lenses, saw me coming and took off down the block in the direction of the abandoned canal that ran parallel to the Schuylkill River, his leash dancing like a serpent beneath his gallop. I ran after him. With the snow falling all around me in big wet flakes, I was forced to narrow my eyes as if braving confetti, momentarily allowing my confused equilibrium to imagine that I was not only moving forward at a hundred miles a second, but that I was also ascending, along with the rest of the filthy, corporeal world that refused to leave the underside of my feet, into some sort of paradise.
An hour later I was in the passenger seat of Sawyer’s car lying through my teeth about what had happened. “I don’t understand,” she said, having been shaken awake fifteen minutes earlier by her boyfriend who was dripping wet and covered in blood. Her face was still pale and creased from sleeping and she was braless and dressed hastily, her coat humpbacked by an inverted hood. “Why didn’t he try to rescue you when you fell through the ice?” she asked, trying to wipe the fog off the windshield with her sleeve. It was drizzling now.
“Because he’s not Batman,” I said, cupping my hands in front of the heating vents, thankful for all the hot air. “Besides, I don’t even think he knew that I fell in. He was practically on this side of the river by the time I stepped onto the ice.” We were on the Belmont Hills side of the river and her window was rolled down and she was calling God every half block or so but nobody was answering her.
“Why weren’t you holding his fucking leash, Dwayne?” she wanted to know, suddenly outraged.
“I told you!” I said. “He pulled the fucking thing out of my hand when he went after the geese!” My nose started to bleed again and I wiped it with the back of my hand. “I’m not worried,” I said, thinking about the moment when I jumped into the jagged inky hole that God disappeared into maybe 10 feet from the raised riverbank without making a splash. I thought about how the temperature cut me wide open with a pain as true as fire and how the frozen current immediately tried to push me sideways and drag me under the ice and carry me into deeper water. “Our address is on his collar,” I said. “Somebody will find him.” Sawyer didn’t say anything. “He’ll be back,” I said, “you’ll see.”
“God!” she hollered out the window.
I thought about how long I stood at the water’s edge on the Manayunk side of the river unable to breath with something like a bell going off inside my nervous system. I thought about God’s dead body being carried silently along under the ice and I wondered if his heart was broken when he drowned and if he knew what was happening to him. I wondered if the water burned into his lungs and he knew that his life was over, if anybody ever knows for sure. I wondered if he was sad to go without me letting him smell my shirt for the very last time or having me rub his head while his brain exploded into seizures. I wondered if he yelped in the dark under the water for me to know where he was. I knew where he was.
“And you’re sure he made it all the way to the other side?” asked Sawyer.
“The other side?” I said.
“Into Belmont Hills,” she said. “You said you think he made it into Belmont Hills.”
“Oh, yeah,” I said. “I doubt that he tried to double back across the ice. I stood there long enough to see the snow turn to rain and no animal is dumb enough to walk across a frozen river in the rain, especially a dog. Oh, look,” I said, pointing at the sky above the trees. “Canadian geese.”
We didn’t even have enough time to skid. The cat was orange and wore a sparkly collar and we felt it get crushed under our tires, the vibration of the slaughter shuttering up through the floorboards and into the soles of our shoes like voodoo. Sawyer pulled over and let her forehead fall against the steering wheel. She wanted to get out of the car and walk back to see if the cat was dead. I told her that it was dead. I told her that she shouldn’t feel bad, saying that she couldn’t have done anything about stopping. I told her that it was an accident. I told her that we should go home now. She said that she wanted to go clear the cat off the road. I asked her why.
“What if the cat’s family finds her body splattered across the road?” she asked.
“Then they should be thankful that they will never have to wonder what happened to her,” I said. Sawyer turned and looked at me with tears running down her cheeks. “They will be thankful,” I told her. She rolled up her window and we went home, feeling strangely like saviors, having delivered the agony of truth to the family of a cat. Both Gods were dead now, which they’d be forever and ever, and with so much sadness rushing through my chest all at once I felt the wishbone inside my breast finally snap in half, reminding me of how lucky I was. After all, besides getting to keep both pieces, I got to feel the pain.