He watches with eyes unblinking and still the movement escapes his notice. Is he being hypnotized? Can the few other patrons of the diner not see her? No one else seems caught in her gaze. A moment ago the girl was sitting at the counter and now she is in the booth next to his. Yet he had seen no movement. Not a hair on her head had changed position. No muscle had flexed to carry her sleek form from the counter stool to the booth bench. And her eyes still gaze into his with the same expression she had fixed on him from the start. The smile is the same, plastic and cold and red. The eyes. He can not draw his attention from them no matter how he tries. Memories surface from forgetfulness. Crossing the lake at camp in the middle of the night. No one around. Just the moon on the water, pale and luminescent. The splash of a fish followed by the screech of an owl as it dove low over the water. The owl flying low near the canoe. Its eyes wide, fixed, unblinking. And she moved again. Her chin resting in the palm of her right hand. Red curls swept forward as her body leans across the table. And still she has not moved. Yet she must have. He can't have imagined that she had been sitting reclined against the back of the booth when she is now so obviously leaning forward towards him her eyes intent on his. Eyes full of desire. Searching, seeking, sensing. Another memory of a walk along the beach with a girl he dated in high school. After the party they had wanted to be alone and he had taken her to the beach. Walking hand in hand, the sound of quick, soft, padded footsteps had caused them to turn around. His date had said nothing. He had watched as a large wolf-like dog with black fur had slowed its passage to pause right in from of him, so close he could feel its warm breath through the faded blue jeans he wore. Paused and stared into his face, tensed as if ready to jump at the slightest movement. His breath slowed willing the beast to continue on its way and leave him with his girl, safe and intact on the beach. But the animal eyes did not leave and it was a tug on his hand from the girl that made him aware again and pulled him away on that walk along the beach. With no movement she is sitting across from him in his booth. No standing, no walking, no sliding across the vinyl seat. She is simply there gazing into his eyes with her own dark languid gaze entrancing his mind to recall memories forgotten for years. She does not blink, she does not move, she simply holds his attention with the strength of her stare. And he remembers sitting in the window of his dorm room looking out at the moon when he should have been writing his term paper. The moon was half covered by clouds and still shone brightly on the street below so that he could see the sleek gray cat crossing the street and jumping to the fence. He watched silently as the cat moved languorously along the fence to the stonework that was the first floor ledge. An unbelievable leap and the cat was walking along the ledge stopping only when it reached the area directly below his window. Licked its right paw and looked towards the moon and then up at him. Here it yowled as if in pain. He wanted to bring it a bowl of milk but would not leave for fear it would wander off. So he sat there and watched the cat until he remembered waking the next morning in the window alone. How can she be sitting next to him holding his hand in her icy grip? Is he dreaming all of this? He stares into her eyes looking for answers. Her eyes brimming with tears. Tears? When did they form? Surely they were not there when she was at the counter, or the booth next to his, or in the seat across from him. His hand begins to burn where she touches him and yet he does not desire to remove his hand from hers. Just as he does not desire to remove his gaze from her. He is content to be near her, to be hers, to be her. The waitress crosses the small diner and places the check beside the empty pie plate. She looks at the waifish red-headed girl that sits there and does not remember the young man that had ordered the pie and coffee. The waitress looks down at the table and blinks. She picks up the ten-dollar bill that lies with the check. 'It's about time someone learned how to tip a hard working woman,' she thinks to herself. As she starts away she notices something lying on the seat. Peering over the edge of the table she gazes directly into the eyes of a huge gray cat. A health violation for certain if inspectors did checks at three in the morning. Tired and fatigued from working a double shift, the waitress looks around the diner at her few other customers. "Anyone here wanna claim this cat?" No one looks back at her and only one acknowledges she had spoke by shaking his head. She walks behind the counter and picks up the broom kept there. The cat still sits in the booth ignoring her presence and concentrating on the paw which it is cleaning diligently. "Come on, cat. You don't belong in here." She swats at the feline with the broom. The cat jumps from the booth and walks slowly towards the door. The waitress uses the broom to push the door open. Something is wrong about a cat that listens and understands. The cat walks out and she lets the door close. From the other side of the glass door the cat stares directly in the eyes of the waitress. With a slight shake of its head the cat walks off into the shadows. The waitress looks at the broom in her hands. 'Now what am I doing with this broom.' She shrugs and begins to sweep the floor. Nora hurries after the cab but the driver continues. She knew he had seen her. Why did it always have to be so damn hard to get a taxi at three in the morning? A movement in the shadows catches the corner of her eye. She turns her head to see a large gray cat walk out of the shadows, look at her, blink, and return to the shadows. Nora repositions the book bag to her other shoulder and resigns herself to having to walk home from Eric's, again. There was no way she was going to ride the subway at this hour and she had no idea of the bus schedule. Just another thing on her list of things she hadn't gotten around to yet. At least, the streets are quiet. For now. As she got closer to the college dorms where her apartment building was there would be people up. That was why she had moved out of the dorms. Never enough quiet to sleep or study. And Eric would never visit her in the dorms. Not that he had seen the inside of her apartment more that twice in the three months she had lived there alone. Lost in her own thoughts Nora doesn't notice the two men cross the street towards her until they speak.
"Hey, baby, whatcha doin' out here all by yersel. Ya lookin' for sum company."
"Man, she don want you. I bet she wanna real man. Like me, right chica?"
Nora freezes where she stands. The two men advance toward her. She looks around and sees the diner at the corner. But she would have to pass the two men to get to it. Everything else is closed and darkened buildings along this section of the street. They are moving closer, about to touch her, when a menacing growl comes from behind her. Stepping around her on her left comes what looks like a large dog. The two men take a step backwards away from Nora. The dog advances on the two men. It growls again, first at one and then at the other, taking a stance directly in front of Nora. She hopes it will attack them because she doesn't want to be left alone with it. She could read the headlines now, "College Co-ed Mauled by Unknown Animal".
"Hey, lady, call off yer dog. We wasn't gonna hurt ya."
"Yeh, we was only havin' a little fun with ya, is all."
Now is not the time to admit the dog isn't hers.
"Get out of here quick. Sometimes he ain't too easy to control."
The two men turn and start back across the street. The dog isn't following them.
"Run!" she shouts. And they do but the dog doesn't move.
When they round the corner and are out of sight the dog sits down and turns its head to look at Nora. Its eyes are big and round and look so sad to Nora. Something inside Nora makes her want to reach out to the animal. As her hand comes close to the black fur on its head, the dog moves away from her touch. She stands back up and looks at the animal. It is probably the largest dog she has ever seen. It is all black from head to foot with sort of a mottled-shading of brown mixed in. Something about the nose and ears suggests a strain of wolf blood in the animal. Not the sort of animal you want to find in a dark alley or on a walk down a deserted street on your way home late at night.
Nora takes a step away from the dog. It turns its full attention toward her. Nervous, she can feel a trickle of sweat on her neck. Animals smell fear, she remembers having reading somewhere. Great, she thinks. She begins to back away towards the street attempting to get around the dog.
"Nice dog. I really appreciate your help with those guys. I meant it, really. You probably just saved me from something really nasty. I'm just gonna get going on home now. You know, before they come back with a gun or something. Maybe you should go on too. Okay. Have a nice night."
She makes it to the other side of the animal. It stands up and looks at her with its head cocked to one side. Nora stops moving. The dog stares at her and Nora gets the feeling that she is floating even though she can still feel the sidewalk firmly under her feet. She thinks about going home but doesn't move. She just keeps looking into the dog's eyes. Suddenly, the dog shakes its head. Nora turns and starts walking home again. Once she turns around and looks behind her. The wolf-dog is following her.
For the rest of the walk home Nora doesn't look behind her. Something in the back of her mind accepts the knowledge that the wolf-dog follows and will follow despite any action she can take. At the top of the steps of her apartment building, at last, she glances behind her. The wolf-dog is there, as she knew it would be, at the bottom of the steps. She turns the key and walks through the door and quickly closes it behind her. Safe. Three flights of stairs later and a short walk down the hall of her floor she unlocks the door to her apartment. With a sigh of relief she leans against the closed door. She drops her book bag to the floor to take off her light jacket. The jacket she hangs in the closet, picks up the book bag, and walks to the couch. Sitting with the bag between her legs on the floor she absentmindedly begins to trace the flower pattern on couch feeling the texture of the worn upholstery. Out the window she sees the fire escape landing and beyond the next apartment building. She closes her eyes to block out the view of iron and brick. It has been a long day and she feels sleep playing with the edges of her consciousness. Her chem professor had lived up to his reputation of giving near impossible tests. On top of that, her visit to Eric's tonight had been one big argument. She is drained and wants to sleep through the weekend. She opens her eyes to look out the window again. The fire escape is no longer empty. Staring intently at her through the window is the wolf-dog.
One hand continues to trace the flower pattern. It becomes a connection to the room around her as the floating sensation she experienced on the street begins again. She stares into the eyes of the animal outside her window. How liquid they seem. Like deep pools of black water. So much loneliness in those eyes. Most people turn away afraid of the poor creature. No kind words. Constantly surrounded by people and so all alone. How can it survive like that? There must be a way to let it know friendship, kindness. Didn't it save her in the street? Surely, she can be the one to help.
Nora's hand continues to trace the flower pattern in the air as she stands to cross the room to the window. It touches the glass of the window and continues to form the pattern. With her other hand she undoes the catches on the window and removes the bar. Using both hands, she raises the window and steps away. The wolf-dog jumps through the window. It sits itself on the floor near the book bag Nora had left abandoned by the couch. The animal blinks and lies down on the floor staring at nothing.
Nora sees the wolf-dog on the floor and looks at the open window, disbelieving what she has done. She remembers the longing in the eyes and the rising fear subsides.
"You're not a bad dog. You just need a friend. That's all." Talking helps keep her nerves at bay. So she chats aimlessly about her day and Eric and classes and anything that comes to mind.
"Are you hungry? I don't keep dog food around cause I don't have a dog. But I do now, don't I? I'll buy some tomorrow. I promise. I probably have something around here though. Let me look."
She opens the refrigerator and looks in. On a platter is the pot roast she had made for dinner when Eric was supposed to come over Tuesday and never showed up. She had eaten a little that night but the sight of it since had made her lose her appetite.
"Would you like this? Huh, would you?"
Nora takes the plastic wrap off the meat and places it on the floor. The dog doesn't move. She takes a step away. And then another. The dog looks up at Nora. It looks at the plate. Standing, it walks over to the plate and sniffs. Without touching the roast it turns and walks back to the book bag and lays down again, this time placing its head upon the bag.
"Not hungry. That's alright. I'll just leave it out for you. You don't look like you've gone hungry. You must have been real good at scavenging for food. But if you get hungry in the night, it'll be here."
Looking at the dog lying on the floor reminds Nora of how tired she is. She throws the plastic wrap that she is still holding into the trash can beneath the sink. Washes her hands. Walks into the bathroom to change into her nightshirt. When she comes out of the bathroom the dog is still laying on the floor with its head propped up on the book bag. She walks to the bedroom turning off all the lights on her way. She crawls into bed. A moment later she hears movement and lifts her head. The dog enters her room. By the light from the window she sees its movements plainly. It looks at her for a moment and then lies at the foot of the bed on the floor. Nora relaxes and lies down. As she drifts toward her first dream of the night she remembers that she didn't close the window. That's okay, she thinks, I have a protector. And she dreams. The morning sun reaches the point where its rays fall across Nora's face. She begins to waken. Somewhere in her half-lucid thoughts she remembers a dream, or rather the impression of having dreamed something. Nora couldn't remember dreaming since she was a child. Trying to remember what she dreamed brings her fully awake. Still the content of the dream eludes her memory and leaves the feeling that she has forgotten something important.
She slides her feet over the edge of the bed. Cold floor. Nora walks out of her room to the kitchen. She sees the plate of food still untouched on the floor. The wolf-dog. Where was it? A brief search of the small apartment reveals nothing. She looks at the open window. 'Mystery solved,' she says to no one.
In the kitchen she starts a pot of coffee. A slice of bread put in the toaster. A bowl of Cheerios. She eats her breakfast and carries a large cup of coffee to the desk. She pushes a button and the computer comes to life. Retrieving her book bag from the floor by the couch she starts the process of working out her assignments. Repeatedly she looks at the open window. Common sense tells her she should close and lock it. The window remains open. Just in case.
Morning turns to afternoon. Afternoon becomes evening. The desk lamp is on. Nora rubs her eyes and closes the last book. A few notes scribbled. Some words typed in the computer. Save. Close. The power is turned off. The rest of the apartment is dark. A scraping sound catches her attention. From the darkness outside the dog emerges through the open window. A sudden cheeriness lightens Nora's thoughts from a day spent in study.
"So, you return. There's still that plate of roast if you're hungry."
Eyes looks back at her and then to the plate.
"Why I do believe you understand me. Or is that just coincidence? Well, it is still yours if you want it."
Nora talks to the dog as she puts books and notebooks back into the book bag. She rambles on as though the conversation is a natural occurrence. She carries her dishes to the kitchen and washes them in the sink. She speaks of her teachers, her classes, the sheer boredom of her day. Of her life. She fills a bowl with water and places it next to the plate still holding the untouched roast. As she stands the phone rings. A startled yelp escapes her lips. The dog turns its head and looks at her intently. Nora reaches for the phone her attention transfixed on the dog's eyes. Intelligence and understanding seem to lurk there.
"Hello, this is Nora."
She listens for a moment.
"No, Eric I didn't leave any money for you before I left last night.... Because I don't have any to spare right now....I don't feel like coming over now....'cause I just spent the whole day studying and I don't want to think anymore....I know that doesn't require thinking....Eric, I don't want to....What do you mean you'll just call someone else? ...I do so love you....I have to work early tomorrow. I've told you no one likes the early Sunday shift so I usually get it since I am the newest there....Eric, don't be that way....Don't be angry with me....Eric....Eric....Are you there?"
Nora returns the phone to its cradle. She slides down the wall where she stands and sits with her head resting on her knees. Her shoulders begin to shake and the tears slide soundlessly down. A click on the floor in front of her prompts her to lift her head. Standing before her is the wolf-dog with its head tilted to the left. The tears stop. Nora just looks into the brown eyes of the animal. That sensation of having dreamed something important returns. The eyes seem to shift focus in some minute way. Nora feels like she is drifting while questions are being asked and answered. She stares into those endless eyes and the tension of her conversation with Eric fades, as does the loneliness that has plagued her all day. Without warning the dog turns and walks to the couch and lies down and closes its eyes.
Shaking her head to clear her thoughts, Nora reaches for the edge of the counter to help herself stand. She walks to the plate where the roast still sits, untouched.
"I suppose that since this has been sitting out all night and day that it is best that I throw this out. You don't seem hungry anyway. Tomorrow, after work I'll stop by the store and pick up some dog food for you. I hope you aren't a picky eater 'cause I can't afford the expensive stuff. I should probably come up with a name for you since it seems you are going to hang around for a little while anyway. I could just call you 'Dog' but I think you deserve something better. After all, you did save me the other night. That's it. I'll call you Savior. It seems you showed up just when I needed you. And I know you helped just being here tonight. Savior. How does that sound to you? And it is good for either a boy or a girl since I don't know which you are yet. Eventually, though. Right? One step at a time."
Nora continues her monologue to the wolf-dog as she fixes herself some dinner. The extras she leaves on the floor just in case Savior decides to eat. Then she sits on the couch and turns the television on. Savior jumps on the couch and settles at the other end. Nora smiles at Savior and directs her attention to the show. A few hours later Nora turns the TV off and goes to her room and readies herself for bed. When she is under the covers and the light is out she hears Savior walk into the bedroom and settle beside the bed. Smiling to herself Nora drifts off to sleep and a dream. The alarm rings. Nora opens her eyes and sits in bed. Remnants of a dream cling just outside of her consciousness like cobwebs in the corner of a high ceiling. Savior is no longer lying beside the bed. Moving around the apartment she doesn't see the wolf-dog anywhere. A little concerned about the second disappearance of Savior she nevertheless closes the window. She empties the untouched plate of scraps into the garbage and leaves for work. The phones are quiet at the answering service so Nora watches the clock and tries to comprehend her chem assignment but thoughts of where Savior is and what he/she might be doing keeps disrupting her concentration. By three o'clock when her shift is finished Nora's impatience makes her rude in her hasty exit. A corner grocery store provides an adequate selection of dog food. Nora indulges Savior by getting two cans of dog food along with a bag of dry food. She pays little attention to the world around her as she heads home. Once inside the apartment Nora drops her bags on the kitchen counter and goes to the fire escape window and opens it. She sticks her head out and looks into the alley trying to spot Savior. No luck. Feeling disappointed she returns to her bags and begins to put the dog food away. 'Savior will be back soon,' she tells herself. Doubt lingers despite her self-assurance.
Immersed in the chemistry book evening creeps upon her and soon it is full dark outside. Switching off the desk light Nora walks to the couch. Television might distract her. She turns the set on. As the voices from the TV blare on a thud sounds behind her. Whirling around, she sees Savior standing just inside the room.
As if she had never doubted the wolf-dog's return she begins to speak to it. The words flow from her. She knows what she says is unimportant. Still here is someone who will listen. The evening passes much the same as the two before. Nora talks. Savior listens. When Nora retires to bed Savior follows once the light has been turned out.
The simple pattern continues day after day. Nora rises in the morning, Savior already gone. She goes either to class or work and returns to her apartment. When darkness settles, Savior returns. Nora tells Savior about her day, they watch TV, and go to bed. In the morning Nora is alone again with the impression of having dreamed. Sometimes flashes of the dream come back to her. Village life long ago. People she doesn't know visiting her in a place she has never lived. Roman soldiers marching. Camp followers begging favors. Maps scattered on a table. Standing over a cauldron boiling as she puts unfamiliar ingredients in it. Each morning the recollections are stronger. Only one thing concerns Nora about this new arrangement with Savior. Savior never eats. And now she notices that the wolf-dog is getting thinner.
...to be continued....©   Antithesis