The Boiler

Bridget Clifford

TETHERED

Steve is not happy that I am living in Kansas City. I suppose “not happy” is not entirely accurate. The exact sentiment is more like resentment, poorly masked in silence. He won’t talk to me. At least, not about the move. Instead he will help me by single-handedly hoisting my sofa up three flights of narrow stairs, sweating like he’s sprung a leak in the heat of the late July evening. Scraping up knuckles, forcing furniture through awkwardly angled doorways.

He is always there. He will always help.

But he won’t say a thing about it.

I am excited, invigorated by the newness and possibility of being somewhere different. He is not happy. I don’t care, not really. I probably take him for granted, but I’m my main priority.  I won’t wake up one day wondering where it all went and why I didn’t do it. There is, after all, so much that I want to do and see. It’s is not like I’m taking off for Spain. I did that last year.

I am always leaving.  I rarely need help.

So I say nothing.

We are both silent as we drive down Shawnee Mission Parkway, approaching the small suburb of Fairway where the busy thoroughfare begins to wind through enormous trees and homes that look like they belong in New England, not Kansas. The back of Steve’s van, which we call The Dustbuster is littered with shopping bags. Our stomachs are full of Chinese food.

The van stops at a light.

“That’ got to be illegal,” I say, motioning to the small pick-up in front of us.  Two dogs pace around the bed of the truck, their tongues long, lolling out of their mouths.  “You really shouldn’t be able to drive around with a dog in the bed of your truck.”

“I don’t think it is,” Steve responds, releasing his hands from the steering wheel. “But it does seem pretty stupid, especially in this kind of traffic.”

We talk about getting dog a lot these days. We share a soft spot for canines, having even gone so far as to visit various shelters. But since we are no longer living together, such conversations take on that “maybe one day” tone.

“The one looks kind of like a cattle dog,” I tell Steve.  The other has the body of a bird dog – lean and lanky– but the coloring of Golden Retriever. He smiles.

“We’ve got to get a dog,” says Steve.

The dogs pass quickly back and forth in front of each other erratically, like wind-up toys. They hoist themselves up onto the ledge and lick the air.

When the light turns green, the truck accelerates, and one of the two dogs, the golden one with the silly grin, loses balance and falls onto the road.

“Oh, God!” I scream.

“Holy shit!” Steve says.

The situation is bad.

No. No. Beyond bad.

Nightmarish.

No. No.

It’s even worse.

A five-foot long lead is attached to the dog.

He’s tethered to the truck.

“Oh, God!” I shriek, shaking.  “What do we do? What do we do?”

The truck continues forward, unaware of the dog dragging behind it.  Steve follows as close as he can. The dog rolls and finds footing. Steve honks the horn. Holds the horn.  The horn blares.  The dog slides on its paws. Its legs push forward as if to resist the road.  The truck keeps going, weaving through the the four lanes. The dog slides from left to right.

I feel powerless.

Steve remains calm, watching carefully, deftly maneuvering the minivan in attempt to keep the dog from being hit by other cars on the road.  He maintains a safe distance, but he is always close.

We’re in the left lane. Traffic moves past but I don’t see it.  My eyes follow the dog.  I plead for the truck to stop.  Please, please, please.

Steve continues to hold the horn and swerves into oncoming traffic, alongside the truck.

I open my window.  “You’re dragging your dog!  You’re dragging your dog behind you!” I yell, my torso hanging out of the van.

I see the driver. He’s talking to someone in the passenger seat. The radio is loud. The cars are loud.   I am screaming and nothing is happening, like I’m screaming into a storm, or the sea, my voice swallowed by something immense and unyielding.

A car approaches us and Steve weaves back into the lane behind the truck. He sees another break in the traffic and swiftly catches up to its window.

“You are dragging you dog behind you!” I yell to the driver.  “How the fuck can you not see me?”

And then, he does.  But he can’t understand what I’m saying.  He turns down his radio. I repeat my message twice.  He looks in his rearview mirror.  A wave of horror crosses his face.  His face disappears once he pulls over. Steve follows.

The driver get out of his truck. He’s young, no more than twenty-five, in a baseball cap and torn jeans.  He looks like a child.

Steve gets out of the van and stands beside the driver, who is kneeling, cradling the dog, examining its paws, calling its name over and over.  A name I don’t hear.

I can’t leave the van.  My screams echo in my head. I don’t remember being so loud, so determined to be heard.

“Oh, Jesus,” the driver mumbles, cradling the dog in his arms.

There is blood.

Steve walks back to the van and slides open the door.

“I need something,” Steve says.  “A towel or something.”  His composure astounds me.  This is what he does.  He grabs an old t-shirt from the floor and races to the man and his dog.  He rips it into large strips and swaddles each of the dog’s paws.  The man holds the dog tightly, his face in it’s fur.

The man thanks Steve.

When Steve’s back in the driver’s seat, we wait, watching the man carry the dog into the cab of his truck.

And they’re gone.

We drive back onto the road.

“The dog is ok,” Steve says. “He’s going to be all right. His paws are pretty scraped up but he didn’t break anything.”

He pauses, looks at me.

“It’s going to be alright,” he says, like this happens all the time.

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Bridget Clifford received her MA in Creative Writing from Kansas State University and lives in Lawrence, Kansas with her best friend/ball and chain, Steve. She now has two dogs and likes to post pictures of them at: therhinoface.com.