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Short Short Fiction

Dog Years

By Harry Parks

In the parking lot, Rusty climbs down from the back seat of the car like any other morning. And why not? For him today is just another day.

Back in school, everyone said you had potential. Real potential—the going places kind. But you were always skeptical, only half-believing them. You, being the glass-half-empty type from the start, always obsessing over all the things you didn’t know. Not to mention your lack of progress with females, which, by high school, had completely occupied your brain, casting a depressing shadow over any small satisfaction your academic or athletic (intramural) successes might have brought you. A few people said you went for Jenny just to go for someone, that the two of you had nothing in common. But that wasn’t the way you saw it. She had something you wanted, a dreamy ambition you hoped to hitch your cart to. Besides, she wasn’t your first.

You feel a jolt, recalling that college Stat class you started off thinking you’d ace, before getting distracted by Korean Kim, who smelled like some flower you would name if you knew what different flowers smelled like. For three intense weeks you pined over “K”, filling diary pages with your new favorite letter, practicing one-liners, molding your head in the mirror every Tuesday and Thursday morning with extra hair gel. It was so easy for her. She managed to be hot by simply rolling out of bed and putting on short shorts. Three times she smiled at you during those weeks. Four, if you count the time she had the pencil in her mouth. Unfortunately those weeks coincided with midterms, and by the end of the semester the “D” you had carved for yourself had left yet another indelible impression on your heart. Kim disappeared like most college class crushes tend to, leaving you only with your resolution to never sample Korean cuisine (or Thai).

Rusty does his business, and you eye the wet, grayish pile, disappointed. Today you had been especially hoping for an easy pickup. Maybe next time you’ll show more backbone when he comes around begging for a taste of your just-in-time-for-Leno, chips and salsa bowl. It’s still morning, and given that you haven’t yet had your cup of Maxwell House, you’re particularly crabby. That, and the fact that spring is near, and the changing of seasons always makes you think of Jenny. Not to mention today’s date.

“Today’s her birthday,” you tell old Rust. You know he probably doesn’t care much, and you envy him for it. It’s one of the many things you envy him for. Although, you’re not so sure—you’ve never been quite sure—that the sadness in his eyes isn’t related to some residual memory of her. that even Rusty wonders what might have been if, at the time of the split, seven years ago to the day in three days, Jenny would have fought to keep him, rather than saying, “No, you keep him. You need him more.”

You took the words to mean exactly what they did. But you thought yourself the wiser. You saw Rusty as the glue—the thing that held you both together. Like you had been for your parents, ignoring all the bad moments. You knew, if given time, once she returned from Africa, relinquishing her lofty ideals and dreams of being “more,” she would follow her heart back to Rusty and you, her only true loves in the world. From there the three of you would grow, and all future trips would involve you, and revolve around your shared love for one another. Of course, at the time you didn’t know that in addition to studying the phenomena of female circumcision in the Hofriyati tribe, Jenny was deeply involved in her own reconnaissance of the lesbian lifestyle with third-year roommate Bridget. (You remember Bridget—the one with the hoop eyebrow ring.) Afterward it would require only the most exotic type of man, like the free-spirited Brazilian fellow she found while celebrating Mardi Gras in Rio, to even allow her to entertain the idea of settling down with someone.

“He’s some kind of Mexican,” you told Rusty when you returned from Jack’s Bar & Grill that night. Big deal. A drunken mistake. She was back in town to introduce her family to “Roberto”, the man she had been sleeping with for eleven months by then, according to your estimations. Given the circumstances, you thought you handled it well enough.

At least there was that moment of fleeting satisfaction when it appeared the years hadn’t all been kind to her, that is, until it was explained to you that the fat, round belly you had made a joke about was in fact their baby. It was Roberto who did the explaining, proudly rubbing her stomach and saying, “Jen-a-vive is having our baby!”

“That’s not her name,” you said to him, staring through her white tank top at the dimple of her belly button, the belly button she used to let you stick your tongue in back when she loved you.

Still, you weren’t completely wrong. When you mentioned Rusty to her, there was that second, maybe two, when the years all came back—your years—reflected outward in her eyes. It’s this that you will keep with you, that will accompany you through your solitary next decade, that you can imagine even now as you stare in at those two brown puppy-dog eyes in your rearview mirror.

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