Today's Reading

Before Angie disappeared, she was very focused on the things she didn't have: a boyfriend, a car, a beach body, good hair, good skin, a tongue piercing, a full sleeve tattoo, a reliable pot dealer, a chance at a half-decent college, a date for senior prom, a sense of direction. I would sit at the end of her bed and paint her toenails a shade of green or red dark enough to look black, and she would list them off.

When she was gone, it felt like we were drowning in her things: Angie's CD collection, Angie's ripped jeans, ripped sweaters, ripped everything. Angie's sketchbooks, Angie's textbooks, Angie's yearbooks, signed with inside jokes that Mom tried to crack like spy code.

I inherited none of it. I couldn't wear her clothes or her earrings or her perfume. I tried once, with the perfume—a saccharine vanilla scent that I had scored rightfully, as a hand-me-down from herself— and it made Mom so upset that she wouldn't speak to me until I showered.

The only thing I got was Angie's dog, an Irish wolfhound—only a puppy then, all legs and wiry, slate-gray fur—that year's birthday present from my dad, purchased without Mom's knowledge, a month before Angie went missing. For Angie to take with her when she moved out and started her classes at the community college. A security system.

Wolf was small then. Now he is large and blind. Ten is old for an Irish wolfhound.

"Come on, Wolf," I say, hauling his gaunt frame into the trunk of my car for another doctor's appointment, only hours after the bridge. "Help me help you, buddy."

"Does he need more pillows?" Mom asks.

I look at Wolfie. He lies on his side, long limbs extended toward the back of the car. He is surrounded by pillows.

"Come on," I say. "The rest are boxed up."

I regret it instantly, bringing up the move, but Mom doesn't notice. She kisses Wolfie's wet nose and shuts the trunk. Since she let her license expire a few years ago, she only leaves the house for doctor's appointments—Wolf 's and her own.

Mom hated Wolfie when he first arrived. She had a strict no-animals policy, and his habits of barking when the house creaked in the middle of the night and peeing on her curtains didn't endear him to her. But Angie trained him quickly and well in a few short weeks. He learned commands and he stuck by her side day and night, sleeping on top of her head when he was small.

Sometimes, I think Wolfie understood that she wasn't coming back before the rest of us did. The one person he would let touch him was me. He was bereft.

Only when the cops announced that they were giving up did Mom express an interest in Wolfie. She didn't want to be his primary caregiver. She just wanted to make sure that he was well cared-for since Angie loved him, and he loved Angie, and Angie was gone.

Sometimes, it seems like part of Angie is inside of him. Or he relays messages to her. Or she can hear me when I talk to him. I know it's only magical thinking. I can only really acknowledge that I believe this when I'm drunk. When I'm drunk, it's very easy to mistake Wolfie's calm presence for listening. It's very easy to understand that if I bury my face in the side of his neck and whisper something into the space where his ear falls against the wavy fur, it will travel to Angie like a message into a tin can telephone.

* * *

USUALLY, WE TAKE THE long way to the vet, because the roads are smoother, but today we can't because of the road closure. Because of Dad. So we take the short, potholed way, and Wolfie cries the whole time in the back as his bones and tumors bounce around. I think of the bumper sticker on the back of Dad's car. We couldn't see it last night in the dark, but it was there: 'In America, we drive on the right side of the road. In Maine we drive on what's LEFT of the roads'. Every divot fills me with more rage, until I'm clutching the wheel so hard my knuckles go white. 'This is your fault', I think. 'All your fault'.

"Take it easy," Mom says. "We don't need another accident."

As we're walking into the vet's office on Main, I spot a clear recycling bag near the door. Inside is a striped lump matted through with bits of gravel and crushed seashells—the kind they use to make rustic driveways for the beach houses.

"What the fuck is that?"

Mom bends down and reads. "It's a cat," she says. "What?"

"Someone hit a cat with their car. Big one." I bend down: 'Please dispose accordingly'.

"Oh, for fuck's sake," I say. Wolfie is blindly sniffing at the bag. He lifts a paw to prod at it. "Wolf, get away from there."

"Looks like a Maine coon. They probably didn't want the turkey vultures coming," Mom says.

"Let's go." I open the door and usher her in before me.

"Tourists," she spits, despite the fact that we both know there won't be any tourists for at least two more months.

Wolfie digs in his heels with what little strength he has and forces me to drag him over the threshold with his leash. He hates the vet.

...

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