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Dakota

  

 

Dakota

 

December 22

2:00 a.m.

 

I leave my apartment to walk my dog, Dakota, on West Drive between 86th and 87th Streets as I always do after work. I make my living as a poissonnier at an upscale farm-to-table restaurant.  (I use the French word to describe my profession as a fish chef so I don’t scare vegetarians.) This late schedule means that Dakota’s final walk of the day is in the dark, but we make good use of our time together. I smoke a cigarette, and she does a lanky trot ahead of me. It’s been drizzling which gives the blanket of snow a crunch beneath my steps. I let Dakota off the leash, and she crouches low in rapt concentration, watching me pack a snowball that she knows will soon be thrown into the distance—just for her. She chases my fastball, and disappears into the haze. I follow the misty light of the park lampposts over the hill to find her while massaging my overworked deboning arm.

“Dakota!”

A whimper answers. I can’t tell if it’s human or dog, but I walk faster in the direction of the sound. I spot Dakota sitting on top of a mound of snow that’s about ten feet in diameter. As I approach, I notice a human nose sticking out of the snow. Dakota licks at it. In slow disbelief, I kneel down to get a better look.

“Are you okay?” I ask.

Thick eyelashes break through the snow and flutter as if they want to answer. I brush the snow away revealing a forehead, then cheeks, then a chin, and finally, lips. I’ve unearthed a face so beautiful that my gut hurts. Her skin is the same color of the silky, dark chocolate ganache that our pastry chefs make.

“Those fuckers getting all the attention with their frostings and puff pastries. I’d like to see ‘em fillet a triggerfish,” I mumble.

I guess it might have been my jealously that usurped my better judgement, or that the last time I had been this close to a female was when I invited the UPS delivery woman into my apartment. (She left after one drink, telling me that she couldn’t wait to let her husband know about the craft beer that I served her.) I can’t control the force that pulls my face closer to hers. Our steamy exhales infuse, and I realize that I’m so close that it would be rude not to kiss her.

She tastes like cake.

I sense her eyes opening, and lips stiffening to push my mouth away.

Her face contorts as she spits out the words, “Ick, fish!”

“Huh?” I pop up, shocked by what I’ve just done.

“I have a fish allergy,” she says, coughing off my kiss.

All at once I feel dizzy, then realize that it’s not my head. Bits of ice and snow begin to loosen and vibrate. The ground in front of me cracks and separates, challenging my balance. Panic corkscrews into me, and I instinctively step back to avoid falling into the growing crevasse. Dakota jumps up on all fours to steady herself and a gush of wind from below blasts against her ears, giving her a batlike appearance. The earth beneath her erupts, and what I can only describe as a frozen white spirit—a quivering saucer rises into the sky. I think. I reach up to grab something, anything, but I’m left flailing at the empty air.

 

 6:35 a.m.

After searching the park for Dakota until dawn, I go back to my apartment alone.

I don’t know how I can explain her disappearance without sounding like a lunatic. Seeing Dakota’s empty dog bowl stabs at my heart—or maybe the feeling is down a bit and to my right side. I diagnose it as sadness and fall asleep on the couch with the TV on.

 

8:54 a.m.

I wake to the voice of Robin Roberts on Good Morning America. In my half-awake state, I glimpse at a photo of Dakota’s face on TV. She gazes at the camera with her tongue hanging out, conjuring up a strange mixture of eagerness and not giving a shit. The shot pulls back to reveal that my dog is perched beside the Native American sculpture on the façade of the Dakota building. Her paw is frozen in the shake position, but when I get closer to the TV it looks more like she’s trying to adapt to her surroundings and just wants to say Hau.

 

5:01 p.m.

 

After a day of talking to TV producers, NYC Animal Care and Control, the police, an attorney, and an elderly resident of the Dakota apartments, who swears she saw my dog fly by her apartment window, which she claims gave her agita, I have my dog back. But not without paying the New York State Penal code 240.20 fine for disturbing the peace by a dog.

 5:35 p.m.

 

I give Dakota an extra scoop of dog food for dinner before I race off to work. I pause at the door to check on her one more time.

“I’m never taking you off the leash again. Got it?” I snap.

She looks up at me, burps, and goes back to eating.

 

December 24

9:30 a.m.

 

The restaurant is closed today, so I spend as much time as I can with Dakota. During our long walk, I get the sense that people are watching Dakota. I notice two women, tourists with cameras around their necks, following us. When Dakota goes to pee, they squeal “It’s the Dakota dog!” making her freeze in the squatted position. Their pointed cameras click a thousand times a second. I’m sure there are more flattering poses for Dakota to have her picture taken in, but the women don’t seem to care.

 

12:30 p.m.

We’ve met lots of people wanting to photograph Dakota, or to pet her, or to put her picture on their Instagram. I don’t mind this semi-celebrity status she’s created. It gives me the chance to be someone else besides the person who dismantles fish.

Admirers ask, “What kind of dog is she?” and I answer, “Boppet. It’s a mixture of a boxer and a whippet.” This is something I’m proud to have made up since I don’t do anything remotely clever all day long.

 

December 25

2:41 a.m.

I wake to a light tapping noise against my bedroom window. Dakota is awake and already investigating. I peer out of a broken blind slat.

“I’m here to apologize,” a rushed voice says.

I let out a breath and slowly raise the blinds for a full view. A silhouette is hunched on my windowsill. I ease the window open and look closer. It’s that face again. As she recognizes me, two feathered appendages creep up her back.

“I’m sorry I carried your dog off with me,” she says, pouting.

“Why did you go and return her to the Dakota apartments?”

I’m blown away that I don’t first ask her if she knows that she has two wings growing out of her back.

She squints and I notice a small bruise above a dimple on her cheek.

“Because that’s what it says on her necklace.”

I look at Dakota. Her tags jingle as she cocks her head at me as if trying to understand.

“I didn’t know she lived with you,” she says, leaning back, her Afro eclipsing the full moon.

“You left her on the side of the building. Ever heard of a front door?” I ask.

“I’m afraid to get that close to the ground again because the last time I did I

crashed right into Central Park.” She pauses and looks down. “It’s not a good thing to have vertigo.”

Damn. A fish allergy, vertigo. What else does she have? I think.

“And I’m working on my fear of flying,” she says, squaring her shoulders.

“Jeez,” I say, trying to be sympathetic.

 “It’s lonely out there,” she says and looks away.

 Her listless wings open to twice her height, and she falls backwards off the ledge. Dakota whimpers at the sudden movement. I poke my head out of the window. A rush of cold air pushes my chin up in time to see her ascend into the night like a wild kite.

 

10:10 a.m.

 

There’s a line in the hospital hallway. I’m queued up, on a gurney, waiting to have an emergency appendectomy. I’ve got an IV in my arm filled with Christmas cheer, and I’m flying. The bag above me starts to jiggle when an orderly releases the brake and puts the wheels into motion.

“Let’s rock and roll,” I slur. “Take me to Vegas.”

We roll about four feet, do an abrupt swerve to the wall, and park. Out of the corner of my eye, I see another gurney pull up across from me. I try to give the other patient a nod of comradery, but my body is too numb to do that much work.

“Your diet is too rich,” a sweet voice says to me.

“Surrrrre,” I say, noticing that the white sheet covering the other patient is stained with blood right below the shoulder blades.

“Everything in moderation,” the voice says.

It’s her. From the park. From my windowsill. She gives me a concerned smile. In my intoxicated state, I try to get up because I want to kiss her again and to ask her to dinner (no fish, of course). I get as far as bumping my forehead on the metal bar of the gurney, and then collapse. I wake up in the recovery room craving pâté.

  

December 26

2:15 p.m.

 

Duko, the Croatian dishwasher from the restaurant, is at my apartment when I get home from the hospital. He has just finished walking Dakota.

            “I dunno, man. She looks at the Christmas tree and barks. Then barks some more,” he says, shaking his head.

            “What do you mean?”

“I mean she barks. Like a dog. It is just more barking than other dogs.”

“I didn’t know she even knew how to bark.”

“Maybe her bark is a gift to you from her. Merry Christmas,” Duko says, putting on his coat.

 “Hey, thanks. I owe you one,” I say, shaking his hand, wincing from the pain of having to lift my arm.

“No problem. Dogs need to walk. And, well, I know how to walk,” he says as he shuts the door behind him.

 

December 27

3:01 a.m.

As I pace around my apartment looking for what’s making my dog bark, I bump an angel ornament off the Christmas tree. Dakota is silenced.

            “Is this it, girl?” I ask, placing it in front of her.

She gives it a little push with her paw, and shifts her eyes shift between me and the ornament. A rustling sound draws me to the window, but all I see is the flickering skyline. Dakota follows, gently carrying the angel ornament in her mouth.

 

11:32 a.m.

 

My cell phone wakes me. It’s a Greek woman telling me to come and to get my dog. She’s calling from Astoria, Queens, claiming that Dakota has been giving rides to a bunch of kids, but now the fun has gotten out of hand because the toddlers can’t get a good grip on her wings. I manage to get dressed and hobble to the subway and take it out to Queens. I find Dakota by herself licking a rejected ice cream cone on the sidewalk.

“I don’t see any wings,” I say to her, attaching the leash.

 

October 31

8:01 p.m.

 

The owner of the restaurant is sponsoring a charity event for a local dog shelter, and after what feels like filleting every damn fish in the city, I take a smoke break outside.

“Boo!” Duko sneaks up behind me. I jump, almost burning my lip.   “Brother, you should go inside. The shelter brought the orphan pups. You could make life good again with a new dog,” he says.

“Ah, I don’t know,” I say, and stomp out my cigarette, trying to hide my emotions. For months after Dakota’s first disappearance, I’d get calls from people all over the city and boroughs to come to get my dog. Then one day, I stopped getting the calls, so she never came home.

 

10:11 p.m.

I peek out from the kitchen to see if I can get a look at the puppies. Instead, I spot an angel across the room. The guests are dressed in costumes, and the angel is taking off her wings and halo. She stretches her arms and looks around. It’s her. She adjusts her toga-like dress at the shoulders and catches me staring. I make my way over to her.

“Remember me?” I ask.

She gives me a sly smile and says, “Possibly.”

“I see,” I say, captivated once again by her face.

“Would you like to look at the puppies with me?”

“Why not?” I gently place my hand on her back to guide her through the packed room. She looks back at me, as my fingertips brush over a scar on her exposed back.

 “I had an accident,” she says and sighs. “But, I’m better now.” She breaks away from me, moving like a bright light through the ghoulish crowd.

 “At least I think I am,” she says over her shoulder.

  I catch up, and we stand over a circle of rollicking puppies. They bite at the make-shift fence and paw at their costumes. In the middle of the mayhem sits a puppy at least three times bigger than the others wearing wings and a glittery collar. It looks up at me with wanting eyes. My heart bucks against my chest the second I recognize that it’s my dog. She looks as if she’s been to a rave. I feel as if I’m moving in slow motion, as I reach my arms out to hold her. We end up forehead to forehead with my knees crushing the fence and letting all the puppies loose.

“It’s my dog, Dakota,” I say, looking up to tell the angel. But she’s gone.

 

  

November 1

1:15 a.m.

The light of the city skyline glows in the horizon as Dakota and I walk in a quiet Central Park. We end up where we met the angel, and Dakota starts to dig at the ground. Dirt and grass spew off her paws, until she finally wrestles a fish carcass out of the earth. She won’t drop it until I offer her a treat from my pocket.

 

December 22 (Two Years Later)

1:45 a.m.

I brush the crumbs off my Pastry and Baking Arts diploma that’s in front of me on my kitchen table. I’ve made dog treats for Dakota using my new skills. I toss the last one in the air to her, and she catches it like a champ. This is our version of a celebration. I still make my living as a poissonnier, but if I ever want to change professions, it will be a piece of cake. For now, it’s just me and my dog and our long walks together.

 

Kim Kolarich

 

Kim Kolarich is an actress, playwright, and fiction writer from Chicago. A graduate from Columbia College, she received her acting training from the Steven Ivcich Professional Studio in Chicago, and studied playwriting at the Chicago Dramatists. Kim spent several years in Los Angeles where she gathered numerous theater, television, and film credits as an actress. Among her credits are the Henry Jaglom films: Festival in Cannes, Going Shopping, Hollywood Dreams, and Ovation. As a playwright, her work has been produced at Circle Theatre’s New Works Festival III, the Et Cetera Festival at the Experimental Theatre, The Dandelion Theatre in Chicago, The Estrogenius Festival in New York, and Salem University’s 10-minute Veteran’s Play Festival. Her play Far Rockaway received honorable mention and a staged reading at the Pittsburgh New Works Festival. Her full-length play Three Chords was a semifinalist for the O’Neill Playwrights Conference and Screencraft’s Stageplay contest.

Kim is a Pushcart Prize nominee. Her fiction was short and long-listed for The Fish International Short Story Prize, and a finalist for the William Faulkner-William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition. Her stories have appeared in The Bridport Prize Anthology, FreeFall, Julien’s Journal, 3711 Atlantic, 34th Parallel, Karamu, Rollick Magazine, After Hours, The Gap Tooth Madness, Streetwrite, Intrinsick Magazine, Paragraph Planet, The Furious Gazelle, Two Hawks Quarterly, Third Coast Magazine, Crossways Magazine, Burningword Literary Journal, Scarlet Leaf Review, and forthcoming in The Sledgehammer Review, and Capella. She is also the recipient of the John Wood Community College Literary Prize and placed second in the University of Chicago’s Writer’s Studio Fiction Contest. Her short stories have received honorable mentions for the Women in the Arts Fiction Contest, the Page Edwards Short Fiction Contest, and the CNW/Florida State Writing Competition. She was a fiction finalist for the Arts & Letters Journal of Contemporary Culture Prize and a semifinalist for the Dana Awards and the H.E. Francis Literary Competition.

 

She currently lives in Chicago and is working on a collection of short stories and a full-length play.


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1 Comments

  1. how people treat animals is a reflection of their character. great work. never tire of dog stories.

    ReplyDelete