After the new greyhound had bitten off part of the old greyhound’s ear, Karen refused to set foot on the floor of Nelson’s apartment at night. Before they went to bed, she had him set up the furniture so that she could walk on top of it, all the way to the small bathroom.
“I have to pee,” she tells Nelson. She can hear his breath catching in the dark. She can hear the mild clinking of the dogs’ collars. It was an apartment full of insomniacs, both him and the dogs. The only thing that comforted her at night was the vague light from a streetlamp spreading on one of his curtains.
“It can wait,” he says, as if he were speaking to someone else, not her. There was always a delay when she spoke to him at night, and she blamed this on the grudges he was nursing in his head.
“I’m going for it,” she says, standing up on the bed and feeling the mattress sink. She can’t hear the metallic sound of the dogs’ collars anymore, and she knows they’re watching her, their heads tilted upward. He told her that greyhounds were sacred creatures who had once been buried with Egyptian pharaohs. Placing one foot on the dresser, she grunts and then presses her palms on the ceiling, bracing herself as she lifts the other foot. From this vantage point, she can see the tiny dots of light in one of the dog’s eyes, and then she briefly sees the younger one slink across the bar of dim light that streams through the opening in the curtain. The dog makes a thin whining sound, like a knife being sharpened in a distant room.
“They can see you, you know,” Nelson says. “The light might as well be on.”
“I’m going to let them out tomorrow,” she says, stretching her leg out until she feels his desk, about a foot lower than the dresser. “You’ll never see them again.”
That was the truth; if she opened the door, they’d be gone for good, his beloved adoptees, rescued from racetracks and then families who couldn’t handle them. The younger dog was so high-strung it had once run for miles on a blacktop road until its paws were a bloody mess, nipping at any Good Samaritan that dared to come close. Nelson still sported a scar on his face from the older one, but he didn’t hold a grudge about that. The dog hadn’t been in the mood to be kissed by an alcoholic at dawn.
“This is the tricky part,” he says, listening to her kick over a jar of pens. She lifts her foot again and tests the air around his laptop. It wouldn’t be the greatest loss if she crushed it; he had given up making sense of his novel months ago. She knew they’d be finished by the end of the summer, but that didn’t change the fact that tonight she still had to survive this particular trip to the bathroom.
“I hate you, Nelson,” she says, wishing it sounded more convincing. She had met him in the teachers’ lounge two months ago, and they were mismatched right away. He was at least a foot and a half taller than her, though you’d never know in the dark.
“Don’t step on my computer,” he says. “My life’s in there.”
One of the dogs, hearing his order, leaps up on the desk and nips at her ankle. She presses herself against the wall and stretches out her leg again, until she can feel the top of his guitar amplifier. It had been placed right next to the bathroom, and he had left it plugged in so she could see its single blue power light. The dogs crisscross twice in that strip of light on the floor, ready for her last move. As her right foot touches the top of the amplifier, she can hear the younger one leaping at her in the dark, its black nails raking at her calf.
“Call them,” she says, both feet on the amplifier now. It’s the most vulnerable link in her journey, rocking back and forth on one missing rubber pad.
“Come to Pharaoh,” he shouts at them. “Come to your supine God.”
But the dogs have already written him off, and when she leaps toward the open bathroom door, she catches one of their sinewy legs as she slams it shut. The dog whelps and leaps, scratching at the door, and then both dogs begin to bark. The small apartment is filled with the racket and their scurrying, unable to control themselves despite the heavy objects he’ll soon throw at them.
She rests her forearms on her legs as she pees, her feet buried in a tufted pink bath mat he had shoplifted from a dollar store, stuffing it under his overcoat and grabbing her by the hand.
She doesn’t flush the toilet or move, even when she can feel the seat etching creases into her thighs. She knows they are waiting for her, side by side, their ears pointed at every sound in the room, their sense of hearing so painfully acute they can hear her breathing through her nose, and most likely the squeaking sound her skin makes against the seat as she finally stands up, pressing her cheek against the cold door.