It was Christmas Eve and at the bottom of a gully, standing on a rock with the dirty water swirling around, was a dog. It shivered terribly, the sleet coating its yellow back, and it looked up at me with hopeless eyes. Fifteen yards, almost straight down through broken concrete, glass and rusted metal, it seemed to know I’d never make it.
Out of the gym and to his car came a guy in shorts and a sweatshirt. “What the fuck? What’s it doing down there?”
I shrugged. The icy rain was falling down my neck, in my ears. “Just standing there. I think it’s stuck.”
The gym guy, beefy faced and hairy, was someone I saw around sometimes, usually shooting baskets with the boys or squatting over weights. He was the kind to scare the shit out of me, all sweat and animal muscle. Though the kids liked him, even the little ones, even the wimpy ones.
He slicked the rain off his face with a palm. “Should we go get it?”
“I don’t know. What if it bites? What if it’s rabid?”
“Oh yeah,” he said. “Fucker just might bite. Freaked out as it is.” He threw his hands in the air. “All right then, see you around.” He fished his keys out of his gym bag and opened the car door. He got in and started the engine. He turned off the engine and got back out.
“I see you’re not leaving?” he said.
“I guess not,” I answered. I hadn’t meant not to leave, but I hadn’t. I was staring down at the dog, watching its legs rattle. I had wondered if I could heave a rock that far, put it out of its misery.
He went to the edge of the gully and leaned forward, arms out for balance in a surprisingly delicate gesture. For a moment I had flashes of gymnastics, he and his wife on a mat in the center of a mirrored room, legs bent, eyes deep on each other. Why his wife was there, I couldn’t say.
“We could do it,” he said. “It even looks like there’s a path.”
“Yeah, that could be a path. It looks a little path-like.”
He squinted his eyes at me. “You’re an odd duck, aren’t you?”
“Nothing.” He smiled. “Path-like. Yeah, it’s pretty fucking path-like.”
He put his hand on my shoulder. “You wanna go first?”
“No,” I said. “Not really.” I started down. Gym guy followed behind me. Gym guy with the hairy arms, gymnast wife, the Christmas heart.