It wasn’t no damn solid line that he crossed.
He pours his cup of coffee. It was a blurred line.
The jury knows everything, and they will make their decision today. Today, judgment day. He won’t need to fight to convince anyone after today, won’t need to wait for one single decision to come down. It will be over.
With the mug in one hand and the dog’s leash in the other, he steps out the door into the pale blue air that smells like metal, like clean, grey, cut sheet aluminum.
He walks down the driveway and out onto Curlew Road, like he does every morning. He couldn’t sleep last night and got out of bed just before six. Walking out onto Curlew, every home is still asleep in darkness, no cars, no sound except the songbirds starting up, the sun still an hour away. The dog trots beside him, stopping every so often to smell the grass or put her muzzle into a bush. Thomas takes a sip of his coffee when the dog stops. It’s easy to forget that he might have to go away, that he might have to leave the dog.
He walks past the small park and onto Ibis Drive. The dog is wagging her tail now because, Thomas thinks, she knows they are walking down Ibis, past their daily route and onto a path where so many unknown scents and sights await.
She got her name the day he picked her up. He was taking her home from the no-kill shelter. She was less than six weeks old, small as a kitten when she started to tug at the leash and broke free from the sagging collar. She tore through the grass and into a pit of sugarsand, started running in circles, digging in the sand. Thomas was calling “Hey, hey, come here, pup,” and whistling, to no avail. A stream of sand flying from under her frenzied paws, she froze and stared when he called—”Sandy!” Then she went back to digging in the sand. She knew she was free now. Sandy would be her name. How would she take it if he left, and how long would she wait by the door for him?
In the paler blueness, they walk past the house Thomas likes, the one where the old gardener lives. This morning her gardenias are covered with blankets to protect them from the frost. The gardener’s faded white fence is missing a few planks that lie in the overgrown grass sprouting along the fence. That’s something he could fix in an afternoon, hanging the fallen ones and driving a few nails in the other planks to secure them.
Three houses down, Sandy stops to sniff around that giant banyan tree in front of the lime green bungalow. This house is even smaller than the gardener’s home, out of place among the new ones with tile roofs and clear swimming pools in the backyard. They walk on, man and dog, all the way to the end of Ibis where it converges with the wider, better-paved Morris Road, before turning around to head back.
If I have to leave, girl, will you be OK?
“You’ll be with Kel. She’ll take good care of you. You’ve got to watch over her, too.”
The dog turns, attentive eyes looking up at him.
“Just until I get back, girl. We’ll see how it goes.”
He had a second chance with Kelly a while ago, a chance to stop being scared of how much he cares for her and what that means. Their relationship only works because he isn’t scared anymore and because she has learned to accept Thomas for everything that is good about him, along with everything flawed. Maybe she’s decided that the good far outweighs the flaws, no matter how down deep those few, stubborn flaws run.
The dog has also grown on the woman, and Kelly told Thomas that she wants the dog to stay with her if he has to leave. Kelly is at her mom’s this week, has been there since Saturday. He’s glad for the silence, the change to be able to clear his head. Five mornings of it is long enough, though, and he looks forward to seeing her. He wants to come home to her everyday. But that kind of thought will jinx it if there’s a way somebody can jinx something. That could screw it all up. That thought. But he can’t prevent it. His mind is spinning like a water wheel, and maybe he should just give up on trying to predict and control which thoughts come. He stops by the big banyan and knocks three times on one of the hard, sandpaper textured tendons as Sandy pursues a lizard that’s hiding under the tree.
That palest blue surrenders to white, and the smell of cloth drying in the sun replaces the metal smell. They walk into the park past the flowers growing up the vine on the gate and the tall Oak. Thomas sits down cross-legged, while the dog rolls down into the grass and dirt, paws up, scratching her back. Thomas rubs his hands together to warm them. Any other day, this would be a wonderful spot to stop for a few minutes. Any other day, it would be just a place to relax, let the dog run as that early winter breeze comes through.
Any other day, he would watch the tiny pine warbler flicker across the checkerboard of sun and shadow and not think of anything. Any other day, he would listen to the persistent hum of the cicada, just another morning.
He tilts the mug, sipping the last of the coffee, including the crunchy grind sediment the French press didn’t catch. Some of it stays on his tongue, grainy and bitter, before he swallows it down. He feels the sun feeble now on his neck.
They walk the rest of the way down Ibis at a slower cadence. The sun is growing stronger. He feels it on his neck and his back, through the thin flannel.
As they turn off Ibis to his street, he can tell the dog is getting a little tired. But the dog will keep walking if Thomas does, and he feels like he can keep on walking for a long time without stopping.
They pass two moms with strollers, who in unison greet the man and smile to Sandy, who is showing off with her prancing trot.
When Thomas and Sandy get back to the house, the man sits on the couch, takes his sneakers off. The dog hops up, circles three times and settles on a spot curled up next to him. Thomas pets the dog gently on the head where the white blaze starts.
He has two or three principles he would like to try to change. Maybe focus on the good things he has going. Learn that he doesn’t always have to stand his ground. He will try. He has thought about that plenty, but there are things he wants to stay exactly the same and mornings like this are one of those things. The dog licks his arm.
Thomas looks at his watch. If he leaves soon he will be downtown at court really early. But it’s an hour drive, and he doesn’t want to chance anything. Better to be early. He still has some time though. The dog is shutting her eyes and opening them, fading into sleep.
He thinks about the chances of him going in and the dog not making it. She’s eight now and showing more white on her face and on her back. He doesn’t want to try to calculate what three to five will feel like. How long will Kelly wait? These are bad thoughts to have now. He leans over and wraps his arms around the dog, hugging her tight the way a boy would, a gesture full of love and loyalty. The dog opens her eyes halfway, and Thomas can feel her fur coarse on his arms and his face.
He will come home that afternoon, or he won’t.
He goes into the bathroom and brushes his teeth. He brushes them twice, brushing them good and clean.
He changes into Dockers and a dress shirt.
He slips on the navy-blue tie.
When he puts on his good shoes, the dog is still on the couch, still in that state in between sleep, content to wait there until he comes home. It takes two cranks to start his truck.
He’ll have to replace that starter.
He backs slowly out the drive.