It’s dark outside and still, I can’t sleep. I don’t know when exactly I laid down or how long I have been staring at the cracked plaster above our bed. Before she fell asleep, my girlfriend pressed her body against mine. She cupped my shoulder and breathed into my neck, but as she drifted off, her hand started slipping. Every night, our dog Lady curls up at the foot of our bed. Over time, she creeps up, until I lift the covers and she can wedge herself between us. I don’t know why she doesn’t just start this way. Tonight, she’s about halfway up when I push off the covers and nudge her. She pretends to be asleep, so I jostle her hard. Her eyes blink open and she cocks her head as if to ask, Are we really doing this again? or Why can’t you just sleep through the night? For a moment, she seems overcome by sadness , but when I grab her leash, she follows me, tail wagging. Whenever we embark into the night, I like to pretend I’m a graveyard shift worker with no choice when to walk my dog. Sometimes I imagine how I would cope with a job do ing physical labor. It seems appealing to be paid for something mindless and painful.
There is a bridge near my house where ducks drift downstream in black sewage water.
Lady likes watching them, but it’s too dark to tell if they’re out tonight. She puts her paws on the cement railing, but she’s still not high enough to see over. When a bunny darts in front of us, I have a hard time holding Lady. She pulls long after the bunny runs into someone’s open garage and hides under a small car. Near the park, I accidentally drop Lady’s leash. I hear the metal clasp hit the sidewalk and I imagine her running right into oncoming traffic. She doesn’t move; she’s patient while I refasten her leash. The park is closed after dusk, but we enter anyway. Outside threats don’t frighten me as much when I have Lady. I pretend she is as big and ferocious as a black bear. In my mind, she could save me from anything. All that matters to her is that we’re together and I’m throwing tennis balls. She drops them at my feet, panting, and I fire another into the distance. I should be patient and give her a moment to rest, but I don’t. She just seems so happy . I know I should walk home after a while. I should get back into bed and try to sleep, but I sit down on a bench instead. Lady jumps into my lap, and we stay like that for a long time. My back is to the only light in the park. I like watching the moths swarm it, but after a while, staring at it gives me a headache. That’s why I always choose the darkness.
After Hanif Abdurraqib
Gabe Montesanti has an MFA in nonfiction from Washington University in St. Louis. Her work has twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has been published (or is forthcoming) in Brevity, Sinister Wisdom, The Offing, Devil's Lake, and Crab Creek Review. She lives in St. Louis with her girlfriend.