She resigned herself to her weakness. She studied the white cotton-candy wisp of spider web on the far corner of her bedroom ceiling. She listened to the steady, metronomic tick of her clock. And then her mind drifted to the hamper, of all places. The warm, black cave of the hamper.
Just three days ago, the day she had returned from the vet after putting Alistair down, she had gathered up all of his pill-y, chewed-up stuffed animals--years of saliva and rough, gnawing love having matted and discolored their threads and synthetic furs--and tossed them all in there. Why the hamper, she was not sure. Did some part of her think she was going to wash them later? Not really. All she knew was that she needed them out of sight, and throwing them away was not an option. One finality was already too much. But now as she lay in bed, she thought of them--the gray rabbit whose ears had all but been chewed off, the fat bumblebee, the improbably pink dinosaur--piled up in the dark, festering in a doggy musk with all of her dirty underwear.
There were things to deal with, she supposed. Laundry, the pile of crusty dishes in the sink, voice messages on her phone. And work. Yes, work. How many sick days could she plausibly milk out of her loss? Three was already pushing it, she guessed.
She was 48 years old. It was October, of another infinite year. A year, like a dune, she thought. A white, wind-shifted dune. She could not remember the last time she had held a warm body against her own that was not Alistair's.
No, this was not quite true. She could recall, she just didn't remember. Remembering involved what it felt like, and she didn't have that knowledge anymore. The last body was, of course, Taro's. In Osaka, where they had both been English teachers. That was nearly nine years ago, and now he was married and living in Canada. He had twins. Two chubby little boys. She knew this because he had sent her a picture, whose fine details after its millions of private viewings were now irrevocably branded on Evelyn's brain: the family in a woodsy clearing, Taro bent over a camp stove, cooking yakisoba, his wife seated on a folding stadium chair beside him. She was nothing extraordinary: she had hooded, deep-set eyes and thick, brown hair that hung to her pendulous breasts. Like Evelyn, this woman, this Carolyn woman, was plain and big-boned. Sturdy, like a good coffee table.
Evelyn rolled over on her side and threw an arm over her eyes to block out the light of day. She remembered getting that letter almost five years ago. She remembered what it felt like, snapping on Alistair's leash and heading out in the sharp, wintry evening, trudging past the streets of condos in her development, and climbing a snow-patched hill toward the main road. There was nowhere to go in the suburbs, nowhere to lose oneself--only a black, landscaped hill to stand on as indifferent cars swept past, their hoods gleaming in the streetlamps, the wind pricking her wet face. There was only the dark ragged outline of evergreens in the distance to see, the incandescent totem of store signs at the neighboring strip mall to curse. Finally, Alistair had barked his urgency and nudged his nose against the back of her chapped, gloveless hand and tugged her all the way home.
And now he too was gone, her best friend. The thought was almost too much. Dogs die, you idiot, she chided herself. It's not like you didn't know that.
Oh, but if reason had a face, how she would fling sand into its clear blue eyes.
With a gasp and a heave, Evelyn lumbered out of bed and down the hall. She picked up the plastic hamper, sticking her fingers through the rhomboid cut-outs on either side, and poured all its contents onto the carpet. Then she got down on her knees and crawled into the moist heap, nuzzling her nose against the fusty folds. She wailed--like a dying animal, guttural and ugly, as if fur was lodged in her throat. She wailed just to hear the sound of her own voice, to feel--as they escaped her throat--the rough shapes of her ordinary grief.