Walter got the silk pajamas clearly worn. Dianne got the candlesticks. Tim got the two lilac bushes, one French purple, one white—an alarming gift, lilacs being so evocative of the depth and dumbness of death’s kingdom, they made Tim cry. They were large and had to be removed with a backhoe, which did not please the landlord, who didn’t get anything, although he didn’t have to return the last month’s rent deposit either. Lucretia got the manhattan glasses. They were delicate, with a scroll of flowers etched just beneath the rim. There were four of them. Andrew got the wristwatch. Betsy got the barbells. Jack got a fairly useless silver bowl. Angus got the photo basket, Louise got the dog.
Louise would have preferred anything to the dog, right down to the barbells. Or nothing would have pleased her even more. It was believed that the animal had been witness to the suicide. He might possibly have been in the kitchen eating his chow or napping on the porch but it was more likely that he’d been in the bedroom, taking in the entire performance.
He was a quiet, medium-sized dog. He wasn’t one of those dogs who would have sounded the alarm. He wasn’t one of those dogs who would have attempted to prevent the removal of the body from the house.
Louise took the dog immediately to a kennel, where she boarded it. She couldn’t imagine why she, of all people, had been given the dog. But in the note Elliot left he had clearly stated, And to Louise my dog, Broom. The worst of it was that none of them remembered Elliot having a dog. They had never seen the dog before. Suddenly there was a dog in the picture.
“He said he was thinking of getting a dog sometime,” Jack said.
“But wouldn’t he have said, ‘I got a dog … ’ He never said that,” Dianne said.
“He must have just gotten it. Maybe he got it the day before. Or even that morning, maybe,” Angus said.
This alarmed Louise.
“I’m sure he never thought you’d keep it,” Lucretia said.
This alarmed her even more.
“Oh, I don’t know!” Lucretia said. “I just wanted to make you feel better.”
Louise saw her friends practically constantly but sometimes she liked to be alone. One evening she was sitting alone in a bar, worrying about the money it was costing to board the dog who had been at the kennel now for a week and a half. The dog weighed under thirty-five pounds but that still meant eleven dollars a day. If he had weighed between fifty and seventy-five it would have been fourteen dollars and after that it was even worse, it went up again even.
In the bar was a long tank, which served as a wall separating the restaurant beyond. Louise had never been in this place before and would not select it again. She didn’t like to look at the fish, one of which was trailing a cloud of mucus behind it. In the restaurant beyond the fish, she saw an older man deep in conversation with a party or parties outside her vision. He was a large square-faced man in a green plaid shirt, with moist, closely cut hair and a Band-Aid high up on his temple. A line of blood extended several inches down from the Band-Aid. Louise became engrossed in watching the man, who was chatting and smiling and sawing away at his steak or whatever it was. But she looked away for a moment and when she looked back the blood was gone. He must have wiped it away with a napkin, perhaps dipped in his water glass. Someone in the party he was with loved him and told him about the blood, was Louise’s first thought, then she thought that it had certainly taken them long enough to mention it.
The next morning she went to the kennel. A girl brought the dog out. It had yellowish, wavy fur.
“Is that the right one?” Louise asked. The girl looked at her expressionlessly and cracked her gum. “It’s really not mine,” Louise explained, “it belongs to a friend.”
The dog crouched miserably on the floor in the backseat of Louise’s car. It didn’t even lie down.
“You’re going to get sick down there,” Louise said. The dog was clearly not used to riding in cars. It seemed to have no sense of the happiness that could bring.
A week passed and she discerned no habits. The dog didn’t seem morose, merely withdrawn. She began calling it Broom with a certain amount of reluctance. It seemed that by calling it Broom, she was agreeing to something that she’d prefer not to.
Every week there would be a party at one of their houses. It wasn’t Louise’s turn right yet. She went over to Jack’s and everyone was already there. Everyone was drinking gimlets and looking at a rat Jack had caught beneath the sink on a glue trap.
“I’m not going to use these things again,” Jack said.
“They’ re depressing.”
“I use them,” Walter said, “but I never get any rats.”
“You’re not putting them in the right place,” Jack said.
The rat watched them in a sort of theatrical way. One of the twins, Wilbur, got up and opened a window. He picked up the glue trap by its edge and sailed it into the street to fall amidst the passing traffic.
“I usually take it down to the dumpster,” Jack said.
Wilbur and his twin Daisy were the only ones who said they remembered Broom. They said that he hadn’t eaten from a bowl but off a Columbia University dinner plate. But Wilbur and Daisy in their far-out nods could picture anything. They spent most of their time lovingly shooting one another up. They had not been mentioned in the note as gift recipients although of course they didn’t care. They insisted that matters would not have taken such a dreary turn had they been able to introduce Elliot to the great Heroisch, the potent, powerful, large and appealing Heroisch. The twins were so innocent they got on everyone’s nerves. They loved throwing up on junk. A joy develops, they’d say, a real joy. It’s not like throwing up at all.
They all had their big quietly rotting houses, even the twins. Rent was cheap. Louise had a solarium in hers, although it leaked badly. To the rear of the house, there was an overgrown yard with a birdhouse nailed to each tree. Some trees had more than one. The previous tenant must have been demented, Louise thought, why would birds want to live like that?
At Jack’s they drank, but lightly, except for Dianne, who was drinking far too much recently. She’d said, “I began to wonder if it was worthwhile to undertake what I was doing at the moment. Pick a moment, any moment. I began to wonder. If I had only today and not tomorrow, would it be worthwhile to undertake what I was doing at the moment? I addressed myself to that very worthwhile question and I had to admit, well, no.” But no one tried to interfere with Dianne. They were getting over the death of their friend Elliot, each in his and her own way, was the understanding.
“It takes four full seasons to get over a death,” Angus said. “Spring and summer, winter and fall.”
“Fall and winter,” Andrew said.
Everyone was a little annoyed with Angus because he had taken all the photos out of the flat woven basket where Elliot had always kept them and arranged them in albums, apparently ordered by years or occasions. This pleased no one. It wasn’t the same. The effect was different. Everything had looked like a gala before. Now none of it looked like a gala.