On second thought, this was not so odd. He had stood there, after all, for nearly fifteen minutes, to all appearances engaged in a staring contest with the wall. Vacant the closet had seemed because vacant he had been. And was still, he knew; surprisingly so, he was only just beginning to admit to himself, in the wake of Ginny's departure. She had taken something from him, when she packed up and took off with Rebecca, that he had never even known was his. Something that left an immense black hole hovering near the center of his being. Something that he knew now only as an absence.
Gordon cringed to realize he felt dangerously close to the schmaltzy sentiment of some pop ballad from the am radio days of his youth. The melody first and then the lyrics bubbled up, unbidden and unwanted, from the backwaters of his mind:
where you used to be-ee-e
and since you've been gone
it's so empteeeee
Gordon shook his head and rubbed his eyes a moment. He was staring at the wall again. Refocusing his attention on the top shelf, he was glad to see the bundle had not vanished. Nor yet, he noted as he moved deeper into the closet and reached for the mysterious bundle, had the spark of curiosity which the first sight of Ginny's note had struck within him. What had she left behind?
It was, he saw, tugging the object to the edge of the shelf, a manila envelope (9 ½ x 12 inches, he guessed) thick with what seemed to be books of some kind. Having been identified, the envelope suddenly fell from the shelf, appearing to pirouette in slow motion through the air before thumping to the floor at his feet; there disclosing a portion of its mystery as a composition book, slim and black, slid (almost ceremoniously, he thought) from the unclasped mouth of the envelope.
Squatting, Gordon picked up the black composition book, read the cover:
Blue Dog Journal
This, unmistakably, Ginny's hand - bold, neat strokes of black gel ink. Above and below these two lines:
Composition - Wide Ruled
100 Sheets - 200 Pages
Flipping quickly through the pages, he saw at a glance that the book was full of Ginny's tidy hand - strong black lines crossing page after page of this book and, judging by the shape of what remained in the envelope, possibly another.
She had read, on-line somewhere Gordon thought, about a dog, a blue dog (as in a supernatural hue of blue) that manifested (as she put it) to anybody capable of imagining the dog strongly enough, especially those who managed to capture something of the beast in words or pictures. Ginny had been fascinated by this concept, for a time at least, and often cited a short list of blue dogs culled from the media and general pop culture of the last decade or so. Nobody was surprised when she turned her considerable word-smithing skill to the task of conjuring a dog the color of sky and, no doubt, made of the same.
"Are you sure you even wanna' see this dog?" Gordon had asked. "I mean typically in folk lore and legend dogs are harbingers of woe and all that. Black dogs, at least." He considered a moment. "Maybe a blue dog is a good omen. Maybe you'll come into money soon after it appears to you!"
If Ginny was the sort of person to roll her eyes, she would have done so then. In hindsight, he recognized this as the first of many moments wherein Ginny, by slow degrees, slipped away from him. Such moments accumulated and pushed her farther and farther out of his orbit; until she was gone and all that remained of her was words written on paper.
He flipped the notebook over and let it fall open before him, the back cover unfolding into his right hand, his left thumb marking a page somewhere near the middle of the book. Squatting still in the closet, Gordon read:
February 26, '05 - I wish that I was a competent enough artist to draw the blue dog. I feel sure somehow that if I was capable of getting a decent likeness of the dog down on paper, I would finally get a good look at the damn thing - rather than the shadowy glimpses at the edge of vision and the vague suggestions of the shape of a dog in dark corners, which is all I've seen so far as a result of my feeble and half-articulated attempts at describing the dog with words.
. . .occurred to me. Using real places for the focus point of my imagination, I might better realize the dog. Sure enough, while sitting at the counter of The Rolling Bear Cafe just this afternoon, enjoying the chef's salad and black coffee which has been my favorite of late, and after writing only a few lines about the dog sneaking in the back door and sniffing around the kitchen, it happened! Not quite as I had been writing the scene but, nonetheless, at the scene I was writing!
Faint echoes of the crouton I had just eaten crunching through my head, I saw Mel lift her eyes from the register and smile. Somebody was coming through the door and, almost unconscious of what I was doing, I turned to follow Mel's gaze.
The woman entering the cafe, an eerily younger, shorter version of Mel, also smiled. This was the extant of my first impression of what turned out to be Mel's sister, as a movement at the corner of my left eye drew my gaze in that direction. The blue dog, plainly visible through the cafe's large plate glass windows, paced unaccountably back and forth upon the concrete walkway between door and parking lot.
"Baby!" Mel exclaimed from the register and the blue dog stopped its pacing, turned and looked directly at me with what might have been a smile from where I sat. Maybe a scowl from someone else's seat.
In broad daylight, for a single shining moment, the dog ( a hound of medium, though scrawny build and of a blue that can only be described as cerulean) sat regarding me!
"Darby?" he queried the still air.
Neither Darby nor the still air responded. But there did come a sound which crept up Gordon's spine in the form of goose bumps and scared the hair straight up from the back of his neck: a steady, quiet panting right outside the door.
Gordon rose to his feet, regarded the door warily. Cocking his head, he realized with a shudder that it sounded like a dog he had loved as a child. Bounder, that brave mutt who had once (really!) pulled him by the seat of his pants from a burning automobile. Bounder, whose whip like tail would thump an impatient rhythm on the floor as he sat eyeing his dinner preparations. But Bounder was long dead.
A sudden thump, thump, thumping - somewhere just beyond the frame of the doorway - leapt to Gordon's ears. He opened his eyes wide and whispered, "What the. . . "
Then, from a muffled distance, a voice. "Gordon, Goddamnit! Open up! I lost my fuckin' keys!"
Emerging from the closet, Gordon surveyed the room: empty. No panting dogs. No tails wagging or otherwise.
"Gordon, Man, you in there?"