Thus Spake Dog, or Ecce Rob.
I’m going to yell something, Rob thought, so he did. “Big hair in the morning!” He spread his arms out wide and grinned a wide grin as he yelled it. And Carter turned away from the television, a soccer match, the players so tiny, so crisp, so ineffectual on that big green field full of moiré patterns. The artful mowing of the field. Carter squinted, Carter squinted a lot. “What?” Carter said. She propped up her head on her right hand, fingers tangled in the hair around her ear, smothered by it. In her left hand she held what looked like a violin bow. He made a mental note to ask her about it. “My hair?” Carter said, and didn’t look happy.
“No, not at all, not your hair at all,” Rob said, quieter now but just as happy, because this was his way, he decided, at least for now. “I just felt like yelling something and that’s the first thing that came to mind. Your hair’s not that big, and it’s not the morning. It’s quarter after four. PM.” He sat down beside Carter and watched the soccer men in their short pants running around on the grass, the strobing grass. He ate some peanuts from a shallow bowl right there on the bar. Carter turned back to the television.
“Who’s winning?” Rob asked.
“I don’t know, Rob, the little score graphic thingy is gone. It just disappeared a while ago,” Carter said.
“What was the score when it disappeared?”
“Tied. Zero zero.”
Rob smiled as he munched peanuts, and he started rocking back and forth in his chair, and then humming a little. He didn’t know the tune, it may not have even been a tune, it might’ve just been some notes and half a rhythm, maybe not even that much rhythm. Rob thought he might have accidentally invented a samba. “What’s that term for a certain beat, with the funny emphasis, on the back beat maybe?” he asked, still rocking, still watching, mouth full of peanuts.
“Syncopation?” Carter said. She did not look away from the screen.
“That’s it! Syncopation!” Rob hummed a while longer. “Carter,” he said when he felt his non-song had reached a suitable stopping (or at least pausing) point, “are you drunk?”
“You look a little drunk.”
“I haven’t had a single drink yet today, or for the last several days.”
The bartender, unseen until now, walked out of the back room and set an open bottle in front of both Carter and Rob, and then walked back to the back room of the bar once again. Rob’s face became childlike in its total wonderment. He clapped several times, then raised his bottle to the absent barkeep and drank from it.
“Several days? Don’t you know the exact number?”
“No, I don’t keep track.”
Rob hummed and rocked and looked around. Only Carter and himself sat in the bar. The television was muted. The bar was called Arnie’s, and it was not a very good bar, but it was close to the apartment that Carter and Rob shared and at random intervals, amazing things happened. Once a very old man had told Rob all about how computer-men were taking over the world, and how he could take preventative measures to protect himself from their mind-control activities. Mostly, the countermeasures involved bathing in epsom salts and wrapping aluminum foil around one’s genitals. On another night, a dog wandered into the bar and stood unmoving in the middle of the floor, staring at an unremarkable spot on the wall for a long time, long enough that the five or six people in the bar began to watch him. The dog stayed still and silent for a few minutes longer and then — so the witnesses swear (Rob among them) — it said “Lovely” in a posh English accent, and walked out. Most importantly, Rob had once found a winning lottery ticket worth $350 on the floor of the bathroom at Arnie’s, so now it was his lucky bar and he couldn’t be dissuaded from going there whenever possible, because if it happened once, it was bound to happen again. “Things happen in threes,” Rob swore. Yes, they did. No one could argue with that math.
Rob checked every corner of the bar for more random acts of wonderment, and finding none, reloaded on peanuts.
“Are you unhappy, Carter?” he asked.
“Do I look unhappy?” Carter asked.
Rob looked at her and waited for her to turn her head so he could survey her expression. Their shared roommate-telepathy notified her of his request so she turned to face him.
“Yes, you look unhappy.”
Carter turned away, dug through her purse for her phone one-handed, and took a picture of herself, then looked at the picture.
“Do you think you look unhappy?” Rob asked.
“I don’t know. The picture’s blurry.”
“Let me take one.”
Carter handed him the phone. He took a picture and showed it to her.
“Wow. I do look unhappy.”
“Yes, you do!” Rob started humming and rocking again. Carter put her phone away.
“I can never tell what my face looks like. I didn’t realize I was frowning.”
“Maybe it’s recent. Like since the score thingy disappeared.”
“No. I think it’s probably been like that for a while.”
They watched the game for several minutes. Neither team got near the goal.
“Carter, why are you holding a violin bow?” Rob asked, throwing peanuts at, and occasionally into, his mouth.
“It’s a cello bow.”
“Carter, why are you holding a cello bow?”
“I was holding it when I sat down here.”
“And when was that?”
“Carter, do you have a cello?”
“Are you sad because your cello is missing?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Good. Because I didn’t know you even had a cello, and that’s kinda freaking me out on its own.”
“I mean, it just stands to reason that I have a cello if I have a cello bow, right?”
“Makes sense to me.”
“But I don’t know where it is.”
“Yes!” Rob said, pointing at Carter.
“Or where and when I got it.”
“Yes!” Rob said, pointing at Carter again, more emphatically.
“It must not be that important.”
Rob ate more peanuts.
“I had a very good day, Carter.”
“My work day went by quickly, my lunch was excellent, and I successfully yelled for no reason and you didn’t hit me for it. I am on a roll!”
“And you know what else?”
“I was thinking about why everyone calls you Carter.”
In the unpredictable and arbitrary manner of nearly all nicknames, Carter (whose real name was Catherine) had received a credit card offer in which her name was egregiously misspelled. Her friends (Rob among them) had discovered this while intoxicated, so intoxicated that for a short time Catherine’s imaginary life as Carter was the funniest thing in the history of humankind. Thereafter, Catherine was Carter, and she eventually accepted the rechristening, acceptance being the fifth and final stage of grief.
“That’s a great story,” Rob said.
“Not really,” Carter said.
“But now it’s part of your mythos. Part of the Gospel of Carter.”
Carter thought for a moment. “When did that happen?”
“Early grad school. Six to ten years ago.”
“Six to ten?”
“I can’t believe I’ve known you for six to ten years!”
“It must be closer to six.”
“I don’t remember the last time I looked at my dissertation.”
“Our friendship is in first grade! Learning simple math! And vowels!”
Carter made a small noise, but she might have just been exhaling.
Rob grabbed another handful of peanuts from the shallow dish, and realized it wasn’t visibly depleted despite his efforts, but he didn’t want to scare the miracle away, so he hummed and rocked back and forth — but slyly. “Carter, what was your dissertation about?”
Carter recited the title with mechanical precision: “The Narrative Ark: Scope As Character In The Long American Novel. That’s ‘ark’ with a ‘k,’ like the boat. It’s a pun.”
“I see!” Rob said, and this time, he really did see, probably. “Do you get extra credit for puns?”
“It depends on the instructor, but generally: no.”
“Still, worth a try, right?”
Carter shrugged. The soccer players were still playing soccer. There was no goal in sight. Rob drained the last of his beer from its bottle and unbidden, the bartender appeared from the back room, picked up the empty and set a new beer in its place, and returned to the back room. The exchange was deft and silent. Rob was about to burst; he wanted to giggle at the unfolding amazingness. “Keep it together! Keep it together!” he muttered, and hoped only he could hear. Carter didn’t seem to hear, but Rob wasn’t sure if that meant anything. Carter wasn’t prone to reactions. Rob hummed, rocked back and forth in his chair, ate peanuts.
Still watching soccer, Carter said, “You’re pretty happy today.”
“I am!” Rob said. “My day has been excellent. I think it’s because I made a decision to reclaim my enthusiasm.”
“Uh-huh,” said Carter.
“I am enthusing about the world, and the world is providing me with things to be enthused about. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Naturally I had to come here today. Amazing things happen at Arnie’s. Have you noticed all the amazing things that have happened just since I’ve been sitting here?”
“I noticed the new bartender has a gigantic mustache and he’s wearing a Foreigner t-shirt.”
“I don’t want to jinx it, but he brought me a beer exactly when I need one. I mean, exactly. Ex. Act. Ly.”
“He’s a walking slab of ironic detachment.” Carter made a sour face and took a swig from her beer.
“And that’s just one thing. I think I could live off these peanuts.”
“Don’t do that.”
“I’m not going to try. I’m just saying I think I could. And that too is amazing!”
They heard the door open, but they didn’t turn around. Rob wanted to be surprised and Carter didn’t care. It was Martin, Carter’s boyfriend. Their dating status had never been confirmed or denied, but at semi-regular intervals, Martin came over to the apartment and Carter let him in, and then Martin and Carter had sex or an argument or sometimes both, so Rob made the meager cognitive leap and declared them a couple. Martin was carrying a cello case. He sat down on the other side of Carter.
“I found your cello,” Martin said.
Carter sighed. “Yep,” she said, and drank from her beer.
“Hi, Martin!” said Rob.
“Hey Rob,” said Martin.
Carter watched the soccer players playing soccer. They were still in the middle of the field. They looked unenthusiastic. Rob waited for the bartender to appear. Several minutes passed.
“So do you want me to leave it here or…” Martin said.
“What?” said Carter.
“Right,” Carter said. “No, take it to my place. Leave it on the back deck.”
“Okay,” Martin said, and waited. Carter watched soccer. Rob watched soccer and threw peanuts at his mouth.
“Who’s winning?” Martin asked.
Rob said “We don’t know. The score thingy disappeared. I think it’s still tied.”
Martin watched the game some more, then stood up.
“Yep,” said Carter.
Martin waited a while longer, then moved toward the door.
“Oh, wait,” Carter said, and Martin paused. Carter stretched out her left arm behind her, still watching the game. “Take the bow with you. Leave it with the cello.”
Martin took the bow from her, and left. When he was out the door, Rob clapped again.
“Did you see that? The bartender knew Martin wouldn’t be sticking around long enough to drink a beer! And he never even left the back room! I like this bartender! Bravo! Bravo!”
“Don’t they ever leave the middle of the field?” Carter said.
Over the next hour, the regulars trickled in and filled booths and seats at the bar, all old white men. The bartender maintained his eerie refill sense. Rob munched peanuts and hummed. The bowl never seemed to get any emptier. “You and Martin need a celebrity hybrid name, like the movie stars have.”
“No, we don’t.”
Rob thought for a while, and then said: “Carton. Or Martyr. Or Cartartin. No, that sounds like allergy medication.”
“I knew I had a cello,” Carter said.
The front door opened again. This time, Rob turned to see who had come in.
“Holy crap, it’s the dog,” he said.
Carter turned. A tan, stringy-haired mutt stood at attention in the center of the barroom floor, staring at a spot on the wall.
“Is that the dog?” Carter said.
“Yes, it’s the dog. Shh.” Rob watched the dog. Carter watched the dog too. Behind them, the soccer continued. They — and some of the other regulars — watched for a long time, much longer than they had the first time, they were certain of it. Most of them gave up and returned to their drinks. Rob, however, kept watching.
“What’s the matter, boy? Don’t you wanna talk?” he said, and got down from his bar stool to kneel in front of the dog. “Whatcha gonna say this time, huh, boy? Whatcha gonna say?” Rob held the dog’s head gently, near the ears, giving the dog affectionate scratches. “Whatcha gonna say, boy? Whatcha gonna say? Speak! Speak!” The dog said nothing.
Carter watched Rob and the dog for a while longer, then turned back to the soccer game. The players were still in the middle of the field. There was still no visible score. She looked at her left hand. “I should’ve kept the bow,” she said. Carter’s head settled onto her right hand, propped up by her arm on the bar. Behind her, Rob’s pleas for speech deteriorated into incomprehensible baby talk, and then the dog started licking his face, and they rolled around on the floor, Rob and the dog, the dog and Rob.