Un Chien Fort William

Wednesday, August 1st, 2012

The dog boarded at Glasgow Queen Street and took the opposite seat with a hop. The dog’s owner, if she had one, did not accompany her.  The dog was a small black-and-white boarder collie with no collar. She lay down and went to sleep.

He traveled alone, also. They planned a trip together, but she left him a month before departure. She gave no reason. He spent the flight from JFK inventing them: children, careers, religion, politics, music collection, whatever.  She gave none, so he had none.

No relationship fails because of one person. Communication fails at both sides of the channel. He was one, she the other. That left him fifty percent responsible. Maybe she left because he spoke like this, he thought.

“What do you think?” he asked the dog.  The dog opened one eye, then went back to sleep.

West of Glasgow, the countryside looked as they imagined it.  They chose Scotland after watching The Monarch of the Glen.  They knew nothing else of Scotland. A friend recommended Fort William. They booked a vacation there.

Scotland reminded him of her, even though they had never been there together. They planned for a year. He spent the time imagining them both in Scotland. So much so, he kept turning to say things to her. He expected her at the Walter Scott Memorial or on Platform 11. He had no idea where she was.

“Are you alone, too?” The dog slept through the question.

The dog slept as mountains rose around them and the lochs and lakes appeared on the left.

He hadn’t slept since landing in Edinburgh. Partly, it was jet lag. Mostly he lay awake trying to work it out. They were happy, he thought. They’d talked about marriage. They talked of moving to New Jersey. They pondered moving to another city, changing jobs; somewhere better for children. They never fought.

He saw himself reflected in window against the hills and greenery.  He felt most deprived of the photographs couples take of themselves. The ones where they hold the camera in front of themselves and squash together. The picture turns out with two half faces, big smiles at odd angles.

He took a picture of the dog.

The trolley passed. He thought about coffee. The man across the aisle ordered a large can of beer. The dog sat up.

The woman asked him if he would like something from the trolley. The dog put a paw on the table between them and looked him straight the eye.

The woman complimented him on having such a nice dog. He told her the dog wasn’t his. He had no idea who she belonged to. The woman, alarmed, admonishing him for bringing a stray on the train.  He tried telling the woman pointedly that the dog got on just fine by herself. The woman was unappeased.

For a distraction, he ordered a coffee. The dog whined. He bought the dog a water and some shortbread biscuits. He tipped the woman generously, and she left him alone with only a glare.

He fed her the biscuits. She ate from his hand.  She drank from a cup he filled with water. She stood up, stretched in a deep dog bow, yawned, circled once in the seat, then fell back asleep.

The dog was a welcome mystery. He invented fantastic stories about her. He imagined the dog at Customs, showing a passport. He pictured the dog covered in travel stickers, like a steamer trunk. He put the dog in a biplane, with goggles and a white scarf.

He wondered, if she were a stray. Would she need looking after? She seemed healthy enough: not too fat, too thin. Her coat was thick, shiny. She slept with ease. She wasn’t wary.

He wondered how someone would adopt a dog in Scotland. If that someone were American, how would he get the dog back to the States? He thought there was some kind of long quarantine.

The train divided in Cranleigh, some cars continuing to Oban and others to Mallig. This seemed to worry the dog for a moment. She sat up, tongue out, fogging the window. Occasionally, she would look about. Then, after a minute, for no reason he could fathom, the dog circled once in the seat and fell back asleep.

The second visit from the trolly meant more water and biscuits. He wondered if the hotel had a pet policy.

When the doors opened at Fort William, the dog was out of her seat and out the door. He tried to follow, but the dog moved swiftly down the platform and out into the station.

He never saw the dog again.

He never learned why she left him, his girlfriend, that is. After a few years, he gave up asking. Some mysteries remain; or maybe somethings are an algebra problem with too many variables to solve for. Maybe there is no rationale for an irrational decision. He could have driven her away.

He stopped looking for her in the places they liked to go. She stopped going to them when she left. He stopped trying to learn of her whereabouts with subtle questions to mutual friends. She stopped holding a place in his life, where he worked or where he lived. He let her go completely, letting go of even the thought of a chance encounter in a new city or while vacationing in a foreign country.

He never stopped looking for the dog.

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