Dogs Named Desire
Ryan Ridge

We got lucky and left Kentucky. This was after our Monday night marriage, when we lit out for the left coast and struck it rich along the way peddling new sins to Protestants, got blackout drunk at a bar around the corner from the Alamo—forgot everything (including the Alamo) for weeks, and then we continued west until we reached the San Fernando Valley where we settled amongst the modest pornographers and the unending strip-mall sprawl. The wife and I took to Southern California like a couple of dwarves in an orphanage. Our love grew small but our backyard swimming pool loomed large. We named it Denial and although we never swam the damn thing we liked to lounge next to it and boat drink ourselves to oblivion. Sure, when we sobered there was still plenty wrong with us, but the truth is brighter than the sun sometimes. It's only natural to look away. We did until we didn't. Then we didn't.

She took most of it and then took up with an itinerant yoga instructor and last I imagined they were wandering the world inventing avant-garde sexual maneuvers.

Meanwhile I bought some cheap speed and got to work on an uninspired teleplay about a family of handicapped acrobats who hang on despite it all and sure enough the gals over at Lifetime Television pounced on it and advanced me enough cash to buy a new Charger and put some road under it. I should've gone to Montana. I should've gone to Idaho, but no, I got sentimental and beat it down to the Gulf of Mexico. When I reached the shores of Alabama there were firemen everywhere. Smoke on the water and the flames to the sky. The heat had scorched the sand into glass. I wanted to stick around, to stay and help those boys fight, but instead I took the dumbness in my heart and the change in my pockets over to the dog track in Pensacola. I bet it all on a dog named Desire and dammit if I didn't walk away wanting more.

Hence I returned to Louisville the only way they'll take you—wasted and wounded and strapped. I took a room above a dram house by Churchill Downs. Beneath me people bonded over bourbon and lies. Me, I just listened to it all through the frail floorboards, for weeks. Eventually I excavated myself from that dark place and went downstairs to bask in the neon. At the lip of the bar sat my ex-wife's father. He was kind enough to act dumb about his daughter and like a true gentlemen, he was both brooding and benevolent. He offered me a beer and then he offered me a job. I was in no position to pass on either.

The job was janitorial. Nights we cleaned skyscraper offices overlooking the Ohio. The days? They were there too, always changing. Then it was October and the commonwealth light began to fade. A wind storm arrived and knocked out power to the city. For a solid week, I sat there in the dark, trying to think of something to think that wasn't shot. I thought about driving down to the Sherman Minton bridge and taking a leap, but for some reason when the power returned something inside me lit up, too. Yes, it seemed there were still stories to raise and hell to write. For awhile I palled around with the father until his hands swelled from all the heart pills. By the holidays he'd stopped coming to work altogether, disappeared. He had an angioplasty and then died. It hurt when my ex-wife didn't attend the funeral, but it hurt less when the old man left me some money.

Now comes more days not worth naming. In the newspaper there was an ongoing debate over the merits of bridge building which lasted for many years. One day I woke up and everyone looked younger. One day I woke up and I was taking a hammer to my birth certificate. One day I woke up and decided to find some hero for a friend. I decided to get a dog. I thought it would love me unconditionally, that it would fill the cheap vacancy caused by my life.

I went to the shelter and picked out an albino greyhound. She was strange, but beautiful. I named her Desire and drove her to a field to let her run. That night the sun was setting rather cinematically behind a stand of elms. Immediately she took off after a bird. Man she could fly. I said: go, go, go!

And she did.

She went and went and went and never came back.

Ryan Ridge is the author of Hunters & Gamblers, a collection of stories from Dark Sky Books..

Read other RR stuff from the archive.

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