Penny whines to wake me. "Quiet." I mumble, muffled, my face smushed within the furrows of my mother's guest room pillows. With eyes still crumpled closed, I curl back the covers like a stiff salty wave. I unfold and press my glasses to my eyes and stand. Eyes open. I stumble into sweatpants. Turn the door handle and pull. With stubbornly straight legs, I rock down the stairs. I bend and break Beau free from his rocking crate. We roll to the front door, our feet hollow beer barrels tumbling downhill. "Wanna go outside?" Claws scramble and scratch the stone foyer floor. Socks scuffle solo to the kitchen. COFFEE! The brown drips into my mug while I sit nearby on the pot, draining yellow. Beau clobbers the front door. Wipe. Flush. Wash hands. Pour cream into cup, watch it swirl and sink into new color. Let the dogs in. Sit and settle into the leather recliner. Move my computer to beneath my fingertips. The dogs sprawl onto the couch for first nap of the day. I sit writing. At noon, I stand and raise my hands high as if on a mountaintop. Dogs fall off the couch, excited to the point of humping. It's time! They're thinking (as much as dogs can think). But I'm not quite ready. I turn and run up the stairs two at a time. They follow. A three-beast stampede. Bathroom. Contact lenses, toothpaste, spit. Bedroom. Bra, sweatshirt, gloves, sunglasses, vest. Jump down the stairs. Scoop up my sneakers and sit. The dogs circle under my knees, knotting tails before I can loop my laces. Tied. Winter hat. Leashes from the junk drawer. LEASHES! Beau is leaping now like a dolphin. Penny tries to remain calm. "Sit. SIT Beau!" He twirls. Sits. I reach for his collar, but he poorly anticipates the click and is leaping again. "SIT!" Sitting. Reaching. Grabbing. Clicking. Penny remains sitting, as if Showing Off were the command. Headphones playing my new favorite album: Metals by Feist. Loop the leashes around my left hand. Down the driveway. Up the street. Smelling mailboxes. Peeing on everything. We walk for two hours along the horse trails, which are adjacent to most of the nearby roads. I avoid the blue cement when I can because Beau, the Border Collie, tries to herd every passing car. As trucks rumble toward us, he crouches in the dry winter grass and just as they pass, he sprints toward their sides. I squeeze his unintentional near-suicide around my hand, scolding his stupid habit while the large metallic sheep slow before continuing on their way. We trek down to the reservoir. It's a particularly windy day and I want to watch them hunt waves on the small sand. Four days, I live alone. Leashes tug me through thick grassy paths, along back roads and through my loosened thoughts. Home now. My cheeks pinked, my nose wet like the dogs'. I flick on the lights and separate muddy sneakers from socks, remove my fleece hat from saluting static and gloves from my cold, yellow fingers. I fill a tall glass with water. Penny drinks from her bowl. Beau slurps from the toilet. I'm eating mostly Christmas leftovers this week. I went to the grocery store on Tuesday, but got only dog food and lettuce. I find half of a baked chicken in the fridge. Put it in a pot of water over medium heat and empty a bag of baby carrots, some chopped celery and minced garlic. I build a fire in the fireplace. Sticks, chopped wood and numerous wooden matches. Nothing catches. No more newspapers. We burned them all. I dig wrapping paper from the trash cans in the garage and used tissues from the bathrooms. The chicken simmers on the stove. I sit back down to writing, salty corn chips beside me. The dogs fall back into sleeping, their feet jerking through dream games of chase. My mind traps and maneuvers thoughts into words and eventual sentences. I eat supper around 4PM because there is no one else to consider and cook for. Except for the dogs, who get big bowls of kibble as the sun dunks behind the rows of lanky trees in the front yard. Later, I turn on the television when the wind startles the pups into barking. Old reruns from the 90s. I glance up often before submitting entirely to the blissful escape that is a good sitcom. When I tire of typing and laugh tracks, I stand and let the dogs out one last time. They refuse. I don't blame them. The cold air feels hard, but I won't have any accidents at 4am and so I shoo them out, pushing their behinds with my shin. I turn off most of the house lights, but plug in the Christmas tree. I then call to my companions. I escort Beau to his crate and lead Penny upstairs. It's windy again, which means she's going to push her furry face between my ear and shoulder. I don't mind. And in the morning, she'll wake me with whining and I will do this all again. Happily.
Solitude selects me, sucks me from the traffic of life and spits me out onto this simple schedule of dog walking and words.