All Stone Creatures
It was the stone bulldog head, the way Angus cradled it like a baby as he trudged toward the house that made Ed’s stomach ache. It just looked devastating. A grown man turned into a child. And the head! Ed couldn’t stand to stare at those black marble eyes with their permanent expression of curiosity, the jowls that hung, the chiseled teeth exposed in the under bite, the jagged line where the body was once attached. He turned away from the window and waited down at the front for the bell to ring. His palms were clammy as he opened the door.
Angus tapped the snow off his boots and brushed his shoulders. His breath was heavy. “You want to explain this?” he asked, thrusting the head forward. His voice was sharp, his eyes a light crimson. Ed could tell he had been crying. Bits of stone fell to the floor.
Ed tried to smile. “Come in. You’re letting out the warmth. We’ll sit down. Don’t worry about getting the carpet wet.” Angus pulled his arms back, then looked back and forth before stepping inside. He followed Ed to the kitchen and draped his coat over a chair at the table. They sat. An apple scented candle burned on the counter.
“I’m real sorry,” Ed said. He pointed at the head, which rested on Angus’ lap.
“Sorry? You’re sorry?”
“It was an accident. It was Boomer who knocked it over.” Boomer was short for Boomerang, Ed’s Australian Shepherd. She slept in the bedroom, hiding from the shouts that she suffered an hour earlier. A lump had formed on her head from the tussle.
“I figured it wasn’t you running around.”
“She always barks at that statue when we drive by. She thinks it’s a real dog. I figured if I showed her it wasn’t, she’d calm down a little when we go out for our drives.”
“I knew it was you. I followed your tracks in the snow.” Angus walked his index and middle fingers through the air.
“I’m sorry, Angus. I didn’t think she’d attack. I just let the leash go and she darted right up to it. Knocked it right off the wall. I guess I panicked.” Ed adjusted his glasses. His nose twitched. “I came straight home. I didn’t even look to see the damage.” Behind him the sink dripped like a heartbeat.
“Were you going to tell me?”
“I wouldn’t let you wonder.”
“There wasn’t much to wonder. Your tracks lead right to your house.”
“I just didn’t know what to do.”
“Could have left a note or called my machine.”
“I know. I’m sorry.”
Angus placed the head on the table. The saltshaker rattled. “I almost ran over the damn thing,” he said, waving his arms about, his volume rising. “Lying right in the way of the garage. Could have at least moved it for me.” He stroked the stone with a sweaty palm. Black was under his nails.
“I know, I know. I’m sorry, Angus. I really am. Let me pay you for a new one.”
“That’s not the point.”
“I’m real sorry.”
“I can’t believe you didn’t even leave a note.”
“I can’t believe you just ran away. What’re you afraid it was gonna attack you?”
“Christ, I said I was sorry. What else can I do?”
“You can act like a neighbor, Ed.” His throat burned. “You can take responsibility without me hunting you down. You think I’m stupid or something?”
Ed threw up his hands. “Okay! Okay!” He stood and walked to the counter. His chest shook. He clutched the back of his neck and then rinsed out a few dirty coffee mugs. “I ran away. I ran away, and I’ve been thinking about it since I got home. I’m not a good person. Is that what you want to hear? Does that make you feel better?” He twisted off the faucet and wiped the counter with a dishtowel. The slow drip stopped. Suds slipped down the drain. He hung the dishtowel over the faucet to dry.
Angus stayed so still in his chair Ed wondered if he’d left while the faucet ran. Then Ed heard Angus shifting the head on the table. It spun around on the wood. He could feel Angus staring into the black marble eyes. He waited a long time before breathing.
A moment passed. Angus sniffled. “You’re not bad,” Angus said. “You’re just beating yourself up. You panicked, like you said. And Boomer was probably all shook up. You had to get home, take care of her. I know you’d have called. You’re not bad.”
Ed sighed, sullenly. “I’m sorry.”
He turned and found Angus looking out the window to the backyard, a white sheet to the edge of the dark wood.
“I’ll fix you up with a new one,” Ed said. “I promise.”
Angus was grinning at the glass. His forehead crumpled. “You see the deer?” Angus asked this as if he hadn’t heard Ed speak. “The deer that’ve been around here lately. Have you seen them?”
Ed walked to the window and joined Angus’ gaze. The yard was empty.
“You see the deer?” Angus asked again.
Ed swallowed. “Oh, a couple times. A couple times, mostly around dusk.”
Angus placed his hand on the sill. “Beautiful animals. Last week I saw two of them up close. It was something. I saw the mother and the baby, standing right in the middle of the road. I couldn’t get by in the truck; I had to stop. And they didn’t jump off. I didn’t scare them in the least. They walked right up to me, stared at me through the window. The doe circled the entire truck. It was just the three of us out there. It was like a dream. Then once she was satisfied she led the baby back into the woods. It was something, seeing them up close like that. Seeing their minds working. The care they had. The curiosity, I guess.” He wiped a hand over his face. “I never saw that before.” He cleared his throat.
Ed stepped away and lifted the teakettle on the stove. “You want something warm to drink?”
“No, that’s alright.”
“It wouldn’t be trouble. Already got water in the kettle.”
Angus wavered, his shoulders bobbing up and down, before he answered. “No, thanks. I should probably go.”
Ed reached out and patted Angus on the shoulder. He didn’t have to speak. Angus pulled on his coat. He scooped up the head. Then they walked back to the front door.
“Where’s Boomer?” Angus asked.
“Sleeping it off.”
Angus reached for the doorknob. “Don’t be too hard on her.”
He started forward, then turned back. “Tell me, does she bark at the lions outside the country club?”
“Yeah. All stone creatures. I don’t understand it.”
Angus laughed. He opened the door and was hit by the cold air.
“I’ll let you know how much it costs for a replacement.”
“Again, I’m sorry, Angus.”
“It’s okay.” He hesitated. “It’s funny how coming home today was kind of like going through losing Buster all over again.”
“I need to go find some dinner.”
Boomerang walked out from the bedroom and stretched. She saw the bulldog head and growled. “Boomer! Back!” Ed shouted and she recoiled.
Angus nodded, then lumbered down the walkway. It was dusk. The stone head was again cradled in his arms like a baby.