The following story is by Vera Duffy. Vera is a Los Angeles native and semi-retired Mexican Wrestler. Essays and other works can be found at www.VeraDuffy.com.
“Dr. Rayner, do you believe in coincidences?” Winnie asked, then blurted, “I saw a dog die.”
The therapist shifted in her armchair, frowning. The girl’s face blossomed pink.
“I was stopped at an intersection and I could see this little dog, like a big Chihuahua, trotting across the crosswalk. No leash in sight. I’m not a dog person, but I loved the way he looked. Like, yeah, I’m a little guy all alone in this world, but I can do this.”
The therapist nodded.
“I was wondering if I should grab him, what a dog would be like in my car, in my home. He was right in front of me when I suddenly realized the light was changing. He had the no-walking sign, but he can’t read. I couldn’t even beep…” She smiled off-kilter and shrugged.
“And then a car whooshed by. He’s hit.” Winnie could see the dog again, connecting with the front wheel, warping against its speed and weight. She heard him yowl like a popped balloon.
“Maybe the driver didn’t see it,” the therapist offered, adjusting her glasses.
“The dog was small,” Winnie unhappily agreed. “So I jumped out of my car. Didn’t even check for traffic. I scooped him up under his little neck and his soft little belly and ran to the corner. I laid him down, he’s growling at me, so, so scared, but he couldn’t move. He’s broken. I just stood there, crying hysterically, praying he would die already. And then he did.”
The girl blinked rivulets down her cheeks. The therapist held out a box of tissues, took a couple for herself. They sat soundlessly, the therapist watching Winnie, Winnie reliving the dying dog.
“You mentioned coincidences,” the therapist said finally, glancing at the wall clock.
The girl honked into the tissue then dabbed at her face. “Yeah. So on Saturday, I go to my improv acting class. The word I’m assigned to make up a scene about is ‘strike.’ So I start marching around, pretending I’m holding a big sign and chanting ‘Hey hey, ho ho’ or whatever. And my partner, this dude I don’t even know, in front of everyone goes, ‘Oh my God, I struck your dog!’ And I’m just shocked! Not only did he negate my premise, which is like improv 101, but what the F? So I go, ‘Uh yeah, I’m on strike from my vet job, now what do we do?’ You know, I try to make it work. And it does, I guess.”
“But at the break, I just have to ask him why of all things, he said that. And he told me he’d been shopping or something across the street that day and saw the whole thing.” Winnie dropped her jaw for effect. “I mean, he must have watched me standing there, bawling my eyeballs out over that poor little creature, and instead of helping me, he turned it into a wacky sketch! What kind of monster does that?”
The therapist said she didn’t know. Perhaps he thought Winnie had seen him as well, was ashamed or embarrassed he hadn’t done something. Maybe someone else’s dead dog was a very small thing in the context of his life. Who could tell? The subject changed to how the improv class was helping to ease Winnie’s anxiety and depression and then time was up.
Alone, the therapist straightened her office, punching up the pillows and dumping the waste can. The viscosity of the tissues was repulsing her as of late. Something to work on, maybe. She was about to leave out the lobby when she spotted Winnie through the glass door, hunched on a bench and sobbing violently. She left out the back instead.
Safe in her cool, dark, leather-scented car, Dr. Rayner performed her end-of-day ritual. She pictured the day’s patients – the woman whose mother and sister were both steadily deteriorating from breast cancer, mixed in with the one forever returning to her work-adverse boyfriend, the middle-aged man who coulda-shoulda written that novel, the melancholy millennial and her pulverized pooch – as knocked-over bowling pins, rolling aimlessly about the deck of a lane. The rake lowered, sweeping one and all into the pit and out of view. Hopefully their sessions had helped to reset them. And tomorrow there’d be a brand new rack. Until then, her only concerns were a boiling-hot shower and a vodka martini.
One quick thing before heading home. She fished the tissues out of her pocket and ran them over the minute dent in her passenger’s side fender. They came back clean; the detailers had done good work. Winnie didn’t mention at which intersection the incident with the dog occurred. It could have been anything that hit the therapist’s car – a possum, or maybe a skunk. And even if it wasn’t – she just hadn’t seen it.