The Melancholy of a Job Well Done
Updated: Apr 12
Hearing the familiar ‘click’ of a key as it enters the kitchen door, Sawyer the wonder dog leaps into view. Chairs teeter and paws skid across hardwood floors as 70 pounds of violence rushes toward me. Leaping and growling, our protector presses paws against glass. We eye each other through milky windows. Sawyer cocks his head, registers my presence, and howls to the ceiling above. As the door swings open our protective wall crumbles to the floor, exposing a white underbelly.
Stepping inside, I am awash in air conditioning’s gentle hum. Extending bare arms, I watch as goosebumps stand strong, steeled to hold their ground in defense of the AC’s unnatural onslaught.
Music drifts like bubbles to find me in the kitchen. Swirling about, they pop in time to an old school melody, spraying me with the spindrift of jazz. I kick off shoes and shove them away from the eager-to-chew dog. Sawyer, the dog loved dearly by my wife and son, loved an amount just greater than like by my daughter, and almost loved by me, pines for attention. Rolling about, he extends groping paws.
Kneeling, I press hands into Sawyer’s warm belly, tracing lazy circles across his fur. Goosebumps retreat as I whisper a secret only Sawyer hears.
And now knowing one more secret Sawyer squints slowly.
From the living room Sandy calls, “Hey! You’re home late. How’s it going?”
Sensing I am lost in the moment, the dog slaps my arm with a paw, prompting me to respond, “Oh, sorry ‘bout that. I was having a moment with your dog and...”
Sandy doles out a kidding holler, “Our dog. He’s our dog. And you know you love him.”
I give Sawyer’s belly a final stroke. Bending forward I touch my forehead to his nose. His fur is smooth, almost syrupy. He smells proud; not too clean and not shampooed, but rather a bit like earth.
I offer Sawyer parting words. “If I'm able to, someday I will try to love you, I promise. But for now, I reserve love for Sandy and Gee and DJ. OK?”
As I rise from bent knee, the dog stares, nonplussed.
With dog fur tucked and tangled between fingers, I turn toward the kitchen sink.
Sunlight slants though waving branches and kitchen windows to set a steel sink aglow. The scent of cut grass and the sounds of squabbling birds pour through open windows. Just below the windowsill, a lone firefly gives a wink. The faucet hisses as cool water coils around lancing light.
And sensing me adrift, time rushes forward to join tumbling water.
Hands rinsed, I proceed from the kitchen toward the living room. Sunlight and slinking shadows and swaying trees and a winking firefly monitor my journey across the house. Pausing at the edge of the living room I peek past drifting bubbles filled with jazz.
With a block of abstract art looming above my wife of 24 years, she reclines on the sofa. In contrast to the art’s borderline chaos, Sandy presents a study of graceful lines. She focuses attention on her laptop. Black rimmed reading glasses frame large green eyes. As is often the case, she’s lost in the world of charts, patient results, and surgical notes. She leans forward to better spy the screen. Fingers type furiously, the sounds competing with the AC’s hum and jazz’s gentle call.
From hardwood floors, loitering light leaps. Along lower edges of slipping glasses, reflected light sparkles. The light seems to bend in an effort to find my wife.
In the future, if I am someday forced to remember Sandy without the benefit of her presence, this woman before me will be the woman I recall.
I don’t know how long I stand gawking, but I know the sun has slipped.
The dog appears at my side. He bumps a hanging hand with his warm snout. Returning the favor, I rub the space between his ears. He whimpers as I work to find the perfect spot.
Sandy looks up to find me staring. She smiles, “Hey.”
I return her smile.
She removes glasses and absentmindedly taps them against her chin. She stretches arms high. Her back arches.
The dog leaves my side to approach his favorite among the pack.
My wife pats the sofa’s empty space. Sawyer rushes forward and curls up just to the right of Sandy. From the couch he eyes me guiltily.
Sandy works the back of his neck.
I nod toward the stereo, “Nice selection. Ella Fitzgerald?”
Sandy smiles, “Yea. I like this album. It’s Ella accompanied by …”
My wife’s explanation is interrupted.
From downstairs, I hear the sharp cackles of my daughter and the roaring laughter of my son.
I step forward, “Wait; Gee and DJ are home? I thought they were meeting in Harvard Square for dinner and we weren’t gonna see them tonight.”
She tosses glasses on the desk next to the sofa. “Well, they decided to stay in. They’ve been downstairs listening to music and playing GTO for a couple of hours.”
Peals of laughter uncoil from the basement.
As the tides of sibling enjoyment flood the house, Sandy turns to look away. Through glass doors she watches birds and chipmunks and rabbits leap and fly and play. Two butterflies flit about as if drunkenly searching for home. A dragonfly – followed by a companion – darts across the patio.
Sandy draws a long breath, “I gotta tell you, I’m a little bummed.”
“Well, with her apartment in Portland, Gee’s never home anymore. And between school and work, she never has time to visit.”
I shrug, “She’s busy with life.”
Sandy drops her shoulders, “And now, when she comes home, she hangs out with DJ all the time. We barely see her. And I know it’s great she’s hanging with her brother, but in two weeks DJ moves to LA and after that we’ll never see either of them.”
Sandy eyes me as I approach. Squeezing between Sandy and the dog, I find a warm spot on the sofa. Grudgingly, the dog accommodates my intrusion.
I rub Sandy's arm. My movements are gentle and cautious. I nod, “I think it’s great they hang out. And I like that she comes home and wants to spend time with her not-so-little brother. And I like that when he knows she’s gonna be in town, he doesn’t make plans with his friends. Instead, he makes plans with her. It’s like they’re becoming best buddies. And that’s pretty amazing.”
Sandy turns away as I continue, “Think about it. Our daughter wants to hang out with her brother. And our son wants to hang out with his sister. My thinking is; we done good. And if that’s the case, I guess I’m OK playing second fiddle.”
Sandy places her hand on mine, “I know but…”
Like the setting sun, words recede.
I lower my voice as shadows inch toward us, “I think back to all the times I didn’t hang out with my brother or sisters because I wanting to go into the city with high school friends to get f*cked up. Now nearly all those friends are gone off elsewhere. It took years for me to stop being an @sshole and to then reconnect with my siblings.”
As Ms. Fitzgerald winds down her serenade, I wipe my eye. “I want Gee and DJ to be friends. I want them to be closer to each other than they are with us. I mean, they’re 22 and 18 years old and they’ll likely live to be over 100. That means they have 80 more years of friendship together.”
I squeeze Sandy’s hand, “And over the next 80 years, they’ll need each other, not us.”
My gaze settles on a reflection of the day’s last lick of light. Clinging to the ceiling, it quivers, lonely.
Outside, the sun sets.
Shadows assert dominance over our backyard as birds and chipmunks and rabbits and fireflies and butterflies and dragonflies take their leave.
Inside, our room grows dim.
The album ends with a ‘click’, as the needle withdraws from well-worn vinyl. And somewhere just out of sight, a door closes.
Beside me, the dog sighs.
Goosebumps return as the white noise of air conditioning washes over me. I shiver.
Then, howling laughter from downstairs.
Tenderly, Sandy warms my hands with hers.
She looks away, toward our empty yard.
She looks away, toward our future.
And following my wife’s gaze I look there too.
Toward shadows cast by the melancholy of a job well done.