Monday, September 18, 2006

a walk at night

I like walking the dog at night. I don't always do it. I have to be in the mood. But when I do, it's very relaxing. The night sky. The stars. The friendly yellow light suffused through the curtains in other people's dining room windows. It's warming, somehow. The routineness of people's lives -- the reassuringness of it.

Like last night. Eight-thirty, or roundabouts, I leashed up the dog and told my husband I'd be back in ten minutes or so. I heard him call, "Okaaaaay" distantly from somewhere else in the house. The children were upstairs in the teenager's room, laughing. The youngest (my littlest tiger) giggling so hard he ran out of breath and started anew with a fresh peal of laughter when he inhaled again.

I was smiling when I closed the sliding screen behind me, gently. I almost wasn't sure I'd pushed it all the way in, my touch was so light.

Up the street, two women leaned against a parked car, talking in low, confiding voices that seemed to draw a forbidding dome around them. I crossed to the other side of the street, even, as if forewarned -- trying not to intrude. One of the women said something animatedly and the other one laughed, startled; then they laughed together, pleasantly.

It was kind of nice, even though I had no part in it, of course.

My dog is quirky. Max won't go to the bathroom in anyone else's yard, or at least he hasn't ever done it when I've walked him. It's as if he's too polite, or something. He just trots along with his tail wagging, peering curiously at the other dogs as they run up to their fences jumping and barking. If anything he might pause to sniff the air appreciatively, but his interest seems to wane there. That's sort of a relief.

An awful lot of people watch TV. I don't; I never seem to have the time. There's always something else pressing that needs to be done. Preferably drawing or painting or reading, but more likely laundry or dishes or pairing up socks. I walk by houses and I can tell, instantly, who's watching television and who isn't; most people keep their televisions somewhere close to the front door (do we? as a matter of fact, yes, I realize, we do) and regardless of make and model the televisions all emit the same bluish glow into the couches -- the people sitting there motionless, their eyes round, as if hypnotized.

I walked past a teenage girl sitting on the front porch and talking, apparently, into a telephone. Her voice carried down the street and caught up with me long before I got there -- I wasn't listening to the words, only heard that dragging, downward tone teenagers can have that always reminds me of someone stopping their bicycle with the toe of their flip-flops. Her monologue broke off when Max and I strolled past.

"My God! That dog got huge," I heard her say into the phone (or to me? Hard to tell). I smiled in her general direction into the darkness, though because I really couldn't make out her face or see her reaction my smile felt false.

Then every yard we passed seemed to have a dog and each of those dogs started up barking and yelping almost hysterically. I couldn't help grinning; Max just pattered along, head up, looking serenely from side to side like a beauty queen, grinning. It made him seem impervious, in a way. Calm. Unflustered.

I felt unaccountably proud, as if the credit for his disposition were entirely mine.

I was only gone for ten minutes, but it felt like such a rich and full ten minutes -- going out collecting sights and sounds, the smell of freshly mown grass lying in shaggy clippings on a lawn, the crystalline twinkle of someone's wind chimes rustling in the night breeze. I came home feeling entirely rested, a sound sleep ahead well assured. Such a beautiful world. It can feed the soul just to go on living in it.