IN JANUARY I HAD A proposal due to my boss, Leon Fields, on a new project. We were renovating a clothing store in a strip mall outside the city. Nothing tremendous. I finished the proposal on a Friday morning and dropped it on his desk with a cheerful little note—“Let me know what you think!”—while he was in a meeting with a new client in the conference room. Later that morning Leon threw open his office door with
“Amanda!” he called. “Come in here.”
I rushed to his office. He picked up a handful of papers off his desk and stared at me, his flabby face white with anger.
“What the hell is this?”
“I don’t know.” It looked like my proposal—same heading, same format. My hands shook. I couldn’t imagine what was wrong. Leon handed me the papers and I read the first line: Leon Fields is a cocksucking faggot.
“What is this?” I asked Leon.
He stared at me. “You tell me. You just dropped it on my desk.”
My head spun. “What are you talking about? I put the proposal on your desk, not this, the proposal for the new job.”
I sifted through the papers on his desk for the proposal I had dropped off. “What is this, a joke?”
“Amanda,” he said. “Three people said they saw you go to the printer, print this out, and bring it to my desk.”
I felt like I had stepped into a bad dream. There was no logic, no reason anymore.
“Wait,” I said to Leon. I ran back to my desk, printed out the proposal, checked it, and brought it back to Leon’s office. He had calmed down a little and was sitting in his big leather chair.
I handed it to him. “This is it. This is exactly what I put on your desk this morning.”
He looked over the papers and then looked back up at me. “Then where did that come from?” He looked back at the fake proposal on the desk.
“How would I know?” I said. “Let me see it again.”
I read the second line: Leon Fields eats shit and likes it.
“Disgusting,” I said. “I don’t know. Someone playing a trick on you, I guess. Someone thinks it’s funny.”
“Or playing a trick on you,” he said. “Someone replaced your proposal with this. I’m sorry, I thought—” he looked around the office, embarrassed. In the three years I had
worked for him I had never heard Leon Fields apologize to anyone, ever.
“It’s okay,” I told him. “What were you supposed to think?”
We looked at each other.
“I’ll look over the proposal,” he said. “I’ll get back to you soon.”
I left his office and went back to my own desk. I hadn’t written the fake proposal, but I wished I knew who did. Because it was true; Leon Fields was a cocksucking faggot, and he did eat shit, and I had always suspected that he liked it very much.
THAT EVENING I WAS telling my husband, Ed, about the little mystery at work when we heard the tapping for the first time. We were sitting at the dinner table, just finishing a meal of take-out Vietnamese.
We looked at each other.
“Did you hear that?”
“I think so.”
Again: tap-tap. It came in twos or fours, never just one—tap-tap—and the sound had a drag on it, almost a scratching behind it, like claws on a wood floor.
First Ed stood up, then me. At first, the sound seemed to be coming from the kitchen.
So we walked to the kitchen and bent down to listen under the base of the refrigerator and look under the stove, but then it seemed to be coming from the bathroom. In the bathroom we checked under the sink and behind the shower curtain, and then we determined it was coming from the bedroom. So we walked to the bedroom, and then to the living room, and then back to the kitchen again. After we toured the apartment we gave up. It was the pipes, we decided, something to do with the water flow or the heating system. Or maybe a mouse, running around and around the apartment inside the walls. Ed was revolted by the idea but I thought it was kind of cute, a little mouse with the spunk to make it up four stories and live on our few crumbs. We both forgot about the story I had been telling, and I never told Ed about the practical joke at work.
THE TAPPING went on for the rest of the winter. Not all the time, but for a few minutes every second or third night. Then at the end of the month I went to a conference on the West Coast for two days, and Ed noticed that he didn’t hear it at all while I was gone. A few weeks later Ed went to a distant cousin’s wedding up north for three days. The tapping went on all night, every night, while he was gone. I searched the apartment again, chasing the sound around and around. I examined the pipes, checked every faucet for drips, turned the heat on and off, and still the tapping continued. I cleaned the floors of any crumbs a rodent could eat, I even bought a carton of unpleasant little spring traps, and the sound was still there. I turned up the television, ran the dishwasher, spent hours on the phone with old, loud friends, and still I heard it.
I was starting to think this mouse wasn’t so cute anymore.
THE NOISE WASN’T SO unusual, really; our building was close to a hundred years old and one expected that kind of noise. It had been built as an aspirin factory when the city still had an industrial base. After the industry moved out, one developer after another had tried to do something with the neighborhood, full of abandoned factories and warehouses like ours, but the schemes never took off. It was too far from the city, too desolate, too cold at night. As far as I was concerned it was better that the development hadn’t gone as planned. Our building was still only half full. I liked the peace and quiet.
The first time we saw the loft I was absolutely sure it was the home for us. Ed needed a little convincing.
“Think of the quiet!” I told Ed. “No neighbors!”
Conduits were in place for lighting and plumbing but they had never been utilized. We would have to do major renovation.
“Think of the possibilities!” I cried. “We can build it from scratch!”
Six white columns held up the place. Heat was provided by an industrial blower hung from the ceiling. “It has character,” I told Ed. “It has a personality!”
He relented, and we got the place at half of what we would have paid elsewhere. We spent the extra money on renovation. Ed gave me free rein to do as I pleased. I was an architect and now I could be my own dream client. I designed every detail myself, from the off-white color of the walls to the porcelain faucets on the kitchen sink to the installation of the fireplace along the south wall, which cost a fortune, but was worth the money.
The neighborhood, though, was sometimes difficult. No supermarkets, no restaurants, a few small grocery stores that specialized in beer and cigarettes. The edge of the closest commercial district for shopping was ten blocks away, and the nearest residential area was on the other side of that. But we adjusted quickly. We had a car to take us wherever we wanted on nights and weekends, and during the week we usually took the train to work. Our other concern when we first moved in was the crime, but soon enough we found out there was none. It was too desolate even for criminals. I did, however, come to be scared of the stray dogs that patrolled the neighborhood. The dogs kept their distance and I kept mine but I always felt it was an uneasy truce. I didn’t trust the animals to keep their side of the bargain. Walking home from the train I would spot one lurking in a doorway or on a street corner, eyeing me with suspicion. I was sure I would have preferred a mugger, who at least would only want my money—I didn’t know what these dogs wanted when they looked at me with their bloodshot eyes.
That fall I found out when a German shepherd mix followed me home from the train station one night. I thought running would only provoke him, so I continued to walk at a regular pace, faking nonchalance. The German shepherd trailed behind at an equally steady pace, also faking nonchalance. At the entrance to my building, a steel door up two wide steps, I put my key in the lock and thought I was home free—the dog stayed on the street. And then in one great leap he jumped up the two steps and attacked. With his front paws, as strong as human hands, he pushed me against the wall, ignoring my horrified screams, licked me right on my mouth and tried to seduce me. When I finally convinced him I wasn’t interested, he sat down by my feet, panting with a big smile. I spent a few minutes scratching behind his ears and then sneaked through the door.
I would have forgotten about him except that the next day he was waiting for me at the train station again, and the day after that. Walking home with him became a routine. He knew a few simple commands (“sit,” “stay,” “no”) and I was convinced he had started off life as somebody’s pet. I even went to a pet store and bought a bag of nutritionally balanced dog biscuits for him. On our walks home from the train I used the biscuits to teach him a few more commands—walk, lie down, stop-trying-to-fuck me (which we abbreviated as Stop). I hoped that if I got him into more civilized condition I could find a home for him. I would have liked to take him in myself but Edward was allergic; dogs, cats, hamsters, strawberries, angora, and certain types of mushrooms were all hazardous materials, to be kept out of the apartment and handled with care.
But I was glad to have at least one friend in the neighborhood. And over the next few months it was my new friend, a nameless flea-ridden mutt, rather than Ed, who would be the first to see that I was not entirely myself.
NOT THAT Ed wasn’t attentive, not that he didn’t notice what was going on in my life. He just wasn’t able to put the pieces together as quickly as the dog. Ed was my hero, my savior. Ed was the man who had imposed order on my my chaotic life. When I was single, I’d eaten cereal for dinner and ice cream for lunch. I’d kept my tax records in a shopping bag in the closet. I’d spent Saturdays in a hungover fog, watching hours of old black-and-white movies. With Ed I spent Saturdays outdoors, doing the things I had always imagined I should do: flea markets, lunches, museums. He did our taxes, with itemized deductions, every January, and filed the records away in a real file cabinet. Here was a man who could finish any crossword puzzle, open any bottle, reach the top shelf at the grocery store without strain. Here was stability, here was something I could rely on, my rock, day in and day out. Someone who loved me, who would never leave me alone. You can’t blame this sophisticated, civilized man for not having the same instincts as a wild dog.
Copyright © 2011 by Sara Gran. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.