He woke in the middle of the night. Third night in a row.
She slept right through everything, in deep, oblivious sleep. He’d always say she could sleep through a bulldozer tearing the apartment down.
He put his hat on, the floppy outdoorsman one that kept his head shaded during three hundred days of sunshine. Out of habit. And he and the dog headed outside for a walk.
“I can’t sleep again girl. I guess it’s good news for you. Do canines ever tire of walking?”
The dog looked up at him. She was always attentive, ever since that day he drove her home from the shelter and the dog jumped in his truck, but lately she had been hanging onto his every word, especially if he was posing a question. He always respected dogs, their unflinching loyalty. You take good care of them; they will follow you anywhere, respect just about everything you do, provide good company, keep you rooted to sanity when you most need it, and guard your home. It was an unfair exchange, he thought.
Right now he was thinking about dogs and not his fiancée. But he couldn’t forget that anger he had felt, and still felt. It seeped into his sleep, bringing a strange dream and awaking him to air-conditioned reality. This dark shadow of emotion triggered guilt. But he would feel more guilt, he knew, if he ignored the thoughts. With a word, she brought on the anger, and it lingered for three days.
She said it during a pause in the conversation, a pause in the words they were speaking, as he searched for the right word to say without letting his frustration take over.
He felt like he was being coerced in every direction: towards her parents’ wishes; towards his black, stiff uncomfortable shoes and a night out with her friends; towards one-way conversations about the politics at her office. He was a man who had thrived on a constant sense of freedom that he had preserved above all else. He made the decision a while ago to trade some of this freedom for the way she holds his hand and leans up on her toes to kiss him. He feels light when he is with her, as if she took an invisible burden and lifted it from him. But he was giving up too much now, too fast. Gravity was pulling him back down.
“Two Netflix movies came in the mail today,” he said that afternoon.
He was tired. He worked all morning. Good solid work with very good lines on the page now.
“It’s just happy hour. I haven’t seen Alexis in forever.”
He knew it wasn’t true. They had lunch together two weeks ago, or was it a week ago even.
“Can we at least see which movies came?”
He smiled. An attempt to slow her down, convince her to consider his plan to do nothing.
“I guess so. But I really want to go. We never do anything fun.”
“That wasn’t the answer I expected.” The anger was there now, small and deep inside, a seed.
“I just want you to look at the movies.”
“I said I would.”
“But you didn’t mean it.”
“Where are they? I’ll look at the movies.” Her tone was saying, show me your stupid movies, he thought.
“Martinis and stuffy, fake conversation and stuffy, fake people isn’t my ideal of fun.” The anger was there.
She was silent. He was thinking of what he could say and what would happen if he said each possible comment.
“Let’s just check the movies out, and maybe if they’re something we want to watch. I can cook dinner, something on the grill.”
She was silent. He was silent.
It was cool and dark. Only a sliver of a moon. The rain had stopped earlier. It smelled like soil, and everything was still wet. A bird somewhere sang out randomly. It was a beautiful night for a walk. He was glad it was only him and the dog.
He remembered a walk sometime ago somewhere on a night like this. He was a few years younger. The dog was a pup. If he were alone again, he would be all right. Maybe that’s what he needs. Alone.
The dog tugged its leash, pulling him out of thought. He held the leash firm, but made sure not to choke her. A cat scurried under a row of bushes, the dog disappointed for a second but soon distracted by a scent in the grass.
The lack of sun made him aware of his hat, how out of place it was during this nighttime stroll. He recalled the day they walked into the Mad Hatter on River Street in Savannah. It was their first trip north together to visit his mom.
He loved the hat but didn’t want to purchase it. Ninety dollars was too much for a hat. She said he looked like a fisherman.
"No it really looks good on you," she said—staring at him. She kissed him, a small, silent, sensual kiss. "You need a hat. You’re always walking somewhere. It’s ninety bucks. You get what you pay for. This looks durable, and you can wash it. And it looks really good on you."
She made him try on a larger hat, and she told him you have to be able to fit at least two fingers in the brim because you don’t want it to be too tight or it will be hot and sweaty to wear and it might shrink. He tried another hat and it fit slightly large, two fingers snug against the brim. She brought it to the counter and pulled out her Visa card.
The hat, called a Tilley Hat, was first made by a boater in his basement in Canada, and now the hats are manufactured in a small factory, using the same design, the same material, and the same lockstitching. The hats are issued to Canadian troops when they go on peacekeeping missions. Once in a while the man will see a boater or a golfer somewhere wearing one. He once saw a gardener wearing one as her hands worked through the dirt in the early morning sun. The hat fits the man well. He doesn’t leave his house without it. He has grown into it the way a man grows into a habit and doesn’t understand how he lived without something before. He felt the same way about the woman, his fiancée. She was a habit that he had grown into—the great and the bad, both her kisses and the anger love can manifest sometimes. He wasn’t going to give up on her.
The man made a knheet knheet sound with his lips, and the dog knew it was time to turn around and make the walk back home.