On the first Thursday of December, August Lambert watched her son’s Beagle propel upward into the sky. She watched the scene occur from the southwest window of her living room while tasting the second glass of her Lodi-grown Pinot Noir. From her vantage point, she could see the even green of her lawn, the blossoming birds of paradise edging the perimeter of her backyard fence, and the thin trunk of her young orange tree. What she couldn’t see was the white, black, and brown fur of the Beagle that had been barking nonstop.
Forgetting about the glass of wine in her hand, she leaned closer to the pane of glass and examined more of her backyard, taking note of the half-dug holes alongside and in her husband’s garden and the littering of dog toys discarded in various moments of boredom. She looked up and took in the sky, its clouds floating above in amber, orange, purple, and red, all mixing together like a child’s paint set. There appeared to be no disturbance in the sky, but she changed her vantage point to confirm, moving from the window to the sliding glass door that connected to the patio.
A small dot, perhaps a recently detached balloon, rose into a billowing cloud of orange. Resting one hand against the smooth, metal handle of the door, the other pushing the thin glass of wine against her lips, she closed her eyes for a period of five seconds and inhaled. Blackberries. Cherries. Parting her lips, she tipped the glass gradually and allowed the liquid to trickle against the tip of her tongue, tart dissolving into a reminiscent sweet, a flush of red manifesting at the edges of her cheeks. Eyes open, August opened the door and stepped onto the cedar deck.
A breeze had developed and she pulled her arms closer to her body. She glanced along the grass where the Beagle had been a moment ago and then glanced back up at the clouds. The small dot had vanished. The Beagle was gone.
“Shit,” she exhaled, bending at the knees to grab a small rubber ball that rested on the deck. She took a guess at where the dog had been and tossed the ball toward that very spot, a few drops of Pinot Noir arcing out of the glass and staining the cedar. The ball sailed normally until it reached a certain point in the air above the grass, then, without a gradual transition, it launched vertically toward the very clouds she had just been looking at. “Shit,” she exhaled again.
The clock above the stove read 5:31. California Youth Basketball ended at 7:00 p.m., and the drive from the youth recreation center took twenty minutes tops if the traffic was agreeable, though as of late, her husband had taken even more time than usual. August set her glass of wine down on the marble counter next to the stove and leaned against the double door fridge, using a free hand to push the magnetic letters of the alphabet around in slow circles. Her hand mimicked the circles the Beagle had made before its ascent into the clouds.
It had been sniffing the ground and barking in a way that caught August’s attention after she poured her second glass of wine. She had watched it do three complete circles before it moved onto that specific patch of grass and launched upward. It had yelped in pain, but the yelp had also gone upward, the way a scream moves when a roller coaster zooms past and ascends into another loop.
She stopped her hand’s circular motion and rested the tips of her fingers along the edge of a bulky, curved letter.
The bitch was gone.
Something had occurred in that single spot of grass and August wondered how long it could have been like that. Her husband had mowed the backyard three days prior and had not been launched upward, putting the timeline of appearance sometime between then, that sunny Saturday morning, to now, this sherbet skyline evening. She imagined what it would have looked like if the lawnmower had run across the now deadly patch of grass. Her—standing at the southwest window with lemonade in hand, watching Mr. Lambert mow in those salmon bermudas from J. Crew while the bitch barked and scratched at the sliding glass door—he’d look up at her and smile wide, loose cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth. She’d stay still, watching him, the glare of the sun casting reflections on the window from his direction. That cigarette would tumble out of his mouth as the mower shot up into the air, one of his Sperry boat shoes being knocked off as he shot up as well, hands still gripping the mower with both instinct and panic, the scream of the roller coaster darting upward toward oblivion.
A knock at the door brought her out of the evening dream. Having been startled, she knocked several of the magnetic letters to the floor and turned to the window in the living room. Since the initial incident, the natural lighting had diminished into a faint evening glow that was overpowered by the orange streetlights alongside her house. The clock jumped to 6:03, and as she watched the minute change to 6:04, another series of knocks began on her door. August glanced over her shoulder at the southwest-facing window before going to the front door.
Through the peephole, August caught sight of permed red curls and remembered it was her night to do a patrol for Neighborhood Watch. Kathy Harris stood in the small circle of the peephole, adjusting her high-waisted jeans and holiday sweater.
“Hello Kathy,” said August, after opening the front door and stepping out onto the porch. She caught a whiff of Elizabeth Taylor’s White Diamonds perfume mixed in with the scents of a California winter. Kathy smiled without showing teeth, her dimples manifesting beneath a layer of rose blush.
“August,” Kathy said, “Thought you weren’t going to show.”
As they stepped off the front porch in unison, Kathy switched on the official Neighborhood Watch flashlight and swept its beam along the garage and side gate. The focused light caught the fading outline of a basketball backboard above the metal garage door, hesitated for a second on this remnant, then continued as though it had not noticed a single thing.
“Didn’t hear your dog bark when I knocked,” Kathy said as she rummaged through the small fanny pack attached to her waist. She pulled out a small pocket notepad and pen and handed the bundle to August.
“The dog is gone.”
August flipped open to a new page and wrote down the current date.
“Christ. Guess the mister is finally coming to his senses. Wasn’t right keeping the damned thing, let alone that damned job as basketball coach. Wrapping yourself up in the past does no good. I can tell you that much. You mourn. You move on. And that’s all there is to it.” Across the street, a couple wearing highlighter-yellow sweaters jogged in unison. “Have you two thought about moving? Getting out of that house would do wonders for both of you.” The joggers were at the end of the street now, the man jogging in place while the woman stretched her left calf against a streetlamp. “We’d hate losing you, especially since you always chair our big Street Safety Gala, but we’d understand, August. We’d understand if you moved.”
“I’m sure you would, Kathy.” August took down the description of the joggers and their approximate position at six-fifteen at night.
“There are plenty of us to take on the responsibilities. I’ve been your co-chair for years, August. Even if you just wanted to take a break this time around, I’d be more than happy to chair the committee myself.”
They paused a moment as Kathy bent down to tie the lace of her sneaker that had come undone. August heard the roar of a rollercoaster from far away, distant, but growing closer by the second. Kathy’s red lips were moving, but August was focused on the roar that sounded as though it were inches away from her ears. Standing above Kathy, she imagined gravity reversing below those untied sneakers and the flailing of Kathy as she shot up into the darkening sky. August looked up and imagined seeing the bright red of those permed curls disappear into the black; the sound of her screams and the rollercoaster fading off into the oblivion above.
At 7:00 p.m., August said goodnight to Kathy and walked back up the driveway and into her empty house. It was still and quiet, but the faint smell of a dog lingered in the air. August wondered how long it would be before the bitch’s scent dissolved into nothing. Would she smell her weeks from now when walking across the living room carpet? Would she be reminded of the bitch in the dead of the night when her ears picked up on a phantom yapping? The dead linger in many ways, and August tried to prepare herself for what was to come.
She made her way to the kitchen where her wine glass rested, holding a centimeter or so of liquid. It had to have been some reversal of gravity that caused the bitch to shoot up into the air, or at least that seemed the most probable to August after imagining Kathy shooting up into the air. Her thoughts were wrapped in the ideas of gravity and space and clouds until the crunching of cheap plastic stopped her progress. She raised her foot and saw the splintered, yellow carcass of the letter B.
The letters were another one of the items Mr. Lambert had decided to leave in the house. She caught glimpses of the other plastic letters poking out from under the refrigerator, the way a child’s feet appear when he hides himself under a bed he just can’t quite fit under. August used the front of her shoe to kick the letters further back and under the refrigerator. Her thoughts returned to her husband. He’d cry when he got home and saw that the bitch was gone. He’d cry and prostrate himself in a pile of the bitch’s toys. August would watch him do this, his tears dripping down slippery, shitty rubber. She’d point to the spot the dog had last been, and he’d collapse to his knees at the very edge of the anti-gravity, screaming at the clouds, begging for the bitch’s return.
At some point in the night she’d leave him to go take a shower. Sliding off her clothes, she’d submerge herself in a running stream of warmth and wash her body with rosemary and sea salts. After washing, she’d stay beneath the showerhead for many more minutes, feeling each stream of water like a million, miniature punches against her skin. Through the built-up steam, she’d step out of the shower and onto the chilled tile of the bathroom floor, droplets of water coasting down, dewing the fine hairs on her body until a few lone drops managed to find themselves removed from the flesh and freefalling onto the tile. Her husband would be on the edge of the bed looking up at her dripping body in the steam. He’d want to see her cry. He’d demand it.
August grabbed her wine glass and leaned against the marble counter, sipping to the image of her husband and the lingering sensation of water on skin. Something thudded on the cedar deck, and she glanced to the unlit backyard and downed the final bit of Pinot Noir. She walked toward the light switch that connected to the backyard. The night was dark and she could only see her reflection growing larger in the glass. She flipped the switch, and a dull light came on, illuminating the deck and parts of the grass, the edges of the backyard still wrapped in darkness. Her eyes scanned the scene until she saw the red, rubber ball resting in the grass. She inhaled sharply as oblivion returned what it had taken.