Ray and the Dog II by Ben Comeau

Ray stepped through the door and into the harsh cold. The wind was light but sharp and the daylight awesome but distant and unwarming. He was about to step off the curb before catching himself. The blue painted door to the coffee shop closed behind him, silencing the unnerving conversation between the cashier and the stranger. Like all uncomfortable interactions, Ray was struggling to recreate their exact words, even though he had just witnessed it.


Something about the Governor… how she wasn’t welcome…can you believe these people…how much do they expect us to pay…enough is enough?


The only quote he could clearly recall was the cashier saying “I’m not going to feed any illegal immigrants!” Her tone was vitriolic and dismissive, casual and hateful, oblivious and piercing.


‘Illegal immigrants’ were what scared white people called ‘refugees.’ You might better know refugees by their other name: ‘Humans’. God called them ‘His Children.’ 


Like any good snowflake, Ray struggled to leave the conversation behind. He hadn’t participated, just overheard, but his heart was sinking nevertheless. He took the time, on the curb, to let a car whizz past, followed by a hazy cloud of salt and snow. He breathed in the frigid atmosphere, the aerosolized road salt, the carbon emissions, the vapors of the tidal river, the faint odor of coffee, and tried to calm himself. The fact that anyone who lived in this scrappy seaside community, so vulnerable to Nature’s wraith, so tenuously anchored to the rapidly disappearing shore, would be so repulsed by the thought of feeding refugees felt…tragic. The livelihoods of every living person in this surly town rested on the fluttering wings of butterflies on some sweltering foreign shore and that fact made Ray, like a defeated father, sigh heavily as he approached the truck. He wasn’t mad, just disappointed.


He got back into the truck and started it up quickly. Maybe it was his disintegrating mood, but the warmth of the truck no longer felt good. It felt prickly and suffocating. He turned the dial back a notch. He hadn’t noticed the dog yet. She was sitting at attention, ears up, eyes sharp, body still, in her place in the front seat. Ray knew she would be staring right into his goddamn soul, so he avoided eye contact for a bit longer.


“Did you get one?”


Ray fumbled his coffee into the cup holder. “One what?”


“The thing you get when you go in there. I don’t know what it’s called.”


“What, a doughnut?”


She shuffled awkwardly, kneading the ragged towel meant to protect the front seat from her paws. “Yeah, a ‘whatadoughnut.’ Did you get one?”


“No, it’s just called a ‘doughnut.’”


“Ok, look, honestly, I don’t really care what it’s called, but I’m getting a little worried you didn’t get one…” She eyeballed him up and down, looking for signs of pastry.


“Yeah, I got one.” He pulled out the noisy wax paper bag from his pocket and began to open it.


“Oh, what a relief,” she sighed. Quickly licking her lips, she continued, “I knew I smelt it, I just couldn’t see it. I was like, ‘what’s happening?’ Wow, that’s great, that’s really, really great.”


Ray tore off a piece, took a bite, but left a slim portion between his thumb and forefinger for the dog. He passed it to her and she eagerly, but gently, accepted it. He had gotten blueberry glazed, which was an unnatural purple inside. The doughnut was old enough that the glaze had hardened and chipped off, just like how Ray liked it. The dog didn’t really have a preference.


Ray threw the truck into drive and they got on their way. The two finished the doughnut as they had before, bite for bite, all the way up and away from the river. The houses near the river were bigger and nicer with pools, porches and Porsches. As the pickup sped away, the houses got squatter, smaller and shabbier.


Ray tried the radio to quiet his unease, but currently there was a story about the danger of Iranian missiles and Ray wasn’t interested in listening to NPR defend the Empire today, so he turned it off. In the silence, he focused on the road, bleached white like bone from the road salt. The patchy snow on the lawns and the woods made everything seem monochromatic. The arctic temperature seemed to hold everything in silent stasis.


The road being so starkly white, Ray immediately noticed several black lumps ahead. They were small, plump and still. As he angled to avoid them, the lumps revealed their providence: they were robins- frozen to death. His truck passed over them, its wake fluttering their feathers one last time. They must have hung around because it’s been so mild. Ray thought, tragically. It was true that only days before, Ray and the dog had been sliding around in mud and mid 50 degrees. But now…

It’s not that the birdsicles were that much of a surprise given the sub-zero temps, but the quantity of them. Four dead robins, more or less all in a row, as if each one had tried to go on without the other and only made it a few extra feet. They didn’t leave in time, thought Ray. This struck him as poignant but, typical of Ray, he wasn’t sure why. He reached for the dog, now curled up in a ball, and scratched the scruff of her neck.

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