It was the wrong day to scour with the neighborhood for a lost dog. The air was fat and everybody was moody. The humidity had Marsha breathing in rapid little gasps and she could feel the droplets of water collecting in her lungs along with oxygen. She wasn’t sure if the wetness in the dips of her sharp collarbones was due to the mist or was her own sweat.
“Hi, sorry to bother you. My dog ran away this morning. You seen him?” Marsha held up her phone to the crack of an open but chained door.
“No.” The old man – or old woman, it was hard to tell from just half a wrinkled face – shut the door without really looking at the photo on the phone’s screen.
“Thanks,” Marsha told the closed door.
She tried to decide whether she should go up another floor in this building or give up and move on to the next one. Her brother Jerome was doing the easy task of hanging up posters around the neighborhood. He was more of a people person than she was, but he was too mad to start knocking on doors right then. She didn’t want him getting shot for being pissed off that he’d let his own dog run away.
Marsha trudged up to the next flight. If she was doing this, she thought, she’d better do it right and all the way, or she’d just question herself later on. The stairwell stank of fresh paint and urine. A couple cigarette butts lay on the landing between flights, next to an open window. Marsha wished she hadn’t quit. It was too expensive to smoke, though. Especially since Jerome had decided to get a dog.
She knocked on #41. No one answered and she couldn’t hear noises inside. She moved on to #42. Nothing. Her hand was stretched to knock on #43 already when the door to #42 opened behind her.
“Yes?” A tall man stood in the hallway that stretched behind the door. A little girl was standing on his feet with her back to him, holding his hands so she wouldn’t fall off. They were both smiling.
“Hi, sorry, my dog–” Marsha held out her phone, flustered.
“You have a dog?” the girl asked. She still had all her baby teeth.
“He ran away. The dog.” Marsha waved her phone at them again.
“Nothing there,” the girl whined.
“What?” Marsha looked at the phone’s screen. It was dark. She tried to light it again but the buttons were unresponsive. It was out of battery. “Fuck!” The word bounced back in a tinny echo, running up and down the stairwell.
“Hey, hey,” the dad let one of his daughter’s hands go and held it up. A stop sign. “She’s only five. There’s enough of that language out there, I don’t need it coming to my home.”
“Yeah, sure, I apologize, sir. Thanks.” Marsha’s shoulders and neck tensed and she could feel her face getting even warmer from the embarrassment.
“Daddy, she lost her dog.” The girl seemed to be admonishing him. Marsha was two steps down already when he leaned out of the doorway and called to her.
“Want some ice tea?”
Marsha wanted to sit, was what she wanted. She was exhausted, and anger and disappointment was filling her stomach at this wasted day, a missed work day, money she very much needed going to some blonde bimbo standing behind the Starbucks counter instead of her. Every time she missed a day of work, Marsha was sure she’d get fired next time she came in. Just thinking about it made her furious, the whole scenario playing out in her head as if it were really happening. Her boss wouldn’t have the decency to tell her she shouldn’t come in. He’d let her tie her apron on and clock in and get behind the counter wearing her smile and her white-washed customer-service voice, and then – then! – he’d tell her that he was sorry but he had to let her go. And she’d have to untie the apron, take off her smile and put away her voice, and leave the cafe with dignity in her step, otherwise she’d never be able to live with herself again. All because of stupid fucking Jerome who needed to have a pet, another mouth to feed to replace the son his baby mama took with her, stupid bum Jerome who told her he was depressed and couldn’t look for work, Jerome who smoked more weed than anyone she knew but claimed he got it for free from his friends, stupid Jerome who–
“Yeah, great, thanks. Okay.”
“Come in, then.”
The little girl got off her father’s feet and asked Marsha “How’d you lose your dog? Was he a good dog? I want a dog.”
Marsha’s brain quieted down a little and she smiled. “I didn’t, my dumb brother did.”
“I have a brother! He’s dumb too,” the girl said. She looked at her father, who nodded, and then stepped out of the apartment, took Marsha’s hand, and led her inside, towards a kitchen chair and some ice tea.