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The House Fire

 

       I play basketball with the dog.  We have a hoop attached to the garage in the back.  He has a mean dribble, but his lay-ups are not all that good.  He tends to overdrive and slam the ball against the back board.  I move out to the three-point line and guard him there, where he is best.

 

      Our lives are shared through sports.  It is the glaring-duck of our common existence.  It is the basis on which our interaction rises into the steam of a shared life.  Weekends after a slow morning waxing lazy on the covered court at the steeping end of the house, we will turn to sit on the couch:  the two of us wound up like catechism manikins, keeping tabs on the games.  I gather the snacks, he gathers the beer.

 

      Today, he gets lime-salts agitated as on the television set it is third and thirty.  The batter steps up to the plate and the shot clock starts.  From the three-point line, the goalie leans inward, shifting his weight skate to skate, skittering like a metronome, drawing little dust balls out of the hard surface.

 

      The dog runs all the way around the couch as soulful as a fish eagerly reading predator porn, and I'm wondering just what he wants.  Normally, he'd settle back on the couch, suck on a beer, lick the moisture from the outside of the can, bend forward to re-clean his testicles, go for the chips.  He is not even wearing his glasses.

 

      The batter takes a test swing and they raise the safety screen in the end zone.  The third baseman approaches the net like he is going to attempt a smash, but everyone in the stands knows it is a fake and they are yelling "Block that kick!  Block that kick!"  In his corner, the pitcher is waiting for the bell to ring.  The point guard is about to drop the puck and, when I slide forward on the couch, the dog bangs his nose crab-like into my knee and begins to whine like a pelican at a wet t-shirt contest.

 

       I’m thinking:  this dog has lost all sense of the game.  Could it be a feint?

 

       I am not familiar with this behavior.  He has never displayed this sort of fawning fake in one of our previous games.  He is always one to pull up and shoot, or drop his shoulder and drive.  Always, you can figure him.  You can count on his predictable false moves. No guile, no imagination:  just a line to the best shot he thinks he has.

 

      The shot clock is about done.  And then the server tosses the ball in the air and the racket flashes in a quantum arc, while the batter squares and lifts one undistinguished foot: in a stone giant underhand he draws back the bat still a few more tantalizing inches.

 

      The addled dog starts pulling at my pants leg, as though party to a priestly famine.  I offer him points on our next game.  He turns his head like an elfin washing machine and tugs through to the hair of my leg.  I offer to play with only the left hand.  I offer to get him tickets to the minor league exhibition game next week.

 

      And then there is the ring of the bat and the puck disappears into the one-hundred meter pool and I am not listening to that dog anymore.  He may have a sweet three pointer, but he really understands nothing about sports.  His threadbare understanding is the dark of a child's quartering cave. He drinks my beer and eats my chips and licks his testicles on my couch and has a better three-point shot than I, but I kill him at the boards.  I go over his block and drop the most simple, most mathematically purely bent shot, whoosh, into the net, as if there were a net on the naked metal hoop.  The neighbors watch from their second-story window and sometimes toss badminton birdies in appreciation.  The dog does not appreciate it.  For all the dog knows, they could be tossing ping-pong balls.

 

       In fact, I have had enough of him:  let's take this smoky dog outside.