We park underneath the overpass for the shade and, as always, it makes me think of Akron, the suicides who throw themselves off to land splat between Luigi’s Pizzeria which we used to frequent when dating, and the UCFW office. I wonder if there are suicides here, if anyone has ever thrown themselves off the overpass to land in the quarantine parking lot, but this is paradise, why would anyone want to kill themselves here? There are better ways to do it, in any case, more in accordance with local ways—swimming until you can’t take another stroke, diving off a waterfall to the rocks below, a beautiful death. Why not?
“Remember Luigi’s?” I ask Ray.
“Oh, yeah,” he answers. “I loved their antipasto.” He pauses. “And the wine.”
Luigi’s served the house red cold, saving me the trouble of scooping ice cubes from my water and diluting my buzz, but I haven’t had wine in over 10 years. I watch as Ray brings two fingers and his thumb together at his lips and makes a kissing sound.
“You look just like the guy on the box,” I tell him. He smiles.
It’s the eighth of December, day 122 of Sophie’s quarantine, the two extra days unavoidable as we were in Ohio on her official release date. Ray’s dad, Jerry, has started seeing things, green cats in the freezer, dead bodies in the middle of the living room floor. He’s stopped eating anything but sweets. Ray’s sister gave us the update three weeks ago, after their dad asked her who she was, having just moments before called her by name to come see the corpse in the living room. Later he’d asked her if she grew up on the farm. He couldn’t find his way out of the bathroom.
“You have to come,” she’d said on the phone. “A ninetieth birthday party would be better, but I don’t know if he’ll remember you next year. We’ll celebrate this year. I’ll invite Ruth and see if Monique and Mike can make it.”
We had sworn we’d never travel north of the Mason-Dixon again, not in winter, and probably not at all. Although we both knew we’d have to go to Jerry’s funeral, we never mentioned it. Among ourselves, we said we’d never go back. Ray said he didn’t want to risk his family, driving in bad weather. I didn’t have to say anything. My parents are dead, and the whole reason we moved to Texas and then to Hawaii is because of the icepick-jabbing sensation I get in my left ear when the weather changes abruptly or the mercury drops below freezing.
“She’s right. We have to go,” I told him as soon as he hung up, so he wouldn’t have to go to the trouble of finding good reasons to invalidate what, at the heart of the matter, are really excuses, at least when family is concerned.
Jerry’s birthday was on the sixth, the day before Pearl Harbor Day, as Ray points out every year. The sixth was also Sophie’s scheduled release date. We flew out the day after the party, most of which Jerry slept through, although he did light up when his old girlfriend, Polly, showed up, and he did remember us, all three of us, Ray and Hannah and me, which was good, more than we could hope for. Now, we walk across the parking lot in shorts and sandals and we’re sweaty before we reach the sidewalk.
“Damn winter,” Ray says.
I smile. He takes out his wallet, pulls out the orange registration card officially filled out and signed on day one. He smoothes it flat. I’m counting steps: 22, 23. I count steps when I’m bored or nervous. I stopped counting here after the first few visits, but I’m worried there will be a problem with Sophie’s release.
“December sixth. See, right there.” He points, turns the card over, reads, “Pets must be picked up within five days of release date.”
He called to check that it would be OK to pick her up on the sixth before we left, but no one answered. I called, and no one answered. I sent an email without receiving a reply, so I made a last-minute trip out the day before we left. I asked at the window, and I asked the guy who sits outside at the desk checking people’s orange cards as they sign in, giving them a cardboard number. I explained the reason we had to leave. Certainly we didn’t want to leave, I’d joked, but family. They both said it was OK. The guy at the desk, Joe, even turned over the card and read it out loud. Joe likes Sophie, I can tell, and he seems to like me or maybe he pretends to because I told him I’m disabled after I couldn’t make out what he was saying to me one day. Usually, I read lips, and I never tell anyone I can’t hear if I can help it, but I didn’t want anything to happen to Sophie because I messed up.
“You got your card?” Ray asks.
“Yup.” I pull it from my back pocket and show it to him.
“Remember, I said it would go fast, in a few months it would be over and we would come and pick her up like it never happened. Just like selling the house.”
“That was fast,” I say. Selling the house took a little over a week, less than a month from when we decided to sell it soon after Ray’s brother died of cancer at 56, and Ray surprised me on Father’s Day morning saying he’d decided to sell everything, the house and everything, and move, was that OK with me?
* * *
There are 32 cement squares from the end of the parking lot to the quarantine entrance. We walk slowly, both thinking how much it looks like a concentration camp. A chain-link fence topped with concertina wire encircles the barracks like rows of chain-link-enclosed kennels with their ribbed tin roofs. This place used to be full. When I was on island before, I knew lots of soldiers who brought their families out here every weekend. I remember thinking, I couldn’t do it. To me, the dogs that finally joined my friends on base housing never seemed to really belong. I’d known my friends without their dogs, although their pets preceded our friendship. They seemed casual, back then, about quarantine. There was no five-day program, nothing they could have done to have made things easier for their pets, so maybe the difference was they didn’t have to feel guilty over not keeping up with the paperwork. Sophie could have spent just five days in quarantine, but I gave up. I gave up on Hawaii, and maybe on Ray, on what we could do together.
This is the last time we’ll have to come here. The last time. I cross my fingers in my shorts pocket.
The most distant kennels are rusty, the chain link red as the dirt, as are the roofs hanging on by just a corner. Rusty metal feeding dishes are turned over near the swinging doors. Plants have grown into and around the kennels, tendrils woven through the diamond shapes. In one, nearer the entrance, a mango tree seems to have pulled back the tin roof with its growth and one thick branch has grown through the mesh. Although the branch is gray and stunted looking compared to the rest of the tree, there are still smaller green branches sprouting from it, several turning back toward the trunk itself in the sunlight.
“After we get Sophie, we should let them all out,” I say.
“You walk her out on the leash, and I’ll hold back.”
“I’ll call you once we’re safe in the car,” Ray says.
“Out on the street,” I say. “Wait until you’re all the way out there.”
“That’s a long way for you to walk.”
“Walk? I’ll be running!” I raise my eyebrows, knowing that this expression always seems to convince Ray, even after 20 years, that I will do what I’m saying. I will.
“As long as Sophie is safe,” he says. “You should probably walk, though.”
“Casual,” I say. “Not draw attention to myself.”
We reach the faded sign at the entry, “Quarantine,” in what was once red and is now pink, missing a few letters, but the year 1915 carved as deep in the stone as the day the place opened. The gates are not yet open. Ray looks at his watch, shows me the time. Five minutes. We stand side by side in front of the sign.
“Hannah didn’t want to go to school today,” Ray says.
“I know, but she can’t afford to miss any more.”
“I thought she was going to play sick, but she got up and went.”
“Good. That was the deal.”
We had discussed Ray going to Ohio alone, but Hannah overheard and said she wanted to go, she wanted to see Grandpa, and I did, too, except for the part of me that didn’t.
“Anyway, I told her Sophie might be all dirty or wet even, if we have to give her a bath.”
For our visits, Ray always carries a grocery bag with dog shampoo and a brush. I have a towel over my left shoulder. I brush her every visit, but it’s been 10 days, and the staff isn’t always quick to clean messes out of the cages.
“Well, Sophie will be happy to see us.”
“Sophie will be glad to go home with us,” I say.
“A home she’s never seen,” Ray answers.
“Doesn’t matter. It smells like us. It has our stuff, what’s left of it. Flynn will be there and Hannah.”
We’ve talked about whether the doggy reunion should occur outside our house, in case Sophie gets so excited to see Flynn that she loses control of her bladder, or inside, which could cause aggression, since Flynn is there already, but he’s mellow, even more mellow since he’s been without her. Still, we’re sure it will be spectacular, and we’ve agreed to wait until Hannah’s home before we let them back at each other. if we get back to the house too early, we’ll take Sophie to the dog park until its time for Hannah’s bus to drop her off.
* * *
Joe opens the gate at one on the dot. Ray walks ahead, talking already, reaching his card out for Joe to take. I can’t hear a word he’s saying. He’s walking ahead of me, and has moved to my left side. I see Joe look at the card and point to the window around the corner. I don’t have to read his lips to know what to do. There are no people waiting in line, but I dutifully wind through the stanchions, the poles holding the chains to direct people in line. The window is still closed. Ray bypasses the poles and walks straight over so we arrive at the same time.
“The guy said,” Ray says, looking right at me.
“Joe,” I say. “His name is Joe. I know. We have to show the cards at the window.”
“Give them up. We give them to the lady at the window.”
When the window opens, a woman takes each of our cards and tells us to wait as she gets Sophie’s file. We watch as she checks the cards against her paperwork. There’s a moment when she asks a question I don’t hear that seems to fluster Ray. She pushes the folder through the opening and he flips through some papers.
“See here.” He points at a spot on the form. There’s another muffled exchange. He flips some pages and points at another. I feel like a child at times like these, or an idiot. I raise one of the poles linking the chains to form the lines. No centipedes. Good.
* * *
One recent weekend wed waited in line with a form to give Sophie her heartworm pill. There were lots of people that day, a Saturday. Hannah was with us and she spotted a huge centipede. It was bright green and orange with legs like thick false eyelashes coming out along its sides. Hannah pointed and three people jumped away. I grabbed her and yanked her away, too. We hadn’t told her about the centipedes. I don’t think I had even told Ray, as I had avoided telling him anything that would dissuade him from deciding to move. Once he’d made up his mind, I told him everything I could think of, good and bad, and reassured him that we didn’t have to move, we could stay in Texas. I knew how much he hated change.
“Last year my brother was here. Well, not here, but alive,” Ray had said, “and now he’s not.”
“I know, but you always said you didn’t want to move to Hawaii. What about tsunamis?”
It is so hard to argue against your deepest wish, but I did my best. I cautioned him about the cost of living and explained the concept of being a “haole,” reminded him he’d be in a minority, an obvious minority, even if I could pass.
“A month ago, I was talking to him, and now he’s gone, but at least he went places. He did things. I don’t want to wait. I’ve made up my mind,” Ray had answered, and although I brought it up a few more times, he didn’t waver.
Taking his cue from the others in the line, Ray had backed away from the centipede as well. We all watched as it quickly curled its body around the base of the pole.
“Poisonous, eh,” a local-looking man pointed out. “Fast, too.” As if we couldn’t see just how fast the straight line of it had become a circle.
“Tell the lady at the window,” a blond woman said.
Joe approached through the gates. He didn’t hurry. Nobody ever moved fast at quarantine. The workers in their orange shirts always seemed half-asleep in the heat. The guys who stood on the back of the mini-forklifts, moving through the aisles with pooper-scoopers and empty bowls, drove slowly, steering with one hand.
The people jumping away from the centipede on the pole was the fastest movement I’d seen since we’d arrived, cars included.
“There’s no place for it to go,” I said, stepping forward and raising my right foot, glad I was wearing tennis shoes instead of sandals, just as Ray grabbed the knob at the top of the pole.
I could hear Joe’s voice yelling as I stumbled back into Hannah who was suddenly right behind me. Ray tilted the pole, revealing it to be hollow. The centipede’s front legs held fast as its head immediately disappeared into the black hole. Its body followed fast except for the very last legs, which had lost purchase and dangled uselessly for a moment, still moving. Ray slammed the pole down while jumping away. There was a sound like a high-pitched bell as the metal pole hit the concrete. The black legs continued to move. Ray herded Hannah and me to the wooden benches between the Men’s and Women’s. I wondered if the part of the centipede inside the pole could continue to live as the back end went still. Joe motioned everyone to come through the gate instead of waiting at the window.
* * *
Ray continues to negotiate with the woman at the window over Sophies release paperwork. Standing apart, I feel an urge to pick up the pole and look inside it. Instead I keep myself a body-length away from the pole, touch just the top of it with my index finger, and wait for the talking to stop.
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