By Dana DeLaney-McSwain
I walked my dog Zyk last night. The heat of the day passed; the clouds rolling in made it safe for me to leave the house without getting a third-degree burn. I hate sunshine. It’s relentless and depressing. I prefer evening, twilight, the day softly turning around three times like an old dog and stretching out for a long sleep. Summer nights in Cleveland are like that; softer, slower, the rough edges smoothed in the waning light.
As we walked down the street, we swerved to avoid a patch of fallen huckleberries by the stone wall. A man mowing his lawn hurriedly stopped his mower and asked if he could go get his dog to meet Zyk. His dog, he said, ignored all other dogs, but when Zyk walked by on his nightly walks, the man’s dog sobbed and cried in an upstairs window like his long-lost brother was going past. I laughed, and when he opened the gate across his driveway, a chocolate lab came bounding joyfully, and the way Zyk greeted him made me wonder if they might not be reincarnated spirit brothers.
We continued on our way, leaving behind a sad, wagging dog and his mystified owner. Our route is varied, but what does not change is the boomerang trajectory; we sweep out and away, miles away from home, our path a ribbon unfurling behind us and ultimately winding us back home again.
Later, we walked through the park, the air thick with midges. I swatted idly at them, sneezing because they insist on fluttering about your nose. A group of people gathered at the top of the cliff by the fence. My husband and I call them City of Angels People because they come there at sunset, all eerily facing one direction like the black shrouded angels in the film, towards the sun as it sets over Lake Erie.
I passed three girls on a swinging bench overlooking the water. One with a headband, one with a ponytail, one with pigtails. They were adorable in the way 13-year-old girls can be around each other, fresh-faced and unselfconscious. They were laughing and swinging.
Headband: Remember that game we used to play? When we were little girls?
Pigtails: Which one?
Ponytails: Oooooh! You mean All Our Lives?
Headband: I loved playing All Our Lives! Remember? We would start by pretending to be babies, then we would go to school, then we would all have big weddings and …
Pigtails: Oooh! And then then we’d pretend to go to the hospital and have babies! And give them crazy names!
Headband: I’m so glad we’ve been friends, like, forever. I love you two. You’re my best friends.
Ponytail: (laughing) You’re such a nerd! Let’s go to the pool tomorrow!
Pigtails: I’m wearing my new bikini!
Their voices faded as Zyk and I continued on our way. All our Lives. We left the park and walked down a quiet street with no sidewalks, past stately homes built by famous architects when Cleveland’s future was bright, the sultry night’s haze erasing the peeling paint and crumbling masonry. A yellow dog with a giant pink bow named Emma ran across the street to greet us, as her owner chased her, assuring me that Emma just wanted to say hi. Zyk and Emma played for a while, later joined by a boisterous puppy named Carter, as we owners stood around talking and admiring Emma’s bow.
We continued on our way, now on the far side of twilight, my steps quickening to our turn-around point. Couples walked by, some holding hands and some just walking in perfect sync with each other. No one in a hurry, not a jogger to be seen in the still, close air. I thought how nice it is to have someone by your side, someone to walk with, someone who matches your stride and helps you set a pace. How lucky people are who have found that. We turned towards home, my steps faster as darkness fell and I pictured my own home, windows slowly lighting up like a Christmas party as my family moved in their own trajectory through the house. My husband, endlessly fiddling with electronics and no doubt wondering when I’d be home; the children fighting, chasing the cats, making snacks, arguing about TV.
Past the park again, people clearing out as darkness and the intensity of the midges began to fall like a smothering blanket over the fields by the lake. As I approached the corner of my children’s school, I saw a group of boys, 16-year-olds with a basketball, fighting. Their voices raised in angry discord, I made up my mind to swing past the sidewalk where they stood, the four of them in an angry huddle, and pass by on the grass. Four young men with raised voices crackled against the nearly dark sky.
First Young Man: Man, I cain’t understand you. Because you don’t know how to talk, man, you make no sense.
Second Young Man: Bitch, I know how to talk. Don’t you tell me how to talk, bitch.
Third Young Man: (slapping the Second Young Man on his chest) Watch your mouth. Don’t you be using that language in front of a lady. You want someone talking like that in front of yo mama?
Second Young Man: (to me) Ma’am, I’m sorry you heard that language. I apologize. I didn’t see you there. I wouldn’t want no body talking trash like that in front of no lady. I’m sorry.
Third Young Man: We’re sorry, ma’am. Our mamas raised us better. You have a nice night, ma’am.
First Young Man: You have a nice walk, ma’am.
I turned and gave them each a slow smile and nodded as I passed by. It’s safe to say that’s the first time anyone ever apologized for swearing in my presence. The boys continued their conversation, now threatening to tell his mother that he swore as a lady walked by, their tone now joking, the fevered argument broken. And I was amazed at these women who still hold their young men to such standards, and it made me wonder if things might not just be better than we think they are.
I looked up at a soft waxing gibbous moon. The bats were coming out, flying in death-defying dips and swirls, their delight to be out after a day’s rest evident in their enthusiastic flight. I was tired and thought of my family at home, waiting for me. “Home,” I thought, “is such a big word,” and I hurried there.
Dana DeLaney-McSwain is a writer of fiction and non-fiction living in Lakewood, Ohio. You can find more of her essays and humorous pieces at www.dangerouslybored.com.