The young man smiling in a slightly apologetic way and holding our dog under one arm was dressed too nice for the heat. The pits of his suit didn’t even look damp. He shifted his briefcase in the hand not occupied by the Shih Tzu.
“This wouldn’t be your dog, would it?” he put a little laugh into the words.
My wife squinted and dabbed her hands on the dish towel hanging from her waist.
“Schatzi? How on earth—” she chewed her bottom lip. “Thank you stranger.”
She had her hand on the gate latch when I stopped her. Don’t know why. I think it was the smile, too cool for an August afternoon, like he’d kept it in the fridge. Or maybe the way he looked at us. I don’t know. Didn’t like it.
So I asked him, “and just how, can you tell me, did a little dog get past ten foot cyclone fencing?”
The stranger didn’t answer, just smiled and blunk at us. Even the blinks were off, like his lids stayed shut just a fraction too long.
So I told him “I’m calling the cops,” and went inside as fast as my bones would let me. In between the moment I glanced back through the door and the moment I put my hand on the phone, he up and left.
The wife said she was looking somewhere else, just for a second, when he went. We looked out on the road, a long ways off in either direction, nobody.
The next day we found the dog, impaled on a stick.
The wife was alone in the front next time he came around. I was way out back, fixing a sprinkler. I wasn’t too worried, my wife wasn’t opening anything for god or man. She said she was on the porch, deadheading the hydrangea, and looking up who does she see but that same young man, smiling as if nothing were wrong in the world?
“Hello ma’am, I wonder if you wouldn’t have use for a brand new, patent-pending canning rack?”
My wife said she just sort of stood there for a minute. He was just as fresh-faced and tidy as the day before.
And she says she said, “Now just wait one minute, young man. You wanna tell me what you did with my dog yesterday?”
And she says he said right back, “I’d like to tell you about a space-age wonder no kitchen will be without in ten year’s time.”
She says she didn’t know what else to say except, “I believe you need to get the hell away from my gate before my old man finds you.”
And she says he said, “Ma’am, I really do believe you’ll want to see this.”
Don’t know what the wife would’ve done, maybe gone on arguing like that forever. But round that time I hear her talking to someone and come over to say hi, thinking it was someone we knew. The sight of him stopped me cold. The young man shifted his focus from her to me, like a cat watching two mice.
“Hello sir, wonder if I couldn’t take just a minute of your time?”
And I said, “You got some nerve, flashing your face around after what you did. You wanna get out of my sight before I get nasty?”
And my old lady put her hands on my arm, with that young man still smiling his damn ice-pop smile.
He said, “I’ve got something to show you both,” and hell if the hairs didn’t stand up on my neck.
“I’m calling the cops,” I said. He didn’t move. “You hear me? I said I’m calling the cops.”
He nodded. “Good for you, sir. Now, about that offer…”
We only looked away for a second. Just a second, I swear. Dinner was quiet, and we both kept looking out to the road.
The next day was hell. We had never had such a bad night, every time I closed my eyes something would creak out in the yard and they’d shoot open again. I haven’t even got coffee in me at this point, the wife, she looks like hell, hasn’t started breakfast, we both go out to the front yard.
There he is.
Neither of us went for the phone. It went unspoken that neither of us wanted to be alone with him.
“Go,” I said, “go ‘way.”
And that young man leaned forward and that smile never melted and he said, “I’ll go away forever if you let me in.”
My wife gave this long, keening wail and pressed her forehead to the porch pillar. My arms went slack—I felt like I’d just been shot.
We didn’t run. Both of us quietly shuffled up the steps like penned sheep. If he left, I didn’t see.
But he was back again.
After a while we just stopped going out. Neither of us really wanted to think what would happen if we got stuck on the other side of the gate with him and that smile. Specially at night.
You never saw him move. You’d always just look up and see him standing tidy at his spot in front of the gate, and then you’d look down again and he’d go. Seems silly now, but we never called the cops. Promised each other we would, never touched the receiver.
I started keeping my hunting rifle near the door, but all I shot was shadows. The wife went over and over those damn flower beds ‘til they looked like carpets in the White House. Eventually all the bluff and bluster drained out of me, seeing his face every day was like a hammer blow to my heart.
I guess it did wear on both of us, but the wife wore a little more than me. I was napping(haven’t slept a night since) and I heard a howl, like the ragged end of a human being. I found her by the gate, had to drag her half-sobbing into the house while she fought me every step of the way. The front door hadn’t clicked shut one second before I tripped to what she’d done.
There was a knock.
I could see through the front curtains that she’d left the gate wiiide open. And then right next to it—
Guess I’d never noticed how small his pupils were, how his eyes were too light to tell what color they were, how he didn’t have any eyelashes. Guess a gate separated you more than just distance. There he was, just a pane of glass away.
“Hi,” he said, and his breath didn’t even fog up the glass.
Been living inside ever since then. Threw away the keys in the far corner of the attic, where I knew she couldn’t get ‘em. She went crazy again that first day. Thought she’d gotten better lately, only just last Thursday she decided to take the short way out by plugging the back of her head. She missed, of course, woman’s never worked a gun in her life. Didn’t call an ambulance. I dressed the wound, left her in the spare bedroom with a bottle of water and the TV clicker. Seemed for the best.
I asked him: why don’t he just come in? Can’t be that hard to break glass.
“Because you’ll let me in,” he said, “eventually.”