Crumb’s Dream of Dafoe
Dmitri was already off his game when the doorman at Boston’s Ritz Carlton nodded, smiled, and said: “Good morning, Sir.”
Being on his game required the following:
1. That Dmitri arrive at the owner’s door on time, within a minute, by Dmitri’s watch, which he
reset every morning to “the official U.S. time” posted at www.time.gov). But when Dmitri heard,
“Good morning, Sir,” he was already twelve minutes late and seven floors below the owner’s door.
2. That when the owner opened the door, Dmitri project calm (arms hanging and the thumb of
his left hand caught loosely in the grip of his right hand), confidence (good posture, but not
military posture) and warmth (a slight, closed lip smile, a slighter tilting of the head, and crinkled
eyes). Dmitri had read that cocking the head and crinkling the eyes conveyed warmth.
3. That Dmitri read the dog within a second and react appropriately. For example, if the dog
was shy, Dmitri would perceive that shyness, ease to a squat, maintain eye contact with the
owner (thus also avoiding eye contact with the dog), and extend his loosely closed hand to the
4. And most importantly, that if there were many dogs, Dmitri would configure their leashes in
a way so that those who saw him would marvel at his control and desire that Dmitri would walk
their dogs too.
As Dmitri was off his game, he was past the doorman before he realized he hadn’t returned the doorman’s smile—which Dmitri believed was bad business practice.
Dmitri reminded Kim and Amanda, his employees: “Always be cordial with menials. It costs nothing and you never know, it might help.”
But when Dmitri reached the second menial, the condominium’s concierge, he was still thinking about the doorman, so, after identifying himself as the dog walker and gaining entry to the complex, he only nodded to the concierge, which took him further off his game.
Riding in the elevator, Dmitri reflected on why he was off his game. It was the woman, his seatmate that morning on the Green Line—which was one of Boston’s streetcar lines. During the Great Depression, she would have been a beauty, but current American tastes would have framed her face as too wide, the cheeks too distended, a chin too petite and pointy, and the nose and lips too pinched.
But to Dmitri, she was perfect—she was the promise of his America. In 1944, when Dmitri’s grandfather unpacked morphine and ammunition from America, he also found a film projector and two American movies. It was beautiful, seductive propaganda; Hollywood’s hallucination of America— where everyone glittered and danced and quipped and smiled—and where girls had distended cheeks and petite, pointy chins and pinched lips. The movies were Curly Top, starring Shirley Temple, and Bombshell, starring Jean Harlow, and up through Dmitri’s eleventh year, the movies were played four times a year and they extended Dmitri’s English lessons, which were administered by his uncle. Then the projector broke, but Dmitri’s taste in American women was already cast and when he arrived in Boston, it did not matter to him that his was an archaic taste—that Hollywood now conceived of female beauty as leaner, more androgynous: tits san hips. The woman on the Green Line looked like Shirley Temple with Jean Harlow’s hair, so she was perfect.
She was also applying her makeup and as she did, the nearest person in the aisle, crowded by others, leaned against Dmitri. Dmitri wanted to yield to that push, to be pushed into his seatmate’s blondness and her glossy, nearly obscene succulence. She was a peeled peach.
That she was applying her makeup was unusual in Boston where the women wore mostly black and brown and they kept their heads down and kept their blues and their purples in their scarves and hats. Those women blended to Dmitri, blended amongst themselves and with Dmitri’s memories of the women in his Siberian village—those dark, dour, practical women. But the woman was different, painting her face, so publicly, so conspicuously, and not a quick job, but a layering with multiple brushes and a little sponge shaped like a slice of lemon cake and stroking with confidence, as if she did it everyday and was acclimated to the motion of the car and couldn’t care less that she was the only woman on the train without a hat and with gelled, wavy, Jean Harlow hair.
So Dmitri sat, trying to maintain a considerate space between them and trying not to be caught staring at her. Then Dmitri saw that she seemed indifferent to being watched and so Dmitri studied her openly.
It seemed to their fellow riders that they were a couple—the woman applying her makeup and her mate studying the process. They seemed a couple by their strangeness too. Dmitri looked like a caricature of Willem Dafoe, the actor who himself seemed a caricature. He looked like Robert Crumb’s dream of Willem Dafoe. He had Dafoe’s sloping nose and behind that nose, he had a crescent face with fine, pale brown hair and an amazingly thick lower lip that jutted naturally, but most of the time, Dmitri caught it and tucked it with his upper lip. He had prey eyes, the eyes of rabbits and cows and sheep–with vast pupils that were always watching and ringed by wide irises. It was an arresting face and in summation, an oddly pleasant one.
The woman with the red, pinched lips thought so. As she exited the car, she looked over her shoulder and smiled and right at that over-the-shoulder smile is when Dmitri realized that he’d missed his stop, that he’d gone one stop too far and he decided that he couldn’t exit now, because if he did, it would seem to his Shirley Temple that he was running off the train after her—and you don’t chase Shirley Temple—even if she has Jean Harlow’s hair. So he rode to the next stop and ran seven blocks back to The Ritz Carlton and arrived winded and off his game.
When he reached the ninth floor, he stepped off the elevator, adjusted his backpack, which held doggy treats, leashes and collars, and the plastic bags that he called scat sacks.
Then he walked to 910, checked his posture, fixed his face, and knocked.
They probably won’t even notice I’m late. Americans are sloppy with time.
“You are late,” said the woman that opened the door.
“I, the T is off schedule. I apologize.”
“Professionals are punctual.”
Professionals are punctual is just what Dmitri told Kim and Amanda. Dmitri hated the moment. He hated been scolded for exactly what he told his menials.
“Well,…come in,” she said, in a tone that clipped like scissors.
Dmitri’s eyes went down: mostly out of habit because normally there was a dog there and yes, the dog was there and he was glad, because he could demonstrate his skill. He extended his loosely closed hand and looked up to the woman. He smiled, crinkled his eyes, and tilted his head.
The woman was beautiful—the kind of beauty that money captures and carries up to the ninth floor of The Ritz Carlton. She had the most coveted flavors of fat and bone—especially the skull. It was a lovely skull—wide and bisymmetrical. The jaw line was as well-rendered as the fenders of a Ferrari.
Still, she was no Shirley Temple.
And her dog was barely a dog. More of a mop. And it snorted like his grandmother had had when she fell asleep in her day chair. Dmitri pitied it—it was not meant for its mashed face. It did not ask to have its nasal passages compressed through selective breeding. Under the hair, which looked like it belonged to a 20-dollar whore, it was still a dog with a dog’s dreams of the pack and the hunt and the kill.
“This is Bosch. Bosch, this is Dmitri. He will be with you for the next two days.”
It was a Japanese Chin. Dmitri memorized all the breeds before he walked his first dog, but he had never been asked to walk a Japanese Chin.
Won’t be much of a walk, he thought.
The dog had no collar and Dmitri hoped the woman owned no collar because he could then produce one and say: “Ah, I always carry collars and leashes.”
Then she might match his “Ah” and think: This is some professional. The T might make him late, but he thinks of everything.
“How long will I walk the dog?” asked Dmitri, wondering if the usual 30-minute walk he delivered would overwhelm this short-legged, hard-breathing dog.
“I told you I need you for two days. And there are nine boys.”
Dmitri had met many women who considered their dogs to be sons and daughter, boys and girls.
He smiled and said, “I have walked nine dogs before. Once, I walked eleven dogs. Not many dog walkers can manage eleven dogs.”
“Boys. Follow me. I will introduce you to the boys.”
Dmitri and the whore’s wig followed Stella.
In the living room, there were eight more whores’ wigs. A couple sat on a great stuffed Steff bear—as big as a real black bear. One slept on a miniature sofa. Another slept on a miniature chair. The remainder rested on the shelf of a window that ran up to the ceiling and from corner to corner.
“You may leave, but for no more than an hour. Our door will lock behind you, but the concierge has the key. You will sign in and sign out. The concierge will record those times. If you do a good job, we know many people with dogs. We can be very good for your business.”
Dmitri ruminated very good for your business, but he had three more appointments that day and six tomorrow: “But I cannot remain here. I am dog walker. I cannot stay. I must walk other dogs. I have appointments.”
“I told you I needed you for two days. You agreed to come. Now, you may leave from time to time, but the boys cannot be left alone for more than an hour.”
Stella studied Dmitri for further resistance. Dmitri wondered how many of his nine appointments Kim and Amanda could cover and he continued to wonder about “very good for your business.”
“Do you have any questions about the procedure?”
She paused, but Dmitri continued to wonder.
“Okay. There is plenty of food in the refrigerator. You may eat what you wish. Follow me.”
Stella led Dmitri to the kitchen.
“This is what the boys eat.”
Stella tapped a framed recipe.
“I did the calligraphy,” she said.
The recipe read:
One bundle organic, raw swiss chard (or kohlrabi)
One cup plain non-fat yogurt
One tablespoon cod liver oil
One cup bulgur (or quinoea)
A little honey or apricot jam—for their sweet teeth!
A filet of tilapia or salmon
Zoom, zoom blend it!
Stella collected the ingredients and dropped them into the Cusinart.
“It works best if you pulse.”
“Then spread their food on this dish.”
Stella spread the goo. She used a short silver knife with an odd, round blade.
“Place it in the sunlight on this bench. I usually wait five minutes for it to warm. Ten if there is no Sun, but since we’re in a hurry, we’ll just drizzle it with sunflower oil now, take it out to the boys and say: Come and get it.”
Eight boys just watched. Only one dog moved and it mostly seemed to sniff the food. Stella lifted a book off a stand.
“Now, this is The Book. Read it. It tells you everything you need to know about the boys.”
Stella passed Dmitri the hardbound book with a hardbound look. Stella was opaque to Dmitri. Dmitri was not given time to open The Book.
“Every hour, offer the boys a walk.”
Every hour? Dmitri wondered. She expects me to walk her dogs every hour? He set the book on its stand again.
“I will show you how to walk them. Follow me.”
I am professional dog walker, thought Dmitri. Two years! And she shows me?
Stella walked into the living room.
She put her hands on her hips and said, her pitch rising through each word: “Boys! Boys!”
Then she dropped her hands to her thighs, snapped her fingers, and walked down the hall, through the kitchen and back into the living room. One dog followed. Dmitri suspected it was the same one that sniffed the food. The others watched or slept.
When Stella came back around to Dmitri, she informed: “Sometimes two dogs will take the walk, but even if no dogs take the walk, keep offering it each hour until eleven.”
“Are you ready, Stella?”
An old man entered the living room. He had a suitcase.
“We’ve got to go,” the old man said, ignoring Dmitri.
Stella reminded Dmitri: “You may leave for no more than an hour and if you must leave, offer the boys a walk upon your return. We’ll be back in two days. Friday—around six. I’ll be calling to see how the boys are doing. Don’t forget to read The Book. Chin are sensitive individuals and The Book will help you get acquainted. Oh, yes. Follow me.”
Stella marched away.
As they passed her husband, she paused: “This is my husband. Thorsten.”
Thorsten offered his hand and Dmitri took it and gripped it, but he wanted to recoil. Thorsten’s fingers were soft and white—removed from work. Dmitri remembered when he and his brother found a monstrous white pine that had fallen and rotted in a rich, red flakiness. Ivan and he climbed the trunk and walked along it. Dmitri stepped onto a section that gave way. His leg penetrated to the knee. He pitched forward and his right arm punched through to the elbow. The brothers laughed. When Dmitri removed his arm, a white grub was impaled on his forefinger. His brother tore at the tissue of the tree, like a bear, and he opened cavities and in those cavities writhed white, fat grubs, which secretly disgusted Dmitri. And those soft, waxy grubs were what Dmitri remembered as Thorsten held his hand and smiled and nodded and watched him.
Dmitri managed to say: “I am pleased to meet you.”
And Thorsten with his grub fingers and watery eyes and silver hair released him.
“Follow me,” instructed Stella.
She led Dmitri to a bedroom. White, lustrous silk, painted with gold stars and silver, crescent moons, draped off the ceiling. There were great, strange plants and various stars hung from the curtain rod.
“I have a friend who calls this The Lair of the Fairy Queen.”
The bed was monstrous and there was a miniature, winding staircase that began at the side of the bed and curved up to the foot of the bed. It had railings and turned balustrades.
“It’s solid Honduras mahogany. We had it made in Japan. Now, you will sleep here and the boys will sleep with you. The Book will tell you about the sleeping. All the boys can come up the staircase by themselves…but Des will need some help. That’s Desdemona, our Persian. You’ll have to carry her in here and set her on the bed. She’ll sleep by your face. MacBeth might try to squeeze in. If he does, just tell him ‘No. No.’ And move him to your feet, but never raise your voice. All the boys are sensitive. Oh, yes, the diaper. Follow me.”
Stella led Dmitri to the laundry room, which was compact. The washer and dryer faced each other and both were painted dark red beneath their stars and moons. The ceiling was the same.
“This is their diaper.”
Stella motioned to a cotton diaper laid flat on the floor.
“Check it every half hour or so. If it’s soiled, it goes in here.”
She shook a laundry bag.
“Clean ones are up here.”
She opened a cupboard above the dryer. Two big, blue, nylon bags were on the shelves. Diapers Etc. was stenciled on them.
Then Stella stopped. The volume of her voice dropped. In that tight, dark, red room, Dmitri suddenly felt like a priest taking a confession: “Thorsten’s sperm count is surprisingly high. He’s 82. I’m only 44. The doctors still have hope. I’ve gone to my gynecologist for nine years. She’s supposed to be the best. They call her the gynecologist to the stars. She still has hope.”
Dmitri had no idea what to say about Stella’s…eggs.
“I’m only 44.”
But Dmitri knew he would have to say something.
So, he said, “44 is young.”
“44 is young,” Stella repeated.
Then Thorsten called, “Stella, we’ve got to go.”
Stella walked out to Thorsten, who was halfway down the hall—pulling their two carry-on suitcases. She then trotted to the boys and Dmitri followed.
She announced: “Mommy’s going now, but I’ll be back in two days. Two days.”
She held up two fingers and moved her hand so the Chin could all have a clear view.
“I’ll miss all of you and I’ll be calling to check on you. I want you all to be on your very best behavior for Dmitri. He’ll be reading The Book, so he’ll know all about your little quirks. Mommy loves you.”
On her way back down the hall, Stella told Dmitri: “Our rates are in The Book. We’re quite generous, I think. Our phone number’s there too. No guests are allowed. Don’t leave for more than an hour and keep checking the diaper. And check their rear fur. Sometimes when they poop, their little turds stick to their fur. So just pull out their turds and set them on the diaper.”
And Stella closed the door.
Then there was a knock, but before Dmitri could answer, Stella yelled: “It’s all in The Book!”
Dmitri paused and opened the door just as the elevator door closed.
“Read The Book!” Stella yelled again.
Then Dmitri was alone—alone in a corner condo in The Ritz Carlton for two days. Dmitri was excited. He wanted to call Anna. Anna worked in the Laundromat where Dmitri washed his clothes. They had coffee once and he kissed her that evening, only once and on her cheek because she turned her lips away from his, but she smelled like an orange and he believed that if he could bring her up to the ninth floor of The Ritz Carlton and take her back to the big bed, he could smell all of her hair and kiss her white breasts, those breasts that he mostly saw once when she removed someone’s clothes from a washing machine. Yes, on that big bed, Dmitri believed he could know all of Anna beneath her orange-scented, swingy hair.
But first, he had arrangements to make. Dmitri called Kim and Amanda and neither answered. He left a message for each to call him and then he called each again and left the same message. It was nearly noon and his first appointment was at 1:30, but it wasn’t far—just across the park in Beacon Hill. If Kim and Amanda couldn’t cover for him, he could cross Boston Commons and be back within an hour.
So, Dmitri went back to The Book and searched for the rates that Stella described as “generous,” but when he read that Stella and Thorsten paid 30 dollars a day, Dmitri’s excitement curdled.
“I spend all of two days like prisoner and I am paid…little more than dollar an hour.”
Under the “generous” rate of $30 a day, Stella had written:
· Free lodging at The Ritz Carlton (worth hundreds of dollars a night)!
· Free food!
· The boys!
“The barren bitch,” Dmitri muttered.
Or was it her soft, grub-fingered, smiling husband that only paid 30 dollars a day? Dmitri dialed Kim and Amanda again and left his third set of messages. Then he stepped in shit.
“Shit,” he said.
He looked at the nine dogs, but only two looked at him. The rest slept. He removed his shoe and went for a paper towel, but decided to just use the diaper, which was clean and waiting. After wiping the shit off the wood floor and his shoe and putting the dirty diaper in the laundry bag and laying another on the floor, Dmitri walked down the hall and back to The Book. He looked at the dogs.
“I will not be walking you. If you want to walk, then walk, but I will be watching to see which of you shits on floor. And the dog that shits on floor will get nice, pretty smack from me.”
Dmitri sat in a great leather chair and opened the book. Each boy had two pages of paragraphs with subheadings and drawings depicting them with fairy wings and sitting on lily pads and living under toadstools.
Dmitri read this about Botticelli, under the subheading When Mommy Goes: “Botticelli is a nervy boy, but tender when Mommy goes. He might miss her so much that he will not take the walk or be his usual, sassy self. Do not leave him alone in his sadness. Sit with him. Remind him that ‘Mommy will come home.’ But respect his sadness!”
Dmitri looked up at the whores’ wigs. One stood. He snapped his fingers to draw the dog to him, but it just wheezed.
“No shitting,” he reminded.
Dmitri closed The Book and set the alarm on his cell phone for 1:00 p.m. Within a minute, he napped. When his alarm woke him, he stood and stepped in shit. He lost his footing and nearly fell.
“Dirty, shitty dogs! Which one of you is dirty pooper?!”
Dmitri thought about checking their rears to determine the guilty dog, but he remembered that he was likely to find little turds stuck to their fur, so he fetched the diaper and cleaned his shoe and the floor again. Then he signed out with the concierge, cut across the park, and gave three Springer Spaniels their 30-minute walk. Dmitri liked the Spaniels. Two bitches and a dog, they were confident, curious, and quick—so different than the mops, the boys. And he looked dapper with the dogs. For 30 minutes, Dmitri felt like he was back on his game.
Afterwards, Dmitri walked four blocks to a Dunkin Donuts for a coffee, which he drank in the park. He thought about Anna and imagined kissing her white breasts. Then he imagined taking the woman with Jean Harlow hair up into the Ritz Carlton. As they walked past the concierge, she would arch her neck and laugh and answer “But of course!” to something he just said.
Then Dmitri walked back.
He signed his name, looked at his watch to record the time, but the concierge declared: “I’ll record the time, Sir.”
The concierge rode up with Dmitri and unlocked the condo and Dmitri checked the time and estimated that he was gone for an hour and 15 minutes.
Close enough to her precious hour, he thought.
Dmitri stepped into the apartment and right into shit. After he cleaned his shoe and the floor, he discovered two puddles of urine too. The mops seemed mostly where they were when he left. His mumbling didn’t move them either. Dmitri didn’t know if they ever switched places. They all looked alike and Dmitri figured that Stella was hallucinating when she described the boys in The Book as “so unique and expressive”. Dmitri went into the laundry room and grabbed half dozen diapers. He shook them at the boys.
“You filthy dogs with filthy, shitty whore hair! Maybe I take you down to park and let the rats screw you! I step in your shit for dollar an hour.”
Dmitri laid the diapers where the dogs had shit and pissed.
“This is where you shit!” he said, thumping a diaper with his forefinger. “This is where you do your dirty business!”
Then Dmitri went to the bathroom.
He announced: “I am going to bathroom which is what smart animals do when they are inside. I am not going to piss on floor.”
Although I would like to, he thought. That would be fair deal for dollar an hour to step in shit.
The bathroom floor was marble.
After he pissed, Dmitri fingered the gold fixtures. Then he felt the water and he laughed.
It feels just like water from my crummy sink. So Stella and Thorsten wash and shit in same water as me.
Dmitri had two roommates; Amy and Paul. Amy had lived in the apartment for 16 years and her kitschy treasures crowded the common areas. There were plastic ray guns, chromed martini shakers, and album covers from the sixties targeted at swingers, husbands that came of age during the fifties and shopped the record stores in 1969 in polyester pants, fat white belts, and shiny, white shoes. Amy was only happy when she entered the apartment with more stuff.
Paul bunkered in his bedroom, a tiny room with the dresser in his closet because his bed and his 54” screen television took all the floor room. Paul rented 2 DVDs each evening and would sit at the foot of his bed, inches away from screen, which Dmitri knew because the bedroom door once opened a crack and Paul didn’t notice—he just kept leaning into the screen. And Amy sat in the living room and watched her television shows. She ate her Oreos after Dmitri went to bed and hid the packaging under the first few layers of trash, but Dmitri knew. Many mornings, he had poked through the trash to see what had happened after he’d gone to bed.
But Stella and Thorsten and Amy and Paul and I all wash in the same water, Dmitri said. It is the water that goes down toilet one day and out faucet the next—even if faucet is gold.
Dmitri smiled, feeling almost as good as he had when he’d walked the Spaniels. He went back to the boys and The Book. Beyond the pages devoted to each of the 9 boys, Dmitri discovered other sections.
Under Healthy, Happy Boys, Dmitri read: “The boys all enjoy good health because, as they never go outside, they are never exposed to germs. And they get plenty of exercise since they are offered a walk every hour!”
Dmitri looked at the dogs: “But you want to go outside, don’t you? That is why you all sleep by window. You see the drunks down there and you want to smell their shitty pants. You want to smell bird shit and rabbit shit too. That is why you shit all over this pretty place. You are shitting your way to freedom, aren’t you? One day, Thorsten and Stella will slip in your shit and fall and die and then you be free then!”
Dmitri felt suddenly tender towards the dogs, which surprised him, and he walked to the window and lifted one and held it up to the glass so it could see more of the park. It was a delicate dog: the fluff of its fur disguised a tiny body.
Holding it reminded him of the owl he and Ivan found, a sick and grounded owl that died the next day. When Dmitri held it to comfort it, he discovered that the great bird was mostly an illusion. It was largely feathers. When it died, Ivan plucked those feathers for trophies and then he showed Dmitri the thin, naked corpse, which disturbed both boys, so they dug a grave and laid the owl in it and then Ivan ran into the house and came out with the feathers.
He and Dmitri laid the feathers over the owl, one at time, like a blanket, until Dmitri realized: “Hey, he doesn’t have any feathers under him. He’s on the cold dirt.”
So the boys removed all the feathers and then the owl and they remade the grave into a nest of feathers and then laid the owl in it and covered it with the remaining feathers.
“Stella will probably pluck your fur when you die, little man,” teased Dmitri, but hearing his words embarrassed him and Dmitri considered sneaking this one dog down to the park and letting it smell some shit and grass and dirty candy bar wrappers.
But that’s when Dmitri saw her—the woman on the Green Line. She was in the park and walking along a path, her hair glinting like a gold faucet. Then Dmitri doubted that it was she—that he could be lucky enough to see her again and so soon. Then he considered that maybe she didn’t just look like a movie star: maybe she moved through the world like a movie star, being just where she needed to be to be. Maybe, when she came to a crosswalk, she could hear Destiny whisper, Right, and so she’d turn right when all the rest, the sheep in their black and brown wool, went left. And that right turn took her to Dmitri, the professional dog walker, with his established business and two employees, who surveyed the city right now from the ninth floor of The Ritz Carlton.
Dmitri put the dog down and pressed his palms and face up against the glass and tried to discern Jean Harlow waves in her hair, but she was too high and walking farther away.
Then she sat. She sat on a bench and she took out a book.
“Fate,” Dmitri whispered.
Dmitri left with no thought of Anna or Stella or the boys.
He went down the elevator and signed out and crossed the street and just as he realized that it was she, she looked up at him and she smiled and then she said: “The guy from the Green Line.”
So, she remembered him and now it was his turn to say something.
Dmitri wanted to say: “Say, my place is right here. Would you like to come up for a cup of tea?”
Then he’d motion at The Ritz Carlton and she might arch her neck and laugh and answer: “But of course!”
But it would be too fragile a lie, so he said instead: “I saw you from up there. The ninth floor. It is condo of good, good friends. They ask me to stay with their dogs—Japanese Chin. Would you like to see the dogs?”
Two years in the business had Dmitri believing in the power of dogs to draw women near him.
“Yeah, they are good, good dogs. They look…like dust mops!”
And Dmitri smiled and crinkled his eyes and cocked his head, but he almost laughed because he wanted to say that they looked like whore hair.
“There are nine of them—on ninth floor of Ritz Carlton!”
Shirley Temple with Jean Harlow hair decided that going with the man to the ninth floor of the Ritz Carlton, the man with the caricature of a face, would make a great story to tell her office mates.
She closed her book, stood, and said: “I’m Kristen.”
As they walked to the Ritz Carlton, Dmitri started to worry that the concierge wouldn’t permit her passage, but he buzzed them both into the lobby. They both signed his guest book. He led them to the condo and unlocked the door.
“Oh…my…gawd,” said Kristen, walking down the hallway with its walls painted with fairies and paintings with fat, fancy frames over the fairies and miniature paintings hung between the big paintings and then past the painted laundry room. Dmitri was pleased she was impressed.
Perhaps I will see her white breasts, he thought.
But then Kristen said, “It’s…it’s…it’s Michael Jackson’s face.”
“What do you mean?”
“Your friends did to their place what Michael Jackson did to his face.”
Kristen noted the confusion and dismay on Dmitri’s face and she confessed: “Oh, I’m sorry. Sometimes I just say what I’m thinking. It’s…it’s really quite lovely, all the windows and the view and these…wood floors.”
Kristen, noting the stuffed tiger in the kitchen, asked: “How many children do they have?”
Then Dmitri remembered he had intimate information, which would make him seem more like a friend: “But they are trying!”
“Is this…?” asked Kristen, touching a black and white photograph that displayed Stella’s beautiful skull, a skull wrapped in clear, white skin.
“Yes, that is Stella. She is the artist.”
“Here’s another photo of her. She’s quite fond of herself. Where’s her…partner? I said, ‘partner,’ because one doesn’t knows what to say anymore.”
“Her husband is…”
Dmitri looked for a photo of Thorsten.
“He is very old.” is all Dmitri could think to say and he almost told Kristen that Thorsten had soft hands.
Dmitri was deciding that Kristen was strange. Why was this condo like Michael Jackson’s face? Dmitri knew it was not good to be like Michael Jackson’s face, but he did not see the connection. Maybe Kristen did not understand what it meant to live in The Ritz Carlton. Anna would know. Anna was a good girl from Russia and she would understand what it meant to live in The Ritz Carlton. Dmitri wished Anna were there.
Kristen walked into the living room.
“So here are the dogs,” she said. “They’re…they’re funny-looking. No offense. I just grew up with black labs. Now a black lab’s a real dog.”
The hair on Dmitri’s arms rose. He didn’t know if he was angry or afraid. He wondered why he felt protective of the shitting Chins. Then he remembered the owl again. He remembered the moment when his sister came up behind Ivan and him as they laid the last feathers on the corpse. It was a holy moment for the brothers, but not to Laura.
Laura laughed and said: “It looks funny with its skinny neck!”
And Dmitri stood and pushed his sister up against the barn, yelling: “He can’t help how he looks! He did not ask for it!”
Ivan had to pull Dmitri away. That night, Dmitri’s father beat him.
In the Ritz, Kristen wondered why Dmitri was still.
“Do you know what a black lab is?” wondered Kristen.
And now Dmitri wanted to yell: “Yes, you stupid, wavy-haired bitch, I know what black lab is! I know all breeds. I am professional dog walker!”
And he wanted to push her against a wall too, but he was not a boy anymore who could push any girl that deserved it, even if his father was no longer there to beat him.
He was a professional and so he said: “It is time for you to go now. I hope you enjoyed your visit.”
And Dmitri walked down the hall and opened the door and waited for Kristen to leave and she did, but she wondered what madness afflicted the man from the Green Line.
When Dmitri walked back to the boys, the apartment’s phone rang. He did not answer it. After four rings, the answering machine played its message.
Then Dmitri heard Stella’s voice: “Dmitri, this is Stella. The concierge just called and informed us that a woman entered the complex with you. Pick up, Dmitri.”
There was a pause.
“Dmitri, pick up. I told you that you aren’t allowed guests.”
Dmitri heard Thorsten’s voice: “Maybe he isn’t there.”
“Oh, he’s there.”
Then louder: “Dmitri, pick up. Your little girlfriend will have to go. The bed is for sleeping with the boys. Dmitri, pick up.”
5 minutes later, Stella called and insisted that Dmitri speak and that the bed was not there for “a tryst.”
The longer Stella spoke and the angrier she became, the more Dmitri, who had an ear for accents, realized that Stella came from Kentucky. Perhaps Tennessee.
Pretty, barren hillbilly bitch, Dmitri thought, but he remembered the owl. He wished he hadn’t.
But the owl is dead and buried, he told himself. Dead and buried.
Then one of the boys stood and shit between the two diapers that Dmitri had laid in the living room.
Dmitri sighed and said: “So, you do want to shit your way to freedom.”
Dmitri lifted the dog and put it into his backpack. As they rode the elevator down, the phone rang a third time.
“Dmitri, we’re coming home,” said Stella. “You stay there with the boys. Your girl had better be gone. We’ll have a talk when we get back.”
Dmitri took the one Chin out to the park. He removed the dog and set it on the grass as if it were his newborn baby, all delicate and precious, still slick with the grease of the womb. The dog wobbled. The openness of the park and the waves of strange odors made him tipsy. Then the Chin seemed to suddenly shuck the lethargy of a life lived in seven rooms. He remembered that he was a dog behind its flattened face and under its whore hair. And he roamed, surveying this new world through his nose.
Dmitri imagined that the moment was a moment in the movie. In a movie, he’d raise an open hand to the ninth floor of the Ritz Carlton and point to the dog with his hand while yelling: “See! See!”
And someone, someone would just happen to open the door to Stella’s place and the 8 remaining dogs would run into the elevator just before the door closed, take it down to the first floor, mini-stampede past the grasping concierge, through the splayed legs of the doorman, and weave through traffic to join their fellow whore’s wig.
Dmitri lay on the grass and laughed. He laughed and then he closed his eyes. That was his great mistake. Dmitri could fall asleep anywhere and he did.
20 minutes later, the cab carrying Stella and Thorsten arrived. Stella had promised the cabbie an extra hundred if he sped to the Ritz Carlton. Along the way, she imagined the confrontation. She was excited. Stella had imagined telling her friends about what she would say. They’d like the story of the profligate dog walker and the defender of the Ritz Carlton. She knew that.
But Stella didn’t have to promise that particular cabbie an extra hundred. He already and always drove like a maniac. He couldn’t squeeze much more speed out of his cab for Stella, but he did make a show of squealing the tires on all turns and especially, right in front of the hotel. That grand finale squeal is what awoke Dmitri.
And that was Dmitri’s true Hollywood moment: his wicked coincidence. He opened his eyes and saw Stella run into the Ritz Carlton. He saw Thorsten creak out of the cab, pat his pockets before finding his wallet to pay the cabbie, and try to wheel the two suitcases into the hotel. The doorman rescued him.
Dmitri flattened himself on the grass, but Thorsten never looked his way. Even if he had, his weak, watery eyes wouldn’t have spotted Dmitri. Only when the lobby door closed behind Thorsten did Dmitri remember the dog. Dmitri stood. By reflex, he reached into his pocket for a treat. That’s what he always did when he wanted a dog to come.
Then his phone rang. It was Stella. She’d discovered that a boy was gone. Stella only let Dmitri’s phone ring two times. Then she called the police. They put her on hold. So, she ran out of her apartment and past Thorsten who was doddering down the hall of the ninth floor. Stella’s forearms beat the elevator’s plush walls…all the way to the first floor. Two facelifts had tightened her face. Fear tightened it further, so that when she reached the concierge, for the first time in her lovely life, she looked a little translucent, like her husband.
The concierge liked to tell his friends, “I smooth feathers. Whadda job, eh?”
That evening, the concierge told his friends, “I’d have rather smoothed a porcupine.”
Stella grabbed his coat and then she grabbed his registration book for guests. Then she grabbed the concierge’s wrist.
“24 minutes ago,” she said to herself.
Then she shrieked at the concierge, “Why didn’t you stop him?!”
She raised her hand to slap him and then ran back to the elevator.
“I’ll have your job for this!” she railed while she waited.
The doorman stared at her, as did the desk clerks.
“I’ll have all your jobs!” Stella screamed.
Across the street, in the park, Dmitri saw it all. He couldn’t hear Stella’s words, but he could see that she was shrieking. Fans of sweat opened in his armpits. Dmitri ran through the park.
“Here, boy. Here, boy,” he said. “Hereboyhereboyhereboy.”
How could it be gone!? Dmitri wondered.
And Dmitri was right to wonder: the dog doddered like Thorsten. On occasion, it tripped on its decadent fur.
“Is she yours?” asked a homeless woman, removing the Chin from one of her plastic bags, stuffed with her clothes. “The pretty little girl fell asleep. I watched her run around for a while, but then I think she wore herself out.”
Dmitri didn’t say a thing. He just grabbed the dog and ran across the street, holding the Chin with one hand. He left his backpack in the park. Dmitri didn’t have a plan. He had seen Stella’s skull face as she shrieked. That’s all that mattered.
Up on the ninth floor, Stella called the police once more. While on hold again, she saw a man cross the street with what looked like a Chin (or a mop head or a whore’s wig) in one hand. She dropped the phone and ran back to the elevator, slipping on a turd and nearly falling.
Downstairs, Dmitri pushed the dog into the concierge’s arms. The concierge was forced to grab it.
“I’ve got to go,” said Dmitri, not knowing what else to say.
“I’m sure she wants to talk to you,” said the concierge. “If you please wait, I’ll call her right now.”
“No,” began Dmitri, “you tell her that….”
But elevators are fast at the Ritz.
“You can tell her,” said the concierge, nodding at Stella.
Stella panted. Her eyes went from Dmitri to Chaucer (the dog) to Dmitri. Then she charged. That was a first at the Ritz Carlton.
As Stella charged, the concierge nodded to the doorman, who stood 6 feet, 2 inches. Jack, the doorman, was hired largely because he was large. Large worked best for hefting overstuffed suitcases and serving as a sentry against the homeless.
Jack looked at Stella and then Dmitri. He knew that Stella was Thorsten’s wife and he remembered that Thorsten had given him a hundred dollar tip for Christmas. In a flash, Jack wondered what he should do to provoke a two hundred dollar tip. He decided and charged Dmitri. But Dmitri was more afraid of the hillbilly who’d become a Ritz Carlton princess cum berserker than he was of 223-pound Jack. Dmitri ran Jack’s way, which took him away from Stella.
Dmitri had clever feet. One has to have quick clever feet if one is to walk eleven dogs at once. Dmitri dodged Jack. But Jack had quick clever forearms, which came from eight years of playing tight end. Jack’s forearm shiver broke Dmitri’s nose. Guests in the bar, which was 52 feet away, heard the cartilage snap.
“I thought someone snapped a turkey drumstick,” said a broker from Philly, who hurried out, hoping to see why a woman screamed.
But the broker came too late. Dmitri’s quick clever feet had ferried him out of the hotel and back to the park, where he snatched his bag back from the same homeless woman who had bagged Chaucer.
Right away, the staff of the Ritz Carlton had to shape their story of what had happened to protect the unstated essential notion that the Ritz was forever free of tragedy. The staff followed the cue of the hotel manager, who took the approach that less said is best and repeated, “Everything’s fine, everything’s fine.”
Jack did his best to wipe Dmitri’s blood from the marble floor. There were only a few drops, for Dmitri did most of his bleeding as he crossed the park. Jack spread the blood, with all due nonchalance, across the marble. With a few swipes of his soles, it just looked like more mineral streaks in the marble.
Stella didn’t chase Dmitri across the park. She wanted, but there were witnesses and she had remembered where she now lived and where she once lived. Instead, she pressed her face into Chaucer’s whorish hair, which had after-tones of the homeless woman’s clothing.
Stella also had to shape her story. To her friends, she couldn’t seem so unbecomingly frantic. So, the story that she told was her fairyland twist of a lioness defending her cub. She first practiced telling that story to Thorsten. She considered revenge against Dmitri, but her story worked so well in turning eyes to her that she soothed herself with the attention.
Dmitri had to shape his story too, which he told to Anna that night. He practiced telling the story while walking the other scheduled dogs that day. He also tried to get back on his game, but he couldn’t quite. Dmitri remembered to nod and smile at the menials, but there was slight flinching on both sides: Dmitri flinched whenever he passed a doorman and wondered if Jack wouldn’t have broken his nose if he had just returned Jack’s smile that morning. That possibility cleaved to Dmitri like a scab and Dmitri kept picking at it. The doormen flinched because Dmitri’s now enormous and purple nose wasn’t the sort of thing that they opened doors for.
That evening, Dmitri went to the Laundromat with his nose, two containers of chicken soup, and his story. Dmitri omitted all the parts about Shirley Temple with Jean Harlow hair. Dmitri had remembered remembering the owl, but he didn’t talk about that either. And because he had remembered the owl, he didn’t talk about Stella. All that was left was Jack, so Dmitri told a short story of mistaken identity and a massive doorman.
Anna considered the story through the lens of class, as her communist father had trained her to do.
“It is that way in my country too,” said Anna. “The rich, they have their goons.”
“Big goons,” said Dmitri.
Anna laughed and just skimmed Dmitri’s nose. Dmitri closed his eyes so he wouldn’t flinch.
That night, Dmitri got to see all of Anna’s white breasts, because he didn’t talk about Stella and perhaps because there is karma and it’s sometimes quick. Or perhaps he got to see Anna’s pale high orbs because when it comes to girls unbuttoning their shirts, pity is second only to passion.
Whatever, Dmitri got to smell more than just Anna’s orange scented hair. And he got to place his lips on her white breasts. However, both the sniffing and the kissing hurt Dmitri. His nose was terribly tender, but he bore it well.
Katie McKy has written for dozens of magazines, both mainstream and literary. She also wrote a picture book that sold over a million copies and lives on the coast of Maine, where she’s restoring the forest to its full, indigenous diversity.