“Ohh fuck,” I said, coming down the lane in my truck.
A tree lying in the living room, its branches pressed tenderly into the couch cushions, a fine mist of plaster and glass settled over the floor.
Started calling her name. Searching through the house. Thought she might be under the bed. In the closet. Behind the furnace. I got out her bag of food and poured some into her dish. The sound of kibbles hitting the aluminum usually brought her running.
I got in my truck and started calling at the neighbours.
“Hey, you seen Du Fu?”
“That was some windstorm we had today, boy. Don’t envy you fellas up on them hydro poles.”
No one had seen her. I drove around in circles, down each backroad, calling her name. Someone waved me from their house. It was Li Bai.
“Hey, you looking for your dog?”
I pulled to a stop.
“Yeah,” I said. “You seen her?”
“What breed is she?”
“She’s just a mix.”
“She brown? About yea high?”
“That’s her,” I said.
“Saw her pass by here a few hours ago. Looked like she might be hurt. Still moving faster than me, though.” He pointed to his stilts.
Li Bai used to be a river merchant. His wife left him a long time ago. Now he spends his days trimming the high leaves in his yard.
A thought occurred to me. I squinted through the bushes.
“Hey—you still got the look-out?”
Maybe I could see her from up there.
Li Bai shook his head.
“That fell down years ago.”
“Too bad,” I said.
I kept driving.
Mei Shing lives around Li Bai. Du Fu loved Mei Shing. Could be after that tree came down Du Fu figured I might be over there. What does a dog know?
I pulled up to Mei Shing’s house and honked the horn. I didn’t want to get out of the truck in case I had to peel away. Mei Shing came out followed by some guy I’d never seen before.
She started in on the truck.
“Rihaku! What the hell do you think you’re doing here?” she said.
“Easy, Mei Shing. Don’t worry. I didn’t come here to start any trouble.”
She pointed to the guy, who was standing on the front steps with his hands in his pockets.
“If I have to kick your ass, he’s not going to stop me.”
I leaned out the front window and waved to him.
“Hey. I appreciate that,” I said.
He just nodded.
“Well what the fuck is the problem, Rihaku? You didn’t come here to shoot the shit with T’ao Yuan Ming.”
“Du Fu’s missing, Mei Shing.”
She softened, like I knew she would. She’d never been shy about the fact she loved that dog more than me. I would’ve, too.
“Shit. Sorry, Rihaku. You know where she went?”
“Li Bai said she might’ve been through here a few hours ago. You didn’t see her?”
“No, I didn’t see her…” She turned around. “T’ao Yuan Ming, did you see a dog come ’round here?”
He shook his head. “Nope.”
Mei Shing looked past me, out down the road.
“Damn. I’m real sorry she’s gone, Rihaku.”
“Yeah, well. Can you keep a lookout? Li Bai said she looked hurt.”
“Sure, I can do that. What in the hell happened?”
“Tree fell. She got out.”
“It came down on the living room.”
“Oh, jesus. That’s too bad. You okay?”
I just shrugged. “I was at work.”
“You know, Rihaku… you gotta take better care.”
“Tree looked fine this morning.”
“Not just that. You look like shit, Rihaku.”
My eyes caught hers. I didn’t mean them too.
I started the truck back up.
“Well, let me know if you find her, I guess. Maybe I’ll come by later tonight.”
Mei Shing looked back at T’ao Yuan Ming. He was staring out at the road, pretending to be uninterested.
“I mean, to see if she comes around,” I said.
“You need any help?”
“No. Just keep your eyes peeled.”
Mei Shing nodded.
T’ao Yuan Ming came down from the steps and stood next to Mei Shing.
“See ya,” he said.
I was already pulling out of the driveway.
I drove in circles for a few hours, calling her name, checking with neighbours, until it got dark and I started to worry that she’d made it back home without me. Back home, bleeding out on the living room floor, is what I imagined.
I turned the truck around.
If I had any sense I would’ve stayed home, cleaned up the mess, maybe patched up the hole with something, waited for her to come back.
A couple times on my way back I thought I saw something in the glare of my highbeams—ghost-green eyes, little more than knee high—but when I got out of the truck and started calling her, nothing ever came running. Nothing, blowing away like smoke when the insects came on again after I stopped calling.
I pulled up to my house and the tree was still there. The tree and the broken glass and the smashed plaster. I walked into the living room and got down on my knees.
The glass dug into my palms. It cut into my knees. I was trying to be careful, more careful than a dog would be. But Du Fu was hurt, too. I should have crawled through the glass until the floor was red with my blood.
I looked at the hole. There was just enough room for Du Fu to squeeze through.
I tried not to imagine the tree hitting Du Fu standing at alert on the couch, crushing some part of her.
Was she limping, Li Bai?
The phone rang as I was looking out the hole again, and I did a quarter-turn in the glass on my knees before I had sense enough to stand up and take two steps. It was Mei Shing.
“Have you found her yet, Rihaku?”
My heart sank.
After I hung up I got a dustpan and broom and I swept the glass into a big pile. Then I waited, for a long time, for the sound of Du Fu scratching at the window or barking at the door. A breeze sailed gently through the hole where my window used to be. I could smell the night outside, fresh and cool. A cricket sent out a sharp blast from somewhere near the wall.
André Babyn's first novel is coming out in 2020.