By Melanie Malinowski
“A 4-year old Indian girl has married a stray dog. The bizarre ceremony was prompted by an astrologer who told the girl’s father that the ceremony would transfer the evil effects of the planet Saturn from the girl to the dog . . . .Villagers said they enjoyed the sight of the girl garlanding the dog . . . .Villagers then helped the dog put a garland around the bride with its paws.”
The Houston Chronicle
Vixen and I are attending a wedding at Bow-Wow Bakery, strictly for the free cake, or so I tell myself. Vixen, the black and white leggy mutt I rescued from the SPCA, hates other dogs and hates most people, except for me, of course. I drag her to these events because they are for her, not for me, not a social gathering for her owner to meet other dog-obsessed folk with money to burn on carob-covered doggie bones and birthday cakes replete with their pet’s name emblazoned in some mixture of dog safe fake sugar and liquefied crude fat. No, I tell myself and I tell her in the car on the way to the bakery where she will snap and bark and growl until I am too embarrassed to stay and meet and mingle and chat, I’m going to this event for you, Vixen, for you to meet friends, a park date, a fellow ball chaser. But Vixen doesn’t chase balls. Or sticks. She only hunts living things—squirrels and cats, lizards and roaches, ducks. And she can do that in private. She doesn’t need the friends, the lovers, the companionship. I do.
Blaze and Pica (short for Piccadilly Circus), two retired greyhounds, are getting married today. This marriage has brought out the news seekers—cameras and reporters and others curious to witness a doggie affair. The bride and groom are dressed in the clothes of matrimony: Blaze wears a tuxedo and a small top hat; Pica wears a tutu and a shiny white bodice. Her veil keeps falling off. She’s eager to see us, to see anyone, and she pushes her long nose into my palm, unsettling the tulle headpiece.
“Picaddilly,” her owner, dressed in a shapeless red dress with a boutonniere below her shoulder, says, straightening the veil, “that’s not ladylike. Lie next to Blaze. See how good he is? See him? Yes. He’s your husband now.”
I smirk and turn away. Pica follows me, and her veil ends up on the floor this time. She wants Vixen, but Vixen, true to her name, turns on her, flipping her fifty pound body away from a would-be-sniff in the butt and bares her teeth.
“Well now,” Mother Red Dress says, rushing forward. She looks around for the veil, some cheap tulle glued to a plastic headband, but I’ve kicked it into a doghouse painted to look like a chapel. “It’s her wedding day.” She retrieves Pica by the collar and drags her back to Blaze. “They love each other.”
“Yes, Ma’am,” I say. “I’m sure they do.” And I mean it. Dogs fall in love. Vixen, my beauty, has her share of suitors: Spuds and Buster, Jack and Max. When no one is looking, I reach through the arched door of the mini church and claim the veil. I stuff it into my purse. I want to leave now, though the cake has yet to be cut. So I linger by it, tracing my finger along its three-tiered design created out of biscuits shaped like bones and chunks of packed what and oats and crude proteins. It smells nice. Vixen, paws up on the counter, nudges her nose along the base of the cake, licks, then bites before I can stop her. One entire tier collapses. I try to pull her away, make a quick exit, but it’s too late.
“Here,” the clerk says, smiling. She is pregnant, and her dog, Daisy, a Dalmatian, follows her around the counter to help us. “Don’t worry. We’re cutting it soon. It’s all just fun. Really.” I notice she doesn’t wear a ring, and I wonder how she can work, carry a baby, and take care of a dog, a puppy no less.
I clear my throat. “How old is Daisy?”
“Seven, no, eight months,” she says, dishing a slab of cake onto a paper napkin for Vixen. “Want some?
I shake my head and frown.
Licking her fingers, she shrugs. “Good stuff.”
For some reason, I feel like crying. This girl could be mine, if I had given birth in high school. I fold the napkin around the cake and move toward the door, Vixen walking on her hind legs behind me, sniffing wildly at my treat. I turn and see Mother Red Dress dragging Blaze along the floor. He refuses to stand, no matter how much she coaxes him.
“He’s afraid of tile, bless his heart,” she says. “No footing. He slips and he slides.” She demonstrates by kicking out her own heels, causing her inappropriate pumps to skitter on the slick floor. But she’s overly enthusiastic, and actually does lose her footing, falling right next to Blaze. I try not to look. Her dress is pinned under her, and her panties are in full view. Pica sees this as a chance for escape and makes a run for it, right toward the door, right toward Vixen. I don’t stop her. I only help her remove her tutu once she’s cleared the threshold. The three of us stand on the curb in the hot October sunlight of a Houston afternoon, eating wedding cake.
“You just put up with . . .” my mother says. I picture her fingering her hair or plucking her eyebrows or examining her teeth in the mirror, searching for the right word in her reflection. “Stuff when you’re married.”
“I have to work today.”
“Saturday?” Something clatters into the sink on the other end of the line, a hollow sound. She is in the bathroom, a multi-tasker through and through. “I thought you had a real job now.”
I hate when she does this—first the marriage thing, then my job. She’s become a caricature of nagging mother. “Do you want to have lunch, Mom?”
“Cemetery visit. Your father and I always spend Saturdays together. Your father and I, we put up with a lot. Five kids. We never got sick of each other. Ever. You should try it, Lucy. Really.”
I feel that same anxiety welling up in me, the anxiety of every phone conversation with my mother since I turned thirty, thirty-three, and now this year, the worst, thirty-five. “Dad died before you could tire of him.” I know it’s a low blow. I don’t care. The stillness on the other line tells me I have achieved my goal: a deep, silencing wound. My father has been dead for twenty-nine years. My mother never remarried, too busy, she always told us, with raising the five children. And she pretends not to date, but we know better. We know she “sees” Aristides, the mailman, of all the clichéd suburban romances.
My mother takes a long breath. “Lunch is good. Hong Kong Island OK with you?”
I say nothing, though I think, I’m sorry.
I work undercover security at Macy’s. I signed a contract stating that I wouldn’t discuss my job with anyone. My oath has been violated only three times, each time with a boyfriend, a lover, The One, or so I had thought.
#1: Code of Ethics Destroyer—Dylan. Dylan was a wannabe cowboy I met at, of all places, a wedding. He was the groom’s sister’s best friend’s ex-boyfriend. I never found out why he was there at all, but he and I hit if off on the back balcony of the country club. It poured rain that day, and we told stupid jokes about raining on parades and raining cats and dogs. I found him hilarious, and he found me witty, and I found him in bed with me the next morning, where, in a fit of postcoital benevolence, I told him where I was off to with a walkie-talkie in a plastic shopping bag on a Sunday morning.
“I feed miracles to the priest at mass,” I said, bending to kiss him. He was virtually hairless on his body, a trait I could grow to love, and his breath still smelled of champagne and cigars. Vixen had taken my place in bed, and curled together, they looked just right to me.
“Do you want me here when you get home?” Dylan said, playfully prying at my shopping bag.
“I work security. At Macy’s.” Vixen barked, then sighed.
“A do-gooder,” Dylan said.
So for the three weeks after our initial meeting, Dylan would pop in to work, first, pretending not to know me, then slyly kissing me as he sneaked behind me on his way up an escalator. But then he grew bold. And sloppy. He, literally, began stealing right out from under my nose. He would put his index finger to his lips and wink before slipping a pair of boxers into his trench coat. I finally told him that the next time he stole something, I was turning him in. And I did.
He had filled his pockets with costume jewelry, and I talked into my bag, alerting my back up. After his release, he returned every single item he’d pilfered, returned them to my doorstep in a basket. And I, surreptitiously, returned them all to the store. Vixen, for one, was relieved to sprawl out again across the empty space on the bed where his body had slept.
#2: Brain Fuck—let’s just call him Booker. Booker was not normal. He proposed to me on our third date, and I, of course, accepted, crying, cherishing the ring, envisioning the dress and flowers and reception music, all the while knowing that I was not going to marry Booker. He loved Vixen, even offered to walk her mid-day, if I was working. I told him my job was top secret. He loved this about me.
One evening we were walking Vixen in the dog park. Booker pushed me gently up against a tree and kissed me. “I know what you do,” he whispered into my hair.
I jerked away. “Vixen!” I yelled, my heart racing. She stopped for one second before leaping into the water after another dog’s ball.
“You’re a store cop.” He crossed his arms over his chest, and I half expected him to tap his feet as if he had discovered the secret of my life.
“So you’re quitting before we get married. No wife of mine’s going to be a security rat.”
“No wife of yours? What the fuck kind of fuck is that?”
“Nice fucking mouth, Luce.”
I put two fingers in my mouth and whistled for Vixen as loudly as I could. She looked at me with mild interest and plunged back into the lake. I wanted to be away from Booker—now. Where was the man who took Vixen to Barky Hour? I stopped walking. “You followed me?” I said. “You fucking followed me to work?”
“Hell yea,” he said. “Isn’t that what good fiancés do?”
I started trotting, then running, from his voice.
“Hey, Luce. My last fiancé liked it. Shows how much you care, she told me. Luce?”
But I just kept running and running, straight into the water, cold and dirty. Vixen bounded up to me, knocking me over, sprawling me in the knee-deep filth. She held a Kong on a yellow rope in her mouth, and, as an afterthought, dropped it on me, draping my neck before it slid into the muddy waters beside me.
#3: The Swoon as Truth Serum—Ryan. Ryan first saw me laid out on the sidewalk of a subdivision. I had fainted. It was not the first or the last faint during this era of my life (I suffered from an undiagnosed, severe case of anemia). Vixen hadn’t stuck around to see if I was all right; in fact, she’d somehow wriggled out of her harness and was roaming freely in and out of people’s gardens and bushes and backyards. Ryan, the paramedic, shoved smelling salts under my nostrils.
“I’m fine,” I’d said, attempting to sit up. My knees and elbows were raw and bloody, and the backlash from Vixen’s retractable leashed had whacked me hard on the forehead. It too was bleeding. “Where’s Vixen?” I’d panicked and stood too fast, only to tumble again. “Where’s my dog?” I cried, shook, cried.
“Find the dog,” Ryan said to his partner. “What’s your name?”
“Vixen.” I felt myself swooning again.
“Your name,” he repeated.
“Lucy. I work at Macy’s.” I was out again. But I heard Vixen’s barking, and she brought me back. “Find her.”
They lifted me onto a stretcher, but I refused to go without Vixen, pulling at the straps, kicking. “Just put the dog in the front with you, Jake,” Ryan said.
“Let me see her.” I reached out my hand to pet Vixen. I might have petted her head; I might well have petted Ryan’s. I loved that he’d taken care of Vixen, had fed and watered her outside in the ambulance while my cuts and scrapes and anemia were being cared for inside.
Ryan and I dated for about six months, just long enough for me to fall in love with him, for me to tell him about my job (miraculously, he never visited me there or even mentioned another word about it, so surely, I had told myself, he had to be The One), long enough for him to tell me he loved me and Vixen and a girl named Mirage who lived in Alaska and fished for salmon. They were to be married at the end of the year, yet, he assured me, we could keep dating until then. I dumped him flatly and sadly, refused to return his phone calls, and wept when I saw ambulances cruising down the road. I feasted on dog treats—Milkbones, Pupperonis, Peanut Butter Kisses (Vixen’s favorite). My anemia improved, as did my heartache. Eventually.
My best friend Jill leans against my sink eating dog biscuits. They look like cookies—white and black wafers with cream in the center. I’d bought them from the Buffet of Pup Snacks at the pet store.
“So I’m into the monosyllabs,” Jill says, licking out the middle and feeding the rest to Vixen. “Jon, Carl, Dirk.”
“Something is wrong with you,” I say, hopping up onto the counter, eating my own doggie spritz cookie. Vixen drools. “Oh, Honey, here.” I spit the chewed remains of her treat in my palm and feed her.
“Probably. I had a string of bad polysyllabic boys—Benjamin, Christopher, Romanov.”
“But you called him Rome.”
“He made me.” Jill wraps her hair into a bun, and we wind down to the pool. Vixen carries her ball in her mouth while I tote the rafts. Jill was dating a boy, Starsky, for nine months until he stopped calling one March day. In the morning, he said he loved her, and that was it—never called, came over, wrote, emailed again. She called and called him, but she never heard back. And that led to lots of crying, weight loss, and self-loathing. Now, seven months later, Jill’s appetite has returned, but her self-esteem has not. Last night we, exhausted from the week, sat in our beds, chatting on the phone, and eating big bowls of cream of celery soup, wondering how it ever got this way: mid-thirties, alone, living in tiny urban apartments, surviving on prepackaged food and the company of dogs.
By the time we settle into the lounge chairs, Vixen is in the water, attacking the rafts. Jill and I share a grapefruit and a bag of frosted animal crackers.
“It’s like this,” Jill says, “we’re going out tonight.”
“Fuck no,” I say, tossing the ball. Vixen swims, hops out, shakes, then finds the ball in the bushes. “We’re too old to go out.”
“Mr. Right is waiting.”
“I just want Mr. Not-Such-An-Asshole.”
“I thought Starsky was him,” Jill says.
“At least he had a job,” I say. Jill nods and goes back to her novel.
Just then, Vixen starts barking, her vicious bark, her stay-away-from-all-whom-I-love-and-protect bark. A young man wearing khaki shorts, a yellow tank top, and a backpack is trying to enter the gate, but Vixen won’t let him. I leap from my chair, catching my foot in the five-pound bag of animal crackers, stumble across the concrete apron, and grab Vixen by her collar.
“So sorry,” I say from the ground, “she’s really sweet.”
“I’ll bet,” he says. “May I?” He points to the gate.
I pull Vixen away, and she bounds toward Jill who is lavishly waving an animal cracker to distract my pet from the cute boy at the gate: blonde and bright eyed and sexy.
“Your foot’s bleeding,” he points out.
“Nice,” Jill says, grinning and eyeing my bloody toe. “His name?”
I play the game. “Remington.”
“Nice. How romantic and polysyllabic.”
Remington is our favorite name for an uber, unrealistic boyfriend, one wrapped in flowers and cuddle power. It’s our go-to name.
Vixen has buddied up to the boy with the backpack and has enticed him into a game of you throw the ball and I’ll retrieve it once and lie down, the doggie equivalent of flipping off someone. “Ladies, would you mind if I swim naked?”
I want to laugh. I want to laugh with every ounce of giggle in my soul. I have a problem with tense situations, grotesque deformities and disasters: I laugh. I laugh and I laugh and they are not funny, I realize, but I laugh anyway. Jill is already nodding her head. “Yes, we mind,” she says. “Please, Dude.”
So he looks at me. He is taking off his shirt. His chest is smooth and white. He can’t be more than twenty-one. “I’m Ken,” he says, before slipping out of his shorts.
“Of course you are,” I whisper to Jill. She pretends to read her book, munching on animal crackers, yet I know better. She’s trying as hard as I am not to look at Ken. Not because we care so much to see his nude and very young body. He is a curiosity, an anomaly, chit-chat for our dull lives.
For one hour, Ken alternates between swimming and sitting on the pool’s edge reading a newspaper. The apartment pool is empty today because, truly, it is not a nice day—too cloudy, a little cool. Vixen has settled beside me on the lawn chair, and she reaches a long paw up to my face in what I interpret as a gesture of love and intimacy but what I know is simply a plea for another cookie. I place one between my teeth and move close to her snout. Tenderly, she takes it from me.
What the fuck? I mouth to Jill. She only shrugs and smirks. Ken stands, and for the first time, I notice a tattoo on the back of his left thigh. It’s a dubious shape, mottled green and orange, something amoebic. I think I see some eyes on it. It might just as well be a mole. He dresses swiftly, finger dries his hair, and calls Vixen to him. “Thanks.”
“He doesn’t live here,” I say to Jill, but she’s away from me, catching up with Ken as he clears the gate. I hear them talking, yet Vixen is barking too loudly for me to discern the conversation.
“I gave him my number,” Jill says proudly. “It’s time.” She picks up her book, flips through it, tosses it down. “I think.”
“My God, what have you done?”
She starts to cry. “I’m pathetic.”
“No, you’re not. You’re—we’re—just lonely.” I join her on the chair and stroke her hair. Vixen licks her feet.
“He’s a senior in high school.”
I laugh at that. I laugh and I laugh.
I’m still thinking about Ken and Jill at work the next day, so I don’t notice the beautiful boy trying on, of all things, hats. I pretend to look at the shoes directly across from where he puts on and off hats made for much older gentlemen. I want to tell him that those hats look silly on anyone except Columbo or my grandfather. I want to ask him why ever he would want to cover up such a lovely head of black, shaggy hair. But I can’t. I am in my slovenly college student get-up today. I wear the sweats, the baseball jersey, the bandana, the black framed glasses. I didn’t even wash my hair after our swim yesterday. I want him to steal something so I have an excuse to talk to him. This makes me sad. What am I doing? Wishing a criminal record on a potential boyfriend? For the first time in my years at Macy’s, I abandon my post. I stuff my bagged walkie-talkie into a Steve Madden boot and stroll toward the Mad Hatter. I think, if Jill can ask out a naked swimmer . . . Yet as I near him, I panic and start to turn, but the man places a hat on my head. And I scream. It is a silly, girly scream. I envision Vixen at home, craning her head, hearing me.
“Looks good on you,” he says, tilting his head.
I feel obvious, dirty. I want to vanish behind a walkie-talkie, regret moving away from the shoes, consider clicking my flip-flops together a la Dorothy, There’s no place like home. That red heeled goddess knew the value of a dog’s company.
“I’ve seen you here,” he says, extending a hand. “I’m Eric. Eric Clapton.”
I smile. “Lucy.” I shake his rough hand. “Your parents big Cream fans?”
“Blind Faith actually. My middle name’s Remington. That’s what everyone calls me.”
“No way,” I say. I can’t wait to tell Jill.
“Way. Can I buy you a cup of coffee?” He takes my elbow and leads me back toward the shoes.
“Actually, I’m working.”
“Fair enough. I should get back anyway.”
He looks about my age, maybe a little older, so I feel myself leaning closer to him, imagining that he is a veterinarian or a kennel owner, a horse whisperer, doggie psychic, any profession that will fit him into my overly romanticized vision of the perfect mate.
“Back to where?” I ask.
“The bank. I’m a teller.”
I try to hide my disappointment, but I know it is as evident as the fake glasses on my nose.
“Here.” He reaches into his shirt pocket and hands me a business card: E. Remington Clapton, Customer Service.
I watch as he strolls across the tiles, his long legs seem to step exactly in the center of every third square. He is cute, very cute. They all start out cute, though. I sniff the card. I pretend it smells of money and tuck it into my mini-backpack shaped like a teddy bear. I am beyond pathetic.
When I return to retrieve my walkie talkie, the boot is gone, held high by a long-nailed woman. “I need these in a seven,” she says, shaking the boot.
“Yes, Ma’am,” I cajole, taking my livelihood from her.
I wait two weeks before calling E. Remington Clapton. In that meantime, I listen to the real Eric Clapton: Layla, Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door, Badge, Bell Bottom Blues. I am listening for clues, to what, I’m not sure. I listen to the lyrics to Bell Bottom Blues over and over. Whose arms would I choose to die in? Then I think it doesn’t matter. What is the big hype about arms and soul mates and all that shit? I have my Vixen. This, I tried to convince myself, is enough. Yes, I call E. Remington Clapton anyway, and when he picks up the other line, he says, “I’ve been waiting.”
Friday night, I meet Jill at the Pop Cycle, an indoor cycling studio where we pedal away fat everyday. Our friend, Stevee, the instructor, is being featured in a magazine, and she wants us to dress up, paint our faces in neon colors, and ride during her black light cycle class. The room turns purple, and we glow with luminescent body art in pictures and language. Jill and I are in the bathroom fixing our hair.
“How’s Ken?” I ask, pulling my hair up in a high ponytail. I look like a blonde, whored-out version of Pebbles. I’ve also decorated my face with sparkles and crystals. “History.” Jill wears two ponytails. She has pasted false eyelashes on her lids and drawn cat whiskers across her cheeks. I write her name in black light ink down her arms and legs, and she writes mine across my shoulders and chest. We look ridiculous, two-thirty-somethings dressed up like children who have been face-painted at a fair.
“I called E. Remington Clapton,” I say, pausing to coat my lips in orange paint.
“A date?” Jill pulls her hair tighter to her head and pushes a red and blue blinking light into her navel.
“Galveston. With Vixen.”
“Smooth move on Rem’s part.”
Stevee pushes in the door. “You guys kick ass.” She is completely pink faced with green lips. “Let’s go.” And she is off. The disco music starts, and I feel excited, happy. It’s ten o’clock at night, I’m pony-tailed and painted, glowing in the dark. Vixen sits beside my bike in the cold studio.
We step into the black room. Someone has written I am not a dog in pink ink along Vixen’s sides, and she proudly touts the message, like a furry billboard. I watch her, and what she says is true. She is my best friend, the love of my life.
Jill and I clip our feet into the pedals, and Vixen barks, tries to lick at the paint on my legs. She places both paws on my handlebars and I kiss her cool nose. I am oddly miscolored, deeply tanned and slathered in fluorescents—yellow, orange, pink. I smile widely, showing Jill what I have written on my white teeth: Rock Stars. This is our joke. We pretend to have rock star lives, unattached and wild, when in reality, we are soup eaters, dog lovers, quiet girls. She laughs until she chokes, until Stevee shoots her a look from the stage, blares the tinny sounds of overly synthesized violins and drums, and sits up, clapping.
There’s no traffic on Sunday as we travel down I-45 toward the island. I drive because Remington didn’t want dog hair in his car. I’m already thinking up names for him after he’s gone: Mr. Clean Jeans, Eric Cleanton, Fur-Be-Gone-ington. It’s unfair, and the names are silly. He is quite funny and a good listener, but he’s afraid of Vixen, cowers from her affection.
“We never had pets,” he says, using a Starbucks napkin to wipe off Vixen’s slobber.
“Not even fish?”
“Have you ever been married?” The question has been resting in my craw since we left Houston.
“Do I look like it?” he says, flipping down the mirror as if that would tell his truth.
“I’m curious, you know, since we’re old.”
His face relaxes. “No, Lucy. Never. And you?”
I shake my head. Never even engaged, Mr. Clapton, I think.
“That’s cool,” he adds. “Who says we need to get married young anyway?”
“Or at all,” I say.
“Yup. Animals don’t worry about that stuff,” he says, reassuring himself.
I start to tell him about the doggie wedding, about Pica and Blaze, but I change my mind. I glance at him glancing at himself in my side mirror. He is handsome, brown-eyed and clear skinned. And he has a job and a car. That’s enough. Cute. Employed. Mobile. How about some sparks though? I fear I’m jaded, trite, mean. I reach over and stroke his knuckles for something to do. He twitches then fills his palm with my fingers. “That feels nice,” he says. I feel something in my chest.
“Vixen,” I say, looking for her in the rearview mirror.
After we lay out our blanket, Remington kisses me long and hard on the mouth. It feels good, right somehow, yet I am urgently in a hurry to get in the water. It is very warm for November, and I am certain the Gulf will be, if not warm, at least tolerable. Remington sits under the umbrella in his sweatshirt and shorts, his Fedora and sunglasses. I whistle between my fingers for Vixen who is so far down the shore that she is barely a dot.
“Come on, my girl.” She trots to me, fast then faster, until she’s spraying up wet, cool sand on my shins. I grab her ears and kiss her head. “I love you.”
“I can’t believe you kiss her that way,” he says.
Weak Ass Dog Hating Dude. That will be his name when I say goodbye later today.
“Have fun you two,” Remington says.
I plunge into the mild waves and wade out Vixen is swimming beyond me already, and I begin to worry. “Stay, Vixen. Stay near me.” She tries to paddle back but can’t. My tummy flips, and I dive into the brine. I can’t reach her, and I float in place, underwater, stunned by the power of the heavy, heavy ocean. I emerge, gasping. Vixen moves further. I miss her, and a dizziness overwhelms me. I turn to Remington and do my two fingered bellowing whistle to call him in to help me. He’s so entranced with his own feet, picking at his toenails, that he doesn’t even look up. I whistle again, more frantically, and gesture with my hands for him to come in the water. He pushes his palms my way and shakes his fingers, an embarrassed, no thanks. Just then, a fresh, benevolent wave pushes Vixen toward me. One pulse of water, two, three, and she is in my arms. I hang on to her wet back. I look out toward the horizon, to the funny dark line that separates sky and sea. I look back at the sand, at Remington, now standing, his arms outstretched as if he will fly or fall down. He sees me, salutes. I face Vixen and doggie paddle with her, on her terms.
Suddenly, a wave lifts us up and up. I find the horizon again and give myself over to the push of the water. I think of my mother and Aristides, how she probably searches for the impression of his fingertips on the mail, sniffs for his scent on each phone bill. I wonder what Jill saw in Ken, the, as far as we know, homeless naked boy. Was it the oddity of his tattoo? The strangeness of his request? The simple beauty of his young body? And me. Where do I see beauty? In the company of these boys who wander in and out of my life? Vixen: her sleek shiny black fur, her spirit buoying up around us, her laughing mouth. Remington could be the real Eric Clapton for all I care right now. As I swim with Vixen, a circle of seaweed enshrouds us. We paddle our paws delicately in order to keep up with each other’s rhythms.