The night's caress


Bella and I have taken to midnight walks lately. For her, it's a chance to, once again, pee on everything that has a smell. For me, it's a method of fear control, or rather, of facing fears so that they don't become monsters.

Invariably, on some late night when I'm programming away and Kris is either asleep on the couch or playing some game, Bella will perk up, wander over, and start pawing at me. If that fails to get my attention, and it rarely fails, sitting next to me, looking up and wagging her butt doesn't. Carefully. Carefully. Carefully! I put on my shoes, grab a poop bag and a jacket, and stand at the front door. Bella clues in and dashes out the door when I open it. We then walk around the block.

The block isn't terribly long. 810 yards -/+, so not even a half mile. We nearly always go clockwise around the block, as a counterbalance to the normal walk direction in the morning. Bella goes without a leash around the block, walking in front of me, then behind me when I pass her as she sniffs, then back in front of me.

The walk, though short, is interesting in its sameness, yet differences.

Each time, Bella runs fast to be in front of me for the first five houses, sometimes veering into the Gulls' driveway, always (always, always) stopping at the second bush on the corner to sniff. I always pass her at that point. She runs to catch up, then stops to pee under the lilac bush. As I round the next corner, she sniffs at the wall, then runs to catch up to me. She'll trot in front of me until the next corner, where she's often confused. Do we cross here? Or turn?

The third corner is often strange. It smells of decay. It almost smells of a musty cellar, of mold and mildew, but not quite. Considering my sense of smell isn't so good these days, that odor must be fairly powerful to normal noses.

The last corner always freaks me out. This is when Bella decides she's going to act all crazy. Around the second driveway, she'll pause, turn to look up at me, then *freak!* and sprint away, as fast as her little legs will carry her. If I catch up, she'll repeat this maneuver all the way home. It really freaked me out the first time when I thought she was running away from something. Only later did I realize that something was I.

The night is a good time to think. I've been friends with the night since high school, so the tingle of fear when Bella bolts always surprises me. I look over my shoulder more than I used to. I wear light colors, too, but that's for different reasons. The night is still a pal, but not the lover the Arizona night is.

I'm always amazed how these never quite come out the way I compose them in my head. I had something about how I tried to walk Annie around the block without a leash once. It was in the rain, figuring the rain would slow her down a little bit, make her less likely to run away. We managed two corners before she, being about 10 yards in front of me, paused, looked at me, looked across the street, looked at me, looked across the street, then bolted. Imagine a crazy lady screaming at her beagle as she sprinted to catch up with the dog. The lady on the sidewalk, jumping over toys, around cars and kids, while the dog runs through the yards, under bushes and over fences. Yeah, good times that one. I walk just Bella now.

I also had some mention of the crisp air, the hint of paranoia of the night, about having a midnight water fight in Arizona the summer between college freshman and sophomore years, about lying near the canal, looking up at the stars at night, listening for the celestial music.

But the story didn't unfold that way. Not this time anyway.