In the fall, after we got back from the first Moratorium March, Edward asked me to move in with him. We went to University Rentals, and they found us a battered old house near the Sheet and Tube. When the agent asked us if we wanted to be house cleaners, we both said "I do," and then laughed at how this must have sounded.
Sometimes barking dogs kept me awake at night; sometimes it was noise from the mill; and sometimes neither of us could sleep because of Edward's asthma. The air tasted gritty and sulfurous, and I dreamed of places I had never seen.
When we weren't in class or on a cleaning job, we learned to forage. We picked yellow pears from trees in a neglected lot. We helped ourselves to unclaimed grapes, made wine from them, and drank it young from jam jars. We brought in a big stuffed blue chair from the curb and found our work clothes at the St. Vincent de Paul. "Honorary poor," our friend Steve said, and we took it as a compliment.
A small pack of homeless dogs roamed our neighborhood. One morning I looked out the window and said, "There's a brown coat out on the sidewalk." When I got there I saw that it was a dead young shepherd dog. I had my first panic attack and sat down on the ground.
My mother came to visit us. She looked around and saw that everything was turning gray—the railings of the porch, the floorboards of the house, the tender skin around my eyes. "You should come home," she said to me as though Edward wasn't there. "The dog is pining for you."
"Your mother is very directive," Edward said when she was gone. "That's what makes you have bad dreams." Then he poured us both a glass of our homemade red wine and told me he had lost his cleaning job. "Just as well," he said. "All that dust fucks with my asthma."
The first time those neighborhood dogs came sniffing around, I ignored them. But as the weather grew colder and Steve shipped out to Vietnam, I watched those dogs, tried to befriend them, tried to learn from them how to live on the edge of nearly complete uncertainty.
Alice Whittenburg's short fiction has appeared in web and print publications, including Eclectica, Word Riot, Pif Magazine, and Doorknobs & BodyPaint. She has spent a number of years in the Czech Republic, and three of her stories appeared in the anthology, The Return of Kral Majales, Prague's International Literary Renaissance 1990-2010. She is coeditor of The Cafe Irreal, a magazine of irreal fiction. She also coedited the anthology, The Irreal Reader, Fiction and Essays from The Café Irreal.