Marty Rigg used two saucepans and everything in the fridge to cook up a deluxe feed for Leroy. He carried it outside. The night was breathless, plump with citronella and barbecued chops and the languid insect calls of an Indian summer. And dread.
Marty put the offering in front of Leroy. He perched on the back step cradling a plate of toast.
‘You’ll have noticed the boxes,’ said Marty. He knew Leroy’s look, that withering tilt of the head: Don’t bother me while I’m eating.
‘I’m leaving on Friday,’ Marty pressed on. Saying it didn’t make it real. ‘I’m getting on a plane. I’m going to Toronto and after that I don’t know. I’m being impetuous. I’m following my heart, see? I’m all impulse. How do you like me?’
Leroy dropped his gaze and started on the food. He was calm; he could endure this. For the longest time he didn’t look up. Marty swallowed hard.
‘I don’t think I can live without her, mate. I tried.’ Marty sucked hard on the air and looked out at the darkness.
‘Roger says you're man enough to be useful on the vineyard full time. He reckons you don’t seem the type to lose your head over some spunky foreigner, and he values that in a worker. I said I’d talk to you about it.’
Leroy polished off the last of his meal. Marty felt his mouth go dry. He tossed his untouched toast to the ground and gripped his empty plate. ‘He’s coming for you in the morning.’
Leroy looked up, then started a slow amble towards the forlorn figure slumped on the step. Marty extended a conciliatory hand but Leroy walked right past him, over to where the toast lay abandoned on the lawn.
‘All yours ya big dope,’ said Marty, pulling himself up and taking the dishes inside. The glow from the kitchen threw its usual green light onto the lawn. Suddenly it looked to Marty like an otherworldly scene from a parallel universe, in which nothing is familiar and anything could happen. Exactly the way his life felt – full of possibilities and infinite unknowns; no small amount of unease.
Leroy cocked a petulant leg on the peppermint tree and lifted his nose to a tiny breeze. Some things were constant.
Marty’s heart scraped his rib cage. He opened a Molson with the heel of his hand on the bench top. He was glad it hurt. Four beers later his nose was nuzzling a polaroid on the fridge, a smiling woman pinned under a moose-shaped magnet. ‘I hope you’re worth this,’ he told it, and stepped out into the fragrant night clutching a pillow.
‘Shove over.’ Marty stuck his head into the remodelled wine barrel in which Leroy was asleep, head on paws. He tossed the pillow to the back and crawled in after it. Leroy leapt up in alarm and stood gingerly at the edge of his foam mattress, the white splash on his black nose tilted in a question mark. He leaned down to sniff the unscheduled face. ‘Aw, dog breath!’ complained Marty. ‘Lie down.’
Leroy manoeuvred himself dutifully into a tight gap and shot an embarrassed look sideways. Marty lay there as if this wasn’t ridiculous, his outstretched legs straddling the path, his Rossi-shod feet nudging the garden hose. Leroy sighed loudly. It was true; in the dark everything was impossibly sad. Marty curled himself tightly around four years of mateship, and wept.
At dawn Leroy stepped on Marty’s face and the pair of them scrambled out into the daylight. Marty eyed the yard sheepishly as he loped back into the house. His head throbbed. He reeked of dog. Bits of black hair floated off his crumpled frame like sunbeams. The bathroom mirror revealed a puffed face with a blossoming paw print near his right eye. He ached. With tiredness, and with the thought of Leroy’s ears, the way they fell over.
Roger was due at seven. For the best part of an hour Marty sat wet-cheeked on the lawn in the soft morning saying ‘I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m so sorry mate,’ while Leroy lay on his back with his legs in the air and his tongue hanging out, taking it all on the belly.
At seven the phone rang. ‘Can you live with that mutt of yours for one more day ya lovesick bastard?’
Roger said he had to help fight a fire out east, and would it be okay if he came for Leroy tomorrow instead. Marty closed his eyes and told him yeah, that would be okay. He put the phone down and fell sideways onto the couch, balled up like a child. A whole day. A lifetime. He fell asleep thinking about the difference.