By Matthew Wallenstein
Pittsburgh Current Contributing Writer
I dreamed I was in shallow black water surrounded by trees and grey stones. There were snakes moving towards me curling into each other. I turned to swim away and they closed in, tying my limbs like rope and pushing their wet bodies into my mouth, sliding over me, swallowing my eyes. I could feel the empty sockets expand as they wriggled into them.
I woke up and read for a few minutes. I got out of bed and lifted weights in the basement. After that I showered and went to work.
I tattooed the chest of a pro wrestler. Before we started he told me not to think he was ignoring me if he didn’t answer when I asked him something. He was deaf in one ear and didn’t always catch what people said. I asked him how he ended up with the hearing problem. He told me about the 15 foot fall he had in a match that shattered his skull. His mother was at the event and she still thought it was part of the act even when they hauled him off in an ambulance. He was thankful for that because if she had known at the time it was real and not scripted she would have handled it very badly. In the hospital he discovered he couldn’t hear anymore out of one of his ears. Now he wore a device that helped by transferring sound from the bad ear to the good one. He didn’t always wear it though. He sat for the tattoo without complaining.
I went to wash my clothes at the laundromat and get some food at the restaurant next to it. After eating, when the wash cycle was done I left my clothes in the dryer and headed home. I wanted to draw the pictures I was late on mailing out.
When I turned up my street an ambulance came driving past me wailing and flashing its lights. When I was about a 100 yards from where I lived a police car pulled in front of me and blocked off the street. There were already five or six other cop cars blocking off the rest of the intersection. I turned around and drove down a side street. My car jerked as it went over the gaps in the cobblestone. My tires were always bald and mostly flat. Braddock’s streets used to be cobblestone but most of them had been paved over. These side streets near my place hadn’t.
When I made it to my house and looked down the hill they had the yellow caution tape out, wrapping it around a telephone pole, running it to a streetlamp, making a crooked square of it to fence off the intersection. There were a few people standing outside of their houses watching, or leaning on cars, or waving newspapers like fans in front of their sweating faces. I thought about interviewing them, playing journalist. But I’m not a journalist, I am more of a bum really. I went inside.
My roommate was sitting on the couch with my dog. He was wearing basketball shorts and typing on his computer, complaining to the air that he was overworked. My dog had wedged herself between the cushions of the couch and only her head poked out in its clear plastic cone. She had gotten her eye sliced open by a cat she tried to eat earlier in the week so she had to wear it.
“Did you hear shots?” I asked.
“Were there shots?”
“Yeah, a bunch just like—maybe five minutes ago or something.”
“Yeah they were taping off the street, I must have just missed it by a couple of minutes.”
“So I shouldn’t go for a walk? I was going to go for a walk.”
I called my dog into the kitchen. I got her pills and eye drops from the refrigerator. One drop each from two droppers every 4 hours, one white pill every eight hours, two brown pills every twelve hours. In the right light you could see a grey line across her little black eye. Later in the week I was scheduled to see a specialist to find out if the eye was salvageable, and if it was whether or not I would need that $3500 surgery the ER vet was talking about. I peeled a banana and pushed the pills into it. She loved bananas. She gobbled it up.
I went up to my studio to work on the drawings. She climbed up the stairs after me, bumping the cone on each step. I had just laid out the paper and pen and figured out what music to listen to when she pushed the door open with her cone head. She stood in the hall looking up at me, wagged her tail, burped very loudly, then threw up the banana and pills. Most of it landed in her cone and she ate it again before I even had a chance to get out of my chair. I got some paper towels and cleaned the remnants off her cone and the hallway floor. She flopped over and I rubbed her belly. After a while she grumbled and went into my bedroom. I drew. Once my head started to hurt I took a break and went out into the hall. I heard a commotion coming from my room. The door was shut. I found her on my bed, she had rolled my blanket into a ball and was furiously humping it. When she saw that I was there she froze mid hump and stared at me. We stayed that way for a while, just staring. She looked guilty, a balled up blanket under her, her little black triangle eye looking at me from the side of her head. She was always shutting doors behind herself when she was up to no good. I went over and rubbed her belly some more. She grumbled and wagged her tail.
Her eye ended up being fine. I probably left the cone on longer than I needed to but I wanted to be sure. She ended up using it on walks to scoop up dirt and smell it.
Before that, the last time shots were fired in the neighborhood was about a month earlier. I walked out the front door with my dog on her leash and six or eight shots went off in rapid succession. They sounded like they were a few blocks away. I brought her back inside and ate some beans, gave her a banana, made plans to go up to New Hampshire.