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GARGOYLE by Zac Smith

I sit on the front porch to get out of the apartment, to watch the children practice soccer in the field across the street. My neighbor comes in and out with his dogs. Every time, I pet the dogs while he tries not to make eye contact.

He is out of shape. Tall, but bloated. I see this. I remind him by looking at his body. When he looks at me, I look at his stomach. His gut, how it pokes out between the drapes of his flannel shirts. As I look at his gut, he looks at my gut. He thinks about his health, my health. Our health. He thinks about my heart surgery: quadruple bypass. He thinks about my recovery: slow and pitiful. He thinks about the future. His future, my future, our future.

I’ve seen him with junk food, bags of takeout, six-packs on the weekends. I leave the dregs of my own takeout meals on the top of the trash can out front, piles of styrofoam and foil and leaking sauces the first thing he sees when he stashes the remnants of his own sad refuse.

I pet his dogs. I can find all their sweet spots with ease, they wag their tails, they stare at me lovingly, ignoring him, ignoring the walk he is trying to take them on, and I tell him how I used to have dogs, how they slept in my bed, how we used to go on walks on days like this, and I describe their illnesses, their deaths – I describe putting them down, and I describe my loneliness thereafter, the sadness that came, and how I never got another dog, and how I came to only have cats, which I hate, because they are horrible things that stay inside and ignore me.

But I shrug, because what am I going to do? Nothing – there is nothing I can do.

I pet his dogs and I tell him about my first cat. It was my daughter’s – she moved in with me for three months, brought her cat, taught me how to care for it, then she moved out, left the cat, and I haven’t seen her since, no contact, not a word, for years, it’s been years and I don’t know why, and sometimes all I do is wonder, I wonder why she’s gone, because she’s gone, she’s a ghost, but I still have her cat, at least, I guess, and I ask him how his wife is doing, because I know she’s pregnant, it’s their first baby, it’s beautiful that it’s happening, I’m so happy for them, and I pet the dogs while he watches the kids play soccer in the field across the street, thinking, worrying, about to tug on their leashes and try to escape, so I let him go with a smile and he wanders off into the sunshine, dogs pulling in all directions because it’s so nice out, just a perfect day, I am going to keep sitting here and enjoy it.

I am a gargoyle. I am a bad omen, a shadow that haunts our front stoop, and I will wait for him to come back, for him to let me pet the dogs some more, to let me tell him more things about what comes next; I want to tell him about the cats I have now, how they yowl at night and crawl on me in the dark, how they were my ex-wife’s cats, how I never asked for them and she just left them here when she left, and tell him about my ex-wife, about her leaving, about all the things she left behind when she did, about how the unwanted cats just pile up, how everything just piles up, up and up and up and in any case I don’t think I could even climb all the stairs right now, God, there are so many stairs, I’m out of breath just thinking about them – I have to go slow, I have to halt and breathe and wheeze, I have to balance on the last stair and squeeze in through the door so the cats don’t get out, and then I have to sit in the stale air, sit with all the cat hair, with all the bills and old gauze and medicines in their little orange jars, with the old boxes of old things, the bad memories, the bad things to come and the sun just feels so nice, it’s so nice to be outside, it’s nice to walk the dogs, to watch the kids play soccer, to talk to someone, to be somewhere else, to get out, to get out while you can before you can’t, and there, there he is, I can see him now.

Here he comes.

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