‘Our family,’ I say as Jane’s dogs make their morning presence known on my bed. They behave predictably, Bixby and Bella. Jane has to lift the former from floor to bed. Bixby, ever posttraumatic and never more than partially oriented, does not seem in his element atop the sheets. He tolerates petting, looks around for some sign and eventually leaps off the bed, back to solid ground. Bella, having spent the night under the covers, yawns and creeps in for a morning lick. Her tongue use is both expansive and exploratory. And on the receiving end, Bella’s kisses are highly equivocal. Like being tickled. One wants to get away and yet doesn’t. It’s Jane who is getting away on this particular morning. Work being what it is. And I volunteer, quite happily, to oversee the doggies. Why not? Some morning company while I write. Our family.
Jane straps me into the rowing machine, bids goodbye, and I row via iPod across that big square in Cairo where thousands of people have been telling their leader to get lost. He has finally agreed to do so. I wonder how I would react to such massive rejection, 300,000 people saying fuck you. There is a reason why I’m not a ruler. When the rowing is over, only twenty minutes have elapsed, which makes me feel good. After all, there are the dogs, now alone, waiting. No, they have not just been waiting. One has had a go at unraveling the fringe on my Baluch carpet. Is this what dogs do when they get bored? I don’t know. I eyeball the fringe, have some breakfast and decide to push the envelope even further. After all, it’s caffeine time. I haven’t been to Peet’s yet, and the day is young. I’m going. Baluch carpet destruction or not.
Why? I need to do this. And not just for the coffee. I need to keep one or all of us calm. We are going to make this work, the dogs and I. We are setting the stage, after all. They both need petting, these dogs. Each makes this known in very different ways. Bella unmistakably, straightforwardly, jealously, even intrusively. It is almost impossible to pet Bixby without Bella’s snout intervening between my hand and Bixby’s head. Which explains what is happening now. The critical problem here is that I have only one working hand. Which means one dog at a time. Which raises serious problems, big time competition and unavoidable neglect. I try to pet them both, switching off. The best I can do.
At Peet’s, Saturday morning is in full swing. The lines are long. The crowds restless. I am doing what I never do, getting a coffee to go. After all, there are the dogs. Also, there was yesterday. Quite disconcerting, it was. Here in my stomping ground. The dogs, everything is going to the dogs, for they are the common factor. We had journeyed here together, Jane, Bixby, Bella and I. Everyone headed for the park while I went into Peet’s across the street to order some coffees to go. The Peet’s clerk was an alert young woman, probably rather speedy away from the counter. I felt obliged to explain, sort of establish my needs, set things up. That I was ordering coffees to go. Take away, as one says in Britain. Not for here, my established and accustomed way, caffeine in a china cup. They know me, after all, these people., So I was sort of setting things up, explaining that I would like a cardboard carrier, please. Now, for the actual order….
Except that not being quite as alert as the young woman behind the counter, I hadn’t noticed what was happening. Her fingers flying across the keyboard. She had quickly entered the two coffees. That is to say, two cups of standard brewed Peets. Which was not what I wanted, was it? I was referring to coffees generically, setting the stage for what was to come next, my nonfat latte for Jane, cappuccino for me – ‘coffees’ generically, the important thing being that I needed to transport these in a cardboard holder, with lids. Nonetheless, from one interpretation, this added up to a total of four drinks: two coffees, one latte, one cappuccino. I shook my head as though to clear it. And speaking of clearing, that’s what needed to be done to the cash register. Not that it was a cash register, but a computer terminal, the distinction being effectively fuzzed sometime in the last couple of decades. The young woman had to ask the manager to undo part of the order, the two coffees which I did, and did not, order. I am old, the thought rose. I am slow, not disabled, although that is inescapably true. But more than disabled, old. My rhythm is slower. I shall wear my trousers rolled.
Outside, Jane and the dogs waited. We sat in the sun imbibing our caffeine. It had not occurred to me that the whole thing might have been a Freudian slip. I was ordering coffees, coffees for everyone. All four of us. Our family.