The Carnitas Enchiladas splayed across the recyclable carton like a couple of beached whales. Jerry sat at his tiny kitchen counter in boxer shorts, picking at the remains. Disgusted with himself, he pushed the carton away, turned to Winifred and Murphy snuggled together at one end of the couch. Meeting their eyes, he could swear they were equally disgusted with him.
The dogs turned from Jerry and looked down the hall where a woman’s leg stretched into view from under a bedsheet.
Jerry followed their gaze, considered Serena’s lovely leg. Then looked back to Winifred and Murphy, once again giving him the canine stink eye.
What to do? What to do? ricocheted in his head. Woman… Bed? Couch… Dogs?… Holy shit! How far down the rabbit hole had he gone that choosing between sleeping with a woman or dogs required serious contemplation?
Dawn found Winifred and Murphy asleep under a blanket at one end of the couch. At the other end, Jerry clung to what was left of the dogs’ blanket. Man and beast snored in harmony when they were rocked back to consciousness by the slam of the trailer door. The heads of three sleepy mutts looked out the window to see Serena jump in her BMW and speed off.
Leash in mouth, Murphy led the way along the river bank. Thirty feet behind Jerry and Winifred straggled along.
“Laura loved this walk. Where we lived when we first got married. Same trailer. Same spot…” Jerry stopped, sat on a big rock and watched the river rippling by. “Same rock. Laura, Max, and me. Sit and watch the sun go down. Everything we needed in that truck and trailer. Funny how little you need when everything else is right.”
Winifred sat at his feet, held Jerry in her gaze, never blinking.
“God, I miss her. I was better because of her. Better writer too. After all the TV and golf stuff, I actually wrote a pretty decent novel.” Jerry shook his head, “Bupkis.”
Winifred tweaked her ears and snout as if questioning.
“Bupkis. You know…”
Jerry picked up a stone and skipped it across the water. “But I got no complaints, Winnie girl. Golf saved my ass. Best game in the world to be bad at. The more strokes you take, the more you get to play. So I played. And wrote about all the hackers like me. Not a bad gig. Gave us the house. The cars… That car… Laura loved that car…”
The memory still had power. “Maybe… if she had been driving… No. It was me, Winnie. No one to blame but myself… They’re dead because of me.”
Winifred held him in her gaze.
“I forgot to lock the door on Max’s crate. Laura heard it rattling. Undid her seat belt. Turned around to lock it… I looked back. For an instant…”
He was there. Again. Laura leaning behind her seat reaching for the crate… Jerry looking over his right shoulder… the big SUV barreling towards Laura’s door… Oblivion.
Ahead on the trail, Murphy turned back and saw Jerry and Winifred holding onto each other.
~ ~ ~