A short "returning to L.A." story...
Last week I returned to Los Angeles after promoting Stray Dog Winter at writers festivals in Australia. As I struggled in the door of my apartment, I got a call from my former neighbor, Cliff. He said he needed to see me. Cliff was depressed enough before I went away; now his medications weren't working. Reluctantly, I agreed to meet him at the Tango Grill on Santa Monica.
Cliff arrived with his old yellow Labrador, Daisy, and we sat outside amidst the carbon monoxide.Daisy was over-friendly and talked to everyone, licking strange men's pants. She looks well, I said.
She has leukemia, said Cliff, don't ya girl. She wagged her tail frantically, as if it weren't a problem. Cliff said he was driving her up to San Francisco for the weekend. She might not get up there again, he said. He gave her some bread and olive oil, which she dripped with enthusiasm all over my good G-Star jeans. Cliff said he was having a hard time with her being sick, that he'd been isolating and overeating. I could see he wasn't doing well. He'd put on some pounds and looked pretty dreadful. I'm turning 40 when I'm up there, he said. I'm going to drive her out to the Golden Gate Bridge. Daisy barked as if she knew all about it.
It's beautiful there, I said.
I'm going to throw her over, then jump off the bridge myself. He said it so nonchalantly I suspected I'd misheard — I couldn't tell if he was serious.
Could you repeat that? I asked. He did, matter-of-factly, and I couldn't help noticing each time he said the word "bridge," Daisy looked at him and barked.
I'd had some strange conversations in Australia (after all, I visited my family), but nothing like this — I knew I was back in L.A. I restrained myself from saying something pathetic, like, You mustn't do that. You have so much to offer, more than you know.
Luckily the waiter appeared, as if to give me a breather. I looked at the dog at the end of its leash and she smiled and lifted a paw. I imagined her expression as she plummeted toward the water, looking up hopefully at Cliff as he leant over the railing. I suddenly wasn't feeling hungry. The waiter went away.
How do you think she'll feel if she goes first; she won't know you're coming after? I ventured.
I might jump with her, he said.
How will you do that? I asked. Now I was involved in logistics, chatting away like it could be a party we were planning or starting up a business.
Or you could jump and see if she'll follow, I said. I've seen some cruel tests of Jove, but this seemed like the ultimate. I wanted to say the word "bridge" and see if she'd bark, but it wasn't fair to taunt her; she was a dying dog.
Cliff inhaled a slab of meatloaf and gravy, deep in thoughts of what I assumed were murder/suicide. Then he asked me, quite unexpectedly: So, what's going on with you?
And I told him how I'd been in Australia and how my book was doing nicely there, that my mother and father seem pleased, but not with each other.All the while I was looking at Daisy, imagining her wagging her tail all the way to the water, diving in perfectly and swimming ashore, bounding back along the bridge, breathless and ready to do it again, but finding Cliff gone. The bridge game gone awry.
I got a phone call from Cliff last Monday, on his way back to L.A. He'd been to the bridge and decided not to do it. It had been such a beautiful day and there were too many people and Daisy wouldn't stop barking. He said he's thinking of moving to San Francisco. I still can't work out if that's a good idea.
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David Francis is the author of Stray Dog Winter. Booklist raves: "Vibrant with the discordant images of political repression and smoldering sexuality, Francis' book ethereally transports readers to a preternatural time where nothing and no one are as they seem."
Books mentioned in this post
David Francis is the author of Stray Dog Winter