THE FOURTH OF JULY
The dog was an eight-year-old miniature poodle with a bad hip. It had just gotten a summer haircut and it clambered about that apartment, around the couch and on the bed like some tiny idiot sheep. She looked at it and then looked at herself in the mirror, adjusted her bra and looked at it again. It had been three days and the novelty of having a dog around had worn off and she admitted out loud—to herself and the dog—that she was tired of sitting it. She buttoned up her shirt and gathered up her things and walked past it and out the door. She had an interview.
On the bus, her mind was a drumroll of what to say how to hold herself when to be personable and when to be formal. Toward the end of the ride, it transitioned to general day dreaming and thinking about cleaning her kitchen.
The windowless room was off-white and in the back of the shop. Beige and pastel pieces of paper, some certifications, schedules, OSHA guidelines, and other documents required by law were posted on a corkboard on the back wall. The desk was vinyl-covered particleboard with scuffed grey rubberized strip running along the perimeter. She sat on a black chair without armrests that bobbed up and down when she adjusted herself. The man behind the desk wore a white shirt seemed too small for him and a grey tie. He had the top button on his shirt buttoned, which seemed to be something he did only when necessary as the collar was clearly sized wrong and his neck pudged up at the top of the collar. She would have to remember to buy Ajax on the way back.
“So,” he said, not looking up. “how would you benefit our company?” It was said with effort and an exhale as if he knew the banality of the question or maybe he was simply sick from the years of asking it, but too lazy to think up a better one.
She said something like what she’d read to say online. Calculated and concise. She immediately felt like a tool. The AC kicked on and papers tacked to the corkboard rustled. The man regarded her for a brief period and smiled with half of his mouth. He was jotting notes on the back of her resume. This sort of exchange continued for some time. Truth be told she didn’t give a shit about having a job or being part of this city. Everything she had experienced here had let her down. She only had the drive to find something because her fiancé liked it here. She thought that if she could tough it out for a bit, they’d be able to find something simpler. She needed a city where there were no formalities or etiquettes.
“Ok,” he said with wide eyes, finally looking up and seeming pleased. “do you have any questions for us?”
After that she stepped out into the midday summer brightness. She wore a loose white blouse with a silver broach of a galloping horse on the collar and a grey pencil skirt and silver flats. She crossed the street and waited. She perspired heavily on her forehead and her hair began to stick to it. When her fiancé returned from work she would tell him that the interview went well and that they said they would let her know. She felt oddly good about the interview. She had given up trying to be herself in almost all formal situations and if they wouldn’t have it, it wasn’t for her lack of professionalism. She did feel a pang of inauthenticity, but only through doing that which was required.
She returned and showered immediately and dried herself in the living room. Out the window was a moss-green 90’s Oldsmobile backing into a parking spot. There was an old man at the wheel. He pulled out and readjusted a few times. The man did not let leave his car after he parked. He would sit there for hours at a time. She had once spoken with the man while taking out the trash. He had had a stroke a couple of years ago and did not have any family. That’s what she gathered anyway through his stammering and slurring. She stood there, standing tall and looking out the window, the light so bright and the air still. Then she walked the dog.
Her fiancé returned around seven and they proceeded to make dinner. It was a hot evening and their apartment’s AC was broken. His shirt was buttoned all the way to the top and his neck was young and slim and long. They sat at the table across from each other and looked at the other loosely and at the other’s plate.
The next day was the Fourth of July. They got up together and fucked in the shower. She was on her period and she looked down to see the orange-red globs of blood on her man’s dick and when she came all her cramps relaxed. He felt her soft abdomen and smiled and they got out and made breakfast. While they were sitting down he asked her if she’d like to come out to the suburbs. She declined on account of not wanting to leave the dog in the apartment for a whole day where it would piss and shit.
“Will’s coming out. He can pick us up. The dog can come.” But still she declined.
At dusk she went to the Mexician grocery store across the street and bought brandy and apple soda. She made a drink and put it in a water bottle, then propped the fire escape open with a tattered phonebook used for that purpose and climbed up to the roof. The humidity hazed the skyscrapers downtown and they seemed an ungaugeable distance away. She had a panoramic view of the fireworks going off around the city and She went down to get her camera and found the dog cowering in the closet. She sat on the roof until late into the evening despite other people climbing the ladder, interrupting her solitude. She drank and enjoyed the breeze and the smell of sulfur and watch the fireworks erupt and spark about her.
Her mind raced as usual about the things she had not done and the things she wished she had done better, and the things she wished were different all together, but as her drinking continued she became enthralled with the holiday. Everyone in the city knew what to do. They knew exactly how to celebrate and everyone was good at it and she was watching them from her perch do everything right.
Later into the night she saw the moon creeping up over the skyline through the haze. It was orange-red there and silent as fireworks exploded in front of it. A static backdrop behind the smoke, its edge and pockmarks more defined near the top. It hanged there and her eyes were bleary from the sulfur and she caught herself with her mouth open a little.
When she came down into the apartment the dog was still hiding but it came out and greeted her with her nubby paws and spent the rest of the night by her side. She thought that she would lay down with the reasoning that she would get up early in the morning to continue the job search and do call backs but she was in the sort of state where she wasn’t too wasted to pass out but was drunk enough to toss in bed. She got a text from her fiancé saying he wouldn’t be back tonight and that he’d take the train in in the morning. She lay there looking up at the ceiling with nothing there and the dog nuzzling her armpit. She awoke to the sound of the door closing.
She welcomed him with open arms and he lay with her for a minute. The sun shone in through the window and the diffusion of the morning clouds. They embraced there as if the experience were something to be remembered. When he slipped away to prepare for the day, he did so slowly and she watched him in her half sleep. He seemed to glide on his feet soundlessly and faded in and out of her periphery.
She got up to walk the dog about an hour after he left. It was just after 9:30 and the sun was already blinding; the heat was already nearly the high of the day before. She decided that she would apply for jobs though she’d been meaning to organize for the wedding. If only someone would take the tiny risk so that she could prove herself. Everyone has to work she caught herself saying and felt like a child. The apartment was already sweltering upon her return. She drew the curtains but that didn’t help so she sweat incessantly as she worked at the desk and took a cold shower every couple hours. The dog lay on its side stretched out on the hardwood floor and it looked dead and she typed addresses into the invitation spreadsheet. She had switched to working on wedding stuff.
Her fiancé arrived late. He talked about his day as he made dinner for them and then he organized for the next day. When they settled down into bed the woman rolled over onto him in a way that was both exciting and uncomfortable. She told him her period was over as she grabbed his half-limp dick and rubbed her clit with it. The dog lay sleeping on the floor beside them. When they fucked that night the orange of the streetlight shone in on them and their sweat and her wetness and his cum blended together and their motions were as intuitive as a ritual seems inherent.
She showered for what was her fifth time that day and as she did her fiancé packed a small duffel bag of clothes and things and set it in the narrow entry not visible from where the pillows of the bed were. In the morning his routine was unchanged save the picking up the bag before walking out.
After a day and a half of calling and waiting impatiently, the meanwhile haphazardly filling out online applications in some sort of feverish, manic state brought on by the heat and the panging she accepted it. She had been staring at the computer screen far sightedly. He was gone. She could only vaguely iterate in her in her mind the reasons why. Her tears clouded her logic in the same way that drinking lethergizes the thought process without diminishing emotion. It felt so obvious to her yet she did not know why. Maybe it was instinct. Maybe it was that they lived simultaneously in two different cities but none of that accounted for why he didn’t say goodbye.
She took the dog for a walk at 9:30 in the morning. This day was cooler than the ones previous. The dog strained against the leash and doubled back and jumped and screeched whenever another dog or a motorcycle was near. It held out its head and chest like a bronze lion guarding museum only she was tiny and hopelessly soft. When they returned she lay in bed, the dog bringing her a toy and yipping for her to play. The woman regarded the dog with stiff, swollen eyes and the dog readjusted its legs and stuck out its tongue and panted.
After some time she turned to her phone, which had a voicemail: Hello this is John. We were just wondering if you’d like to come in for training sometime next week . . .
After the message she looked at the phone strangely for a minute then turned, adjusted to her back and looked up at the ceiling.
Joda Roberts lives in Chicago and works nights in an emergency room.