Richard opened the manilla envelope. Before he could look inside, the dog barked at a passerby. “Henry, you have to stop that,” he said through an open window.
The envelope was in a waste-high pile of garbage. Inside, it wasn’t what he was looking for. It was a warranty for a fridge, not correspondence from his mother. He dropped it back into the pile of trash and brought his dead father’s dog inside his dead father’s house.
The man had passed two weeks prior, but he’d only known for a week. The mailman called it in, said mail was piling up and that the dog inside wouldn’t stop howling. Coroner said he had a stroke and laid on the floor for a week, was lucky the dog hadn’t started to eat him.
In another pile of trash, Richard found paper with handwriting. It was an assignment of his from grade school—fiction he portrayed as fact. A story about his dog. A dog he didn’t have—not at the time.
It was the first story he constructed to conceal his ugly life, from others and from himself.
“I inherited him,” Richard said to people at the dog park. He turned away from them, trying to hide the red patches on his face—eczema that flared up when he was stressed. He was trying as much as possible to avoid anyone looking at him. But there’s no avoiding stares with a dog like Henry, an over-sized Italian Pointer that loved to dig and bellow in the faces of other dogs.
“Maybe he’s anxious,” a woman said, from behind him.
Richard turned around. She had a beagle standing at her feet. He wished people kept their thoughts to themselves. It only made matters worse, pointing out the obvious.
“They’re all a lot of work,” the woman said, “but it’s worth it, you’ll see.”
He didn’t believe her. People lie to make you feel better. To make themselves feel better.
“I’m Stacy,” the woman said.
Richard said his name and bent to pet the Beagle. When the dog released a high-pitched bark, he stood.
“Rose, what’s the matter?” Stacy said. “I’m sorry, usually she’s so friendly with people.”
“Must be something about me,” Richard said.
“How often are you here?” she asked.
Richard itched his forehead and looked at Henry. “Oh, I don’t really know. I guess like once a week.”
“Okay, well, when you figure that out, I’m here almost every evening. I guess I’ll see you around.”
Richard stood by Henry in the empty dog park in the rain, looking at the parking lot. His toes were getting wet through his sneakers. The woman said she was there every day. Maybe she regretted telling him that? Maybe she could see through him to his broken insides and wanted to avoid having to look again?
He glanced at his phone. A notification of a new email. “You are a fraud,” said the message. “I want my money back.” He moved the email to spam and pocketed his phone. He thought of when he was younger and saw his father so angry he could kill someone. He could feel himself turning into the same person. As long as he kept his story up, he believed, he could keep that person from coming out. He could keep reality hidden.
He rolled up his jacket sleeve, itched the eczema on his arm, and rolled it back down. As he was leashing Henry, Stacey pulled into the lot. “I thought I’d be the only one here,” she said.
“Well, he needs to get out, right?”
She told him she liked that he put the dog’s needs first. “People think they look silly standing out here in the rain. It’s nice there are other people that don’t care about looking silly.”
They made small talk. He told her he was an executive coach and motivational speaker. “That must mean you’ve really got your shit together,” she said.
She told him she was a hospice nurse. “Well,” he said, “that must mean you’re really kind.”
She laughed. “Maybe. What it really means is that I’ve toughened up from watching so many people die.”
The morning they were to meet at a lake to walk the dogs, Richard checked his Google reviews. Someone said he didn’t know what he was talking about. They said he made everything up.