There’s kayaks in the canal now here in my hometown, and few beer cans. My sister and I are at a two-top overlooking the water. She’s on a second order of tuna nachos: seared ahi, wontons, scallions. The last time I saw this sister, she threatened to poison my drink, then later, assisting her through a Mighty Taco exit, twisted an ankle trying to punch me. After that I made my way west, north, inward, out.
The patio is crowded, warm. Some things in this town have blossomed, others revived. My mother, however, died, still unapologetic, a few blocks from here.
My sister reaches for a wonton. Big veins rope through her hands, arms. People say we look the same, but these veins are hers alone. In fact, they’re what I described her by these years I spent teaching in the arctic. “Kids,” I’d say, “your anger will keep you constricted, firmly, to the past.” Kids, I’d believe, late nights, reading something romantic left behind in the school-provided apartment in the alcohol-dry village, the education I offer you is a scam.
A man walking an intentionally-fat-looking dog, Corgi perhaps, starts to pass, then stops at our table, calls me by a nickname I was known by when I lived here. He waits, and I smile, hope for something to connect. It’s clear by the way my sister strokes her bangs, studies his posture, she doesn’t know him either, but she pushes a stool his direction with the toe of her Tom’s.
He knots the leash around a table leg. The dog lays near my feet, even seems happy. Sister offers a wonton to the dog, which sniffs at her fingers, eats.
The man flashes smiles my sister’s way. His teeth are crooked, fixed in a grin in a way that’s marginally charming, like a snow monkey. It’s a mouth I’d remember kissing, even back when I kissed plenty. He says to her, “you’re going to steal his heart.” This vote of confidence scores the dog another wonton. I’d planned on paying our bill, but those Nachos are $18.95 an order. Dog licks my exposed ankle, similar shape and smell to the wontons, I suppose.
“Stealing is in our blood,” I say. I mean it as a joke, but a memory materializes of placing a jumbo frozen burrito into my panties at a Convenient while my sister flirted with the cashier, a man from our block. Each step sounded like I was in diapers.
Snow Monkey offers to buy drinks, says to me, “It’s been years.” I couldn’t guess what letter his name starts with.
I point to the leash. “May I?”
The dog and I walk, walk, walk along the canal. In the village where I taught, the ocean stretched west, tundra east. The dog leads me away from the canal into the neighborhood. A hockey puck, Subway cup, and filthy sock adorn a sewer grate. I feel home.
The dog takes me up a driveway, stops at a door, begs.
Justin Herrmann is the author of the short fiction collection Highway One, Antarctica (MadHat Press 2014). His stories have appeared in Best Small Fictions, as well as journals including River Styx, Washington Square Review Review, and Elm Leaves Journal. He spent 24 months living and working at McMurdo Station, Antarctica. He lives with his family in Alaska.