“Is it safe?”
Mandy swirled the purple liquid around the bottom of her chipped mug. Then she lifted it to her face and sniffed. Her nose wrinkled.
“Of course,” I assured her. “I tested it on Boris this afternoon.”
Mandy looked over at my tiny teacup puppy. Boris gazed up at her with his big fluffy face and then proceeded to vomit large green chunks all over the floor. She looked at me with eyebrows raised.
“That is completely unrelated,” I told her.
Mandy rolled her eyes.
“Note the color!” I pointed out.
Mandy considered the contents of her mug again and then pushed it across the counter.
“Be brave!” I encouraged her.
“You be brave,” she responded.
“I am. We are going to do this together.”
“No,” Mandy repeated pushing off her stool and heading for the front door.
“Mandy,” I whined.
“No. I’m going home. This is ridiculous, and you know it.”
I watched in frustrated silence as she put on her coat, shoved her hair into a stocking cap, wrapped a thick scarf around her neck and drew large woolen mittens out of her pocket.
“You don’t trust me,” I mumbled loud and clear enough for her to hear.
Mandy turned around to face me and opened her mouth to speak. Before she could respond, Boris interrupted with a loud emerald fountain.
“Nope,” was her final word before wrenching the front door open and stepping out into the damp night air.
I hoisted my mug into the air saluting the now closed door.
The liquid tasted bitter and tangy. It also felt gritty on my tongue and left me trying to lick the granules off my teeth.
Picking up Mandy’s mug I downed hers too.
“Gritty,” I muttered before filling my mug to the brim with water and guzzling it. I licked my teeth. Still gritty. I tried milk, ginger ale, and orange juice. Apparently, drinking wouldn’t eradicate the grit.
I brushed my teeth.
I ate some chocolate.
To no avail. The grit would not go away.
“At least I’m not vomiting,” I told Boris as I mopped up the kitchen floor with a clothespin on my nose.
His response negated all my previous sanitation efforts.
“Let’s take this outside,” I told him.
Donning my own protective coverings and somehow slipping my disgusting dog into her sweater and leash, I stepped out into the cold, still night. Overhead a few bright stars twinkled confidently attempting to light the fresh powder at my feet. Dragging a tired, sick Boris with me, I followed Mandy’s footprints down my driveway to where she had parked her car and then walked down her tire tracks to the sidewalk. No one had yet disturbed the snow, and I hesitated to be the first. Boris, however, walked boldly on ahead.
We walked in silence for a while meeting no one.
I could not believe Mandy. What’s a little vomit in the pursuit of weight loss? It was supposed to be a wonder drug. Don’t most wonder drugs require pyrotechnics of some sort? The fat had to go somewhere! I looked down at Boris. He did look a little skinnier, though fur matted down with vomit probably had that effect. I wondered if I could somehow convince him to roll around in the snow before we got back home.
“Hey Boris,” I tried. “Want to make a snow angel?”
Boris just threw up again and then proceeded to walk right threw it.
So much for that idea.
How much vomit could one little dog have anyway?
We kept walking. I wasn’t going home until he had subsided for good. Every ralph on the sidewalk was one less mess I had to clean up. Although…
I stopped. There was going to be a clear trail of this mess right to my front door. Everyone in the neighborhood would know whose pet had fouled up the pristine majesty of the first winter snow.
I sighed and looked down at Boris.
“How are you doing that?” asked a muffled, male voice.
I looked up. My neighbor Denis was paused mid-shovel in his driveway.
“Bad Chinese food,” I lied.
“No, that,” Denis said pointing his shovel behind me.
I turned around and looked. All was still and quiet and dark. The garage lighting threw very little on the sidewalk, but eventually something caught my eye or rather the absence of something caught my eye.
I knelt down and looked closer.
Not a single footprint marred the sidewalk behind me.
I blinked and rubbed my eyes. Then whipped my gloves off to rub them again as the wool made them scratchy.
Not one single footprint from either me or Boris.
Denis walked over to stand beside me.
I looked behind his feet. Boot prints size large.
“Congratulations,” I told him. “You can see dead people.”
Denis took a step back wide-eyed.
“I’m kidding, Denis.”
Denis blinked at me several times then ping-ponged back and forth from me to Boris to the sidewalk a few times more. Finally, without another word, he turned and walked back into the house leaving his driveway partially shoveled. I watched as his garage closed with a loud grinding sound disturbing the quiet of the night.
Boris sidled up and rubbed against my jacket as I continued to crouch down and stare at the pristine snow in front of me.
“Good thing this coat is machine washable,” I told him as he smeared green goo all across my side.
Then together we stared at the snow.
Slowly, I reached out my frozen fingers and attempted to poke a hole in the snow with my index finger. I could feel the cold. My finger felt wet, but when I pulled my hand back and slipped it back in my glove, no mark remained before me.
I reached out my entire gloved hand and pushed down.
Again, I could feel the cold. As I pushed my glove through to the cement, I could feel the wet soaking through. Yet, when I pulled my hand away… nothing.
Standing up, I took a few more steps and then turned around.
Standing in the silence, I could feel panic rising.
Boris stood quietly beside me. He seemed to finally have hit the bottom of the tank.
No sound invaded my thoughts.
Then it hit me: silence.
I walked again one house-length back towards my house, Boris in my wake.
The silence continued.
Not a crunch.
Not a sound.
Not a footprint.
Then I noticed something else: not one glob of green doggy chunk either. I retraced our progress in my mind. I looked up the street and down. Nowhere did I see the glint of green.
No footprints. No doggie chunks.
I looked down at my jacket and my usually adorable puppy. No doggie chunks on the snow anyway.
I reached inside my jacket pocket and pulled out my cellphone. My fingers were shaking as I hit redial on the last number. In the silence, I heard it ring: once, twice. I looked down at Boris who was patiently waiting by my side. Four, five, a click.
“I’m not drinking that stuff Nat. Forget it.”
“Mandy,” I whispered my throat dry. I licked some more grit off my teeth.
“Nat, are you alright?”
I opened my mouth to answer, but I didn’t know what to say.
“Nat, tell me you didn’t drink it.”
Yes, yes, I did, I thought to myself. Not just one but two, and no footprints. I could see dead people. I was the dead people.
“Nat, you’re scaring me. Are you still there?”
Yes, I thought. I’m here, and I’m alive. Denis could see me.
“Boris?” Mandy’s voice called from the phone. “Nat?”
I needed to say something. I was panicking Mandy.
“Nofutpits,” I garbled.
“Nat, oh, thank goodness. Wait, what?”
I continued to stare at the sidewalk until my vision began to blur. Then car lights appeared ahead of me and lit up the street. I looked directly at them and was blinded. Boris was barking and bouncing at my side. I shielded my eyes. Then I heard a car door open and slam.
“Nat, Nat, are you alright?”
I opened my eyes to see Mandy rushing towards me from the street. She pulled me into a hug, and I dropped Boris’ leash.
“Nat,” she said again.
“Mandy,” I muttered. My tongue felt like sandpaper and my teeth sharp and gritty.
“What happened?” Mandy asked pulling back and reaching down to grab Boris’ leash before he could scamper away.
I blinked at Mandy speechless. Two glasses, vomit, snow, Denis, no footprints.
“I’m losing my mind,” I finally told her.
“Did you have one to begin with?” she tried to joke.
I just blinked at her.
“Seriously, though,” she tried again. “Did you drink that stuff?”
“Yes,” I told her.
She blew air out slowly while biting her lip and twisting Boris’s leash.
“Should I call 911? Take you to the ER?” she asked.
She looked down at Boris and then my coat. I could feel what she was thinking.
“Maybe a hosing off first,” I suggested.
“Where is your hose?” she asked.
“Put away for the winter. There is three inches of snow on the ground,” I told her.
For some reason, the absurdity of hosing me off in the middle of the night in the snow was enough to end the panic. I broke into hysterical giggles which Mandy also caught.
“You can’t haul two ice pops to the ER,” I said between giggles.
“I don’t think they take dogs in the ER,” she said also giggling.
We laughed and Boris yipped.
“Come on, I’ll walk you home,” she said turning to shut her car off. Boris followed behind her into the street, and I looked down again at the sidewalk.
Still no footprints.
I started to giggle harder. Then I started to cry. Not again, I thought. Then I felt it: the panic rushing up my chest, into my throat. I leaned over and an emerald fountain shot from my mouth onto the ground.
“Feel better,” Mandy asked after a while.
I looked up at her wrapping Boris in a blanket she found in her open trunk.
“You shouldn’t have drank that stuff,” she told me.
I heaved again. “I shouldn’t have drank your stuff either.”
“You drank mine?”
“Yes,” I replied meekly with a small shrug.
“Yes.” I shrugged again and then vomited again.
“Nat, you…” she gritted her teeth, grumbled, and then sighed. “Are paying for it now.”
Mandy sat in her car with Boris while I emptied the contents of my stomach, and when I finally subsided, she guided me home and helped me disrobe.
Together we cleaned up Boris, my kitchen and started a load of laundry. Then we sat back at the kitchen counter; Mandy with a cup of tea, me with a ginger ale and Boris asleep on a pile of towels on the floor. We sat in silence for a while before Mandy picked up the unlabeled, empty bottle which once contained the purple liquid.
“Where did you say you got this stuff again?” she asked me.
“I didn’t say,” I replied, refusing to look up at her.
“Well, say now, Nat.”
“Danny gave it to me,” I whispered hoping she wouldn't hear.
“Did you just say Danny?” Mandy slammed her mug down on the counter and made for the door again. Coat, cap, scarf, mittens. A routine I witnessed at least once a day. She was such a drama queen.
“Mandy,” I tried to say.
“Nat, Danny!” she yelled at me, turning abruptly around, her scarf swinging wildly.
I didn't respond.
“Danny!” she yelled again. I decided to wait her out.
“Danny?” she said again.
How many more times could she say the word Danny?
“Danny,” she said with a sigh. I waited. Maybe one more.
We waited in silence for a long time.
“Nat,” she began. “I just… Danny!”
“Danny,” I told her again. How many times had we said Danny at this point? I wondered if he would suddenly appear like in the movies.
“You know better than to trust Danny! Why do you keep letting him use you as his human lab rat?”
“I am so glad I left before trying that crap,” she said turning again for the door.
“Mandy, why are you always storming out?” I asked her.
“Because… Danny!” she said before storming out again and slamming the door.
Boris woke up and looked around.
“Don’t you throw up again,” I told him.
In response, Boris cocked his head as if considering it.
I pushed up off my stool and made my way over to him. I patted his head, and he licked my hand before settling back to sleep. After a moment, I went over to my coat and grabbed my cellphone. I thought about calling Mandy back, but I didn't. I called Danny instead. One ring, two, three, click.
“How did it go?” he asked me.
“She wouldn’t drink it with me,” I told him.
“So what did you do?” he asked sharply.
“I drank both.”
“Good girl,” he said much nicer now before talking to someone else in the room with him.
I waited in silence for him to ask me. It didn't take long.
“Did it work?” he asked.
“Depends,” I said purposely evasive. “Did what work?”
I waited, torturing him as punishment for all the vomiting I did.
“You know I can't say that over the phone, so just tell me, Nat. Did it work?”
“Yes,” I fibbed. “147 before ingesting. One hour later 132.”
I pulled the phone away from my ear as he hollered and whooped.
“132, 132, 132!” he repeated over and over again. What was it with everyone and the echoes?
“Nat, you are my angel!” he told me once he finally calmed down. “Any side effects?”
My feet didn't leave any footprints, I considered telling him, but then I didn't.
“Not a one,” I told him sweetly instead. “You should try it yourself now.”
“Oh, Nat, you know I can never do that. Can’t risk the genius.”
“Of course,” I replied. “Danny, I gotta go.”
“Sure, but wait,” he said frantically.
I didn't wait. I hung up. Even I had had enough Danny for one day.
I stood by the door for a moment holding my phone. Then I looked over at Boris fast asleep. Slowly, I put on my boots and stepped outside onto the front porch. I stood at the edge of the porch and, holding my foot out, let the boot drop down off my foot into the snow. Taking a deep breath, I bent down and picked up the boot to reveal a perfect boot print in the snow. Wobbling, I put my boot back on, and then I jumped off the porch feet first into the powder.
Not a sound, and when I stepped back onto the porch, not a single mark.
Carefully, I slipped off my boot again. This time I leaned over the edge and pressed my bare foot deep into the cold, and I held it until my foot turned numb. Squeezing my eyes shut, I stepped back up onto the porch and wiggled back into my boot. I took one final deep breath and looked down into the snow.
Nodding my head, I headed back into my house and sat at the counter. Boris looked up at me, curious.
“Well,” I told him. “At least I didn’t grow a sixth toe this time.”