Saturday mornings were my favorite, walking her dog in the park. Always in our pajamas, hands overlapping on that big green leash that let Zeiva walk so far ahead of us we had to bring binoculars to keep an eye on her.
Her name was Ashley and she went by Ash for short, which I liked so much that it was annoying to hear her friends use it too; I wanted Ash all to myself.
The thing about Ash was that her hair changed with the seasons. In winter it was white, in the springtime blonde, in summer still blonde but with flower buds in June that rose into tulips by July and sank to daisies come August. In autumn, her hair became a magnificent blend of reds and pale yellows, hues covering whole branches of the color spectrum.
Such a unique gift of appearance did not come without its thorns, both literally (protruding from her scalp on the eleventh of every month) and figuratively. The latter took the form of an on-and-off paranoia that had haunted Ash her entire life, lingering through insomnia and sneaking up on her at birthday parties; the fear that everyone who loved her only did so because of her hair.
In the second autumn of our relationship, there was a week in which this fear became too great to bear. After a low-key night of television and erotic charades, Ash muttered that she was going to the bathroom, her tone strangely solemn. When she emerged bald, I tried to cloak my disappointment in a robe of understanding, but another thing about Ash is that she could smell lies. She said the scent was similar to scratch-and-win lottery tickets.
The next morning, our walk in the park was taken more out of obligation than desire. Ash picked up the leash that sat in a giant coil in the living room and clipped it to Zeiva as I opened the door. Zeiva ran out and we stood together in silence, waiting for the leash to grow taut.
When we got to the park, I told Ash that the blue beanie she was wearing looked cute on her, realizing after I said it that this was like complimenting someone with a busted leg on the quality of their crutches.
“Thanks,” she said, her tone flat.
I stopped her right there and said listen. Wind swept through the park and leaves flew about and pigeons shit on statues and I said listen. Ash pushed the backs of both ears towards me to emphasize her doing so. I told her that she could keep her head shaved forever and she would still be my favorite person on earth, no lotto tickets about it. And then I said,
“But I hope you won’t.”
And she laughed. The wind died down and the leaves settled soft and the pigeons held it in and she laughed.
“Okay,” she said.
“Okay,” I said.
And we resumed walking, noticing after a few steps that the leash had gone limp. Ash took the binoculars out of her fanny pack and held them up to her eyes, lowering them and looking at me with concern.
“The leash got cut,” she said. “She’s gone.”
And we ran forward. The situation was particularly distressing because the thing about Zeiva was that she would explode if she went without physical affection for more than four hours. It was a rare disease that the animal shelter had sold as so much love to give. Ash and I figured that she was just a horn dog. In a few minutes we arrived at the end of the shortened leash, a pair of scissors lying open beside it. We looked around for signs of the perpetrator, but there was no one.
“We better split up,” Ash said. “Cover more ground.”
For some reason the idea of separating seemed newly frightening to me, as if the search for Zeiva could lead us on paths that might never again intersect.
“No.” I took her hand. “C’mon, we can do this.”
“That doesn’t make sense.”
“Love doesn’t make sense.”
Ash tugged her hand away and pointed up the hill to our right.
“I love you but I’m going that way,” she said. “Call if you find her.”
And I stood and watched her leave until she disappeared over the hill.
I knelt down and examined the scissors, worn and blunt—blades that had seen their fair share of leashes. Because I didn’t have bright yellow crime scene tape, I pulled out the cloth I used to wipe off my glasses and placed it delicately over the scissors, then set off in the opposite direction.
I figured that Zeiva wouldn’t be hard to find; wherever she went, there would still be at least a quarter mile of leash trailing her. I had seen Ash kissing and petting her at breakfast and estimated that we had roughly three hours until the boom. I walked through the marshy area of the park and reached the duck pond, where a teenaged couple sat on the adjacent bench with their arms around each other, eyes resting on the water, serene. Ducks swam peacefully this way and that, dodging lily pads. A strip of green fabric floated in the wake of a mallard, drifting away from me and across the pond. I stepped into the water and followed the leash to the far bank, where an upturned Zeiva bobbed lifeless in the shallows. I tugged her onto the grass and tried pounding on her chest, but it was over. I detached the leash from her collar and carried Zeiva’s dripping body back around to the pond-side bench, where the teenagers looked at me in alarm.
“Oh God,” the girl said.
“Fuck man,” the boy said.
I stood for a moment and looked at them skeptically.
“You guys wouldn’t be missing any scissors would you?”
The boy cocked his head at me.
“We didn’t cut your leash if that’s what you mean,” the girl said.
“How did you know about that?”
And the girl pointed to the pond, where the severed leash slithered through the water like an elongated snake.
At home, Ash sank into the cushions as we ate pasta on the couch, her eyes red and distant.
“Zeiva was the only one who was for sure,” she said.
I scooched closer and asked what she meant. She looked at me apologetically and said,
“Dogs don’t care about hair.”
I opened my mouth to speak, but came to the terrible realization there was nothing I could say. I took Ash’s beanie off and kissed the top of her head, then got my coat and went to take a late-night walk in the park.
The first half of our leash still lay where we left it, coming to an end at the spot of ground covered by my cloth. I knelt down and picked it up, hoping for the scissors to have morphed into sewing materials. Instead they had disappeared altogether. I lay down on the grass alongside the path, reaching over to the leash and pulling it up next to me until the handle was in my grip. Ash and I met almost two years ago, at a speed-dating event in which participants entered the community center blindfolded and talked to each other using paper cups and string. Afterwards, Ash and I left the building with our blindfolds still on and walked in separate directions while carrying on conversation to see how far we could go and still hear each other. After a while I brought the blindfold up and peaked out to find myself standing at the edge of the duck pond in the park. I took a breath, heard Ash shout I DIG YOUR BIRD-LIKE WRISTS, and dived in.
I shivered on the ground for a bit longer before rising and walking back, leaving our leash coiled on the grass. It was past midnight when I got home. Ash lay asleep in our bed, the tiny thorns on her head just visible by the light of the moon, poking into her pillow and announcing the new day.
In the morning I got up early and went to the yarn shop, where I bought as much green string as I could afford. String turned out to be pretty cheap and I was able to buy the store’s entire supply. Two paper cups came next, then the fitting of one cup to each end of my enormous string-ball. At home, I placed one of the cups inside the front door, then biked to the pond where I had found Zeiva with the second cup tied to the bike frame, string unspooling behind me. The teenagers had since moved on. I sat on the empty bench and put my ear to the cup, waiting for the sound of Ash’s footsteps to approach the door.
But she had already found the cup.
“Where are you?”
“At the bus stop,” I lied.
“I’m on the street,” she said. “I’m following the string.”
“My bus is here.”
“Where’s it going?”
“To the airport.”
“I’m at the park now.”
“I’m at the airport.”
“I see our leash.”
“I see my plane.”
“Where’s it going?”
I told her about a plane taking off, string unspooling at a million miles per second.
“I’m at the pond now,” Ash said. “Sitting next to a man on the bench.”
“I’m in Tibet.”
“It’s weird for it to end like this.”