Susanna deftly moved the dog leash from her right hand to her left so she could hook her elbow inside Lucy’s and walk two abreast with her down the city sidewalk; at the other end of the leash was Zippy, a plucky little Jack Russell named in homage to Dave Barry’s dog, as immortalized in his humor. Charley was tethered to Lucy and walked ahead of them, stopping often to inspect errant clumps of grass sprouting from concrete seams in the sidewalk, and squatting down to mark them now and then. Zippy took a multitude of tiny, comical steps to every one of Charley’s beautifully buoyant and loping strides.
“What will you do to pad the coffers?” Susanna’s unruly blonde hair covered one of her blue eyes, and elsewhere seemed content to roam at will, contained, and only just, by the roots that held it fast to her head.
“I was actually thinking of going back to school. Grad school.” Lucy observed her own reflection, and the dogs’ and her friend’s, as they walked past a plate glass window that still bore part of a painted advert, an old one that had surely aged decades by now. She noticed the individual tracks a broad paint brushstroke had left as it swept across the glass: PHILCO—YOUR BETTER BUY! it announced a bit too joyously, Lucy decided. A curvilinear underscore drove home the point in case anyone missed it. Shout to be heard! Must have been a Mad Men manifesto, she thought, impressed by her own wordsmithing. The shop was empty, like others on this block and the ones around it, but everywhere were tentative signs of life.
“In what?” Susanna asked.
“Hm?” Lucy struggled with monkey brain most days, and just now found her thoughts wandering to how that storefront must have looked in its heyday. “I hadn’t gotten that far yet. Something more practical than English lit. Maybe business. The math scares me, a little.”
“Grad school takes funds, and you’re coming up short, I hear.”
“I know. It’s just a thought. I’d have to take out a loan, look for grant money.” By now they were headed into a less savory area of town, and decided to turn around.
“Let’s cross the street,” suggested Susanna. Lucy caught a glimpse of her friend’s hair backlit by the late-day sunlight, which created a crazy halo effect. She grinned at the notion of Susanna-as-angel. “You look angelic in the light, truly. Susanna Serafina!” She started giggling, which in turn set off waves of laughter in her friend, who started coughing with the unmistakable death rattle of a heavy smoker. “Sa-TAN-na’s more like it,” she wheezed through her phlegmy sounding fit. Lucy patted and rubbed her gently on the back and waited patiently for her to recover. Finally, Susanna stood erect and waved the crazy hair out of her eyes, which now watered copiously—from the laughter or coughing, Lucy could not tell.
“Hey, Sues, humor me. Let’s not cross just yet. I want to go back to the Philco building and look at it again. I want to peek through the window, see what’s inside it.”
Susanna recognized this quirky determination in Lucy, had observed it before and knew obsessing would soon follow. She also knew it was futile to object.
Turning on her heel, Susanna gestured dramatically with the arm now freed from Lucy’s. “Lead the way!”
Later on, Lucy would sit up in bed and sketch out the floorplans of the Philco-Your-Better-Buy building as she imagined them, and then fall asleep clutching the notepad in her hands. When she awoke the next morning, the building would be the first thing to materialize in her mind’s eye. And then seeing her eyes open, Charley would stretch her body long against Lucy’s and thump her tail softly on the bed, offering up sour-smelling dog kisses in this German Shepherd-style morning devotional.