"They have beauty, because in them is embodied the greatest of our imaginative delights,-that of giving body to our latent capacities, and of wandering, without the strain and contradiction of actual existence, into all forms of possible being." taken from Section 46 on Ideal Characters-The Sense of Beauty by George Santayana.
He called me on Tuesday. His request for a dog-sitter was in response to an ad I had placed in a local independent newspaper. He told me the key was hanging behind a large planter hanging just within reach of his front porch. I marvel at the inconspicuous conspicuousness of the key and let myself in. “Harvey” greets me at the door, presumably happy to see me, or perhaps anyone after a few long hours of solitude. I glance around his house, taking it all in at once. His house is very neat, but homey and comfortable. Not overtly masculine, nor feminine either. There is a leather chair in the corner, a pair of reading glasses folded on top of a book, which, upon closer examination, was a historical text on the French Revolution. The fireplace appeared to be well-used, the ashes covered the interior with a light coating. He obviously cares enough to sweep the ash regularly. I proceed to the kitchen to calm Harvey’s obvious hunger with a few kibbles. The kitchen is also well-loved and is definitely “manned” by a guy who cooks and is good at it. Fancy olive oils line the shelf behind the stove, coarse sea salt delicately placed into a thin salt grinder, standing at attention to the right. I open the left-hand cupboard to search for Harvey’s food and see that this man not only loves pasta—wonderful pastas of all shapes and sizes-but has a sweet tooth. A man after my own heart!! A whole shelf of fine dark chocolate. Hmmm. None are opened, so I cannot even steal a bite to try. I find the kibbles and fill the dog’s bowl. He grinds his nose into the pile and inhales the food until it is gone.
I sit at the kitchen table to wait for him, wondering at this man who has trusted me enough to freely explore his home without his watching eyes on me. I notice the dog’s leashes hanging in the hall leading to the back entrance-each having their own hook. On a fourth hangs the dog’s jacket-green wool with a nylon exterior for those chilly rainy days. He obviously loves and cares for his dog. He is paying my high priced fee after all. I smile. I notice some receipts under the toaster, so of course, my curiosity is tempted as I get up to spy on this poor man’s every move. First one-$26.53 on various items from the drug store. Shaving cream, body wash. Oh interesting, condoms for $7.97. OK now my new vocation of domestic spy is getting fun. Who is he having sex with? He obviously lives alone or maybe not? I haven’t checked the clothing in the house. Is he using these condoms for birth control, STD protection, or both? The date on the receipt says April 17th—two days ago. A Ha! Someone he is traveling with? Or someone he hopes to meet in his travels? Or, quite possibly, just some male lothario who quite regularly keeps a stock of ever-diminishing condoms ready at hand? Oh my! Too much information I think. I quickly move to the next receipt-hardware store. Polyurethane, 1 quart and light bulbs. Not so interesting. Next receipt—doctor’s fees---insurance paid 65.00. Patient responsibility—36.00. And who is this doctor? Dr. Sumerain. Never heard of him. “Harvey, are you finished?” He wags his tale and runs to me. “Time for a walk?” He runs to the hall and starts to pull on one of the leashes. He barks twice and I get up to get him ready. As I enter the hall, I notice two pairs of shoes—both men’s shoes-driving shoes-you know the kind that look like loafers but have the half spheres along the heel—and a more dressy shoe, presumably for work or possibly after hours cocktails. I open up the back door to let both Harvey and me tumble out into the cool day. His garden matches his house-neatly trimmed, well landscaped but not many spring flowers poking their heads through. He has already mulched, which is quite early for this time of year—too much time on his hands or a little too fastidious? Or perhaps eager to be thought well of, maybe by me? His garden is quite isolated and private, closed to other’s watching eyes. Maybe I should check for photos of him? I smile again. He sounded middle aged on the phone, with a bit of rasp to his voice, almost sexy, or maybe too many cigarettes? No, he is definitely not a smoker. His house smells fresh, and he seems too “in control”. Harvey pulls me toward the back yard, and I notice a back gate leading to a street or maybe alley beyond his yard. There is someone leaning against a fence on the opposite side. An older man, smoking. “Hey there, Harvey. And who do we have here?” He smiles, a nice set of teeth although slightly yellowed and worn due to age and tobacco. “Hi, nice to meet you! I’m Samantha, the dog sitter.” “Well, Harvey sure is one lucky dog.” He winks. “And so is Joe.” “He didn’t warn me that you were coming. I would have worn some cologne or maybe gotten a hair cut.” He chuckles. “Joe is a busy guy—always jet-setting here and there. I swear he has the life. Good looking too, don’t you think?” “I wouldn’t know. I haven’t actually seen him.” “Well, that’s probably a good thing, little lass. You’d be starry-eyed right now, and wouldn’t give me the time of day.” “Oh, I don’t know about that!” I exclaim, mostly to reassure him. “What does Joe do that keeps him on the road so much?” “Oh, you didn’t know? He’s a big architect, pretty famous to boot.” I am always surprised he stays here. I mean, he could afford something much bigger. Besides, with his talent he could design something quite unique for himself. But, I guess he prefers his modest bungalow and I think so does Harvey. Right, Harvey?” He rubs Harvey’s ears and the dog lifts up to lick his face. “He’s a good dog. You’ll have a nice visit with him.” “Thank you, umm” “Oh, yes, nice to meet you too, Samantha, the name’s Roc, short for Rochester. Don’t ask.” “Love it, Roc! Well, must give Harvey what he wants. I’ll see you around.” I wave as Harvey pulls me down the street. “Oh Samantha? Just a word of warning. Don’t get pulled in, keep yourself intact.” “Why? What do you mean?” “Oh you’ll see. Just heed my warning, ok?” “Uh, OK…bye Roc.” “Bye, beautiful.”
When darkness lured me up the staircase to his bedroom later, it was like crossing the threshold into another man’s home. Hi bed was an unruly mess; the blankets and sheets were strewn everywhere, pieces of clothing were dropped like Hansel’s bread in a line leading to the bathroom. A large framed print of a graphic black and white typescript hung over the bed. It read, “You must learn to Be Bad before you can Be Good.” I tiptoed out of there as if I were exiting a crime scene, leaving none of my own traces behind. I guess I won’t be sleeping in this bed tonight. It is probably too hard anyway.
As I proceeded down the hall, I came upon the guest bedroom. The bed there was exceedingly better—carefully made and tended, sheets tucked in, corners neatly folded. There was a note on the bedside table. It read: Samantha-I hope you can be comfortable here. Enjoy your stay.-J. I think I can take this note as a confirmation that this room is where I should be sleeping. The room was lovely with its own private bathroom, complete with claw foot tub and lavender oil resting on the window ledge. I brought my bag in the room and proceeded to fill the empty drawers with my things. Everything thing fit just perfectly-almost too perfectly, and I pulled out my nightgown to change. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted, through the closet door slightly ajar, a long black string; kind of out of character for the neatness and primness of the room. I walked over to the door and peered inside. The string was apparently coming from the literally packed in clothing on a much-too-small garment rack. I pulled the string, and something fell from off the top of the rack. This strange string led me to a very small lovingly hand-knit sweater that was quickly unraveling, and if I had pulled harder, would have quickly disappeared. Now, I’ve seen everything now. I simply cannot figure this guy out. What in the world, in his unpredictable world, could he possibly use this for? I stood there simply stunned as I felt something brush across my leg and froze….