Deep back between Russel's nose and eyes the air felt like frosted copper. It made him want to squint. Russel had never seen a cat squint and so wasn't sure if what his face was doing now would fit the definition. Russel wished he had a mirror, but this thought passed abruptly, as had all his thoughts since leaving home.
Air this cold had never been in Russel's lungs. His eyeballs felt very open and dry. The wet on them felt cold. Russel's nose was very wet and some of that wet was drooping down into his mouth. This mortifying lapse composed another abruptly passing thought.
Russel's breath bellowed out and shimmered, for an instant, in little dots from far away streetlights. The breath parted and dimmed as Russel walked through it. He made no sound. The streets had a hard pack of snow. On top of this was a light dust from this evening's fall. This also shimmered and reflected light. A rusted sedan made a soft, distant crunch as it drove toward the slash of light it threw to the darkness. With a finger to its lips the cold gathers all sound and ushers it to the stars, Russel thought, awkwardly.
Earlier, Russel had concocted a handful of intricate plans by which he might escape the house. He had tested whether his strength, applied scientifically, would be sufficient to unlock a window and push it open. It was not. He had made a test chew on the dry wall but stopped upon considering the brick or siding that may lie beyond it. Russel eyeballed the garbage can and calculated the time until it might be taken out against whether his absence, if noted, might preclude this chore's administration.
Cate watched these trials as if only to again turn away. Around eleven Neil had wandered in to find Russel, fully extended, midway through his window opening test. Delighted, Neil had run to gather his camera. He returned to an untended window. In the basement Russel craned his head into the fireplace.
At three Russel was sitting in the middle of the kitchen again staring at the garbage can. He was catatonic with thought. The door behind him cracked and a cruel, violent air screamed through the house. The door slammed shut. Russel was gone. Brad leaned against the wall and forced his red fingers into the iced up laces on his boots. He had no idea Russel had slipped beneath him.
It had been as simple as that.
Russel stood still outside, the air blasting right through his fur to the pale white skin underneath. He had not even thought. It had just been as simple as that. One half second. As terrifyingly simple as that. And here he was.
Russel sat in the snow then stood back up. The ground was so cold it stuck. The sky was very open with a bright moon and bright starts and a huge white cloud. It seemed like the cold air went unbroken all the way from Russel's toes to the very top of space.
Russel stood there until Brad walked past the kitchen window and the light went off behind him. Cate was lying in the side windowsill. Her body warmth made condensation on the window; a dark, hazy silhouette. Russel could not tell if she was aware of him standing there or not. The hallway light went off and Cate disappeared in the darkness of the house and Russel walked to the sidewalk. Snow wedged up into his paws and they throbbed. He smelled the metal air and it made his eyes water from the cold but in it he smelled Brad and Bandit and even himself and so he knew to turn left. The smell was thin. Russel was glad the house was dark because it did not look warm.
The Thursday after Penny was buried Tubbs ran out the back screen door of his house with a slap and a panic. The people who lived in the house stomped out after him shouting. Hollering, hollering, hollering but they never saw him again.
The people who owned the house left Tubbs' food dish out for a week or so. They had never put Penny's all the way away; it sat under a shelving unit a few feet away from where Hapkido ate. The people eventually put Tubb's dish under there with Penny's dish inside it since it was smaller.
Hapkido and Tubbs had never interacted much and less so after Penny passed away. So, Tubbs' absence didn't seem to Hapkido like it should make much difference. But it did.
Debbie, Hapkido's mom, did not come downstairs anymore. The people fed her up there and also bought a litter box.
"Like a cat," the man said to the woman.
Hapkido felt small in the house. He thought about the air in the house - the geometry of it as it formed around doorjambs and sofas and tables and himself. He thought how it sat there but filled all the space up. Air filled everything up.
Hapkido was self-absorbed. He knew this as well as the difference between self-absorption and self-importance. Or self-centeredness. Hapkido thought about himself an unhealthy amount, but his reveries were anchored in questions like "What is wrong with me?" and "Why am I so much worse than everyone else?" and "I am awful."
It was while adrift in the fog of these questions that Hapkido missed the importance of Sesame, the neighbor dog, repeatedly, over the course of several months. Sesame is a Chihuahua dog, very tiny, and a girl. Unattached. Her tail is the size of your thumb and she wags it so hard that her whole back-end moves with it. Once, she hit the absolute pinnacle of her excitement and fell right down.
Hapkido gradually became aware that when he sat at the window on the east side of the house there was always this tiny little Chihuahua next door with her legs on the windowsill and her tail whipping around like crazy. She watched him. Uncomfortable, Hapkido would pretend to not notice her but this just made things more awkward because he had to always pretend he was really absorbed in what was going on way to the right, or way to the left, of her window. This was a tough ruse to maintain because nothing happened there.
Eventually Hapkido stopped going to that window even though it faced the driveway and was therefore his go-to spot for recon. Still, when he happened to walk past that window he would see, from the corner of his eye, Sesame standing across the way with her feet on the sill. Her tail would wag faster as he came into view then slow down as he kept going. He felt bad.
One afternoon Hapkido walked to the window. He had a plan. Sesame looked at him cautiously. Her tail was low. Hapkido enacted his plan, which involved him pretending like he had never noticed her before and, being a social and pleasant dog, was eager and un-conflicted in his speaking with her. This subterfuge went poorly and was embarrassing to the both of them but Sesame handled the situation with grace and soon Hapkido was off the stick and they were fast friends. They spent their entire days at their windows.
Through a campaign of beguiling and un-doglike behavior Hapkido was able to push his walks back a half hour so as to coincide with Sesame's. The people the dogs lived with became friends too so Hapkido and Sesame had plenty of time during these walks to wag and sniff and try to explain the ideas they had earlier pantomimed through the window.
Once Sesame was taken on an unanticipated car trip and so was not at the window that morning. Hapkido became sick to his stomach.
The window was very cold as Hapkido tried to communicate the Russel situation to Sesame. He couldn't explain though. How could he? It would have to wait until the next time they spoke outside. There were two deep car-tire ruts in the driveway between them that were becoming smooth from that night's snowfall. Hapkido stopped trying to explain so both he and Sesame just stood there.
Sesame and Hapkido had spoken before about Hapkido's family. She knew he felt bad a lot and considered himself weak, cowardly and terrible. Sesame wasn't sure what Hapkido had been trying to tell her but something about his face said to her that it had to do with those feelings. She knew she would have to wait until their next walk together to get an explanation. Sesame also felt, for the first time since they had met, unsure when that next walk would be.
Hapkido left the window and Sesame stood, front legs on the windowsill, as the snow fell beneath the streetlamp. She wondered how much snow would have to fall for the two ruts in the driveway to fill back up.