While I was sipping chamomile tea from a styrofoam cup and lying on the mustard-colored couch during what my shirk had referred to as “one of our most productive sessions yet” in July, Laura and I decided that it was best for me to “unplug” for a little while. So after living off Ramen noodles and feeding my Corgi, Zero, only dry kibble for nearly three months, I was all set to rent a cabin in the woods.
I had forgotten how much I love the scenery of fall in the country. Before I left home, my family and I used to venture to Wine Country when the air would get cold and the leaves would start to turn beautiful colors, and if they were really lucky they could buy apple cider in fancy glass bottles. This apple cider had been locally-sourced, of course.
In that moment, I was nostalgic for my family; my grandparents, who were now climbing into their 80s, still acted like teenagers. It was both heartwarming and disgusting. My mom and dad have moved out of my childhood home, trading in years of precious memories for a poolside condo. I really can’t say I blame them. After all, I left too.
The chilly fall morning reminded me of the last time I saw my grandparents. My Grandpa took me to pick up my puppy. No one knew why I was so determined to get a dog, they just knew that I had been saving up my money and that I was hellbent on getting it. My grandpa said that he knew some local breeders who were good people. They had German Shepherd puppies.
German Shepherd puppies are, of course, adorable, but I told him I needed something smaller. I was going to get an emotional support animal, I could get the prescription from my psychologist, something I could carry in a my arms comfortably would be the best option.
The morning my grandfather took me to get Zero was a crisp September morning just like this one. When we entered the barn there were several puppies in the large cardboard box. The puppy I would later adopt was the only not making a huge racket or jumping around trying to get my attention. I honestly liked the fact that he seemed quiet and shy like me.
I scooped the little puppy up into my arms, wrapped him in a little pink blanket that I bought earlier that day at Walmart, and took him with me. When we got in the car, I realized I had no names picked out for a boy; I was expecting to adopt a female puppy. I’d read that female puppies were easier to train. The song Zero by The Smashing Pumpkins was blaring in my speakers when the car was turned on. That’s how my puppy got his name.
It dawned on me that my grandfather hadn’t seen Zero since he was a puppy. My baby was full-grown now and turning three this summer.
When we arrived at the cabin, I set my puppy down on the couch and ventured into the bathroom. I noticed the medicine cabinet was open. “Maybe the last renters went in a hurry and they simply did not want to forget important prescriptions,” I thought.
I checked to make sure nothing of importance was left behind; a small heart, with the the number 56 in the center, was carved into the wooden shelves. I sat there absentmindedly running my fingertips over the carving for a little too long. The sound of Zero scratching at the wooden door snapped me back to reality.
Zero stood there watching me with with his head cocked to the side out of immense confusion as I struggled to move the heavy oak desk from beside the bay window to where a hole was set in the wall on the other side of the room.
“Buddy, please quit looking at me like that, I’m doing this for you. Remember that time that you got bit by that milk snake and your nose got infected? Or how about the time you killed Sarah Johnson’s little baby bunny? That little girl was crushed. Whatever is on the other side of this wall could get you in a lot of trouble little boy.”
“FUCK!” I shouted, and that moment I was glad that it was the off-season. No neighbors could hear me having a mental breakdown as two large notebooks full of writing and political research hit the floor.
I noticed that there was another carving in the very spot we were trying to cover up. Just one read 1-29-56. I planned to ask my grandfather if he knew the people that owned the house before it became a rental property. It was clear that the date meant something.
My dog and I were curled up on the couch; I was reading a trashy romance book that I picked up from discount bin at my favorite local bookstore, and my baby was happily chewing on his favorite squeaky steak.
Our peaceful night was interrupted by a loud thud. The freezer door had opened, the loud noise that we heard was the impact of the door hitting the wall.
I brushed it off. I know it’s sacrilege, but I had to put ice cubes in my Red Cat Wine. Maybe when I was retrieving the ice cubes I didn’t close the freezer properly. Zero had buried himself under some lighthouse-themed pillows and was shaking.
“Loud noises have never bothered you before. I know new places are scary,” I said softly as I held him in my arms and instinctively rocked back and forth.
The sun beamed brightly through the windows, and Zero was was gently tapping me with his paws. “I know you’re thirsty,” I mumbled as I attempted to blink the sleep out of my eyes. I cringed as I saw the empty bottle of wine lying on the floor next to the suede couch.
“I barely slept a wink. I had the strangest dream,” I said petting my dog. “I always talk to you like you’re a person. I had a dream that I heard a baby crying. Was that you, buddy, did you have an okay night?” I continued to rub his large ears. “When I got to the source of the crying, it was an empty crib with blue lining. It’s so weird. I mean, to be frank, Zero, you’re probably the only baby I’m ever going to have, and at this point you’re the only one I ever want.”
My mother and I sat in the diner patiently awaiting my grandparents arrival. Zero was sniffing, turning his head around and getting the attention of an excited little girl who was pointing at us and yelling, “Doggy Mommy, doggy. DOGGY! I want to pet him.” Her mom told us that she “didn’t think a dog should be in a restaurant” and that “no one actually needs an ESA!” Then she muttered some stuff about me being a snowflake and a millennial.
I was excited to see my grandfather in his flannel and trucker cap smiling just as big as always.
“Grandpa!” After a hug, I asked, “Did you know the people who used to live in the cottage that we’re staying at?”
“Yes.” He chuckled. “I know everyone around here.”
“I keep finding the number 56 carved into every wooden surface of the house. I’m not sure if the furniture is all original, but it looks pretty old fashioned. 56 is even carved into the bedpost, and it looks like an entire date has been carved into a spot on the wall.”
“The people that used to live there,” he said, his voice cracked. “They were a couple; their names were Mike and Mona. They got married right after graduating high school. It was a white wedding. The family did not approve because they didn’t like the fact that they were wanting to raise their baby. So, they decided to move far away from the family. They moved out where they could raise their family together. Well, Mona lost the baby. According to Mike, it was a little boy. They wanted to name him Michael.”
“The baby would have been born January 29th of 1956. It’s so sad,” he said, a tear trickling down his bright red cheek.
“Mona,” he paused with some apprehension, “well, she never got out of her depression.” He took a sip of his coffee. “And in those days, if they couldn’t fix your problems with relational therapy, well, they shoved an ice pick into your brain. She died on the table. The hospital tried to cover it up and said she didn’t want to see anyone, but eventually, when Mike came to visit, he learned the truth.”
“Sometime after that, her husband joined army because he was looking for a fresh start. He’s married now to a woman he met while he was in Australia. They have three kids together. The oldest is a little girl, they named her Mona.”
I shoved another forkful of biscuits and gravy into my mouth, I didn’t want to talk about this anymore.
“Mona comes into the bar every once in awhile, pretty girl. She has her father is dry humor.”
On my way back to the cabin that night, I bought a blue teddy bear from the dollar store. I set it on the desk, which was still covering up the hole in the wall.