Royal Mutt and Panda Bear - Chapter 7: Winter Waves (一/二)
[Ch. 6 can be found here]
Royal Mutt stared at the stub of a key in his right paw. Crooked edges marked where the key broke when Royal tried to muscle the car to start. The afternoon sun did little to warm his cold bones as he sat on the low brick wall facing the gas station, his back to the hills of Northern California. His car, dusty and travel worn, sat idly next to a pump.
The days were shorter and already the sun was inching its way towards the horizon.
He looked at his shadow. Déjà vu fell upon him: Four months ago, in a suburb of Tokyo, sitting outside a convenience store at dawn with not an hour of sleep. Across from him the window reflected a sad dog with shaggy hair.
With this memory came a torrent of regret. Royal grit his teeth. He could feel the wave coming.
Panda Bear stood in front of Royal, his arms full of snacks.
Panda eased in next to Royal and offered him a bag of cookies, Royal declined.
“What or who are you thinking about this time?” Panda asked as he opened a bag of fruit snacks.
Panda threw a handful of fruit snacks into his mouth.
Royal said, “We had an argument during my last trip.”
As he formed the words, Royal could feel the blue water roll over him.
“It was bad.”
Royal stared at his shadow, its outlines grew ever fainter with the winter sun.
“The next morning I couldn’t sleep. I spent the early morning hours riding the subway to various parts of the city in a daze.”
Panda popped open a bag of pretzels.
“Sorry. Well, now you should be wiser after you’re experience with Elle,” Panda said.
“With Elle, I made it seem I was being selfless trying not to hurt her. Thinking about it…truth is, it was fear. Fear of my life outside of her. I already had one foot out the door and I couldn’t make that next step.”
Royal felt the cool wind brush his fur. The sound of cars became the lapping of the ocean.
“With Mari…one time, when we were living in Kyoto, I remember passing this old bridge. Underneath, the water was rushing past and the sky was clear. I knew she was waiting for me back at the apartment. I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed with affection. I said to myself, ‘This is it, this is the feeling.’”
Royal rubbed his legs.
“Then that night, the feeling disappeared. We were angry at each other again, I had to go back to California soon…and she said I was cold…”
“Like with Elle,” Panda added.
Royal watched a young couple exchange kisses in a car. The girl laughed and looked around embarrassingly as they drove away.
“I hated this cycle so much, we…I had to make a choice…Did you know I got her a Costco card?”
“Even though she ain’t even here?”
“Yeah. I did a myriad small little things she’ll never know, I wanted to keep both feet inside the door for once…”
A truck edged along the horizon and exited towards the gas station.
“Sometimes, I’ll feel so empty knowing we’re together, but not together. I feel as if I might get sucked into my own black hole.”
The truck pulled up to the station.
“Triple As’ here,” Panda said.
“Let’s go home,” Royal said.
With the night sky above, Royal Mutt helped Panda Bear unpack from the car. They stood in front of a one-story house, the light outside the front door cast an orange glow upon them.
Panda Bear handed Royal the bamboo plant.
“This is for you buddy.”
Royal gently took it into his paws. He smelled the leaves.
“I don’t know if I have the credentials to help you out, it seems that you already have a pretty good idea of your flaws and your strengths,” Panda Bear said.
Royal raised his head attentively.
Panda continued, “My writing professor Mr. G, a man of a bear, told me once, ‘Things will happen when you’re ready.’”
Royal Mutt leaned against his car mulling this over.
“Maybe you weren’t meant to be with Elle and that’s led to this test with you and Mari and I hope it works out, I really do.”
Panda turned towards his house. Royal felt the weight of the bamboo plant in his paws.
“One more thing.” Panda circled back to Royal.
“Don’t be so arrogant or naïve to think that it’s all your fault. Maybe there are some issues that Mari has that you don’t know about.”
The words cut open a dark curtain inside Royal’s mind.
“I know I can be pretty tunnel vision sometimes.”
“I can tell by the way you drive.”
“Go to sleep, Bear.”
Royal took the scenic route through his hometown: past the old house he lived as a pup, the street where he had his first fight, the school where he had his first crush.
He carried his bags through the depressing apartment complex and down the hallway with the flickering light. His apartment was empty save for a shabby bed slumped in one corner next to a plastic table. He carefully set down the bamboo plant on the table and then turned on his laptop.
He could feel his heart bracing itself for her voice. He felt the wall encircle his interior. He searched to find a door.