“Please take the dog out before you go to work,” my wife says.
I look up from the book I’m reading in bed. “I thought you just took her out?”
“I did. But if you take her out for a walk before you go into work at noon, I won’t have to take her out again when I get back.”
My eyes drift down to the book in my lap.
“Such a hard life you have—the life of Riley,” she says, pulling on her coat.
I hear my wife’s feet pad down the stairs. Below, the dog barks in a frenzied fit when the back door closes. Soon she appears at the side of the bed, leaps up onto the covers beside me and buries her nose under my book.
“Okay, okay,” I laugh, stroking her pink belly. “Let me get dressed.”
Head cocked slightly to one side, she watches as I shed my pajamas and pull on my heavy pants, fleece and vest. I hunt for a pair of woolen socks in the chest of drawers. Judging from the movement of the branches in the tall pines behind our house, the wind is up. The clear blue sky portends a biting cold.
The puppy precedes my step on the stairs; she bounds through the parlor to the kitchen door where, tail drumming, she waits. “Okay, okay,” I say, pulling on my heavy gloves and reaching for the leash, “let’s go.”
We step outside into a cold so sharp that it burns the nostrils. The wind has blown bits of recyclables from the back porch, scattering them about the yard. I retrieve the items and hurriedly toss them back into the bin before heading out.
The snow has hardened in banks by the side of the street. We push ahead, the dog straining at the leash into the wind which cuts at my throat. Instinctively, I reach for the zipper at my neck and close the collar of my vest. Soon we are off at a trot down the tarmac. At the end of the street we turn the corner and don’t stop running until the end of the block.
Microscopic windswept pins prick the skin of my thighs through my corduroy trousers and sting my face. Despite the gloves, my fingertips tingle. We cross the intersection and head down the street.
At the bottom of the hill two crows rise up from a snow bank and pull their wings like black oars against the oncoming wind. The puppy pauses to sniff the air. Shortly, we are off again, running down the road.
We make our traditional loop in record time and ascend the hill, past the stand of grey maples sparsely clothed in remnants of bittersweet. The dog stops abruptly at the row of pines behind the church, nose to the ground. “Come on, Jackie,” I say, tugging at the leash. “Let’s go.” Thankfully, she responds, and we race back down the street to our driveway.
Inside I push the door to, hang up the leash, pull off my gloves and stocking cap and pour a cup of hot coffee from the carafe. The heat from the cup permeates my hands; the coffee percolates down my throat.
Garrison Keillor once remarked that winter is the only season of the year that is actually trying to kill you. Not that I have beaten Death—but only once more succeeded in postponing that final inevitable rendezvous.