Steve Lane: In a Small, Square Woodland

       The apartment thing was weighing on the man. The dog went on yanking him down the dim path, veering into the woods first one way then the other, per some plan of her own. There was no getting away from anything; the back decks of the nearest houses were too near, and from where the path doubled over the shoulder of a hill, the lighted shopping centers by the highway stood out in clear, crisp miniature against the twilight. He could hear but no longer see the stream that split the preserve’s handful of November beech-woods in two. He let himself be pulled along, risking a stumble.
       Finding a new roommate — that would be a bother. Lissa had been bothersome too, no question. She had found him two years ago, from an ad he’d put in coffee shops, with the little strips you could tear off. She’d brought the little strip to their first meeting; in a burst of enthusiasm, he’d written her into the lease, which they now both more or less regretted. She worked two jobs, one at a Whole Foods, the other at a pottery co-op, and always paid the rent on time. Sundays she slept till noon. She left hair in the shower, and buttery knives on the countertop, but nothing worse. So where had her odd, unappeasable grievances come from? That he’d drunk her milk (he hadn’t), that he’d been hostile about the use of shared space (he had asked her to pick up some magazines in the TV room once). That his habits were stressful. A headlamp moved along the trail below, whether toward him or away from him he could not tell.
       Which habits? People liked to assume he and Lissa were a couple, despite the age difference; but they were not. She had her own life and friends, it seemed. Though she had all but asked him out once. She had been in the middle of some homework for a psych course, a program she had since abandoned, and wanted a piece of cake, and coffee with it and would he go with her, just for company.
       She would have made a terrible therapist. On the other hand, he was no judge of people at all, look at all the high school friends he’d held in contempt who had their own companies now, or were in politics.
       The dog slewed from side to side, sniffing urgently, like a compass foiled in finding north. She (Lissa) had praised him for his self-awareness once. He remembered the praise, but not its occasion. He saw the blinking lights of a descending jet, the noise not reaching him.
       He sat down on a stone, reeled the dog in close, and, unaccountably, began to weep.

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