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Shelby follows without thinking. Thinking has little to do with this whole endeavor. She is walking so fast that Blinkie has to trot to keep up. She feels hot inside her sixties-era sweater. She bought it at a thrift store on Twenty-Third Street and thought it was so cute with its Mary Quant squares of black and white; now she realizes it looks like a rag. By the time Sarah reaches Fifth Avenue, so has Shelby. They cross together when the light turns. They walk down the steps to the park so near to one another that Pablo almost collides into the pit bulls. Their names are Axel and Jezebel, Shelby knows. Before Harper adopted them from a client who was sent to prison, the dogs were kept in a studio apartment on the Lower East Side. They didn’t know how to walk up stairs, and Harper had to teach them by putting bits of liver on each step. How could Shelby not have fallen in love with a man who had the patience to do that?
“Sorry,” Sarah Levy says when her dogs bump into Pablo. She laughs and pulls her dogs out of the way. “You have quite a troupe there. Do you do dog walking?”
“Nope. They’re all mine.” No one can tell her pulse is going crazy when Shelby speaks. “I’m kind of a soft touch when it comes to dogs.”
“My husband’s like that. That’s why I have these two monsters.”
They’re walking along together as if they’ve known each other forever.
“You must be a softie, too. You’re the one walking the dogs, not your husband,” Shelby says.
Shelby sounds so pleasant. Not the sly bitch that she really is. She has managed to say Where the hell is Harper? without even mentioning him.
“He plays tennis on Sunday mornings.”
Bullshit, Shelby thinks. He’s never mentioned tennis. He probably hasn’t played since high school. She wonders what he’s really doing. He calls her his Monday Girl, and now she wonders if there’s a Sunday Girl. Perhaps he told Shelby he walked the dogs as an alibi for time spent with someone else. Her brain freezes at the thought. It’s not as warm out as she had assumed. She should have worn gloves.
Sarah lets the pit bulls off their leads, and Shelby allows Pablo and the General to run with them. She scratches Blinkie’s ears.
“Poor little guy,” Sarah says of Blinkie.
“Enucleation,” Shelby says. “He was already blind, but his cornea was infected, so the entire eye had to be removed.”
“You sound like a vet! Just like my husband.”
“My dream is to go to vet school.” Shelby has no idea why she’s just confessed her deepest desire to Harper Levy’s wife. She’s never said it out loud to anyone before.
“I wish I were a brain,” Sarah says. “I paint.”
Shelby feels little jittery pinpricks in her arms and legs. She’s having vicious thoughts that include leading Sarah into one of the underpasses and tying her to the wall with a dog leash. “You’re creative,” she tells Sarah. “That’s better.” Is she insane? She’s seen one of Sarah’s paintings on the wall in Harper’s office. It’s a still life, a snow-covered field, a stream, a gray boulder, and a blue sky dotted with clouds. Surprisingly good. Shelby has often found herself staring at it, wishing she could walk into that landscape.
“Except I can’t even do that right now. I use oil-based paints, and the fumes aren’t what you want to be breathing in when you’re pregnant.”
The General is leading the gang of dogs into the underpass. On the other side is a field. Shelby doesn’t say anything. She just breathes. So Harper is a liar. Or maybe he thinks omission doesn’t constitute a lie.
“I never walk through there,” Sarah says as the dogs romp ahead, through the underpass. But now they have no choice but to follow the path of the pack ahead of them. “But I guess we’re safe with all these dogs. Right? No one’s going to kill us in broad daylight.”
“Right,” Shelby says. She’s got the leash clenched in her fist.
They walk inside the underpass. There is writing on the wall and spray-paint art. Shelby prefers Sarah’s landscape.
“Congratulations on being pregnant.” Shelby’s hands are freezing; she sticks them in her pockets. Sarah is wearing leather gloves. Nice ones. “I happen to hate kids.”
Sarah laughs. “No you don’t.”
“My best friend has kids, but they’re the only ones I like.”
“You’ll love your own baby,” Sarah Levy says.
She sounds so sure of herself. How would she like to see a video of her husband and Shelby fucking in his office? The office smells like Lysol, and there are dog calendars scattered about. Sometimes they do it on the floor, even though Shelby always wonders what else has happened on the tan throw rug.
“I prefer dogs,” Shelby says. She lets Blinkie down once they’re through the tunnel, and he trots off.
“It’s a girl,” Sarah says.
“Excuse me?”
“My baby is a girl. I haven’t even told my husband. He said he wanted it to be a surprise. But I had an ultrasound. I couldn’t stand not knowing.” Sarah has big, beautiful eyes. “I don’t know why I’m telling you all this.”
“I don’t either,” Shelby says.
They both laugh, then Sarah begins to cry. “It must be hormones,” she says. She fishes a tissue out of her pocket. “Sometimes I can’t tell my husband anything. I feel like he’s judging me and weighing his response.” She blows her nose. “I just want someone to be happy when I announce the news.”
“I’m happy,” Shelby says. “I’m glad you’re having a girl.”
Sarah throws her a grateful look. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” Shelby says.
They are walking through the grass, off the path, following the dogs. Harper told Shelby that he definitely would not be with Sarah after the first of the year. He said so last Monday, when they were having Chinese food at his desk. Orange-flavored beef, chicken in plum sauce, mushrooms and broccoli.
The dogs have grown tired. Sarah clips on the pit bulls’ leads. Shelby does the same with Pablo and the General, but Blinkie is still wandering around.
“Do you mind holding them?” she asks Sarah. Shelby ambles across the grass. She could grab Blinkie and run, leaving Sarah holding on to the leashes. When Harper came home, there her dogs would be and then he’d know that she understood that he’s a liar. But when it comes down to it, her dogs are more important to her than Harper is. That should tell her something.