I am Fulton DeMarco, DeMarco Photography: nothing escapes us. Or so it says on the van. Which I parked the other day in town and debarked only to be greeted by a dog on his own, tough little guy with blackened divots taken out of his brindle head in likely altercations. Not a pit bull, but stocky like that, handsome big jaw and the best grin, friend to man if not to dog. I gave him my hand to sniff but he was easy, couple of quick licks, and so I scratched his hard-knocks head a while: contented grunting noises, his ribs pressed hard into my knee. He torqued his neck back to grin up at me, this guy who ate well even on the mean streets of Wellspring, Florida, my kind of man’s best friend. No collar, no human thing, all dog. I had business, lunch with potential clients, a bride and her mom. Yes, that kind of photographer, pretty jaded, formerly would have said artist, but make a hell of a living snapping drunks and nodding grandmothers, later sorting scans and making memories, your greatest day. They don’t generally call me for the divorce.
I was halfway up Palmetto Street to the cutesy coffee shop there on the corner when I realized the dog was following me, 10 paces back like a slighted husband, humbly following but claiming me at the same time. “Not so fast,” I called. Just kidding, but the dog stopped and sat, just kept sitting as I continued on pitiless—later for you, toughie. In the coffee shop, the bride and her mom were efficient, just 30 brisk minutes, already on the same page, nice, some good gentle laughter at the expense of her groom, who was clueless military if you believed them. But you weren’t meant to believe them, not at all. What they were conveying was that the groom was a good guy who could take a joke and who loved her with all his heart and medals and swords and would sit still for anything we asked of him. We signed my standard contract on the spot, one of the more deluxe packages.
They were meeting my pal the wedding planner next, right there at the same coffee shop, and after her arrival and some professional hugs and handshakes, I was out the door and onto the next shoot, a commercial thing at a former factory space now a carpet showroom, pleasant, quiet work and well paid.
Yes, Dear Universe, I hurried out the door of the coffee shop, nice two-toned bells, and there on the busy sidewalk was that scruffy dog, just waiting for me. He followed me to the van, and, no way around it, I opened the side door and let him hop in, zero hesitation on his part. He leapt easily through the gap from the back seat onto the passenger seat up front and sat erect, ready to navigate, keen eyes forward.
It was as if there had been a dog-shaped void in my house and not only a wife-shaped void and a daughter-shaped void. Mick Jagger stepped into the dog void and filled it, even started to fill the others, all on his first night home. He responded to k sounds and m sounds and seemed to brighten at the name Mick, also he had the Jagger swagger and the comically wide mouth and that Carnaby Street clothing sense, not really.
We watched TV together and he didn’t sleep at all, watched the screen and snuggled up to me, both of us alert. A walk at night? I’d never done that from this house, not in this neighborhood, but off we went, no leash required, Mick those respectful paces behind me but closing the gap, especially as I kept up the chatter, plenty to say, and feeling safe in his company. We walked an hour, a leisurely couple of miles, both of us stopping to pee, though I didn’t mark as many things as Mick did. And then home again to this bright and hopeful mood I hadn’t known for how long? A long time, that’s how long, since Natalie went off to college in Colorado and her mom decided to follow her across the country, eight years back if we’re counting. And now Natalie about to marry. Or so her mom had just informed me in a blunt text, no invitation for me, my own fault as I’d been pretty bitter around the divorce and Momma Rita’s new college-professor husband, all that, and had said a few things I now mostly regretted, though one or two were funny (I still called the new guy Curious George, couldn’t stop).
In my sadness as we walked I played a game with myself that Mick was good at advice and I asked him what I should do. And in the game my best thoughts were his answers, and he said, You idiot, call Natalie and tell her you love her, that’s all, just that, and then in the next call tell her you’re so proud of her, and then in the next call after that, call three and no sooner, tell her you’d like to come to her wedding, no pressure, wise dog.
And in the morning another walk before my first meeting, which wasn’t till noon. Mick and I rambled clear to Thompson Hill, five miles roundtrip at a guess, looked out at the ocean a long time like two wise men, the dog modeling a kind of quiet contentment that I adopted, including the smile. We were happy people, and we made the people we passed happy, smiles rippling behind us like wakes. I thought, Why not? And Mick hopped in the van and became my assistant, attended my shoot with me, a bridal shower with some foundation-encrusted young ladies who must’ve done their makeup in the dark bathroom, exposed here and in my lens like vampires to the sun. Of course I’d perform my usual miracles and fix things in the digital fashion. But we’re not here to talk about bridesmaids and their multitudinous flaws. The important thing is that Mick was such a hit, staying at my side grinning and not even huffing and puffing, a perfect gentleman as those ladies changed in and out of various bodices and petted him, holding him to their bosoms, each more ample than the next, I doing my best not to see but only notice, document. Like I wasn’t there.
And in a way, of course, I wasn’t there. I was already deep in the phone call Mick had suggested, and which I planned to make early evening. And early evening I did call, dialing the old cellphone number and getting Natalie’s voicemail, easy as that, six years? Seven? “Natalie, hunny, hi, it’s Daddy. Long time. I’ve made a new friend who’s advising me wisely and he has said to call you and say just one thing: I love you. I want to add one more thing, however, and say as well that I’m sorry. For being absent. And one more after that, which is, I miss you. You know my number, sweetie, if you’d like to call. And I understand if not.”
Well, she didn’t call.
Dog and man walked all over this small city, and tried out all the beaches once the tourist-season pet restrictions were lifted. Handsome Mick was not a biter, not a popper of beach balls, but not strictly at my heel at all times, and no perfect angel. Pretty simple: he did not like other dogs. Still, at my command he’d leave the fray, return to my side, panting at whatever injustice he’d just righted, or might have had I not intervened. We both liked those deep-summer beaches, but he wasn’t a dog to run ahead or scurry after children, or jump in the surf, none of that, just brief and stiff canine hellos, owners always tugging their purebreds away from him.
But we had gotten close, had started to profess our love for each other. It was quite easy between us, and we were pals like no pals had ever been, that kind of feeling, meals, walks, work, sleep, sports on TV, always side by side, the months peeling past. I counted my lucky stars. So did Mick, I’m certain of that. He got steak, he got burgers from Five Guys, he got sliced turkey from the deli. He liked certain vegetables, too, and never got fatter or thinner, a lot like me. I played the advice game with him about nearly everything, and he continued to be wise. You can charge more, he kept saying, and so for my next series of photo estimates, I went high, very high. And people, you could actually see their eyes pop with the blistering heat of those prices. And then, you know what? They hired me. Because most expensive must be best, that’s what Mick Jagger told me. It was dog psychology. Great references, good reputation, dazzling website, blisteringly high estimates, and bang, I doubled my work. Mick advised tucking away 25 percent for taxes, so I did that, and 10 percent for equipment, and soon I had the nasty new 24mm lens I’d been coveting so long, and a new camera bag to replace the ratty one. And I got a collar for the boy, a nice leather number with steel studs that made him look a touch mean and inspired me to get myself a steel-studded camera harness, and off we’d walk, miles a day between jobs. I took snaps like I hadn’t done for years, artsy-snaps, I called them so as not to take myself too seriously, but they were seriously good, at least Mick said so, and as it happened—spoiler alert—in years to come they would bring me immodest fame. But that was later, quite a bit later, new wife and all, even grandchildren.
Oh, and it was Mick who advised that I learn to text. I mean in the Mick-advising-me game. I was not delusional. Texting is not difficult, Mick said, but does require a better phone than I’d been using. Write it off to business, Mick said, that huge smile, get a Samsung this or that, the guy at the store sets it all up for you, immediately functional. And it came true. The guy at the store, sad penitent with a mullet, set me all up and showed me how to text, showed me how to set up my contacts, asked for a sample number to plug in, so I picked Natalie’s of course.
Home again after a top-dollar family portrait session—funny, pleasant people all getting along beautifully—I stared at the phone a long time. Mick wanted a movie with dinner, and so we started a long one, but after we’d eaten and the movie was far from done, I turned it off. Dog got excited thinking it was time for a walk, but instead I picked up the phone and wrote my first text ever: DEAR NATALIE I’M SORRY FOR ALL THE TROUBLE. I LOVE YOU AND MISS YOU AND WOULD LIKE TO ATTEND YOUR WEDDING. NOT GIVE YOU AWAY OR ANYTHING, JUST ATTEND. LOVE DAD.
Well, I stared at that a good long time and remembered something I’d read about old people texting, and so I Googled that phrase OLD PEOPLE TEXTING and got some apparently hilarious examples, and they looked like my text, all caps.
So I fixed it. I’m no Luddite. I fixed it and warmed up the language a little and actually used an emoji for the first time, an embarrassed but apologetic and game smile. Dramatic pause, and: send.
And in mere shocking seconds my phone rattled in some way I’d have to fix and there was my first text reply:
dad omg of course come to wedding, what? i love you too
Three red hearts!
One upshot of the better feeding and miles of walking was that I was losing some weight. Maybe a lot of weight. I didn’t have a scale, but noticed my clothes were getting slack and belts too long; also the hills were easy to walk and the dog miles piled up effortlessly. Mick was looking good too. He attended an enormous wedding as my assistant and everyone was good-humored about it because he was so good-humored, tight at my calf and feet on the ground at all times, nose poked nowhere, shaking hands and accepting high-fives soberly even from the drunks, all at one of these over-the-top ocean estates. The enormously cheerful and self-assured owner of the place (it wasn’t his kid getting married!) pointed out a cliff walk up the inlet we could try between the dressing photos and the actual ceremony and so here we went, three free hours, very civilized, Mick fascinated by the roar of the waves below, running down to sniff at the seaweed sucked in by the rocky estuary, later a dead large fish to inspect at length, the first time he’d ever left my side for so long, hunched down there in an impossible nook where I couldn’t reach him if I wanted to, ignoring my whistles and imprecations, a good 20 minutes, frustrating. Which I explained to him perhaps too calmly when we finally continued on, a spring in his step, the dog three steps ahead of me now, his dog hips full of humor and life, that stubby tail expressive as a conductor’s baton.
Back at the wedding we went to work, polite dog capturing genuine and revealing and unguarded expressions from even the most camera shy. Family group photos, boring even for a dog, and somewhere in there, my having at last taken his attention for granted, he went missing.
I searched, I investigated. I made phone calls. Everyone who’d been at the wedding remembered the dog. The bride especially had loved him, very generously shot out a group email to her guests and extended family, and a lot of stories came in reply, very cute, but. An uncle had been coming back from the cliff walk and saw the dog marching the other way, very purposeful, smile and all. Toward that fish, of course. Time and tide wait for no dog. I worried he’d been swept away. I didn’t sleep. I didn’t eat. I didn’t function, except to answer the phone, in case it was about Mick, or to look at email, notes and dog-finding advice from the wedding, diminishing returns.
But the phone rang one afternoon. “Tell me your name,” a woman’s voice said angrily. Not every bride is happy, believe me.
“DeMarco,” I said. “Fulton DeMarco Photography. Nothing escapes us. I am called Phil. What’s the problem?”
“You stole our dog. You stole Monk. You pig. You stole our dog. And you put your own collar on him. And this is the phone number on the collar, stupid man. Stupid Phil DeMarco.”
“No ma’am, I didn’t steal him. Please. I took him in. He was collarless and beat up and very hungry and wet and had no way to tell me who he was. I got close though, ma’am. I named him Mick. I loved him. I love him.”
“I saw that. Mick, ha. On the collar. If you steal a ship and paint a new name on the stern, you’ve still stolen the ship, mister.”
“I didn’t steal a ship. I didn’t steal anything. I took in a stray. I know how you must have missed him. He’s a precious animal.”
“You stole Monk, that’s what you stole. And now I know who you are and you’d best expect trouble. I have rough friends and so does Monk.”
“I’m already in trouble, ma’am. My heart is in trouble. I miss Mick that much. I miss him so much. Monk I mean. Monk, I’m sorry. How was I to know? I grew to love him so much.”
“Don’t try that on me!”
“Those crocodile tears, that’s what. You think we weren’t crying over here when you stole him?”
“I didn’t steal him, ma’am.” Sob! “I didn’t steal Monk.” Sniffle! “I only loved him.”
Now she was crying too. “You say you loved him. But I loved him. I love him. I love him right now. I put posters up all around the neighborhood. I put them everywhere. At Tribble’s Store, I know you saw that one. You’re telling me you don’t go to Tribble’s? It’s the only store in the neighborhood, Phil DeMarco.”
“I don’t know Tribble’s, ma’am. Apparently it’s not the same neighborhood. Apparently Mick, Monk, was more lost than you might think.”
“But that poster was everywhere. With that photo? Monk with the smile and the two little girls? Broken hearts, those two. You didn’t see that, huh?”
I wasn’t trying for drama, but wailed, honestly: how I wailed, struggled for words: “No, I did not see that. I would have called. He arrived beat up and without his collar. How was I to know? Ma’am, I asked around. I asked at the vet’s. I asked at the dog park.”
She cooed suddenly. “I’ve been too harsh,” she said.
“I understand,” I said.
She said, “Want me to put him on?”
“Yes, yes if you could.”
And I heard Mick’s unmistakably slobbery breathing, the rattle of the wrong dog tags, wrong collar, mine having been replaced. “Mick,” I said.
And Mick woofed, unusual for him.
“He does know you,” the woman said.
“Of course he knows me.”
“His name is Monk. Call him Monk.”
“Aw, he loves you,” the woman said. “He brightened right up at the sound of your voice! More when you said Monk than Mick. Next you’ll ask to FaceTime and the answer is no. I’m in my robe and not beautiful at the best of times if that’s your plan, buster.”
I laughed through my sobs, and she laughed through hers, and Mick let out a woof that was a laugh and I knew he was grinning. I missed that grin so much!
“Okay,” the lady said.
“Wait,” I said. “Wait-wait. Can I have your name? Your phone?”
“You may not.”
And with that, she hung up, fuck.
Unknown caller, was all my useless new phone would tell me.
Natalie, my daughter, as it turned out, was a dear one and gave good advice.
“Dad,” she said.
How I loved that simple salutation.
“Hunny,” I said.
“The dog is someone else’s. The dog is not coming back. But you can be proud. You were a good dog Samaritan. And most important, you proved something to yourself: you can love unconditionally. You can love unto tears.”
“Is that from the Bible?”
“No, I’m just saying it right now.”
Unto tears: “It just sounds so old-fashioned.”
“Dad. You’re crying?”
“Oh, Daddy. What I’m saying is. Daddy? You’re okay. What I’m saying is that the dog came into your life for a purpose and the purpose was to open your heart and now I hear proof, proof that your heart is open. In fact, I am proof, that you have come back for me. That you’ll be at my wedding.”
“I’ll be at your wedding.”
And now she was crying too. “Daddy?”
“I want you to give me away. That goes without saying. Mommy can just suck it up. But Daddy?”
“I want you there with a new doggie. A sweet new doggie you find at the pound. Is there a pound where you are? A shelter, I mean? Get a new sweet doggie with a sweet doggie smile like you admire so much and name him just as you see fit and bring him to my wedding. Maybe an older dog. A dog who knows some tricks. A dog who’s been ’round the block, okay Daddy? And bring him to my wedding and we’ll all fall in love with him, and he will be a dog with a family so big, his beautiful dog heart will break! Promise me, Papa.”
She called me Papa! “Sweetie, I promise.”
“And this promise you’ll keep?”
“Your wedding on the 21st with a dog in tow.”
Might be Mick, I thought elated. Let it be Mick. But if it couldn’t be Mick, the Dade County Animal Shelter and some strong dog who’d lived hard.
But before that, one more devoted search. I put on my best dog brain and thought my way through what he might do. Well, he’d go down and work on that fish some more, that’s what he’d do. I wasn’t able to climb down into the grotto where we’d seen it, but what did that matter? The dead fish was, of course, long gone. So I turned, channeling Mick, and reached the path. From there perhaps I’d heard the wedding band getting louder, the party heating up, action a little too intense for my dog ears and a little scary, people acting like people don’t act, loud laughter and shouting, lots of flinging themselves around, fragrant hems flying. So instead of rejoining my photographer master—and not meaning to lose him, only to catch a break—I marched toward town, a long mile or two, the path widening, my spindly legs hurrying.
Because, suddenly, my inner doggie knew where Mick was. The cliff walk ended at a main thoroughfare, and if Mick were going home to his old place, it wouldn’t be down the hill, to where there was only an endless parking lot along an endless beach, the state park. And so upwards, and left again, and sure enough in two short blocks, there was Tribble’s Store. My own neighborhood was far distant to a human’s thinking, more than 10 miles by the loop road, further by the bridge, but using back yards and culverts under highways and swimming the creek and using every secret known to dog, not more than two or three miles, nothing for a dog athlete. Only to be confused later by what? The smells, the traffic, the culvert not quite where you thought? And so, lost.
In Tribble’s the owner was smiling graciously at his TV set, the smile meant for me, his attention all on an indecipherable cricket match back in Kolkata. “Yes, sir,” he said. “Greetings. Call me Mukherjee and shop at your pleasure.”
I got right to it: “Mukherjee, do you know the lady with the lost dog?”
“Oh, Mrs. Crate, yes, yes, I know her as a good friend. The dog is found. Cheerful Monk!” And he pointed to the bulletin board, where a poster still hung, the word found scratched across the surface.
I said, “Yes, the lovely Mrs. Crate. I’m so happy that dog was found. I’ve followed the story very closely. Doesn’t she live near here?”
“Yes, yes, of course she does. On Parker Street over there. That rather grand house. Dog should never have been out in that busy street alone! The only dog I’ve ever liked! The only one! Dogs being racists!”
We laughed pretty hard and long, the truth being funny, Mr. Mukherjee a comedian. Then suddenly there came a cheering on the tiny TV set. “Jai! Jai!,” said my new friend. “A golden duck! A golden duck!”
Cricket talk. “Capital!” I cried.
“Haha, don’t make fun!”
So of course I said it again.
Mr. Mukherjee tilted his head merrily.
As for me, Mick Jagger.
On Parker Avenue I walked very slowly, taking snaps with my big older Nikon film camera, looking professional and cheerful, thus avoiding suspicion. Every single house was grand at the very least, with generous back yards and front yards and porticoes and cast-iron gates and driveways black as the heart of a jealous man, or (leave me out of it!) hanging like plague-killed tongues (my photos would later reveal) from open garage-door mouths, open doors one after the next, not a high-crime area, service personnel everywhere you looked, pool cleaners, groundsmen, HVAC men, one last desperate gambit before the animal shelter out on Old Farm Road, where surely a good dog waited.
But I had a feeling about the blue house. And so I sat in the shade across the street from it on a bench kindly provided by some dead man’s loved ones, a full hour, not wasting time but getting out my laptop and editing the previous day’s wedding. And waiting, watching. Quite confident: this was Mick’s place, Mick’s original place.
And sure enough in due time, the grand door opened and here came a lady, and then two little girls. If she was my lady, the one on the phone, she had lied. Because this lady was very beautiful. The little girls too. Extremely fit and handsome like catalog models too gorgeous for the clothes they were selling. And finally Mick, now and formerly known as Monk, last in line, lordly little thug. I clacked my tongue in our manner and Monk shot a look, found me on my bench across the street, sharpest notice, no mistaking his attention, his recognition of me, those eyes bright as spring planets.
“Mick,” I cried, like Marlon Brando calling for Stella. I didn’t care who might hear. “Micky!”
The lady and her girls ignored me: yet another Florida crazy. But my beloved animal—my old friend, my good-night’s sleepmate, my tenderest man, my Sugar Ray, my guardian angel, my lost brother, my crewcut boy, my combat-bitten baby, my rockstar, my muse, my adviser, my heart—Mick the Monk took several steps in my direction, pulled up short, maybe torn, maybe only nostalgic, pulled up short and gave me his dog-steady gaze as the beautiful woman with her giant wedding-ring set and her girls in their designer kids’ togs and shining health sashayed off in the other direction, this long frozen moment. But at last my boy offered me that huge Jagger smile, which fell from soul warmth into see-ya-later cool so hard it was like an angel falling from grace. Audibly my boy heaved a dog sigh, a little growl in there, a little moan, then turned heel, no tentative steps, not Mick Jagger, instead just the usual resolute trot, quickly caught up to his people.
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