"I live here! I live here!"
We’ll begin our story with Jody. She had lived on the block in her studio apartment since college, a luxurious accommodation at the time, certainly when compared to the dorm room she was leaving. After twenty years, the one room no longer struck her as luxurious, but the morning light was still lovely, the stabilized rent remained artificially low, and the large room with its beautiful bay window, high ceiling, and molding in the shape of twisted rope continued to be her home.
In the back of the room there was a step up into a doll-size kitchen, and behind that another step led to the bathroom. Jody had recently painted the apartment herself—a soft yellow color called Nigerian Peony. The moldings and the ceiling, of which she was particularly proud, were white and glossy. Whenever the room glowed in the sunlight from the big bay window, Jody congratulated herself on the serenity of her well-ordered existence, reassured that the weekends spent atop a tall ladder had been worth the effort. She kept the ladder in the linen closet with her expensive and carefully folded sheets. Jody was frugal in general, buying her clothes at reasonably priced chain stores, but sheets were in an entirely different category. Sheets were sacrificial objects offered with fear and humility to the gods of the night. Each night, Jody stretched out beneath the smooth Egyptian cotton not as a sybarite, but as a penitent, a pilgrim, a seeker, and what she sought was sleep.
In the middle of the night on which our story begins, as in the middle of most nights, Jody lay in bed and worried. She was a cheerful person by day, almost to the point of officious-ness, but at night she suffered. The fragments of her busy life loomed above her like ghosts, like the IRS, like mothers-in-law. She stared into the darkness and faced her faults and her omissions. It was a heavy darkness that surrounded her at these times, both hot and close, the breath of recrimination, and, at the same time, vast, icy, and uncaring. She tried counting, of course, and counting backward, as if she were about to undergo an operation and had just been administered the anesthetic. She tried singing, sometimes the tune of a piece she was practicing, sometimes Gilbert and Sullivan songs, a staple of her household growing up, to which she knew all the lyrics. Sometimes she would have the impulse to sing the most melodic bits loud and clear, letting her voice ring out in the dark bedroom. But she would stop herself. Even if no one was beside her, and it was usually the case that no one was beside her, the sound of her voice among the demons of her sleeplessness was jarring and ridiculous.
She would tell people at school the next day that she hadn’t slept a wink. This was one of the few compensations for her insomnia: the other teachers nodded not with sympathy, exactly, but with understanding and, most important, with respect. They, too, had known sleepless nights, but they had eventually come to admit that Jody was the most sleepless of them all. It conveyed upon her a certain status that she had come almost to treasure.
Jody always smiled as she described her battle to fall asleep. Her habitual and sincere modesty fell away and she became positively smug. Perhaps she would have behaved differently if she had looked as sleepless as she was. But Jody’s eyes were clear and bright and no dark circles swelled beneath them. With her short blonde hair, and dressed in crisp ironed blouses and tight-fitting pants, she was pretty in an open, sunny way. She smelled fresh and clean and moved with a soft, invigorated energy. The children loved her, she worked hard, and people were grateful to her. They turned to her when they needed assistance or counsel on the job, and though she was only thirty-nine years old and looked younger, she was referred to affectionately as "Good Old Jody."
Her colleagues respected her and they were friendly to her, but not one of them was her friend. Jody sometimes wondered if this was her fault. But then, who else’s fault could it be? It’s not the mailman’s fault, she would remind herself. It’s not the vice principal’s fault. It’s not even the Republicans’ fault. Wherein, then, did her own fault lie? This was a mystery to Jody, one she pondered at night in bed.
Naturally, she had gotten herself a dog. She originally set out to get a cat, thinking that as she seemed to be moving headlong into eccentric spinsterhood, she should begin collecting some of its accoutrements. But when she arrived at the ASPCA, she saw an elderly dog, an oversize pit bull mix so white it was almost pink, a female, who wagged her tail with such stately pessimism that Jody took the huge beast home. She named the dog Beatrice, though she had sworn not to give her new pet a person’s name, thinking it faddish and particularly pathetic for a childless woman. But the dog seemed to her to deserve a real name. Beatrice was not a youngster. The ASPCA had picked her up wandering the streets of the Bronx. Half starved and covered with ticks, she had obviously survived a harsh and difficult existence. Beatrice was a name with inherent dignity. Jody felt the old dog deserved that.
Fattened up and well groomed now, Beatrice was a noble-looking animal with enigmatic blue eyes that constantly sought out Jody’s with measured determination. She moved slowly, and though she was not playful, she was amiable and particularly loved strangers, throwing her great weight at them in a joyful greeting, unaware, presumably, that such a welcome might not always be, in fact, welcome. She trusted everyone, which was a testament to her gentle nature, as no one until now had ever earned her trust. But Beatrice seemed to be above the failures of the world, and they far beneath her. She had seen a lot, she seemed to be saying, and so nothing surprised her, nothing frightened her, nothing fazed her. She was lucky to be alive, and she seemed to know it.
Jody turned on the light and looked at Beatrice sprawled on the rug beside the bed. She petted the dog’s wide forehead. Beatrice’s head was big and boxy, like a child’s drawing of a dog’s head. She seemed to grin, her mouth and jaw were so wide. Her tongue lolled out like a great pink washcloth. Then Beatrice lifted her square head and licked Jody’s hand. Jody scratched the dog’s ragged ears and thought, I have become an eccentric music teacher with a dog instead of an eccentric music teacher with a cat. I take brisk walks in the rain with my dog by my side instead of curling up by the electric fire with a cup of tea and my cat on my lap. Although maybe, she thought, as Beatrice heaved her pale bulk onto the bed, there’s not all that much difference. And she smiled at her fate. She had gotten Beatrice eight months ago, eight months of blissful, energetic adoration and companionship on both sides. When she was lonely, she would glance at Beatrice. When she needed someone to talk to, she would talk to Beatrice. Jody felt that her life, though hardly complete by customary standards, would do very well.
Then, Jody met Everett and fell in love. This occurred just two days after the sleepless night described above. Jody, after a long week teaching small children to sing in harmony and tap wooden blocks to a 3/4 beat, had set out for a leisurely weekend walk with Beatrice. It was February and the sky was getting lighter each evening, but this particular afternoon it was snowing lightly, and the world was gray. In the park, Beatrice was as excited as a child, pushing her nose along the thin white film on the grass, rolling wildly, her muscular legs kicking the air. Amused and touched, Jody stayed even longer than usual, though it began snowing in earnest and she was wet through by the time they hea