“That woman was calling her dog in the middle of the night,” Hope says. “She just kept calling Coco! Coco! Coco!” They’re still in bed. It’s Saturday, mid-morning. The room is dark because of the black-out curtains, but the city is noisy.
“Did you get to fall back to sleep?” Biswell asks.
“Not really. I was just thrashing around. Did she find the dog? Did she just give up?” Hope finds her glasses on the bedside table and puts them on. “Is this my maternal instinct kicking in? Am I going to live the rest of my life wondering if everyone’s made it home safely?”
“I don’t know.” Biswell is worried. He’d slept through it. Does this mean he’ll be an absent father, much like his own? “I’m pretty deaf in one ear,” he says quickly. “If I’m sleeping with that ear up, I don’t hear much of anything.” He’d been pumping a bike tire in his teens; it exploded. His ear went dim and never came back.
“You know Edison was partially deaf and I think he kind of preferred it,” Hope says.
“Taking the world down a notch isn’t all bad.”
“Maybe that’s what I have to do. Fight my maternal instinct by nurturing a kind of muted heart.”
“Sounds like a garage band, The Muted Hearts,” Biswell says.
Hope says, “Wait!”
“What is it?”
She grabs his hand and puts in on her stomach. She’s not very far along. “Feel that?”
“Hold on.” They’re breathing lightly. Biswell’s hand is tensed.
He wants to lie to her, but he can’t fake the emotion of feeling his baby kick for the first time. “Sorry. I didn’t.”
“It’s okay.” She swings her feet to the floor and heads to the bathroom. “You’ll feel it soon enough.”
It sounds like a threat. What will it be like? Will he really experience it—the right way, with a gush of joy? Or will he not really get it, even then, proof of the baby against his own palm.
A few days later, Hope calls Biswell at work. He’s not on the showroom floor. He’s doing paperwork in an office he shares with two other part-timers.
“The dog wasn’t lost this time,” Hope tells him. “It kept barking back at her. Like it was in the back yard and just refused to go in. She was calling, Coco! Coco! Coco! And it was barking back at her. But here’s the thing. They had the same pitch. Like the dog was mimicking her. Or she was mimicking it. Like one of them had taught the other how to speak. And I’m not sure which of them did that.”
“Or,” Biswell says.
“I know what you’re going to say,” Hope says. “I thought the same thing.”
“Fight Club.” It’s Biswell’s favorite movie. Or it was when he was a kid. He doesn’t tell people it’s his favorite movie anymore. It’s the kind of movie you should outgrow. And, anyway, Chuck Palahniuk came out and now it’s clearly a story of being closeted, fighting yourself. Not that Biswell’s embarrassed to love a film that runs on an extended gay metaphor. He’s not.
“Yes. Exactly,” Hope says. “They’re the same person. There is no Coco. It’s just the woman sometimes calling for herself at 3 a.m. And sometimes answering herself—refusing to give in.”
“It’s how we all live, internally,” Hope says. “She’s just manifesting it. Every night.”
“You’ve really thought about this.”
“Will this happen to us?” she says. “Can it?”
Biswell laughs. “We can’t get a dog. We can’t ever get a dog.”
“You’re not getting it,” she says. Her voice is very serious. “What if there is no dog?”
Biswell comes home one afternoon from his new job selling windows. He hears a strange skittering noise from the kitchen.
“Don’t move!” she says. “Just stay completely still.”
Biswell is in the act of taking his coat off. He freezes.
A fat French bulldog waddles into the living room. He has a bow taped to his head.
“No,” Biswell says. “That’s a dog. We said no dogs. We just said no dogs. Like forever but also two days ago.” He takes off his coat and drops it over the arm of a chair.
“I asked some neighbors. Coco’s owner lives three doors down. She has lupus. She loves Coco, but she can’t do it anymore.”
“So we’re doing it?”
“We’re doing it!”
“But Coco is kind of an asshole.”
“Coco was suffering. Now he’s not!”
“Why did she name a boy dog Coco?”
“We’re having a baby. We don’t need a dog.”
“No one needs a dog or a baby. These are not things people need.” She lies down on the Ikea rug. “Watch this.” Coco is overjoyed. He bounds over and licks her cheeks. “It’s like he thinks I’ve come to visit him at his place. Like his address is the rug. And here I am.”
Biswell is baffled. Who is this woman? Who is this dog? He feels nothing for either of these strangers. He’s afraid that his heart is permanently muted. And suddenly the world is filled with beating hearts. He looks at Hope’s belly. Inside, a beating heart.
“Come over!” Hope says. “Get to know him.”
Biswell feels like this is a test. He’s failing it. He walks over. He lies down on their Ikea rug. Coco’s tail is wild with joy. He climbs up on Biswell. His paws on Biswell’s chest. “I think we’re engaging in an act of submission,” he says. “Literally.”
“Then submit,” Hope says. “Give in.”
He doesn’t want to. He does not want to. He closes his eyes. His heart is thrashing. He curls toward Hope. He wraps himself around her, protecting her belly. Coco pads around them, climbing over their legs. Biswell whispers into Hope’s ear, “‘I don’t want to die without any scars.’”
“A line from Fight Club?” Hope asks.
“Of course.” And then he sits up and looks at Coco. He barks at Coco. Coco barks back.
Rumpus original art by Zach Swisher.