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It's Nelly's World

Shadow

alec vanderboom

Apparently, to Nelly, there is no such thing as too hot to desire two warm bodies, one furry, one mine, pressed together. Who am I to disagree? At night, she inserts herself against whatever curve presents itself, and whatever temperature can be driven sweatily upward.

At yoga class, I look down and see my black pants are etched with tiny white lines: I take her with me wherever I go.

Nelly has been my shadow now for years, some of them hard years, and through both the days and nights of this particular passage of life, she has been my shadow.

She walks just ahead of me on the path. If I shift to the other rut on the logging trail, without looking backward (dogs, like mothers, have eyes in the backs of their heads), she shifts too. I think it's not because she wants to trip me. I think.

We go to the swimming hole. And except for the periods during which she is investigating other people's picnics, she is standing on the shore, looking worriedly at me, five feet away across an unbridgeable expanse of water. She starts to whine. No matter how much she wishes to shadow me here, however, her aversion to swimming trumps it.

We have grown closer over the years. This, I think, is true love. Or it's not; it's learned behavior. I am a biological determinist, a pragmatist, except when I am being an unabashed romantic, believing pretty tales and weeping at simple narrations of longing and loss on the movie screen.

She follows me from room to room, up and down stairs, panting now in this heat. What is her fear? To be left alone. That is it, to be left alone.

Startled, I look at her with the sudden realization that once again she has known things before me. Both of us the same in the most elemental way: we do not want to be left alone.

She cries out her dismay as I back out the door to go to the grocery store (did I mention that Nelly is a screamer?). She has no idea that I will return, or aim to at least. That this parting is temporary. In this way, she also knows something before me: that someday, when neither of us can know it, the parting will not come to an end. The door will not open again. This is why--even in the heat, even in the annoyance of tripping over the dog who has silently situated herself exactly where my feet are planning to land--I do not complain about the little heater, black and white, who follows me everywhere, who presses herself against me in the night. She knows, sometimes, I will need to reach out in the dark. To be reassured, for now, we are that most delicious of things. Together.