Once, a man I loved left my dog alone in a car with an apple pie. The man had baked it himself. As our friends climbed from the backseat, the man took the warm, saggy-bottomed aluminum tin from my lap and slid it onto the dash. It bumped the windshield and made a swift feather boa of frost.
Our two friends slammed the doors and waited under the lamppost where the parking lot snow was plowed up hard and gray and out of the way. We heard their banter and wanted to be part of it.
Casey danced on the backseat and scribbled the glass with her wet nose.
“You go,” I said behind my scarf. “We can’t leave her alone with a pie.”
“She’s a good dog!” He twisted in his parka to throw one elbow over the seat back so he could look in her eyes and warn her, “Casey. Don’t. Eat. The pie.”
Casey sat down, closed her mouth, and averted her eyes. As a Border collie, she understood she’d been given an order—just not the order itself.
He unwound himself. “Okay, let’s go.”
Pennsylvania in deep winter gets dark early and cold; the windows fogged fast with orgiastic apple-pie steam. I said, “She’s gonna eat that pie.”
He got out and stretched tall. The man was known for great apple pie. He was bringing it by special request of our host. “C’mon. You’re killin’ the mood.”
I stayed folded in my coat considering how Casey had gotten to be a good dog, and this wasn’t the way. “She’ll think we don’t want it.”
He ducked to look me in the face. “Let’s go,” he said, and he was outside looking into eight years of heeling, sitting, and staying; of pairing up at the window because hers was a trustworthy bark; of walks in rain, snow, and windy night even when I had pneumonia; of long hours waiting for me. It took untold Frisbee and forgiveness to wear us into a good-dog groove.
“You’re asking too much.”
He slammed his door hard enough to rock the car, walked around, opened my door, and reached for my arm.
“Okay,” I said. Laughing with our friends, we walked into the Wawa and bought ice cream for the vanishing pie.
As we returned to the steamed-up car, we saw the silhouette of a Border collie minding her own business in the back seat. We caught the crinkled glint of the disposable pie pan on the dash. “See?” said the man I loved.
But when he opened the door, the pan was empty except for a sickle-moon of well-licked crust jammed in the bend. Casey wagged uneasily in the back seat, hunkering under the weight of her windfall. At the sight of her worried eye, our friends and I laughed, but the man yanked her out and hit her, right there, on the wet blacktop.
I was in such shock—we all were—no one tried to stop it. Maybe it was over quick.
Casey forgave him right away. She rode to the dinner party dancing on the back seat wagging and burping cinnamon, but the rest of us never felt the same about him after that. No one spoke until we’d left the Wawa miles behind. I rode grim and glaring at my own reflection in the passenger-side window, hearing myself say things I didn’t say. And that was back when I still thought you could talk about things.
The man I loved had a habit of scaring himself thinking I was going to leave him. I was a good woman, and I told him the God’s-honest truth: I loved him and would never leave him. One morning, about a year later, he got so scared he grabbed me by the hair.
Then, like the pie, I was gone.