Lamar did not answer Devin’s calls or texts the week that followed the art walk. He couldn’t have said why if he’d been asked, but something kept his cell in his pocket every time she reached out. He didn’t want to ghost her, but he needed space to figure things out. Especially after the way that night had ended: the silent, sullen car ride to his apartment, the brusque way she’d told him goodnight and climbed into her own car to drive straight home, no time spent together to talk things over. He wasn’t done with her, by any means; but in a sense Lamar was done with all that their relationship had been in the scarce months he had known her.
He wondered what she even saw in him in the first place. If he was worth anything to her at all, now that they had failed to discover anything in this wild quest of hers, this search for answers about the marsh shadow.
God, he wanted to forget about that. Now maybe he finally could.
By the end of the week something shook loose in his mind. He needed a day alone, a whole day, to do something entirely for himself. No friends, no family — just Hilo. He missed the little goober, and a beach day sounded nice. A way to clear his mind, to clean his palate.
He woke early on Saturday, knowing Devin worked nine to two on weekends at the record store. He would drive to her house, use the key she’d given him, take Hilo out on his leash. Have him back from the beach and in his kennel again before she ever got off work.
The idea felt strange in his mind: an echo of stealing Hilo in the first place, but alone this time. Oddly, Lamar did not care.
Unlike the first time, his plan went off flawlessly. He arrived with Hilo on the barrier island after nine, leaving plenty of time to walk the beach before the dog laws went into effect. He parked on the street, a block from the public beach access, and went the rest of the way on foot, stopping to let Hilo sniff the wild lantana and century plants that bordered private yards; at the dollarweed, sea oats and morning glories climbing along the dunes.
The ocean sighed in his ears. Gulls and plovers keened, laments floating over the air with the smell of salt.
As they walked, Lamar’s legs seemed to spring. He was slowly coming back to himself, minute by minute, step by step. Hilo panted happily.
He moved seaward to let joggers pass them by, and Hilo splashed in the swash and backwash, chasing waves as they retreated and leaping back as they advanced. Sanderlings fled at his barks. Lamar wanted to let him off leash to chase them, but wasn’t sure how well-trained he was, if he would come back when called.
So they walked on. Stepped over rotting, barnacle-crusted groins. He stopped to pick up a broken sand dollar, its shape a nearly perfect half-moon in his hand.
He wasn’t sure what had prompted him to bring Hilo, but Lamar was glad he did. The only other dog he’d known well, a brown Basenji named Sky, had been his mother’s from before his parents ever met. When Sky had died, his mother had thought no new dog could replace her, and his father had been just fine with that. But Lamar remembered now her warm animal smell, the reassuring weight and pressure of her body against his own when Sky curled up with him.
The image of Holbrooke’s kennel, water dish dry and food dish empty, flashed in his mind. Lamar was glad they had rescued him.
An hour passed. They turned around, heading back toward the center of the island. Soon the pier loomed over them and he spotted fishermen leaning over the rails, checking their several lines. Lamar strode up the wooden stairs and took Hilo to the far end to chat for a few minutes with the men and women. Hilo did not bark, nor even try to nose at their bait. Far on the horizon they pointed out dolphins, three or four of them, brief arcs of joy in the distant sea.
On a whim he stopped for lunch at a tiki bar, one of the few dog-friendly joints on the island. Canna lilies and bird-of-paradise flowers lined the wooden stairs ending on a wide patio with several glass tables. A waitress appeared, slipping through the set of double doors carved to look like a minimalistic tiki head.
He ordered a sandwich and caipirinha while Hilo sat under the table, wagging his tail. Lamar laughed, thinking of the odd ways the two of them fit in here: he with his flower-print button-up shirt, and Hilo with his name.
The waitress quickly brought his drink and kalua pork sandwich. Lamar shoved the pickle aside, then thought better. He fed it to Hilo, who ate it with pulled-back lips.
“That your dog?” a voice startled him. Lamar looked up.
A bald man with a short goatee frowned over him. Gunsmoke grey eyes betrayed no emotion behind rectangular glasses. Like Lamar he wore a Hawaiian shirt, but far less colorful and poppy.
“Uh—yeah—no, I mean, I’m walking him for a friend.”
The man glanced down at Hilo and back at him. “You sure your friend knows you’ve got him?”
Lamar felt anger and fear rise in equal measure. He wondered where this was going: some random racist bullshit, or something else?
“Yeah,” he said. “I’m sure.”
“Huh,” the man grunted. He turned and strode across the patio where another man, red-faced and muscular, waited and watched. Lamar breathed. The man halted, turned back to him, and called in a soft but clear voice: “Taurus!”
Hilo’s ears perked but he didn’t turn, only grinned and panted.
“Huh,” the man said again and sat down, leaving them alone.
Lamar tried to keep his thoughts off the incident as he ate and drank, not daring to glance at the man or his friend a single time. He finished the meal and left, earlier than he would have liked, walking with Hilo again on the beach to take his mind off what had happened.
There was nothing to worry about, he told himself. Hilo had a different collar now, was microchipped by the vet (he hadn’t been before), and answered to his new name. There was little chance, really, that anyone would or could take him away. But the fact that he was recognized unnerved him. As did the possibility that Ron Holbrooke might hear about it.
There was no helping that, though. If he had done damage by bringing Hilo today, then the damage was already done. He might as well enjoy what remained of the morning before bringing the dog back to Devin’s.
But Lamar felt odd. Like something was missing…or maybe he was only now realizing it had been missing for a while now.
Only when they made it back to his car did he realize what it was. The phantom pain in his foot, the pain he’d felt ever since meeting Devin in the marsh, her foot sliced open by an oyster — that pain was gone.
They crossed the first of many bridges, leaving the island. Lamar felt relieved. Relief, and something else mingled in as well, though he wasn’t quite sure what.
It was something new, after all, tending to his own thoughts and feelings like this. To be alone when he spent so much of his time tending others. Not just Devin, but his father, his cousin Gil, a coworker who’d been having trouble making her rent. The old lady in the apartment across from his own, whose husband of fifty years had just died, who Lamar had been checking in with every couple of days.
Had Devin ever even asked about his friends? No.
But then, he hadn’t asked about hers, either. When they were together it was always the two of them alone, absorbed in whatever they happened to be doing: her search for Maybank, just as often as not. He had gone along with that flow because it felt nice in its way, intimate. Because it was what Devin seemed to want. But what did he want?
He didn’t have a ready answer for that.
And so he had done whatever he could to help, because it seemed to help her, trying to understand the thing that had shaken her core, despite how it made him feel. Despite the unease he still felt, prevented by this search from forgetting the dread and fear he relived every time he recalled that day in the marsh.
Some people had to pull every thread apart, every aspect of a trauma. Others did their best to leave it behind. In that respect, it seemed clear that he and Devin were in different categories. Why couldn’t she see that?
What Lamar needed was balance. To feel again as if the world was, or could be, stable and safe, as much as it possibly could be for a young black man in the South. That took time, and as much normality as he could find — not a further glimpse into what strange and surreal things the world might hold.
* * *
After dropping off Hilo at Devin’s, Lamar found himself facing an empty day. It was not yet one, and he had no work today, no plans with friends or family, no painting projects. The beach had refreshed him, had clarified certain things in his mind, though there was so much left to sort out.
Not today, though.
Instead, he went for coffee and drove around town, making circles of Sixty-one, Seventeen, and One Sixty-five. At one point he saw blue and red lights far ahead, flashing in rebuke. Lamar’s skin felt cold. He eased off the gas a little.
He never seemed to reach them, though. After a while, they disappeared.
He gulped air, forcing it down in his lungs. By the clock he had been driving forty minutes now, and had nearly circled around again. The sense of moving and yet getting nowhere filled him with a rush of anger so hot it surprised him. He closed his eyes, let it in, then released it. In its wake was the same sadness he felt before, but now unlocked in some way. No longer frozen, but flowing.
He thought of the dolphins on the pier that morning. Didn’t Devin have a personal project photographing dolphins? He remembered her telling him about it, but it felt so long ago now. Had she forgotten?
He would not forget the things important to him, Lamar resolved. Now he just had to decide what those things were going to be.