Charles Haux


Published: April 15, 2010

Your lover is at home alone, but she isn’t thinking of you. I have a patch of tomatoes in the yard out back, but they were stolen...

Please, stop me before I speak. Once I begin, I will not quit until all the damn words have left me. The shade of his coat, a bright brown, fills this room with the voices of those past and the mirthful sounds I shall never hear again. I was living in Brooklyn with Samantha during her baby binge, of books and bottles. I skulked in Union Pool with the punks and pot-heads, selling stories for a pull, a beer, something to think about. The trick was to never truly begin until I had gotten what I wanted. Their shows were only ten dollars, and occasionally, they played something I knew. Samantha grew batty in my absence, asking for a bird, an animal to pass the time with. I brought her a beautiful Terrier with an ugly name, Bag, and she quieted a bit. At home I found the dog caked with powder, his hair matted and spiked in several places. She left him with her girlfriend Cynthia when she visited a friend in Kiel, and on her return, I was tasked with retrieving her Bag.

Lucy Sutton/The Observer

A flutter of my fingers, and I was outside Cynthia’s apartment. I rang the bell to enter, and after several seconds of silence, a small boy in flannel and canary yellow pants answered the door.

“Who are you?” the boy asked.

“I’m Charles. You’re Cynthia’s son, right? I’m a friend of your mother’s, I’m here to pick up my dog that you’ve been taking care of.”

“Dog? Oh, you mean Bobby. He’s probably in the living room rubbing his butt on the floor.”

A large and filthy man pressed his way into the door.

“Go feed the fish, Tommy. Who are you? Why are you talking to my son?” the man asked.

“Hi. Gil, right? I’m Samantha’s…boyfriend. She’s making me pick up the dog,” I said.

He made no acknowledgment. I’m not sure if he blinked.

“Come in,” he said, finally.

The room looked like it was covered in rust. Baby blue wallpaper was tinged with bits of spotted red that spilled onto the rug. An open refrigerator, lightless, hummed and shook in great gasps. The boy was trying to snatch a fish from the tank with a green net that was impossibly small. He caught half of the fish, but it struggled and slipped out adroitly.

“So what’s your name, boyfriend?” Gil asked.


“Charles,” Gil said. “Why did you come here, Charles?”

“To pick up the dog. Cynthia was taking care of it for us.”

“What dog?” he asked. His eyes met mine.


“Bag? You came here looking for your bags? This isn’t the airport, get outta here.”

He started edging towards the door, and I got a whiff of his odor. I choked out:

“The dog’s name is Bag. Cynthia was taking care—”

“My cat’s name is shoebox.”

The boy stopped harassing the fish and turned his attention towards us. They were goldfish, mostly, a pair of Red Devils, a single Kissing Fish circling one lifeless on the bottom.

“The fish are sick, Gil. We need to get them something…”

I saw Gil for the first time. He had no scars; lines, yes, of age and weathering, but nothing moving behind the eyes. He was faceless, his motivations singular and intensely focused. And I had just interrupted his routine. Foreigner. Unknown.

He opened the door.

“Leave, Charles. Don’t come back…”

I couldn’t go back to Samantha, so I went to Union Pool and picked up a junkie named Felicia and told her the whole thing.

“Where were you tonight?” she asked.

“In a hole, trying to get my dog back.”

“Back? Where did he go?”

“He was stolen from me. Do you have a cigarette? I’ll tell you…”

I strolled into Cynthia’s apartment complex once more on Friday at two in the afternoon. Gil beckoned me in, not seeming particularly annoyed by my presence, but I think he had been drinking for the most of the morning. Four, maybe five newspapers were strewn across his coffee table. A giant black check hung on the top right corner of several papers; on a few others, a black X. It was as if he’d been approving what the rest of the family could read.

The fish tank was nearly empty. The boy was prodding a sickly Red Devil along with a much larger net, and the fish hardly responded. He moved sluggishly, and occasionally the boy would hit him with the net in a fit of anxiety, turning the fish sideways until he could crawl back into place. He probably had swim bladder, and couldn’t regulate his weight to the density of the water in the tank. I tried to greet the kid but he wouldn’t turn to me.

“Oh, my best friend. Would you like some coffee?” Gil asked.

“Yes, thank you.”

“Why did you come here, Samantha? Is your husband boring you?” Gil asked.

I folded my arms together. “He’s not my husband. And I’m not him. I mean, I’m not Samantha.”

“What are you talking about? Cynthia told me you were married—Charles is making good money reprinting old classics. You know…” Gil said.

“I’m not Samantha and you know it, you mongoloid. I want the dog. I’m tired—”

“Of what, the green grass? CENTER yourself. You’re alone here. There’s no one that’s… with you.”

“With you? Why don’t you just give me the dog back? Who’s flying with you?”

“This is my element. The door opens with my key. The chairs, the couch, that fucking fish tank, they’re mine.”

“And the boy?”

“He’s mine as long he’s under this roof.”

“And what about the dog? Does he belong to you?” I asked.

He grinned and leaned back in his chair.

“Does he belong to you?” I asked.

Gil was breaking up; he tore at my patience and dulled my senses with his long, pensive drawl. I rolled my hand down my face slowly, as if I could clear the air and start anew. For the first time, the thought entered my head: I wouldn’t get the dog back, I couldn’t, he would simply delay and delay, answering every question with a question. He dared contact. He was going to twist until I snapped.

“Why are you doing this?” I asked.

“I haven’t done anything,” he answered.

“Ah, but you have. You received the dog from Samantha under the condition it would be returned when she returned from Kiel.”

“And you have proof of this in writing?”

“If you keep the dog, you’ve stolen him.”

“He was given. How can you steal what’s given?”

“When it wasn’t given at all. This is wrong. What you’re doing…”

“Oh, it’s wrong. You’re a ‘right’ person? You do the right things? Do you sleep with anyone other than your spouse?”

“I don’t see how that matters.”

“Of course it does. Do you?”


“Then I give you the dog, and you go back to whatever arms you find solace in. You do one thing right, the other wrong, and what does that make you?”

“And what if I didn’t? What if I just took the dog home?”

“Can you manipulate even yourself? I don’t think you realize what you’re saying. If I suggest a sentence, can you help of thinking of something that was not said? Your lover is at home alone, but she isn’t thinking of you. I have a patch of tomatoes in the yard out back, but they were stolen and eaten by someone, some thing. Can you resist thinking further, of what else, what other?”

“Your inaction, your refusal to return the dog: that’s malicious. That’s wrong. What’s the other side of that coin? What good are you doing me, or at all?”

“What good is good? How have I hurt you?”

“There are repercussions for this…”

“Yeah you’re not getting any for awhile? Is that your motivation? Then why should I give him back? You’re an errand boy,” Gil said.

“Where is he? Is he here?” I asked.

I was gripped by a fear that Samantha would attack me with a pair of scissors if I returned empty handed. I bought the dog as a puppy for $200 from my friend Juan when his Terrier got pregnant, telling him I’d him give a name that would suit his origins. Bag was a chore, of course, shedding fur and waste all over the apartment, but he was giving me—us—something real to hold on to. If I didn’t bring him back soon, would Sam lose the urge for his return? She was always suspicious; what words I spoke rang like needles on a black bell. I was another man, living a double life. She had heard of a Frenchman playing the scene that met my description, and who was he but I?

“He’s with Cynthia, at her mother’s apartment,” Gil said.

“He isn’t here? You’ve had me come back twice and he’s not here?”

“I haven’t made you do anything.”

I got up quickly and smacked the chair. My coffee spilled and I tried, but it fumbled onto the tiling. The dog led me on a wild goose chase. I gave Gil a wave of my hand and bumped into the kid by the door. His face was wet with long lines. He dropped his net on the floor. It was torn, useless. The Red Devil he was plucking along was dead, lying motionless on the bottom of the tank.

“What happened to your fish, kid?”

“The fish have all died, sir,” he said, “but I am not a child.”

I knew I could get Felicia to meet me at the diner down the street from Union with an offer to finish the story. I needed a third party and her opinion, however clouded. If nothing else, I had to tell her.

Bag waits for me somewhere in the New York skyline, or just for Samantha. For her, I would not know where to begin at all. I don’t have to. Oh, Gil was the strangest man I’ve ever met. He was an idiot orator, but looked like a football player. If you see him, don’t dare give him anything. He’ll string you along with tale after tale, his foolish questions, until you begin to realize that you haven’t been told anything at all.