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Sunday, April 28, 2013


January 9, 1981

“Some animals are born to handle the cold better than others,” Ben says as he puffs on his pipe, releasing smoke the way the factories across the river issue steam. “Some won’t survive when it gets this cold.”
He’s peeved because he saw someone dumping pet cats along the other side of the river last night, and though he shouted the people didn’t stop, and the cays were gone when he got there, though he found one frozen to death this morning, and he thinking the others will die soon, too.
“Fools think any beast can live out here like this,” he says, spitting bits of tobacco out before he takes another puff.
It near 7 degrees out and below us the river top has become one large level piece of ice. Some where nearby a car starter grinds in an effort to start. Bundled up workers hurry over the bridge to work, steam billowing with each breath, the vibration of traffic shaking loose dagger icicles from the bridge’s rusted arches, sending them down to stick in the frozen islands in the river’s center. Thick white clouds overhead hint of more snow, absorbing the exhaled breath of people, factories, even the warmth spewed out with the green poison from the chemical plant’s dumping, or the substantial contribution to air pollution Ben’s pipe makes.
At times, Ben seems to blend into the landscape, his thick beard painted the same color as the sky, flowing down onto his chest the way river foam does off the fall – although his thick hair does not keep him from shivering when the temperature falls this low.
“I used to have a dog who could handle this kind of cold,” he says. “I found him out here as a puppy and raised him. Old Pappy followed me everywhere and sometimes wandered off on his own. Most of the local store owners knew he belong to me, but still fed him regularly.”
Ben called the dog “Pappy” because he missed his father, but could never figure out how that came to mind.
“He was as loyal as hell, but sometimes, he would wander off for weeks at a time,” Ben says. “The first few times it happened, I was worried sick, and I came out here to look for him – a real knucklehead roaming through deep drifts, getting myself ill over a dog I was convinced would not come back. The store keepers told me I was crazy, and maybe I was. But after having him at home, I felt pretty lonesome without him. Then just when I gave up, there he came, scratching at my back door to get let in.”
Eventually, he gave up worrying about where the beast went as long as he came back, which he always did – except for that last time.
“I had that animal for 18 years,” Ben says. “When he went away, I didn’t scold him. I was too afraid he wouldn’t come back if I did, and when he didn’t come back, I kept telling myself it was something I did that sent him away. Then I got convinced someone had killed him, other wise he would have come back. I took to searching for him, and when I wasn’t searching, I waited at the back door for him to scratch. Then after a month or two, I gave up and figured he’d died – though I kept an ear open just in case he scratched – still do, I guess, though after all these years, he’s most certainly dead. Nothing lives THAT long.”
He pauses, puffs on his pipe again and stares out over the ice in silence, his smoke flowing out over the river ice, then it rises and vanishes into the puffy gray sky above.

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