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  By: Merrill Markoe

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Walking in Circles before Lying Down
By Merrill Markoe

"I'm in love with someone else," he said."There. Are you happy? You made me say it."

"Oh, that’s kind of too late," I said, sitting down on the sofa, my body start to shiver. First I felt like someone had dropped an ice cube down the back of my shirt, then my insides felt like they were on fire. Chuck and Johnny Depp both walked over and put their heads in my lap. Except for the light beaming at me from their trusting eyes, I felt surrounded by darkness.

"How about I call you later?" Paxton said in his very concerned on-air radio voice.

"How about you get out of here. Now!” I shouted. "And stop talking to me in a tone that sounds like you're introducing a three song tribute to Eliot Smith."

"It's good that you're purging your anger," he said, pulling his baseball cap down by the brim. "There's so much I wanted to give you. But I just couldn't."

"What the **** does that mean?" I screamed at him as he closed the door behind him."Is that the bull**** people who live off the grid think means something?"

I stood and walked zombie-like back in to the damaged kitchen. Unsure why I was now in the kitchen, I headed back to the living room, where I poured myself another inch of bad smelling amber colored booze. Was it Scotch? What was Cutty Sark again? Alcohol at 8 AM. was unpleasant.

Sitting back down on the couch, I started drowning in a sickening wave of rejection and abandonment. I thought I had finished the part of my life where the rug could be pulled out from under me. I dropped my head in to my hands and started to sob. As the noises that came out of me grew more alarming, Johnny Depp headed back in to the coat closet. But Chuck stayed beside me, his head on my lap, looking up at me sweetly as the tears rolled down my cheeks. "You're really all I have," I said to him, taking his head in my hands and kissing him on the snout, before wiping my runny nose on my sleeve. "You're the only living creature on this planet who gives a **** about me." I sniffled, choking back an enormous sob "I am a real idiot. I have no idea what I'm doing."

Chuck stared at me, his eyes locked to mine." Come on! You must have at least suspected there was someone else," he said. "Couldn't you smell her on his pants?"

My crying stopped abruptly and I stared down at him. His mouth wasn't moving. So why did I think he had spoken? Was it the early morning drinking?

Now I sat watching breathlessly as Chuck got up and walked to the other side of the room, picked up a filthy tennis ball in his mouth from the spot on the floor where he last dropped it, then trotted back to wordlessly deposit it in to my lap.

"Here. Throw this," he said. "It'll make you feel better."

I sat still, chilled to my core.

"No, really,” he went on. "Once you get in to it, it's all you can think about. Look, I know you don't trust my judgment because I eat cat poop. Someday I'll explain that to you. But right now do what I say. Just pick up the ball and throw it."

So I did.

The Day Everything Changed.

"The adult novel typically requires twenty plot points in which an action is taken or a discovery made that forces the characters to react." So far we've had one action taken, one discovery made for a total of two down, eighteen to go. Seventeen if you count my move to Los Angeles as an action.

For a lot of reasons, I hesitated writing this book. My biggest concern was that because of all the recent controversy regarding the fuzzy and mutable truth of memoirs, I might have a hard time being believed.

But like I said in the beginning, I had always talked not just to Chuck but to all dogs. Maybe they never said anything back but I believed I understood them, as people who love their animals tend to do. When I offered to take them out for a walk, I could hear them all yelling "Yippee”. When I made dinner, I knew they were urging me to hurry with a pushy impatient "Smells great. Let's get GOING."

But this time the hair stood up on my arms when I heard that other voice. I sat still, listening to my heart pound.

The voice I heard wasn't the common slightly baritone version of my own voice in my head that I use to talk to myself. It was a gravelly adolescent voice, squeaking occasionally as it lurched from a high pitched tenor to a deep bass like a thirteen year old boy. Maybe it was my conscience or my unconscious, my id or superego; one of those tricky invisible selves with a Freudian name that live only in our brains and reveal themselves as one questionable urge or another. In some other century I might have thought it was a communication from God. But come on. Would God have bothered to go to the trouble of talking to me just to ask me to throw the ball?

"Did you say something just now?" I asked the voice out loud. Even that much made me feel foolish.

"No," it seemed like the new voice said in my head.

"Okay. Good." I said, feeling calmer. I was looking forward to immersing myself in my routine at The Doggy Depot and comforted knowing that at this very moment impatient people were lining up to drop their dogs off for the day. That was when I realized I was at least a half hour late and they were probably standing there, swearing at me. I wanted to go back to bed and drink myself in to a blackout.

Numb and in too much of a hurry to indulge in more than cursory grooming, I just braided my hair, then pulled on the same dog hair-covered hooded sweatshirt I'd worn the day before. Before I left the house, I tried to distract myself with Novel Writing Manual Tip Number Seven; "Describe the person you see in the mirror to someone you do not know." To my dismay, the person staring back at me had red beady eyes, and stringy hair like a homeless person. The person I saw in the mirror made me want to call in sick because she looked as crazy as I felt.

I put Johnny Depp and Chuck in the back seat of the car and headed over to the Animal Hospital, driving as fast as traffic permitted, staring glassy eyed at the car directly in front of me. I turned the radio to KROQ, seeking the hypnosis of familiar music but instead of smart songs about triumph over bad love, it was some old Oasis song I'd heard five billion times. I turned the radio off.

"Sit." I said, to the wall of fur on Johnny Depp's back which was all I could see in my rear view mirror. He paid no attention. But Chuck, who had been standing beside him, moved to the front seat to sit down beside me. When we came to a stretch of open road, he stuck his head out the window.

"Chuck, no", I said, pulling him back in to the car by the collar. "You know better than that."

"Well, you know better than to turn on KROQ and you still do it”, Chuck said. "They're always playing that one Oasis song and you always turn it off. I, on the other hand, never fail to encounter a jigsaw puzzle of odors, and actual pieces of matter rushing at me at 50 mph when I put my head out of the car. I can tell where we are and who is around and what they all had for dinner. Oh man! I'm still not over the time someone in front of us threw out a partially eaten burger. Next time that happens, I'm catching that thing on the fly. Watch me."

I waited before speaking. "Am I making this up?” I finally asked, "Have I found even a scarier way to torture myself? Why do I think you are talking to me?"

"Dude," said a voice, a full octave deeper, from the back seat, "Dead possum on the right. Check it out. Big one."

"Wow," said Chuck, back out the window. "Nice. Can we stop?"

"NO!" I said finding this all very disturbing. The last thing I needed was for my basic view of the universe to be up for grabs. Within seconds I was so dizzy I was afraid to drive. I turned right, off the highway, in to a small market parking lot and just sat there. Now no one was saying anything. I clung to the quiet like a life raft.

'Why are we stopping?" it sounded like Chuck asked. "Are we gonna go get the possum?"
"No!" I said, to him or to myself, sounding agitated." I don't like to drive when I'm this upset."

"Upset? About what?" he said.

"Hello? She was dumped this morning," said Johnny Depp,

"I'm upset because having discussions with myself in three voices seems like a really bad sign." I said.

I looked at Chuck to see his reaction. He was making that same incredibly enthusiastic face that I generally think of as 'smiling' even though it might just be panting from heat or from physical exertion.

"Why now, today, do I suddenly think you are talking to me?"

"Well, like that gridless-guy said, you're not getting any younger," said Chuck. "Sorry. I'm no good at time. I could be totally wrong. Maybe you are getting younger."

"I can assure you I am not getting any younger," I said.

"Whew. Got that part right, anyway," he said, pausing for a minute. “Okay, here's the reason then. I thought you needed someone to talk to. Someone that you can trust I mean."

I looked at him, feeling a swell of emotion.

"And until that person comes along, you might as well talk to me," he said. "That was kind of a joke. At least I hope it was. I don't understand jokes too well."

"So I'm probably just making this up to cover my feelings of desperation?” I asked, “because this does not sound like the conversation I would be having with you."

"I would have expected more from him myself,” said the voice from the back seat. "He's deceptively simple minded."

"You have the nerve to accuse me of being simple minded?" said Chuck, turning toward Johnny Depp, angrily."You? Who stood in the hall yesterday and said ‘food’ thirty five times in a row…and I counted by the way. This was you yesterday, ‘Food! Food! Food! Food! Food! Food’. No variety of phrasing. Always the same inflection. No development of tone. No expansion of theme. ‘Food! Food! Food! Food1 Food! Food! Food! Food!’"

"Well, someone had to say something," said Johnny Depp. "I was afraid we'd starve. You know as well as I do that she's arbitrary about meal times."

"I'm not arbitrary," I said. "You always eat dinner at five."
"And I'd like to point out that it's five at least twice a day. Maybe more," said Johnny Depp."Where are we going?"

"To work. To The Doggy Depot. You know that,” I said. "We go there every day."

"We do? That festive gathering of dogs we always run into?" he said, awestruck. "You organize that for us?"
"He calls me simple minded," snorted Chuck, as I pulled the car back on to the road, "F****** Bouvier des Flandres. DES? Ha. Never trust a dog with a pretentious French name."

I began focusing hard on remaining calm, despite the nagging concern that something was terribly wrong. My reflexes seemed okay. Only when I remembered the incident with Paxton did I feel a surge of unwanted tears. Did he have such a hold on me that he could jar my sanity? If so, that was doubly upsetting. Okay, he was good in bed. At least that explained my attachment. But big deal. **** him and the grid he wasn't on.

"The 'water down the face'…" said Chuck."What is that?"
"It's involuntary. It happens when I'm very upset," I said.
"It's like a high pitched noise only wetter," said Johnny Depp, starting to cower. "It's not my fault is it? Are you mad at me? I won't do it again. I swear.”

"Of course it's not you!" I said." I don't know if you can empathize but it hurts when someone you love dumps you."

"Empathize? You're joking right?" said Chuck. "How do you think I wound up in the pound? At least grid boy didn't try to have you gassed. I still don't know what I did to those people. Or why you like that asshole so much."

"Well, at first he was smart and sexy and fun." I said, sorry to have to defend him

"How was he fun?” asked Chuck. "Did he play ball? No. Did he bring meaty snacks? No. And he made such a big f****** deal when I drooled on his pants. How much fun was that?"

"He was a little germ phobic. But he was fun in bed," I said, wishing I would shut up.

"Depends who you ask," said Chuck" He threw us out."

"I think she's talking about the humping," said Johnny Depp.

"Oh,” said Chuck. "Well, I hope you're not pretending he's the only one you can find to help you continue the species. What's the population of Los Angeles, for Godsake?"

"I think it’s about four million,” I said.

“At least half of them would do it with you,” he said.

"I'm not comfortable talking to you about this," I said, cautiously.
As weird as everything had all been so far, now it was getting weirder. "It's different for me than for you. You don't seem to have any standards," I explained. "But as a woman…it's my goal to have sex only with guys I love."

"That's just stupid,” said Chuck."Had a look around at the rest of the animal kingdom lately? I'll have sex with anyone who doesn't try to kill me."

"And even then, as long as their butt smells good, I'm in." said Johnny Depp.

”It's more complicated for people,” I said. "Well, for girl people. We want to plan a future. We want someone to take care of us"

"In other words, you want someone like you," said Chuck. "Put yourself up for adoption." Said Johnny Depp.

I pulled the car in to the lot at the vet hospital, parking in the shade under the eucalyptus trees. "You guys okay back there for a minute?" I asked, suddenly wondering if I was now supposed to clear my every move with them. It began to dawn on me how much of my life they had witnessed. How much retro-fitted commentary was there going to be?

"We'd rather come inside with you," said Chuck.

"And I'd rather you stay here," I said, thinking it not smart to relinquish my Alpha title too quickly. "I'm still not ruling out that I am talking to myself. But if I am, as your Alpha, I give you permission to kill me."

As I got out of the car, alone, I thought I could hear Johnny Depp mumble under his breath, "See? I told you it wouldn't make a damn bit of difference if you could talk to her. None of them listen.”

Chapter 1: Being and Somethingness. By Chuck

My memory is burdened by chaos and cacophony; flooded with details, impulses and desires from this morning and ten million years ago. Flashes from some ancient collective past in Eastern Europe, sometimes only seconds long. I remember roaming with a pack and everything making more sense. Back then, when the moon was full, we'd all go out and stalk aurochs. When we'd catch one, we'd rip it apart and feast. And no one screamed about getting mud on the carpet. No one said anything about blood on the furniture. No one cared if we puked, then we ate it and puked again? Why would they? Everyone did it. Sometimes I remember everything and sometimes I don't know what I remember; The creodonts begat the miacis begat the cynodictus, then tomarctus. Or was it the cyodictus after the creodonts, then miacis? Sometimes it seems like yesterday and I can almost smell them all. And then the wind shifts and I hear a yelp, a shriek, some kind of cry. Is it a wild boar? A hyena in its death throes? Or is it that rubbery under-cooked lamb chop that squeaks when I bite down on it? Why does it squeak? Is it somehow still alive? Did I stalk and kill some big latex animal? Why is it so red, yet there is no blood? Is it grotesquely under-cooked? I have questions and there are no answers. Like why, when I see the garbage can on the kitchen counter, do I flash for a moment to the African veldt and feel a raw metaphysical urge to leap upon it? Why do I want to tackle that can, to kill that can and rip it open, then throw back my head in a joyous cry of bloody communion?

Copyright © 2006 by Merrill Markoe from Walking in Circles before Lying Down. Reprinted with permission from Ransom House Publishing

Photographs by Cami Johnson,