You can only watch so much televised chaos before it starts to wear on you, and after a couple hours of watching shell-shocked people trying to cope with an unfathomable tragedy, I decided I'd had enough. I needed to do something besides watch television and listen to my wife talk on the phone, so I put the dogs in their harnesses and leashes, and took them out for a walk.
Spring was already well in advance. The last of the snow had melted a month before, and leaves were growing thick on the trees. The temperature had climbed up into the 50s, so I put on a jacket and took the dogs outside. As is usually the case with dogs, they had their own priorities, and the walk took the form of a compromise between where they wanted to go and where I wanted to go. As we walked down the sidewalk, they would stop to investigate various objects that seemed to hold more meaning for them than for me. We crossed side streets and the dogs sniffed their way down the sidewalk. There was music coming from St. Joseph's, a Catholic church sitting across the street from the 7-Eleven. Hardly any Catholics had been disappeared, with the peculiar exception of Pope John Paul III himself. One of the news reports had mentioned that the Church hierarchy had declared him dead, and the College of Cardinals was coming to Rome to elect his successor, once air travel had been restored.
The dogs led me past Thompson Middle School, and it was odd not to see half a dozen of them hanging around in front of the school the way they usually did. At first I thought it must be because they had all disappeared, but a moment's thought showed me that that wasn't it. Thompson's student body were teenagers, above the cutoff age, and whatever entity had culled the world's people would have left them alone. One of my wife's friends here in Newport had called to say that all the schools had let out early. After the Event, it would be a long time before any parent let any child out of their sight.
After watching scenes of chaos, destruction, and despair on the television, it felt odd to be out on the street, seeing cars driving past and people walking, as though the most mind-numbing event in human history hadn't just taken place. It looked perfectly normal, just like any other day, as long as you didn't pay close attention. Once you did, though, you could tell that it wasn't quite as normal as it looked. A man sat on a bench, staring blindly down at his feet. A woman sat at the bus stop, looking quite normal except for the tears running down her face. A young couple went by, hissing angrily at each other.
Watching the dogs stop and sniff at an empty paper bag lying on the sidewalk, I remembered the pictures I had seen of abandoned dogs standing forlornly on rooftops in New Orleans after Katrina. Millions of adults, at least, had vanished along with all the children. There were thousands of families across the country and the world who had disappeared, leaving behind dogs, cats, and other pets. There would be farm families, too, with abandoned livestock. It would be up to the Humane Society and the S.P.C.A. and similar organizations to try and locate and rescue as many of the abandoned animals as possible, and find new homes for them. I didn't envy them the task. I found myself wondering if we could make room in our house for another dog. I decided I'd ask my wife what she thought of the idea when I got back home.
My musing abruptly ended when I found the dogs staring across the street. There was another man there, walking his own dog, a big black one whose breed I wasn't sure about. His own dog had also stopped to stare across the street at mine. He looked over, and our eyes met, and I could tell he was wondering what my story was, just as I was wondering about his. Then the moment passed, and he called his dog to his side and continued his walk, and I did the same with mine.
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