Jernee Likes The New Leash
Nearly two months into the season, Autumn shows up with enough pizzazz to make me yearn for more of her grace and mercy. She is in full bloom and although late, I appreciate her showing up at this time. The air is crisp and fresh and a chill dances on my skin, reminding me to cover up. Layers. Layers. Layers — are my best friend in this part of North Carolina during Autumn’s full bloom. Jernee is excited! She embraces the calmness that invites us outside, up the hills of our block, and through the woods of my neighborhood.
She walks briskly — careful not to steer us wrong, she has force in each step, allowing the new leash to carry her on as I watch her with focused eyes. She circles through detours and downed trees from heavy winds trying to bamboozle us with their rotund bellies. She pushes through and flashes by crackly limbs and squishy leaves. I ease into the daily peace these walks bring. I hold the leash tightly, allowing it to give her just enough space in front of me, but keeping her close too. Our neighbors grit their teeth tightly — trying their hardest to keep their expressions sewn in and mouths sealed. Brisk winds have no entryway in the dead of November.
Row is outside one evening. She greets us. I have a hoodie covering my head. My hands are strong fists and my right one is attached to the new leash, watching Jernee lean into the walk just to get next to Row. A short “Excuse us,” and Row is all smiles. “Hey, Jer-Jer! What it do, pretty girl?!” I am putty. Any compliment to the Little Monster coats me with happiness. I feel my face open up and I greet her too. “Hi, Row.” She is standing with a friend, a best friend of hers and she introduces us and her best friend welcomes us into their small fold, guided by the night moon. “Hello. How are you?” She extends a hand. I offer a hug. I do not shake hands often. I am not accustomed to doing so unless in a business setting or one where I do not feel welcome. I felt welcomed here.
Row sings my name. It is peculiar but endearing. “Treee-Treee”. I am no stranger to this theme music. It is something that only she can do that I will allow.
“This is my neighbor, Tre. She lives up top.” She’s pointing to my place with her index finger. “This little cutie here is her dog, Jernee.” She points down at Jernee with the same finger.
Jernee looks up to me, fussing because our purpose was to night walk and we have found ourselves communing with Row, instead. Her best friend is not shy. After a tight hug, I nod to her. I say something along the lines of, “Row’s a great neighbor. She keeps everyone in the building alive.” Her best friend howls out a laugh that makes me giggle. She counters me with, “Her big mouth, yeah?!” I am silent in this moment. I agree without agreeing. And, I give Row a hug and Jernee and I say our goodnights to each of them.
We are carried off into the night air with our paces guiding our feet. Her tiny paws hustle. She is moving so fast that I fear I will not keep up against the wind, but I do. The leash — is solid. Its grip does not give. It is as if I can let go and it will still lead her to where she needs to go — ghostlike. I do not take that chance. Simon props his bike against the gate. He has a few bags from the local grocer’s and in that moment, I wonder, “Should I speak first? Should I act like I do not see him? What will happen if I do?” He has everything sorted and before I can become skittish in my endeavors, he speaks…
“Hey, there! How are you tonight?!”
Odd, there is an echo of his voice. Where it bounces from, I am uncertain, but I hear this greeting twice. I smile. I tell him that I am well and Jernee barks a hello to him. He does not linger. His bike rolls on a bit while he’s still and it is a bizarre thing but not the most bizarre thing I’ve witnessed all night. I look back in the direction of Row and her best friend and they are quiet — watching me as if to make sure Jernee and I make it back to the building safely.
“Simon, it’s cold out. I hope you’re headed in for the evening. I hope you are well.”
He smiles briefly, piles all of his bags on one arm through their loops. He pauses for a moment before responding. His hair is close to his head. It is not moving. His jacket is making swish-y noises, and his bike is still rolling without him — ghostlike, again.
“Simon, I hope you are well.”
“Yeah. Yeah. I am. Thank you. Y’all have a good night.”
I tug at the new leash, pull Jernee close to me, and cross the street to find the path back to our building. I stand near the stairs, watch Simon from afar and sigh into my chest.
“He’s been drinking. Lord, help him get home.”
Autumn shuts her eyes, inhales, then exhales a great breeze, and Jernee and I run up the stairs to find warmth.