Awakening at 2:30 a.m., we dress in haste. Bright yellow slickers for my husband, Karl, and me, plus a yellow collar with blue lights that go on and off at regular intervals for our dog, Mallory. The smell of coffee is delicious and we sip it in silence, passing our last cigarette back and forth as Mallory sits by the door waiting, head cocked quizzically, looking at us out of the corner of her eye as if to say, “What’s the matter with you people? Let’s get a move on!”
We pour a couple of shots of whiskey, toast each other, and down them in one gulp. We are out of cigarettes and must hurry to find the best cigarette butts—what my husband and I call “doobies”—before the homeless people get to them first or they are swept away by the street cleaners. Through the open window, we can smell the coming rain. The reflection of the moon’s light falls on my husband’s face, revealing his solemn expression as he begins to focus on the work at hand.
When we get into the front yard of Summit Towers, Mallory immerses herself in a pile of straw, lying on her back, grinding herself deep into the straw so that we can only see her kicking legs. I tell her to get up as she buries herself ever deeper in the dirt. Ignoring me, she looks adoringly at Karl.
“Up, Mallory,” he says, and up she jumps. We are back in business. There is a strong wind. I turn my face to the white light of the full moon, which casts shadows across the lawn in front of the white steps of Lincoln Memorial University.
At my insistence, we are on our way to the Marriott, where guests often smoke only one puff of their cigarettes before leaving them in the ashtrays, so that it’s almost like having new cigarettes. In order to avoid the police, we travel down Summit Hill toward the railroad tracks. We are fighting time, as the rain cannot be far away, and wet doobies are useless doobies.
A train rattles in the distance as we go over the railroad tracks near World’s Fair Park and pass the magnificent statue of Rachmaninoff, who played his last concert in Knoxville. Despite our haste, I stop to pay homage to this great composer, with his sad face and long fingers. It seems, for a moment, that I can actually hear the strains from the second movement of his second piano concerto. I kneel before him in gratitude and in sorrow for what he must have suffered in order to write such poignant, exquisite melodies.
The night is so beautiful that we almost forget about our need for cigarettes. Along the dark river, ducks lie on the pier, their wings folded around themselves like fallen angels. They are silent and peaceful and at home. But not for long, for suddenly Mallory spies them and begins barking ferociously.
Our peace is broken as the ducks begin flailing their wings. “Quack, quack, quack,” they call, waddling to the end of the pier, one by one, to get into the water.
“It’s okay, little duck,” I say softly as a duck waddles over to me. “We’re not going to hurt you.” I put my hand out, at which point it bites me indignantly and waddles towards the river. “Quack, quack, quack, quack, quack.”
I am duly chastened. What was I thinking, to bring this untamed dog to disturb their sleep?
Mallory throws her head back and howls at the moon. Someone has strung tiny golden lights from the rail of a houseboat; the reflection dances in the water like fairies. From inside the houseboat we can hear Etta James singing “At Last.” Doobies forgotten, Karl and I join hands and marvel at the miracle of it all.
When we get to the pier, I get into a swing and Mallory jumps into my lap. Karl pushes us back and forth, back and forth, as the water laps gently against the pier. Our mission forgotten for the moment, we enjoy the serenity of the night and the creaking sound of the swing.
Our peace is broken as Mallory jumps out of my lap and frolics along the pier, barking at a tiny creature of the night as it scurries out of the bushes and down the pier. We soldier on. There is a smell of wet earth and the wind becomes fierce. Karl and I look at one another. Will we make it to the Marriott before the rain comes and ruins our precious doobies? We will not.
When we arrive at the Marriott we find that not only are there no doobies, there are no longer any ashtrays out front. We must return homeward doobie-less. Craving nicotine, we travel on, just as fat drops of rain begin to fall. Hand in hand we run, Mallory by our side, head down against the wind. Laughing, we run toward the City County Building. Lighting streaks across the sky and suddenly we come across the street to view rows and rows of yellow forsythia, as if it were growing in the night before our very eyes. It is a time for gratitude, for though the wind is strong and growing colder, spring is imminent as crocuses prepare to peep their yellow and purple heads from out of the earth.
We approach Summit Towers just as the rain begins to fall in torrents. We enter the building and Mallory shakes the rain out of her coat, leaving a muddy puddle behind her. When we enter our apartment, a gray light is beginning to come in through the windows and into the apartment. We shed our wet clothing, dry Mallory off with a towel, crawl into bed, and fall into a peaceful sleep, all addictions forgotten for a time. When we awaken to no cigarettes, it will be a different story, but for now, we are happy, safe from the wind and the rain underneath soft, warm blankets, in the safe haven of slumber. Karl reaches over in his sleep and takes my hand, Mallory curls up inside my arms, and all is well as the morning steals like a ghost over downtown Knoxville.