Authors: Bonnie Garmus
Elizabeth hadn’t had a pet before and she wasn’t sure she had one now. Six-Thirty wasn’t human, but he seemed to possess a humanity that far surpassed what she’d found in most people.
That’s why she didn’t buy him a leash—it seemed wrong. Insulting, even. He rarely strayed far from her side, never crossed the street without looking, didn’t chase cats. In fact, the only time he’d ever bolted was on the Fourth of July when a firecracker exploded right in front of him. After hours of worried searching, she and Calvin finally found him tucked behind some trash cans in an alleyway, shaking in shame.
But when the city passed its very first leash law, she found herself reconsidering the idea, although for more complicated reasons. As her attachment to the dog grew, so too grew the idea of attaching the dog to her.
So she bought a leash and hung it on the coatrack in their hallway and waited for Calvin to notice. But after a week, he still hadn’t.
“I got Six-Thirty a leash,” she finally announced.
“Why?” Calvin asked.
“It’s the law,” she explained.
She described the new law and he laughed. “Oh—that. Well,
that doesn’t apply to us. It’s for people who don’t have a dog like Six-Thirty.”
“No, it’s for everyone. It’s new. I’m pretty sure they mean business.”
He smiled. “Don’t worry. Six-Thirty and I pass the precinct almost every day. The police know us.”
“But that’s about to change,” she insisted. “Probably because there’s been a surge in pet deaths. A lot more dogs and cats are getting hit by cars.” She didn’t know if this was factually true, but it seemed like it certainly could be. “Anyway, yesterday I took Six-Thirty out on a walk and used the leash. He liked it.”
“I can’t run with a leash,” Calvin said, glancing up. “I hate feeling tethered. Besides, he always stays right with me.”
“Something could happen.”
“What could happen?”
“He could run out into the street. He could get hit. Remember the firecracker? It’s not you I’m worried about,” she said. “It’s him.”
Calvin smiled to himself. It was a side of Elizabeth he’d never seen before: a mothering instinct.
“By the way,” he said, “there’s lightning in the forecast. Dr. Mason called—rowing’s been canceled the rest of the week.”
“Oh, that’s too bad,” she said, trying not to sound relieved. She’d rowed in the men’s eight four times now, and each time it had left her more exhausted than she cared to admit. “Did he say anything else?” She didn’t want to sound like she was fishing for a compliment, but she was. Dr. Mason seemed like a decent man; he always spoke to her as an equal. Calvin had mentioned he was an obstetrician.
“He mentioned we’re in the lineup for next week,” Calvin said. “And that he’d like us to consider a regatta in the spring.”
“You mean a race?”
“You’ll love it. It’s fun.”
Actually, Calvin was pretty sure she might not love it. Racing was stressful. The fear of losing was bad enough, but there
was also that knowledge that the row itself was going to hurt, that once the word “Attention!” was called, the rower would risk heart attack, cracked ribs, lung donation—whatever it took—just to earn that dime-store medal at the end. Coming in second? Please. It wasn’t called first loser for nothing.
“Sounds interesting,” she lied.
“It really is,” he lied back.
“Rowing was canceled, remember?” Calvin said two days later, surprised to sense Elizabeth getting dressed in the dark. He reached for his alarm clock. “It’s four a.m. Come back to bed.”
“I can’t sleep,” she said. “I think I’ll go into work early.”
“No,” he begged. “Stay with me.” He pulled at the covers and motioned her back in.
“I’ll put that potato dish in the oven on low,” she said, slipping on some shoes. “It’ll make a good breakfast for you.”
“Look, if you’re going, I’m going,” he said, yawning. “Just give me a few minutes.”
“No, no,” she said. “You sleep.”
He woke an hour later to find himself alone.
“Elizabeth?” he called.
He padded his way to the kitchen, where a pair of oven mitts sat on the counter.
Enjoy the potatoes,
See you soon xoxoxo E.
“Let’s run to work this morning,” he called to Six-Thirty. He didn’t actually feel like going on a run, but that way they could all ride home together in one car. It wasn’t because he cared about saving gas; it was because he couldn’t stand the thought of Elizabeth driving home alone. There were trees out there. And trains.
She’d hate it if she knew how much he worried and fussed, so he kept it to himself. But how could he not fuss over the person he loved more than anything, more than seemed even possible?
Besides, she fussed over him too—making sure he ate, constantly suggesting he run indoors with Jack, buying a leash, of all things.
Out of the corner of his eye he spied some bills and made a mental note to file the latest crop of flimflam correspondence. He’d gotten yet another letter from the woman claiming to be his mother—
They told me you’d died,
she always wrote. He’d also gotten one from an illiterate who claimed Calvin had stolen all his ideas, and another from a so-called long-lost brother who wanted money. Oddly, no one had ever written pretending to be his father. Maybe because his father was still out there, pretending he’d never had a son.
Since he’d left the boys home, the only other person, besides the bishop, to whom he’d ever admitted his father grudge, was—of all people— a pen pal. He’d never met the man but they’d managed to establish a strong friendship. Maybe because, like confession, they both found it easier to talk to someone they couldn’t see. But when the subject of fathers came up—this was after a year of steady no-holds-barred correspondence—everything changed. Calvin had let it drop that he hoped his father was dead, and his pen pal, apparently shocked, reacted in a way Calvin hadn’t expected. He stopped writing back.
Calvin assumed he’d crossed a line—the man was religious and he was not; maybe hoping your father was dead wasn’t something one admitted in ecclesiastical circles. But whatever the reason, their tête-à-tête was over. He felt depressed for months.
That’s why he’d decided not to mention the fact of his undead father to Elizabeth. He deeply worried that she’d either react like his ex-friend had and drop him, or suddenly wake up to what the bishop had once described as his fatal flaw: an innate unlovability. Calvin Evans, ugly both inside and out. She
turned down his marriage proposal.
Anyway, if he told her now, she might question why he hadn’t told her before. And that was dangerous because she might ask herself what
had he left out?
No, some things were better left unsaid. Besides, she’d kept
her work troubles to herself, hadn’t she? Having a few secrets in a close relationship was normal.
He pulled on his old track pants, then rummaged in their shared sock drawer, his mood lifting as he caught a whiff of her perfume. He’d never been one for self-improvement—never even gotten through Dale Carnegie’s book about making friends and influencing people because ten pages in he realized he didn’t care what anyone else thought. But that was before Elizabeth—before he realized that making her happy made him happy. Which, he thought, as he grabbed his tennis shoes, had to be the very definition of love. To actually
to change for someone else.
As he bent down to tie his laces, his chest filled with something new. Was it gratitude? He, the early orphaned, never-before-loved, unattractive Calvin Evans, had, by hook or by crook, found this woman, this dog, this research, this row, this run, Jack. It was all so much more than he’d ever expected, so much more than he ever deserved.
He looked at his watch: 5:18 a.m. Elizabeth was sitting on a stool, her centrifuges on full spin. He whistled for Six-Thirty to come meet him at the front door. It was a little over five miles to work, and running together, they could be there in forty-two minutes. But as he opened the door, Six-Thirty hesitated. It was dark and drizzly.
“Come on, boy,” Calvin said. “What’s wrong?”
Then he remembered. He turned back, grabbed the leash, bent down, and clipped it to Six-Thirty’s collar. Securely connected to the dog for the very first time, Calvin turned and locked the door behind him.
He was dead thirty-seven minutes later.
“Come on, boy,” Calvin said to Six-Thirty, “let’s pick it up.” Six-Thirty moved to his place five paces in front of Calvin, then glanced back every so often as if to make sure Calvin was still there. As they turned right, they passed a newsstand. “CITY BUDGETS HIT ROCK BOTTOM,” screamed a headline, “POLICE AND FIRE SERVICES AT RISK.”
Calvin put pressure on the leash, directing Six-Thirty to turn left into an older neighborhood filled with big houses and oceanic lawns. “Someday we’ll live here,” Calvin assured him as they jogged along. “Maybe after I win the Nobel,” which Six-Thirty knew he would win because Elizabeth said he would.
As they took another turn, Calvin almost slipped on moss before regaining his stride. “Close one,” he huffed as they neared the police station. Six-Thirty looked ahead at the squad cars lined up like soldiers awaiting inspection.
But the cars hadn’t been inspected. This was because the police department had suffered yet another budget cut—their third in four years. All three cuts had fallen under the Do More with Less! initiative, the slogan dreamed up by some middle manager in the city’s PR department. What it actually meant this time was
that their jobs were on the line. Salaries had already been docked. Raises were extinct. Layoffs were next.
So the officers did whatever they could to keep the layoffs at bay; they took the latest Do More with Less! initiative and stuck it where it belonged: out in the parking lot with the patrol cars. Let the black-and-whites bear the budget-cut brunt this time. No more tune-ups, oil changes, brake relining, retreads, lightbulb changes, nothing.
Six-Thirty didn’t like the police parking lot, especially the way the police backed out in such a sloppy hurry. He didn’t even like the friendly policemen who sometimes waved to them as he and Calvin jogged by, their slow trudge in sharp contrast to Calvin’s vigor. They seemed depressed in Six-Thirty’s opinion, shackled by low pay, bored by routine, unchallenged by the endless minor emergencies that never called upon the lifesaving training they’d learned at the police academy.
As he and Calvin approached, Six-Thirty sniffed the air. It was still dark. The sun would rise in about ten more—
From the darkness came a hideous popping sound. It was like a firecracker—sharp, loud, mean. Six-Thirty bucked in fright—
What was that?
He bolted, or tried to, but he was yanked back by the leash that connected him to Calvin. Calvin, too, reacted—
Were those gunshots?
—and bolted in exactly the opposite direction.
POW, POW, POW!
The explosions stuttered like a machine gun. In response, Calvin lifted his foot and lurched forward, yanking Six-Thirty
while Six-Thirty, wild-eyed, lifted his front paws and yanked back as if to say,
No, this way!
And the leash, taut like a tightrope, left no room for compromise. Calvin brought his foot down in a slick of motor oil, slipping forward like a clumsy ice skater, the pavement coming up fast like an old friend who couldn’t wait to say hello.
As a thin trail of red created a dark halo around Calvin’s head, Six-Thirty turned to help, but something bore down upon them— a huge ship of a thing that moved with such force, it snapped the leash in two, flinging him off to the side.
He managed to lift his head just in time to see the wheels of a patrol car bump up over Calvin’s body.
“Jesus, what was
?” the patrolman said to his partner. They were accustomed to their cars’ constant backfires, but this was something else. They jumped out, startled to see a tall man lying on the ground, his gray eyes wide open, his head wound quickly soaking the sidewalk. He blinked twice at the policeman standing over him.
“Oh my god, did we hit him? Oh my god. Sir—can you hear me? Sir? Jimmy, call an ambulance.”
Calvin lay there, his skull fractured, his arm snapped in two by the force of the police car. Around his wrist dangled the remnant of the leash.
“Six-Thirty?” he whispered.
“What was that? What did he say, Jimmy? Oh my god.”
“Six-Thirty?” Calvin whispered again.
“No sir,” the policeman said bending down beside him. “It’s almost six but not quite. Actually, it’s about five fifty. That’s five five oh. Now we’re going to get you out of here—we’re going to get you fixed up, don’t you worry, sir, there’s nothing to worry about.”
Behind him, police poured out of the building. In the distance, an ambulance screamed its intent of getting there soon.
“Oh, that’s a shame,” one of them said as air pressed out of Calvin’s lungs. “Isn’t that the guy everyone always calls about—the guy who runs?”
From ten feet away, Six-Thirty, his shoulder wrenched from its socket, the other half of the leash dangling from his whiplashed
neck, watched. He wanted more than anything to go to Calvin’s side, to dip his face close to his nostrils, to lick his wounds, to stop everything from going any further than it already had. But he knew. Even from ten feet, he knew. Calvin’s eyes drifted shut. His chest stopped moving.
He watched as they loaded Calvin in the ambulance, a sheet over his body, his right hand hanging off the side of the gurney, the snapped leash still wrapped tight around his wrist. Six-Thirty turned away, sick with sorrow. With his head down, he turned and went to give Elizabeth the bad news.
Calvin's Parting Gift
When Elizabeth was eight, her brother, John, dared her to jump off a cliff and she'd done it. There was an aquamarine water-filled quarry below; she'd hit it like a missile. Her toes touched bottom and she pushed up, surprised when she broke through the surface that her brother was already there. He'd jumped in right after her.
What the hell were you thinking, Elizabeth?
he shouted, his voice full of anguish as he dragged her to the side.
I was only kidding! You could've been killed!
Now, sitting rigidly on her stool in the lab, she could hear a policeman talking about someone who'd died and someone else insisting she take his handkerchief and still another saying something about a vet, but all she could think about was that moment long ago when her toes had touched bottom, the soft, silky mud inviting her to stay. Knowing what she knew now, she could only think one thing:
I should have.
It was her fault. This was what she tried to explain to the policeman. The leash. She'd bought it. But no matter how often she said it, he didn't seem to understand, and because of it, she thought there was a chance she'd imagined the whole thing. Calvin wasn't dead. He was rowing. He was on a trip. He was five floors up, writing in his notebook.
Someone said go home.
For the next few days, she and Six-Thirty lay on her unmade bed, sleep impossible, food out of the question, the ceiling their only vista, waiting for him to walk back through the door. The only thing that disturbed them was a ringing phone. Every time it was the same whiney voiceâ a mortician of all peopleâdemanding that “decisions
be made!” A suit was needed for someone's coffin. “Whose coffin?” she said. “Who is this?” After too many of these calls, Six-Thirty, seemingly exhausted by her confusion, nudged her toward the closet and pawed open the door. And that's when she saw it: his shirts swaying like long-dead corpses at a hanging. And that's when she knew: Calvin was gone.
Just like after her brother's suicide and Meyers's attack, she could not cry. An army of tears lay just behind her eyes, but they refused to decamp. It was as if the wind had been knocked out of her: no matter how many deep breaths she took her lungs refused to fill. When she was a kid, she'd remembered overhearing a one-legged man tell the librarian someone was boiling water somewhere in the stacks. It was dangerous, he explained; she should do something. The librarian tried to assure him no one was boiling any waterâit was a one-room library, she could see everyoneâbut he was insistent and shouted at her, and because of it two men had to remove him, one of them explaining that the poor guy was still suffering from shell shock. He'd probably never recover.
The problem was, now she heard the boiling water, too.
To stop the ringing phone, she had to find a suit. Calvin didn't own one, so she gathered what she felt he would have wanted: his rowing clothes. Then she took the small bundle to the funeral home and handed it to the funeral director. “Here,” she said.
Long practiced in the art of dealing with the bereaved, the solemn man accepted the assortment with a courteous nod. But
right after she left, he handed it to his assistant and said, “The stiff in room four is about a forty-six extra long.” The assistant took the bundle and threw it into an unmarked closet where it joined a small mountain of other inappropriate outfits family members, in their grief-stricken state, had brought over the years. The assistant proceeded to a large wardrobe, grabbed a 46 extra long, shook the pants, blew lightly at the dust that grayed the shoulders, and headed for room 4.
Before Elizabeth was even ten blocks away, he'd successfully stuffed Calvin's rigid body within the suit's confines, shoving the hands that had once held her down dark sleeves; cramming the legs that once wrapped around her through woolen cylinders. Then he buttoned the shirt, buckled the belt, adjusted the tie, and knotted the laces, all the while brushing the dust that was so much a part of death from one end of the suit to the other. He stepped back to admire his work, then adjusted a lapel. He reached for a comb; reconsidered. He closed the door and walked down the hall to retrieve his brown-bag lunch, pausing only to give instructions to a woman who sat behind a large adding machine in a small office.
Before Elizabeth had made it twelve blocks, the dirty suit had been added to her bill.
The funeral was packed. A few rowers, one reporter, maybe fifty Hastings employees, a handful of whom, despite their bowed heads and somber clothing, weren't at Calvin's funeral to grieve, but to gloat.
they cheered silently.
The king is dead.
As the scientists milled about, several noticed Zott way off in the distance, the dog by her side. Once again, the damn dog wasn't on leadâthis despite the city's new leash law, and notwithstanding the signs that encircled the entire cemetery prohibiting dogs from entering in the first place. Same old, same old. Even in death, Zott and Evans acted as if the rules didn't apply to them.
From a distance, Elizabeth shielded her eyes to take in the crowd. A well-dressed nosy couple stood apart at a separate grave site, watching the proceedings as if it were a fifty-car pileup. She rested one hand on Six-Thirty's bandages and considered how to proceed. The truth was, she was afraid to get close to the coffin because she knew she would try to pry it open and climb in and bury herself with him, and that meant dealing with all the people who would try to stop her, and she did not want to be stopped.
Six-Thirty sensed her death wish, and because of it, had been on suicide watch all week. The only problem was, he wanted to die himself. Worse, he suspected she was in the same positionâthat despite her own deathly desires, she felt beholden to keep
alive. What a mess devotion was.
Just then someone behind them said, “Well, at least Evans got a good day for it,” as if bad weather would have put a damper on the otherwise festive funeral. Six-Thirty looked up to see a strong-jawed skinny man holding a small pad of paper.
“Sorry to disturb you,” the man said to Elizabeth, “but I saw you sitting all by yourself over here and I thought you might be able to help. I'm writing a story about Evans, was wondering if I could ask you a few questionsâonly if you wouldn't mindâ I mean, I know he was a famous scientist, but that's all I know. Could you tell me how you knew him? Maybe supply an anecdote? Did you know him long?”
“No,” she said, avoiding his stare.
“No, I didn't know him long. Definitely not long enough.”
“Oh, right,” he said, nodding, “I understand. That's why you're over hereânot a close friend but still wanted to pay your respects; gotcha. Was he your neighbor? Maybe you could point out his parents. Siblings? Cousins? I'd love to get some background. I've heard a lot of things about him; some say he was
a real jerk. Can you comment on that? I know he wasn't married, but did he date?” And when she continued to stare off into the distance, he added, lowering his voice, “By the way, I'm not sure you saw the signs, but dogs aren't allowed in the cemetery. I mean, not at all. The groundskeeper is supposedly a stickler about this one. Unless, I don't know, you need a dog, a Seeing Eye dog, because you'reâ¦well, you knowâ”
The reporter took a step back. “Oh gee, really?” he said apologetically. “You'reâ Oh, I'm so sorry. It's just that you don't lookâ”
“I am,” she repeated.
“And it's permanent?”
“That's a shame,” he said, curious. “Disease?”
He took another step back.
“Well that's a shame,” he repeated, slightly waving his hand in front of her face to see if she would react. And sure enough. Nothing.
Just off in the distance, a minister appeared.
“Looks like the party's starting,” he said, telling her what he could see. “People are taking seats, the minister is opening the Bible, and”âhe leaned way back to see if more people were coming from the parking lotâ“and yet no family. Where's the family? There's not a single soul in the front row. So maybe he really was a jerk.” He glanced back to get a response, surprised to see Elizabeth standing. “Lady?” he said. “You don't have to go all the way over there; people understand a situation like yours.” She ignored him, feeling for her purse. “Well, if you're really going, you better let me help you.” He reached for her elbow, but the second he touched her arm, Six-Thirty growled. “Geez,” he said. “I was only trying to help.”
a jerk,” Elizabeth said through gritted teeth.
“Oh,” he said, embarrassed. “No. Of course not. I'm sorry.
I was only repeating what I'd heard. You knowâgossip. I apologize. Although I thought you said you didn't know him that well.”
“That's not what I said.”
“I think youâ”
“I said I didn't know him
” she quavered.
“That's what I said,” he replied soothingly, reaching for her elbow again. “You didn't know him very long.”
“Don't touch me.” She wrested her elbow from his grip and with Six-Thirty at her side made her way across the uneven lawn, expertly avoiding stone angels and exhausted flowers as only one with twenty-twenty vision can do and, embracing the loneliness of the front row, selected a chair directly opposite his long, black box.
What followed was the usual refrain: the sad looks, the dirty shovel, the boring verse, the preposterous prayers. But when the first clods of dirt hit the coffin, Elizabeth interrupted the minister's final tribute by announcing, “I need to walk.” And then she turned, and with Six-Thirty, walked away.
It was a long walk home: six miles, in heels, in black, just the two of them. And it was curious: both the route, which took them through as many bad sections as good, and the contrast, a colorless woman and injured dog planted against the conflict of an early spring. Everywhere they walked, even in the drabbest of neighborhoods, blooms poked their way up between sidewalk cracks and flower beds, shouting and boasting and calling attention to themselves, mingling their scents in hopes of creating complex perfumes. And there they were in the thick of it, the only living dead things.
The funeral car followed her for the first mile or so, the driver pleading for her to get in, informing her she'd last no more than fifteen minutes in those heels, reminding her that she'd already paid for the ride, and apologizing that while he wasn't able to take
the dog, he was certain someone from another car would. But she was as deaf to his pleas as she had been blind to the reporter's nosiness, and eventually he and everyone else gave up and Elizabeth and Six-Thirty did the only thing that made sense: they just kept walking.
The following day, not able to be in her home, and with nowhere else to go, they went back to work.
This was a problem for her coworkers. They had already exhausted their full complement of things to say.
I'm so sorry. If there's ever anything you need. What a tragedy. I'm sure he didn't suffer. I'm there for you. He's in God's hands now.
So they avoided her.
“Take all the time you need,” Donatti had said to her at the funeral, putting his hand on her shoulder while at the same time noting with surprise that black really wasn't her color. “I'm there for you.” But when he saw her sitting on her stool in the lab in a daze, he avoided her, too. Later, after it was clear that everyone was only going to “be there” for her as long as she was “not there,” she took Donatti's advice and went away.
The only place left to go was Calvin's lab.
“This might kill me,” she whispered to Six-Thirty as they stood in front of Calvin's door. The dog pressed his head into her thigh, begging her to go no farther, but she opened the door anyway, and they both stepped through. The scent of cleaning fluid hit them like a locomotive.
Humans were strange, Six-Thirty thought, the way they constantly battled dirt in their aboveground world, but after death willingly entombed themselves in it. At the funeral, he couldn't believe the amount of dirt needed to cover Calvin's coffin, and when he saw the size of the shovel, he'd wondered if he should offer the help of his back legs to fill the hole. And now dirt was again the issue, but in the wrong direction. Every last trace of Calvin had been scrubbed away. He watched as she stood in the middle of the room, her face blank with shock.
His notebooks were gone. Boxed up and already stored while Hastings management waited nervously to see if a next-of-kin type might come forward and try to claim them. It went without saying that she, who knew and understood his research better than anyone, and whose kinship with him far surpassed the meaning of “kin,” would not qualify.
There was only one thing left; a crate where they'd tossed his personal effects: a snapshot of her, some Frank Sinatra records, a few throat lozenges, a tennis ball, dog treats, and at the very bottom, his lunch boxâwhich she realized, with a heavy heart, probably still contained the sandwich she'd made him nine days before.
But when she opened it, her heart nearly stopped. Inside was a small blue box. And inside that, the biggest small diamond she had ever seen.
Just then, Miss Frask poked her head in. “There you are, Miss Zott,” she said, her rhinestone cat-eye glasses dangling like a sloppy noose from a chain around her neck. “I'm Miss Frask? From Personnel?” She paused. “I don't mean to disturb you,” she said, pushing the door open a bit wider, “butâ” Then she noticed Elizabeth going through the box. “Oh Miss Zott, you can't do that. Those things were his personal belongings, and while I know and recognize theâwellâunusual relationship you and Mr. Evans enjoyed, we have toâby lawâjust wait a teeny bit longer to see if someone elseâ a brother, a nephew,
âmight step forward to claim those things. You understand. It's nothing against you or your personalâwell, proclivities; I'm not making a moral judgment. But without some sort of document that says he actually meant to leave you his things, I'm afraid we have to follow the letter of the law. We have taken steps to secure his actual work. It's already under lock and key.” She stopped short, giving
Elizabeth the once-over. “Are you okay, Miss Zott? You look like you might faint.” And when Elizabeth slumped forward slightly, Miss Frask pushed the door all the way open and came in.