It wasn’t really lying to say she was attached. Over the past year and a half, her Facebook status had gone from Married to In a civil union (they were, after all, being civil to each other at least), to separated, to divorced. After a time, to shut people up, she changed her status to Widowed. A few months after the divorce, when she and Buster were lying on the sofa together on a quiet Saturday night, she logged on and changed her status to In a relationship. Buster was her true love, anyway. He was loyal and cuddly and he never shouted or made her cry. They spent every waking hour together. Every sleeping hour, too. Buster snored in his sleep, and while she’d hated this about her ex, it endeared her to Buster. She rubbed his chin when he tilted his wide head to look back at her with his irresistible eyes. She was overwhelmed by love, but there were days, she admitted, when she missed having a man around, too. She changed her status to say It’s complicated.
The old strip mall nearby had hardly any stores. There was a discount grocery store, a variety store, the liquor store, Half Price Books, a hairdresser, a couple international bazaar shops, and a diner. Mostly the mall was a hangout for old people who had nothing else to do. After their perms or out for an airing, they sat at the tables situated in the middle of the mall and drank diner coffee in thick white mugs.
On Sundays most of the stores and all the offices were closed but the mall was still open because the variety shop and the diner were open. The seniors populated the tables as usual, dressed in church clothes. But otherwise the mall was empty, Musak echoing.
She knew all this because she still often went to the mall for the half-price books. She and her ex used to fill grocery bags with literary treasures. But also there was an old photo booth in the mall, down past the liquor store, in the strip where there were only offices and by the entrance no one used on Sundays. When they were first married, they’d fill their pockets with quarters and fool around in that booth, taking pictures of them kissing, him making crazy faces and feeling her up under her sweater, until soon he was bare chested and she was only in her bra. They kept quiet, their laughter sounding like gasps, even when they had a quickie in there, he daring her, she demurring at first, then sitting on his lap. Those photos show only the back of her head and some of her back, mostly, except for his hands in her hair. She has them still in a shoebox. Proof of the good old days.
That Sunday she looked at Buster and he looked at her and she said, “You wanna go for a walk? Eh, buddy? You want a walk?” Buster’s ears pricked up and he jumped off the couch on his short stubby legs. “Where’re your boots,” she said. “Go get your boots on.” Buster snorted.
Standing at the mall door with Buster on his leash, she wondered if anyone would say anything if she just walked in with him. Who would they tell? She decided she’d walk purposely, as if she was supposed to be there, as though Buster came to the mall all the time.
She levelled her gaze as she passed the old folks in sensible shoes and raincoats, but one of them said, “Excuse me, miss,” and she turned, not wanting to be rude. “I have a bulldog, too,” said a well-coiffed elderly woman. “How old is yours?”
“He’s five,” she said, not without a sense of pride. “His name is Buster.”
“He’s lovely,” said the elderly woman. “C’mere, Buster, ohhh, you’re a special little boy, aren’t you?” Buster wagged his bum and snorted, his tongue peeking out between his teeth.
They continued down the middle of the mall and turned the corner. She stopped in front of the photo booth, pausing a moment, feeling the chill of memory. She looked down at Buster, who looked up at her.
“Ready?” she said. “It’s me and you this time.”
She opened the curtain, lifted Buster, and set him down on the bench. She stepped in and closed the curtain.
“Smile, sweetheart,” she said, and she put her arm around Buster and kissed his jowls as the first light flashed.