Two men met. Living in the blue-hued city, they caught glances, the way adults do. The men grew to know one other quickly; they hurried along the highway exits. A month passed; they knew each other a little. Sometimes they took walks in the forest as if searching together for something.
Steve Sanders, the lawyer of the pair, was nervous. Cal Masters was a library clerk, or as he put it, a "cluck," and heavier, a potato lover, laconic. During this time, the men drove around at night, feeling an elation, a sense of inversion.
When separated during the day, each man thought of the other anxiously. Then they would meet again, eager, finding a sense of return to a warm sea, as if they were not men anymore, but near-eyeless creatures who nevertheless had experienced the surprise of fate. Their meeting had been inevitable, they often said, and they fully believed this.
Steve and Cal each feared terribly that the other man and this entire harmonious experience, this childhood, would be lost.
They joked with friends that they could read one another's thoughts, and this was actually true, when it came to laundry.
Beneath the men rolled time. They were not close to Jesus or any of the myths of the era. They liked food and business. Though after a while, Cal came to believe in vegetarianism, and later joined an anti-milk group.
"You are so innocent," remarked Steve in wonder one night against the blue pillow.
It was a busy time
Steve was not generous. All his life he had been extremely interested in gifts, bowel movements, and flows of money through the economic world. He worried that he did not please others, yet he often got angry with people. Cal did not struggle with such things; in keeping with the soft society around him, he usually thought about comfort, entertainment, and meals.
The men quickly bought a townhouse and triple-wide sofas; they also acquired two dogs—white, small terriers—who began to accompany them on their walks. The first dog, Mary, was whole, solid, and strong, but the second dog, Susan, had been born at the age of only thirty conceptual days. So she had weak legs, limped, and had episodes of falling; the men wondered what went through Susan's mind as she fell, gasping, eyes fluttering.
"But what if she dies?" asked Cal some nights, beginning to worry.
"She's not going to die!" said Steve with irritation.
The dogs did well on their walks, even if Susan limped, and sometimes both dogs really laughed and revealed themselves as such tender, inquisitive beings that, for Steve and Cal, the dogs embodied the finest parts of themselves.
They all ate hundreds, then thousands, of meals together. At night, the men, hugging, worried about losing their feelings for one another, and about their dogs.
"I still think we should take them somewhere—they should have new experiences and grow," Cal whispered in the dark.
One spring after a near-gale, Steve and Cal went into the forest with the dogs. Trees formed an impeccable barrier along the path. The men and dogs walked a few miles, then stood in a glade. Cal ate a peach and cleaned the runnels of the pit repeatedly with his mouth; then he spat.
Noon approached. The air had warmed.
The dogs found a wall, and leapt against it, barking playfully, but Steve and Cal soon saw that the wall was actually a wide tree trunk. The tree was rooted along the side of the path. Multiple sub-trunks grew from its center point. The strongest trunk grew out over a grassy drop-off, then went straight up into the air. The tree's top was bushy. A ravine lay below.
"What could be up there?" said Cal.
Steve posited: "A series of nests?"
Cal reached up to grab a branch, then began to climb.
"No!" Steve said. "Cal, that is not smart. We're not here to climb trees—don't do that." Cal did not listen. He climbed higher, and Steve sat down at the base of the tree, waiting. About an hour later, Steve called again. "Cal, come down!"
Rustling near the top of the tree, Cal replied, "I'll be back soon! I'll bring you a souvenir." He climbed higher and was gone.
In anger, Steve wondered if he should go home. He sat by the tree for hours as the dogs explored, then dozed; he grew disoriented with Cal's departure and the madness of the tree, its excessive height, and its many trunks and branches. Steve's life began to seem uncertain to him. Waiting beneath the tree for so long, he felt altered. To fix this, he reached up, beginning to climb furiously, slipping, scraping his hands, leaving the dogs behind in the forest.
At the top of the tree, he climbed over a ledge and saw a small, bland town. Steve walked along the road, seeing a store that sold provisions; he tried, but was unable to go into the store. He walked further, and saw Cal on the empty road. "What the hell are you doing?" he called out.
Cal said nothing.
The men met in the road. Steve shouted inside a panic, "What's wrong? Why aren't you talking?"
"I don't feel very good," said Cal.
"Cal!" Steve said. "The dogs. We have to go back down. The dogs will get lost."
"Well, they've already been down in the forest for a long time, so it isn't going to make any difference now if they wait longer," Cal said.
"I hate you! You changed!" said Steve, smacking Cal on the mouth.
Cal tried to hit Steve back, but Steve blocked the strike. Then Steve chased Cal, trying to tackle him, to punch him down, but Cal outran him, and the two wound up at a house with a large glass skylight angled in the center of its roof. The skylight glinted with color. Beside the house lay a flat lake.
"This is unreal," said Steve, the most unhappy he had ever been. "We have to get back, find the dogs, go home, and go to sleep tonight so we can wake up for work tomorrow. Right?"
"Why?" Cal said coolly.
They proceeded inside the big house. Steve was distracted upon seeing the nice furniture, but his worries returned quickly, centering around the dogs. "How long have we been away from them?" he wondered. He looked at Cal. Neither man could quite recall his purpose in life, if he had ever known it.
Steve's arms and legs grew shaky and numb. He yanked his hands from his pockets, spilling some coins on the floor. "Gosh, those nickels look so big," said Cal, bending over, picking them up.
The men looked out the window. A storm was blowing in. The lake beside the house began to churn and overflow, its water fluttering and rippling, cascading over the lake shore and toward the house. Steve breathed. "This is crazy. Now there's a flood?"
The water seeped through the front door and into the living room; it rose over their shoes and ankles. Cal told Steve to hang on as the water climbed their legs and torsos, shockingly quickly. As the water pulled at their waists, the men tried to make it to the front door; but in the gelid water, they could scarcely move at all.
Trying to survive moment to moment, treading water, Steve hollered piteously. It seemed possible the men might die.
Cal was steadier. "If we die, at least we'll know we took an interesting trip."
"Shut up!" screamed Steve.
In the flood of rising water, beyond the noise he was making, Steve had a regret: he wished he had learned more about why he had lived, and why everything else lived, too.
The men swirled like dolls in the water, rising toward the ceiling. Then, through the big front window, Steve saw Mary swimming in the flood outside, with the weak, gasping Susan to the rear, panting and paddling. "Oh, my God!" Steve yelled, crying, treading water. "Are they trying to say goodbye to us?"
Cal whistled loudly. The dogs heard him through the window and began to swim toward the men. Opening a tiny top pane in the window, Cal began throwing the nickels, one by one, toward the dogs' mouths.
"If only I can get one in," Cal winced, tossing the coins, missing. With the last nickel, he took aim at Susan's panting mouth and said, "If I can't do this, then it was never meant to be." He squeezed his eyes shut and threw. When he opened his eyes, he saw Susan gulping the coin down; then she grew energetic, seeming to laugh. She swam directly to a rope that was floating in the water, and picked it up in her mouth. The rope was attached to the great lower window's latch. Susan pulled the rope away from the house, and the huge pane opened. All the floor water poured smoothly from the house, the men upon its current.
The water lowered Steve and Cal to the ground. As their feet touched down, they found themselves standing in the forest glade beside the tree, where they had begun. The dogs had vanished.
"What the hell happened?" said Steve.
When they were home, the men were able to rest together.
They took new jobs. The men stayed together.
At night, they reflected, each man in his own thoughts, and they drove around the streets in winter, watching the city and how it changed. They adopted two new dogs.
The men and dogs lived in New York City, but they left one year for New Canaan, later returning to New York, where they remained until the area absorbed them.