Probably It Will Not Be Okay
The alarm goes off for the second time. N reaches around J, hits the alarm, sits on the side of the bed. J hides farther under the blankets. A gray morning.
We have to get up, N says. You have to go to work. I have to pick up the dog.
Fuck work, J says into the pillows, Fuck the dog. Fuck you.
We don’t have time for that, N says.
N goes out to the kitchen, starts making coffee. There are strange sounds in the living room. N pours two mugs of coffee and carries one into the living room to see what’s making the sounds.
It’s a baby.
A baby is strapped into a car seat in the middle of the living room. It’s watching dust particles in the air and making odd noises. N stares at the baby. The baby stares at N. Then the baby goes back to looking at the dust.
Come look at this, N says.
J stands in the doorway behind N, takes the coffee.
I thought we agreed not to have kids.
Where’d it come from?
They look at the baby. The baby looks at them. The baby cries. J passes the coffee to N and picks up the baby. The baby stops crying.
Aw, look at it. Can we keep it?
Is it house broken?
N goes back to the kitchen, sits at the table. J sits at the table, holding the baby.
Where do we report a found baby?
N shrugs. They drink coffee.
What am I supposed to do today, if they don’t believe the dog was lost?
Make it convincing. Take this baby.
We don’t have a baby registered.
They both look at the baby. The baby cries. N takes the baby from J, pushes up its sleeve, looks at its forearm.
This baby isn’t registered.
J finishes drinking coffee, gets up.
I have to get ready for work. We have to leave. Everything’s going to be fine.
J kisses N, then kisses the top of the baby’s head.
Don’t do that. It’s not ours.
It’s not anybody’s. And it showed up in our living room.
J goes into the bedroom.
You can’t be thinking about keeping it.
N follows J into the bedroom.
Really. We can’t keep it.
The baby is still crying. J is getting dressed.
It’s probably hungry. Do we have milk or something?
Try giving it that.
J grabs a bag from the floor, keys off the dresser.
Look, I’m sorry, but what else are we supposed to do? It’s not registered and you’re already listed and now they found the dog. If we report it, one of us will probably disappear. Now let’s go.
N puts the baby in the car seat, grabs the dog’s papers from the counter. They get in the car and J drives to the city. J and N don’t talk. The baby cries. They reach J’s office.
We’ll figure it all out tonight.
Try not to make problems.
The car door slams and the baby stops crying. N looks at the baby. The baby cries again.
N tries to hold the baby like someone used to holding a baby, but the room is cold and the minor official is making N feel uncomfortable. The baby is making the minor official feel uncomfortable. The minor official doesn’t get many babies in the office. The baby is crying and hiccupping. N pats its back and bounces it up and down like N's seen people do with babies.
I know losing a pet is painful, the minor official says, And I don’t want to make it any more painful for you. But illegally disposing of bodies is serious. It gets people listed.
I’m already listed.
The minor official grows more uncomfortable.
Yes. Well. Make sure you file the proper paperwork this time. And if you know who might have buried your dog, contact us. I just need you to identify the body.
An orderly rolls a cart covered in a plastic sheet into the room. Under the plastic sheet is the dog. N looks at the dog. It looks worse than it did when J and N buried it last week.
Yes, N says, That’s our dog.
If you could just sign here? the minor official says.
N waits in line at the city exit with a baby strapped into a car seat in the front, and a dead dog wrapped in plastic in the back. The security officers look suspiciously at the car, but once they see the baby and smell the dog they wave N through.
Make sure you file that burial report correctly, one of them tells N.
Right, N says. Thanks.
If you don’t, they’ll send you to the middle of nowhere next time.
The officer is leaning against the car, one hand on the roof.
Right, N says. Thanks.
Just file it correctly, the officer says, still leaning against the car, And there’s nothing to worry about. Not like those feral cats. Always got to worry about them.
The officer laughs. N laughs.
Right, the officer says, smacking the top of the car, Have a good one.
N drives back through the gray countryside with the unregistered baby wailing in the front, and the illegally disposed dead dog smelling in the back.
It’s night. The baby is in blankets in a box. The dead dog is in plastic in the garage. N and J are in bed but awake.
A burial permit is expensive, J says, And the burial spot is insanely expensive.
J doesn’t say that they can’t afford it because N isn’t allowed to work now, but they both know that’s why.
You can’t pull any strings?
I used up all my favors at work, J says.
J doesn’t say, because of you. J rolls over and puts an arm around N.
But I was looking at burial permits, and I think we could forge one pretty easily.
They’ve flagged the file. They’ll be waiting for it.
Yeah, but they won’t check at the place itself. Not for a dog.
What will we do with it, though? It didn’t work last time.
The baby grunts in its fake crib. They're silent.
How do you think they found it?
I don’t know, N says. The same way they found me. The same way they’ll find this baby.
The baby cries.
It’s late evening. J is driving. N is in the passenger seat fooling with the radio. The baby is in the backseat. The dog is wrapped in plastic and tied to concrete blocks in the trunk. They’ve been driving for a long time and the smell of the dog is seeping through the trunk and into the car. The baby won’t stop crying. They stop at the checkpoint. A security officer walks to their car.
Evening, J says, and passes over the forged burial certificate.
N tries to look like someone on a family outing to bury a dead dog. The security officer looks at the paper, hands it back to J, asks something. J can’t hear because the baby is crying. The guard shrugs and waves them through. They pull away from the booth and N turns up the radio. They pass a mansion with a giraffe in the floodlit front yard eating the topiary. They reach a picnic spot by the river. J and N look at each other. The baby stops crying.
I need a fucking cigarette.
They climb out of the car. The baby cries.
Christ, J says, and lights a cigarette.
J passes the cigarette to N, unstraps the baby from the car seat, takes back the cigarette, tries to rub the baby’s back with the same arm that is holding the baby. N lights a cigarette. J sits with the baby at a picnic table shaped like a stegosaurus while N gets the car seat out of the car. They leave the baby in the car seat on a slide that is a brachiosaurus tail while they get the dead dog out of the trunk. Something drips out of the plastic wrapping. They drop it on the ground and finish their cigarettes. Clouds cover the moon then scuttle off, hiding and showing the wide-eyed faces of wooden pterodactyls and velociraptors.
Let’s check out this river.
They walk down to the river, leaving the baby in its car seat on the slide. They walk along the bank until they find a place that looks suitable. They can hear the baby making almost crying noises, so J goes back to the playground and carries the car seat down to a log at the edge of the water. N and J go back to the car and pick up the dog again. It’s too hard to carry the dog and the concrete blocks at the same time, so they untie the concrete blocks and carry just the dog to the river, then N goes back for the concrete blocks. They tie the concrete blocks back onto the dog, and wrap more rope around the plastic and the blocks just to make sure. Then J wraps duct tape around the whole thing, too.
Its ear is sticking out.
J tapes the ear to the plastic with more duct tape. The baby watches. J and N pick up the dog and fling it out into the river. Their throw is bad, and the dog lands close to shore. One of the concrete blocks sticks out of the water.
Fuck, J says, and lights another cigarette.
They share the cigarette.
Water’s fucking cold.
They finish the cigarette, then take off their shoes and socks and roll up their pant legs. The baby watches them. They wade out to where the dog is sticking out of the river. It’s hard to pick it up because there's a current. J slips and they both fall and lose their grip on the dog. It sinks. N helps J stand up and they look at the spot where the dog disappeared.
Stay this time! J shouts.
They wade back to shore. The baby is still watching them. N lights a third cigarette.
Don’t smoke, N tells the baby, It’s bad for you.
It’s morning. J is at work. N finishes feeding the baby, opens a beer, and tries to figure out what they should do next. A long time passes. N drinks more beer, then calls J. Instead of J’s voicemail, there’s a pre-recorded message:
The line you have reached is no longer in service, please check the number and dial again.
Fuck, N says.
The baby laughs. N turns on the laptop and tries to connect to the internet but their network is unavailable.
Fuck, N says again, and opens another beer.
When J gets home, the baby’s sock is hanging out of its mouth and it’s crawling under the coffee table after a beer can and N is sitting on the couch drinking beer and watching porn using an illegal internet connection. J picks up the baby and closes N’s laptop.
Look, J says, but isn’t sure what to say next.
At what? This shitty house? Your disconnected phone? Our disconnected internet? The fucking baby?
J doesn’t know what to say to that.
We have to leave, don’t we?
J looks around the shitty living room with holes in the floor and mildew on the ceiling and the empty dog bed in the corner. J finishes N’s beer.
It’d help if we could get a fake registration for the baby.
We can, N says.
They leave the baby in the car. They leave the car in the darkest place that seems like a safe place to leave a baby. They skulk through back streets to the side door of the office where N worked before being listed.
You’re sure H is working tonight?
Yes, N says, which is sort of a lie. Help me climb onto the dumpster.
J helps N climb onto the dumpster. N looks in the window.
A cat climbs out of the dumpster and rubs against J’s legs, purring.
The cat hisses and scratches J’s leg.
Shit, J says, and jumps.
N knocks on the window. The cat meows. Another cat joins it.
H is in there, N says, But not moving.
I don’t know. Do you have a screwdriver?
J finds something that can work and passes it to N. N pries the bars away from the window, unlatches the frame, slides into the room. J waits outside, watching the cats. The cats watch J. Two more cats climb out of the dumpster.
Fuck off, J tells the cats, but the cats don’t do anything. They sit in a semi-circle around J’s feet. N’s face reappears in the window.
Can you climb up here on your own?
You can’t just open the door?
It reads thumbprints.
Can’t H open it?
N disappears, reappears in the window a few minutes later.
Yeah, stand by the door.
J stands by the door. The cats stand by the door. There’s the sound of something being dragged on the other side of the door, then the door unlocks, opens. J slips inside. Cats slip inside. J trips over a body.
Get up. I have to make H close the door.
J gets up quickly. The body is soft but cold and not comfortable to lie on.
Give me a hand with the arm?
J helps N push H’s dead thumb against the thumb pad. The door locks. N sets H’s body down against the wall and rifles through H’s pockets.
What are you looking for?
A key card. Otherwise we need H’s thumb to get anywhere. Why are there cats in here?
They followed me in.
Do we have a knife?
I don’t want to carry H through the whole building. We only need a thumbprint.
Would you rather carry a cadaver?
N opens a drawer next to a microwave by the sink.
Think this will work?
N holds up a steak knife.
N starts sawing off H’s thumb. It takes a long time to saw the thumb off with a steak knife, but they manage. N washes the thumb off in the sink, then puts it into a plastic bag from the drawer under the microwave.
What if someone comes?
No one is going to come. H is the only one on the night shift.
J follows N out into the hallway and through a couple of high security doors — using H’s thumb to open them — and into the cubicle where N used to work. N sits at a computer, punches in information, and the printer spits out some pages. N takes the pages.
We can go.
That’s all I did last time.
It didn’t work that well last time.
Yea, so I’m sure it will work at least that well this time.
They go back through the high security doors and the hallways and into the security room. One of the cats is curled up on H’s back. Two are licking up the blood at the stump on the side of H’s right hand. Another is chewing on H’s ear.
I guess we don’t have to worry about anyone wondering what happened to H’s right thumb, N says.
Fuck, J says.
They use H’s right thumb to exit the building.
Their old apartment sits empty on the edge of the city. No one changed the locks after they were relocated, so it’s easy to get inside. J feeds the baby rice cereal and the baby smears it into its hair. N takes things out of a large bag and places them on the kitchen counter.
How long do you think we have?
N takes a bottle of rubbing alcohol and another of whiskey out of the bag.
At least today. Probably tonight. Maybe tomorrow.
N lays a packet of razor blades and a roll of gauze next to the rubbing alcohol.
It depends what their reason is: the dog, the baby, the forgery. You haven’t done anything else have you?
Not yet. You?
I’ve been the model citizen since you were listed.
They laugh, because that’s a lie. N takes tweezers and plastic gloves from the bag and puts on a pair of the gloves.
J opens the whiskey bottle, drinks. N drinks.
J takes another drink, grimaces, and puts the baby in its car seat. J and N sit cross-legged on the floor. N pulls up J’s shirtsleeve and rubs alcohol along J’s forearm. It doesn’t take N long to cut out the small piece of plastic with J’s registration on it. It’s something N’s done before. J sits still and holds a gauze pad in place while N washes off the tweezers and razor blade. J isn’t as experienced at cutting out N’s registration, and N winces and swears.
What do we do with them now?
I don’t know.
They drink whiskey and look at the registration chips.
We could break them.
We could leave them here.
Frame them and hang them on the wall.
Throw them in the river with the dog.
Don’t disrespect the dog.
They laugh and so does the baby. They both reach for the whiskey bottle at the same time, laugh again, and kiss. The baby stops laughing and cries.
N breaks into a neighbor’s internet and finds hypnotic music videos for the baby to watch. Then, when the baby is sleeping, J and N drink the rest of the whiskey and watch porn and fool around a little and fall asleep.
N wakes up looking at the baby’s face while it hits N on the head.
What? N says.
The baby drools on N’s face.
N reaches for a shirt. It’s J’s shirt, but N puts it on anyway. The baby smears snot across its cheek.
Wake up J. The baby is filthy and we have to leave.
My arm hurts.
I know. My head hurts.
The baby crawls around the living room and tries to eat pieces of the carpet while N and J get dressed. Then N climbs down into the alley and J hands out the baby, then climbs out the window and they walk to the car.
Do you want to drive?
J pulls out a pack of cigarettes.
N lights J’s cigarette. J inhales, exhales.
N lights a cigarette.
Where’s the baby going?
Under the car.
They watch the baby lick the back tire. N puts the baby in the car seat and finishes the cigarette. They get into the car and leave.
It’s N’s birthday and H and the rest of the security department from work are throwing a party. N isn’t thrilled about it but it’s easy to get allowances for birthday parties. H and the rest of the security department from work are not N’s favorite people, and when N gets drunk N says things that shouldn’t be said. The bar here is great and N wants to get drunk and leave with a stranger. People keep showing up, friends of friends and friends of those friends. N decides the party needs to end soon. One of the friends of a friend’s friend is J. N checks out J from across the table. J sees, and smiles, and N acts like it was a mistake. N decides the party needs to end with N bringing J home. H stands up and proposes a toast, and then every other member of the security department stands up and makes a toast and while everyone is toasting, N slips off to the bathroom. Walking out of the bathroom, N runs into J.
Hurry and get back. The wait staff is going to bring you cake and sing, J says.
Want to get out of here?
They sneak out of the restaurant and drink in an alley after curfew, hiding from the patrols, and then finish getting drunk at N’s place. By the end of the night, J knows everything the security department can’t know, and by the end of the year they’ve bought a dog on the black market and more or less moved in together and are talking about registering as a couple. N doesn’t really hang out with the security department anymore, which bothers H a little, but is probably safer.
There’s still a hint of a chlorine smell despite the layers of dirt and piles of leaves and trash. There aren’t many trees in the city, but there seem to be leaves everywhere.
Last time I was here, I startled up a whole colony of cats.
Are they still here?
Probably. But they live in the rooms off to the side, so we’re okay in here.
N leads the way down the short ladder into the empty pool. The sun is weak, so the light that usually filters through the high, broken windows isn’t there and the pool doesn’t have any of its usual mystery. It’s just an empty pool filling with debris.
As long as you promise we’re not about to get attacked by cats, J says, taking N’s hand. They walk slowly along one of the long black lines on the pool’s bottom. J counts out the feet as they walk into the deep end.
Four feet. Six feet. Eight feet. Ten feet. Twelve feet.
They look at the edge of the pool above them, at the bottom of the diving board. N lies down on the grimy pool bottom and pretends to backstroke.
I don’t actually know how to backstroke.
J laughs and sits on N.
They make out in the deep end of the pool under twelve feet of evaporated water. A cat stands on a diving block and watches them, but leaves them alone. They laugh at their own gasps magnified by the empty room.
The room is dark, small and overly warm. There aren’t that many people, but it is crowded. It isn’t clear what the meetings are about, but they're anti-government, which gets N excited and J finds that sexy. Every fifteen minutes or so N looks at J and J looks interested in what’s being said until N looks away. From the way everyone in the room eventually pairs off and slips away, it seems the only thing the meetings accomplish is getting everyone excited to have sex with everyone else. One night everyone gets so inspired that they don’t even bother to leave, just have sex in piles of people in the windowless room.
They are doing what they do most nights: skulking around the streets until after curfew then going to N’s place. They walk through the dark streets, sharing a flask and smoking. A patrol is heading up the street and they hide behind a statue of a raccoon. J pulls N close by the belt loops so they are both covered in the raccoon’s shadow but also so they can kiss. They stay hidden in the shadow long after the patrol passes, until a tailless rat or a guinea pig skitters out of the shadows and into the storm drain by their feet. It’s followed by a cat. There’s scuffling, a screech, and then the rat or guinea pig climbs out of the storm drain, shakes off, and scuttles back into the shadows. N kicks a glass bottle against a wall, grabs J’s hand and they run. They run until they are panting and sweaty. The night feels colder now.
Almost there, N says.
J laughs because N’s place is only a few blocks away from where they started, and they wandered pretty far. They get into the building the back way, just in case the alarms were fixed. They sneak past the giant anteater chained to the dumpster, climb up the fire escape and push open the fire door that never fully closes. There are leaves and empty cans in the hallway, and it’s hard to walk quietly but they try to be silent until they reach N’s door. The apartment feels even smaller than the last time they were there.
When’s your lease up?
Two months, N says, searching through the cupboards for something to eat.
J sits on the couch and watches.
We should register for cohabitation and you can just move in with me officially.
Or, N says, coming over to the couch with some stale crackers and a half empty bottle of wine, We can register as a couple and apply for a new place together.
J is surprised and tries to hide the surprise but fails.
You didn’t think I’d want that, did you?
It doesn’t seem like your style.
Well, N uncorks the bottle and offers it to J, It is. Now.
J drinks the old wine and eats a stale cracker and can’t stop smiling.
You know what else we should do? We should get a dog.
We should totally get a dog!
Once, when I was younger, N says, I stared down a patrol. They sent me to a program that was supposed to make me want to join the patrol, but instead it made me think it was stupid.
Once, when I was younger, J says, A patrol drove right past me and didn’t even see me. After that, I started staying out too late.
Once, I was trapped in an alley by feral cats. I sat and stared them down until a porcupine distracted them and I escaped. Then I stopped being afraid of cats.
Once, I skipped community class for the entire quarter and no one noticed. Then I stopped caring about community.
Once, I protested the protests. A morale officer saw me and forced me into the youth brigade. I never went to another protest.
Once, I lied about my registration number for a year on all my forms. I’d gotten some numbers mixed up. But it didn’t matter, and now I lie on purpose.
I always lie about my registration number, N says.
The warehouse is empty. Industrial metal platforms reach the high ceiling. The aisles are wide enough for a patrol to drive down. Their voices reverberate off the rusting beams. Pallets are tumbled across the floor, stacked on the platforms. A forklift lies on its side in the middle of an aisle. N climbs on top of it, balancing on one of the tines.
Will you catch me if I do?
You’d knock me over if I tried.
Would you at least cushion my fall?
J laughs, lights a cigarette. Something moves in the shadows. N jumps down from the forklift, falls against J. J drops the lit cigarette and it rolls across the concrete leaving a trail of sparks. They fuck next to the forklift, until J’s head hits the metal guard bars.
Do you think you have a concussion?
I think I have a fucking headache.
How many fingers am I holding up?
How many fingers am I holding up? J asks, and holds up a middle finger.
They are on their way to meet a black market contact and pick out a dog. N is excited. J is excited and also nervous.
No, I’ve just never purchased anything on the black market before.
It’s easy. And you don’t get in much trouble if you’re caught.
How much trouble is not much trouble?
I don’t know. I don’t know anyone that’s gotten caught.
That isn’t comforting. We should wait. What if I did a terrible job on the papers?
You didn’t. And we’re already here.
Soon they're looking at rows of dogs in kennels and J doesn’t care if they get caught because there is no way they are leaving without one. A few days later they will both wonder if getting a dog was really a good idea but for now they are both certain it is the best possible idea of all time.
They’re fucking adorable, J says.
They’re beyond fucking adorable, N says.
The day is almost cold and sunless but not quite. There’s a light rain. J hands N the bottle of whatever they’re drinking. They’re at the zoo. J stops at the bear enclosure and leans against the rail, staring into the dim, overgrown cage. The bars are rusty. Something is creaking in the wind, a cage door maybe.
There, in the corner, J says, and points to the pile of rotting fur and bones.
How long do you think it took to die?
J takes back the bottle, takes a sip.
You’re just making that up.
Yeah. Weren’t there two? Do you think one ate the other?
Probably, N says and lights a cigarette. Where’s the dog?
J points down the path towards the prairie dog pen. The dog is worrying at something in the ground. N calls the dog, but the dog never responds to being called. J whistles, and the dog looks at them like it’s thinking about listening, then goes back to whatever dead thing it’s found. They leave it and keep walking. There’s water in a shallow pool in the tiger pit, with bottles and trash floating in it. Bones are scattered around the pit, but it’s hard to know if they are tiger bones or the bones of whatever made the mistake of wandering into the pit.
I heard someone say there was a human skull in there.
I heard that, too.
It’s growing dark, patrol lights cutting through the sky. N pulls J inside the shell of an old snack bar and they fuck against the freezers that smell like mold. The lights flash through holes in the roof and along the ground outside and over the scummy tiger pool and fade. The dog scratches at things in the corner until it gets bored, then jumps on them and licks their faces and they laugh and push it away. It’s awkward, the way sex is always awkward.
Once the patrol has passed they climb into the mountain lion pen and lie in the mouth of the fake rock cave and pretend the sparks in the distance are shooting stars. They share a cigarette, then a second. They don’t talk. The rain is falling a little harder now, and the dog scrambles up and down the fake hillside and then stands over them, panting, and shakes water on them. Someone is fooling around on the old playground, blowing in tubing that makes animal sounds. For a moment, it sounds like there’s still a living coyote roaming the artificial grasslands.