The night falls around me sadly, grey strokes brushing the color from the sky, the streets, the streets, covering everything in its sooty darkness. The lights cast meager half-moon shadows from their upper floor balconies; the first floor shops have all closed up for the night. I turn my jacket collar to the cold air blowing, they say from Canada, and balance between having my hand exposed in the night air or giving my dog room to explore the length of his red leash, never too far. He always wins.
We cross the main busy street where I live in an upstairs flat with my roommate, Anastasia and her little Pom. Tonight she has already walked her dog so it’s just me and Pierre, my buddy. There is a smattering of snow on the ground. Just enough to make his feet wet and every once in a we'll stop while I dig out the ice balls that have formed inside his paws which he holds up pathetically, but for the most part he’s oblivious to the cold as we tuck into the quiet side street for our evening walk.
The air doesn’t blow here through the densely packed houses with their sad little square yards and chain link fences. It’s quieter too. Most families are neatly ensconced inside their heated walls while we pass outside looking in. I look. I always do. If a window is open, I peer. I see people cooking, watching TV, writing or reading, arguing, sometimes even hugging or kissing. I quickly look away if there are people; I am not a peeping tom, but do study their interiors if no one is home. I check out their décor and try to imagine their lives.
I pass the houses quickly until Pierre smells something interesting or is choosing his spot to relieve himself. When standing still the air seems colder, more still. The silence is also heavier and I cannot only see my breath but hear it cracking tiny ice particles in the frozen air. The steam hisses up from his “business” and I diligently scoop it up, feeling its heat and having wandering thoughts like whether cavemen kept warm by huddling with animals and their excrement.
Pierre leads me around a fallen child’s toy, buried under the snow that I could step on. He doesn’t want to be stuck out here with me on a broken leg. The street gutter has patches of ice and he crosses them gingerly. I’ve never seen him fall, even on the iciest of days.
He will sniff a bush or tree for several minutes while I stomp my feet and blow warm air on my hands, which always makes them feel colder the minute the freezing night rushes in. I pull my collar tighter.
We turn right, for turning left takes us into the ghetto, where just a few blocks away, girls and their dogs don’t walk alone at night. I’d worry more for him than me. He’d try to protect me and someone would kick him. We go right.
A gentle mewing perks his attention. Our neighbor’s cat is on the prowl. What she’ll find in this frozen urban tundra is beyond me, but she goes out every night without fail and arrives home in the morning to rub against their door where she sleeps the day away, and excites our dogs to go OUT for their morning walk. Morning walks are promising, invigorating. There is an aura of finality with these evening walks, as though they are limited in number, finite in scope.
We tour the block and take the last turn towards home. The sidewalk has been plowed a few days ago and a fresh dusting of snow creates a palette upon which two sets of footprints trail away until they end at the door tucked between shops - a girl and her dog’s.