Ess Wakes Up on a Monday
Ess woke up feeling weird, which wasn't a weird thing. It wasn't unusual, is what I mean. She's always had a strange relationship with sleep - and like any other private ritual, she has no idea that her experience is different than everyone else's. If someone told you that facing the shower head while showering is ludicrous and irresponsible behavior, you’d have to accept it. What do you know? How could you ever know? Without asking.
Her relationship with sleep was just that - a relationship. Like with a person. She'd always personified sleep. It wasn't a coping mechanism, it wasn't a story that her mother told her in lieu of Goodnight Moon - it was just what it was. Sleep was a platonic friend. Sleep had blue eyes and wore the same T shirt every day, just in different colors. She'd never known sleep to lose his temper, but he was a big believer in passive aggression - which drives Ess crazy, let me tell you. Sleep's name is Gary.
I know. It's a terrible name for something that shouldn't even have a name. I know.
On this particular morning, Ess had climbed slowly and clumsily out of her dream to find her roommate sitting in her - Ess's - chair, casually pawing through the contents of the upper left drawer of her - Ess's - desk. She felt the familiar pulse at the nape of her neck, and waited patiently for it to pass, like she knew it would. It did.
"Can I help you."
Ess hated waking up any way other than alone. And that's not like, an intimacy issue. She's just particular about sleep. About Gary.
"What kind of girl -“ This is Leo talking - "What kind of girl doesn't have a single fucking bobby pin. Honestly."
"Good morning, Leo."
"I question your womanhood on a daily basis. I hope you know that." He had moved on to the middle drawer. He pushed aside old bills and dead Sharpies, loose tampons and obsolete phone chargers. Looking for a bobby pin, apparently.
"That's fine." Ess was still horizontal. She pressed her forefinger into the inner corner of her eye, then looked at her finger. Big eye booger today. "Can you not, though? Can you give me like, five minutes?"
"I just need a bobby pin."
"You're not going to find one. They hurt my head." Leo stopped searching, and hung his head dramatically.
He pushed his black bangs off of his dumb face, and in one surprisingly agile moment threw his skinny frame in Ess's direction, on the bed. He landed face down on the comforter, and as her mattress gave an unpleasant lurch she finally dismissed all hopes of waking up on a Monday morning the way she had originally intended - alone, refreshed, her hair pin straight and not with that slept-on look, so she could get away with skipping the shower. Leo moaned into the duvet.
Ess fought heroically against taking the bait, but knew it was coming. Whether she bit or not.
"I think Brynn is cheating on me." The words were muffled by feathers and cotton and were barely audible, but she heard them. “Did you hear me?"
There was a one hundred percent chance that Brynn was cheating on Leo, maybe ninety-nine. But that’s a whole different discussion, and besides, you don’t even know who Brynn is yet. You’ve probably inferred that she’s Leo’s shitty girlfriend. This is accurate, and it's also all you need to know about that right now, maybe ever. Either way, I’m proud of you. Inferring like that.
“What does any of this have to do with you needing a bobby pin. That’s my first question.” Leo sighed for what was probably the sixteenth time since he’d woken up that day. Without a word, he sat up and left the room. Offending Leo enough for him to storm out wasn’t Ess’s number one choice on the list of ways to be rid of him, but she wasn’t feeling particularly generous this morning, and quickly made peace with it. Leo came rushing back about eight seconds later, though, so none of that reasoning was even necessary. He was carrying a box that was the size of a loaf of bread.
Back on the bed, Leo shook the box gently. Then he sniffed it. Then he rubbed it against his cheek. Hand to God, he whispered something into its heart-shaped lock.
“What are you doing. What is this. Now is really not a good time.” Ess finally sat up completely, and got a good look at the box. It was a simple box, made of wood, with silver inlays around the base and adorning the initials set into the cover. Ess was almost sure of two things - that it belonged to Brynn, and that it would play music if opened.
“This is Brynn’s.” said Leo. Then a dramatic pause.
“It plays music when you open it."
“I thought it might."
“I need it to be open.” Ess looked at the initials on the box. Big, silver, filigreed letters. It was one of those fancy monogram things where the surname initial is in the middle, and huge. It occurred to Ess that she didn’t know Brynn’s last name, even though the girl had been essentially living in her apartment for the better part of two years.
“Break up with her,” to which Ess added, helpfully, “there are paperclips in the junk drawer.” Leo launched into the story of his suspicions of infidelity, shaking the box throughout, and his quacking mixed with the jumbling of probably human teeth necklaces in the jewelry bread box served as pretty good background noise as Ess realized what time it was and started making vertical moves.
She couldn’t quite remember the dreams she had just had, they were falling away from her with every waking second, but she could tell that whatever the dream was, it had stressed her out. Some sort of weird mix of stress and relief. Like being told you’ve got a terminal disease and seventeen minutes later being told that they read the results wrong, you’re fine, and behind this door there are puppies. You can’t see even see the floor, for the puppies.
Speaking of puppies, Ess was facing a completely jam-packed day. Her job was a thankless one, mostly because her customers were never really around to thank her, which was the whole reason she had a business in the first place. That reads sort of like a riddle, doesn’t it? Are you trying to figure out what she does for a living? You may have guessed. I’ve left a bulky set of clues for you.
Leo was still buzzing in the background as Ess pulled on her walking clothes and laced up her well worn boots. Whenever there was a lull in the buzz she’d toss Leo an “uh huh” or, when pauses or facial cues demanded, an “oh, man, yeah.” Pawing through the sea of cotton that was her bedroom floor, she unearthed her backpack and grabbed the things she’d need for the day. Her backpack was the only part of her work uniform that resembled a uniform - she had designed it herself after attending a small business owner’s seminar in a gymnasium in Gowanus and learned that she needed to establish a brand. It looked pretty much like a normal backpack but it had two little dog ears poking out on either side. She felted them herself, and they fall off all the time. Overall I think it’s cute, but I wouldn’t call it a brand. Whatever it is, it’s working. On this particular Monday she’s got something like twenty seven walks.
That same realization dawned on her and she started packing quicker. Sealed treats. Backup leashes. Dookie bags. She gathered her short hair into a low ponytail, for professional reasons. She told Leo to wrap it up.
He followed her out into the living room, making an effort to in fact wrap it up, bless his heart. On her way to the couch she tapped the single cup coffee machine which she pre-loaded the night before. It being early fall, all of the blankets and throws in the place had come out of their bins and found their way to the couches. Ess threw them all over the goddamn place looking for her thick pocket-sized notebook which had all of her appointments - past, present, and future - scribbled hastily in green ink. It wasn’t just appointment times - it was dog traits and quirks, preferences, addresses, customer alarm codes, insurance contacts, and a whole load of other information that should definitely be in a computer somewhere, or at least copied into a separate notebook and put in a fire safe box. That was another tip from the small business owner’s seminar.
And there it was, between two cushions. She gave her schedule a quick once-over, filled her thermos with one cup’s worth of coffee, and ticked off the final items on her mental checklist. She was all suited up and ready to go when she realized that Leo’s buzzing had stopped, and she was pretty sure that the last thing he said had gone up at the end, tone-wise. A question.
“I said are you going to go to Marge and Olivia’s thing tonight?” Leo was out of sight, in his office, which was quite literally a converted crawl space. When Leo came to look at the place five years earlier he looked at this crawl space saying something about potential, and now he spends his days in essentially an upright fetal position behind a beaded curtain sewing and designing products for his surprisingly successful Etsy shop, YouGoGirl. It’s fashion forward apparel for the progressive male feminist. More on that later, that’s a whole different thing.
“I don’t know. I’ve got a night walk with Zeus. I want to take him to Riverside Park."
“Riverside Park? That’s way uptown. That’s in a whole different borough. That can’t be in your job description."
Ess took a beat, and blinked. “He’s never seen it before.” Leo shrugged but Ess didn’t see it, as he was tucked away in his office. “See ya,” she sang, and she shut the door on the sounds of Leo sticking sharp things into a tiny key hole.
It being barely Fall, Ess was a little surprised to find how chilly it was, and for a second she thought about turning back for an extra layer. Then she remembered the Leo situation and decided that the walking would warm her up. Leo’s quacking had also inspired her to leave the apartment earlier than she needed to, so she strolled towards her first walk in no hurry, which was a pleasant change of pace from her usual flailing speedwalk. She had like twelve minutes to kill. That’s unheard of.
“It’s not completely unheard of."
It’s mostly unheard of. Ess is not great with time management, and she knows it. That’s part of the reason her business runs so smoothly - if she’s eight minutes late to a walk, the dog isn’t going to rat her out. No one will, because no human is around to keep track. I couldn’t even if I wanted to.
Ess took the longer route to her first walk - along the canal. Well, as “along the canal” as she could. They do a pretty good job of keeping people away from the nosesore that is The Gowanus Canal. The thing is a cesspool. It’s a man-made body of stagnant water that has - not one - but two different butthole-related words hidden in its name. The surface of the water is always covered in rainbow oil, and lord knows how many sad, misguided little sea creatures have lost their lives in the murky depths. So far we know about one dolphin and two whales, but let’s be realistic. There’s a Seaworld’s-worth of casualties in there.
Ess likes the canal, though. It feels like it’s hers. Nobody likes it, which means no one seeks it out, which means it belongs to her. She walked as close to beside it as she could, and eventually crossed it, pausing to appreciate it, telling it that it is loved despite the fact that it is not a naturally occurring body of water, despite the fact that humans have to wear hazmat suits to retrieve dead bodies from its chunky soup floor, despite the fact that the recent spike in foot traffic is 100% attributed to the new Whole Foods that opened on third and third, not to some strange new canal cult following. Not out loud, mind you. This is all happening in Ess’s head. She’s not a crazy person.
Whether she knows it or not, Ess spends most of her time figuring out how she can avoid interacting with people. It seems to be less about her disliking people and more about keeping things simple. That’s my theory.
She crossed into Park Slope after spending a few more minutes than usual making eye contact with the canal on the Union Street bridge. Fourth ave, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh - this first pup was right on the park. Fat pumpkins sat on each stair of the brownstone, and after finding the right key on her janitor ring she let herself into the mud room. This is where Spaceship lives.
Not four seconds after she closed the door behind her, a long-haired dachshund came thundering down the hall. Ess dropped her bag and fell to her knees, spread her arms wide to accommodate the hot dog. He made contact and spun around in circles, making leaps as big as his ridiculous little legs would allow, trying to time the pathetic hops with strategically placed licks, preferably somewhere on Ess’s face.
Spaceship was usually the first walk of the day. He’s a precious flower and can’t handle group walks, so Ess comes early on Mondays Wednesdays and Fridays to take him around the block a few times. This isn’t uncommon. Many owners insist on solo walks because they figure their puppylumps will be given more attention than they would on a group walk, and they’re often willing to spring for the extra cost because guilt is what motivates most pet owners to get a walking service in the first place. This wasn't really the case with Spaceship. He's not allowed on group walks because he is a piece of shit.
It wasn’t easy to get Spaceship on Ess’s side. The first walk was a nightmare. Weiner dogs are mean, and that’s something I guess the people in charge of breeding are struggling to breed out. It’s in their nature to be assholes. They’re fiercely loyal, but not in an honorable way, like with German Shepherds. On that first walk, Spaceship wriggled free from his harness, took literal flesh from Ess’s ankle, bee-lined for some street trash, ate a garbage nugget, and waited until they got home to yack it up on the carpet. The entire time he was puking, he never broke eye contact. He was definitely trying to convey something to the effect of well you can fuck RIGHT off, lady.
It took Ess a few weeks to crack him, and after a good amount of trial and error she found that the key was a pre-walk ritual. She had to sit exactly four feet away from him, and put on exactly one half of one episode of The X-Files. For a while she thought she was onto something with YouTube videos of cats being afraid of cucumbers, but that solution was short-lived.
Part of the trusting bond it took so long to build between herself and Spaceship involved never changing the walk route, not even by a block. Ess likes to switch up routes constantly, so it's not ideal. But there's something really neat about gaining the trust and respect of a thing you can't easily communicate with, is her feeling. So they circled the apartment building's block five times, Spaceship peed on the same stuff, he waited patiently for ninety-five seconds in front of a hole he once saw a squirrel disappear into, and they ended up back where they started.
Back inside the brownstone Spaceship hopped onto his little wiener bed while Ess wrote a progress report for his owner, like she always does, for all the dogs. She had designed the report cards herself and printed them on card stock, which she felt gave the whole operation legitimacy. Less like here's Ess; she's here to steal your dog.
Ess’s business is a one-person operation, with no plans to hire up. Fewer people, more simple. And you can’t get fewer people than one people. Personally I think she’d benefit from at least a part-time assistant, but she won’t really hear that. But see - now she’s literally sprinting to her next walk. She’s going to show up to Rocky’s place all sweaty and he’s going to want to lick all the sweat off of her, which will distract him from all of the peeing he needs to be focusing on.
A day’s worth of walks later, Ess found herself letting Zeus lead her out into the crisp Brooklyn night. You can technically take a dog onto the subway if it’s in a bag - but Zeus is a Mastiff and bags are hilariously out of the question. So she takes her chances. The only downside is that bringing a dog onto the subway means people are going to look directly at you, all the time. They’ll look to the dog, then they’ll look to your face. They’ll smile. They’ll get that look that says “I’m about to ask you a question, and as I ask you that question I’m going to touch your dog.” Ess is fine with people touching her dogs - she herself loves touching dogs - she just wishes they’d cut out the talking part. Ess often thinks about how weird it would be if people asked dogs if they could touch their humans.
It was a long ride up to 110th street, especially since she went local. When she finally emerged from the subway station, her phone lit up with texts from Leo, Marge and Olivia. They wanted to know if she’d be coming by at any point, that she definitely should, that it’s actually really fun. She hadn’t forgotten about Marge and Olivia’s party - in fact, she super-remembered it. But there she was, walking along the water with Zeus, wondering if the bottom of the Hudson river had more dead bodies per capita than her Gowanus canal.