Vinyl Cafe Unplugged

Arthur

At five in the morning, on a sticky Tuesday in July, Dave woke up sweating. He reached out with his foot and wasn’t surprised to discover he was alone in bed. He found Morley downstairs, sitting at the kitchen table. She was reading the paper.

“I was hot,” she said.

“Me too,” said Dave, flopping into a chair.

It was cool downstairs. It was cool everywhere in the house except for their bedroom.

“I don’t get it,” said Dave. “I’ll call that guy again.”

The air-conditioner guy came after lunch. He knelt by the vent in the floor of their bedroom.

“It’s working,” he said accusingly.

He was there for five minutes. For this he charged fifty dollars.

But he was right. When you held your hand over the vent, you could feel the cool air. Yet every night they woke up hot.

This was the second time in less than a year that Dave had called a repairman to examine the bedroom vent. They had a guy come in the winter too. In February Dave and Morley kept waking up cold.

In February when the furnace guy came, he held his hand over the vent and said, “Hot air,” as if they were crazy. And then, because Dave insisted, he vacuumed the vent. Half an hour, seventy-five dollars. And still all winter they kept waking up freezing. And now it was summer and they were waking up hot.

It was Sam who figured it out. One night Dave found Sam sitting on the vent in their bedroom.

“What are you doing?” asked Dave.

“It feels good,” said Sam. “The cool air. It’s where Arthur sleeps.”

Arthur the dog.

Arthur the sleeping machine.

Arthur the plug.

“Jesus,” said Dave.

When he was a puppy, Arthur was allowed to sleep on Dave and Morley’s bed. When he got bigger, they tried to move him to the floor and found they had a battle on their hands. They found that no dog in the world was more determined or skilled at insinuating himself onto a bed than Arthur.

They bought him a basket and put it in the hall. Arthur would make a big deal of climbing into his basket every night—circling it neurotically, sighing and grunting as he worried his blanket into a pleasing hump. But as soon as Dave and Morley were breathing rhythmically, Arthur’s head would rise like a periscope and he would slide over the edge of his basket and work his way into the bedroom, keeping low to the ground, as if he were hunting. He would stop a foot short of the bed and cock an ear. If he didn’t like the way one of them was breathing, he would bring his face close to theirs and listen, sometimes for five or ten minutes, staring at them like a priest taking confession, his wet nose only six inches away.

One night Dave woke up when Arthur was in the middle of his reconnaissance. When Dave opened his eyes all he could see were two huge eyeballs glaring back at him. They were so close Dave couldn’t tell these were Arthur’s eyeballs he was looking into. All he could see were two black pupils surrounded by hair. He smelled the sour breath of death that seemed to belong to these eyes and he soared upright, waking Morley with his gasp and sending Arthur bounding to his basket. When Morley opened her eyes, Dave was standing on his pillow pointing at the door.

“The dog,” he said.

Arthur was in his basket, snoring.

“You’re having a dream,” said Morley. “Lie down.”

Dave didn’t get back to sleep for hours.

If Arthur was satisfied Dave and Morley were asleep when he crept into their bedroom, he would lift one paw slowly onto the bed and place it there without moving another muscle. If neither of them stirred, the other paw would go up just as slowly. Then, like a mummy rising from a swamp, Arthur would pull his body onto the bed and settle near their feet with a sigh, taking at first as little space as possible, but slowly unfolding and expanding as the night wore on—as if he were being inflated. He liked to work his body between theirs on his way toward the pillows.

One night in a dream Dave saw himself sleeping on the floor, in the corner of his bedroom, like a child servant from the Middle Ages. He looked at the bed to see who his master was and Dave saw Arthur. Wearing his pajamas. Lying in his spot. Arthur had one paw behind his head and the other resting