After crossing Memorial Drive onto the bank of the Charles, Molly let her quasi girlfriend’s dog off leash. Chowder bounded next to her, limbs flapping against the snow—so puppyish she wanted to push him over. But nothing could annoy her now, not even the stupid dog. She had a day off from the hot dog stand. The air smelled like fire.
She was just wishing the dog away when she became half-aware of the squirrel skittering over the frozen river, making the sound of a rake dragged over plastic. Later she’d wonder why she didn’t turn and face the squirrel, seriously question his purpose on the ice. Did he think he’d buried a nut out there? Had he, actually? Was it floating, swollen, an inch above the river bottom?
There’s a certain kind of character I seem to have a lot of trouble reading. Maybe it’s because I’m intimidated by people like them in real life: anyone, but usually someone fairly young, defended by an air of ironclad self-confidence with little discernible foundation, and armed with withering disdain for everyone else.
In Molly’s case, her self-confidence is an act, since she’s already dodged some emotional outpouring Beth (that’s the quasi-girlfriend) was ready to drop on her. And now she’s here dogsitting in a Harvard dorm where Beth RAs, and she’s none too happy about it. I don’t mind people who hate dogs; I mind people who hate everything. And kill dogs.
Yeah, that’s the inciting incident. Molly doesn’t kill Beth’s dog, exactly, but watches it fall through the ice. I can’t tell if she realizes there’s really nothing she can do (most of us have seen the PSAs about the impossibility of broken-ice rescues), or if she thinks her dislike for the dog is the reason she didn’t try to pull him out. In any case, she spends the rest of the story worrying about what’s going to happen when Beth returns, first by herself with the aid of some White Kush, then with the student who comes by RA Beth’s to report someone smoking pot in the building. Molly’s disdain soars to new heights with him, probably because she’s a Northeastern grad.
I liked the scene with the squirrel – what was it doing out there, besides providing a target for the dog, which helps the story but doesn’t answer the question – but the rest of the story went by me. I’m probably going to discover, at some later date, that it’s a sensitive portrayal of the conflicted female psyche torn between independence and attachment, or a profound statement on relationships between lovers of unequal professional status. To me it just felt like one of the art school kids sneering at me in the elevator because I obviously don’t measure up. I have enough adequacy issues in real life without absorbing them from fiction.
This is the second story I’ve read from Conklin (who, by the way, is a Harvard grad). I quite enjoyed her “Rockaway Beach” for its use of language. I wonder if my level of discomfort with Molly was also a product of her use of language; if so, it’s a feature, not a bug.