“Yang” by Helen Doremus

It is awake in the chill morning air, dripping cold rainwater off of its snout to the cement below. It sees the stretch of parked cars, the fence ringing The Building which breaks only to force visitors past its stony paws, the sway of trees in the distance — all of this is discernible within its fixed focus, its hundred yard stare of perpetual vigilance. Its mouth is cracked open, a permanent smile full of teeth, tasting the world as it blows by. The ball, the trapped orb, below its foot warns all that they too might find themselves so pressed down if they threaten The Building and what lies within. 

Golden Chinese lion dog with ball under its paw
Photo by Helen Doremus

At the corner — the very furthest pocket — of its gaze, is its partner, its mate, its equal and opposite, the one who stands guard at the other side of the break in the fence. The shape of this mate is suggestion only, transfixed curve and sinew, open lips with soundless roar, equal and opposite forepaw raised. But here a change — beneath the mate’s spread claws is a whelp of their making, a promise of continued vigilance through generations and an assurance of care, the balance to the oppression of its own claw crushing the globe underfoot. 

It knows these things in the way it knows it must protect The Building, knows it must be watchful against intruders and interlopers. It has heard the account of the whelp from visitors and it has cast the pocket of its eye to its mate on the loneliest nights and the most desolate of days. It sees the trees, the fence, the cement and the cars, but it cannot rightly see the mate. That is not its duty. It knows the mate is present, the shape exists in the corner of its wide, watchful eye. It feels the mate’s presence as solidly as the ball beneath its paw, but it cannot cast its eye upon them. It must keep watch.

It breathes the cold air without breathing and knows that the rain must fall on its mate as it falls upon its own furled brow. It feels the water upon its untwitching nose and cannot brush it away, cannot find cover and cannot dry itself until the sun returns and bakes away the water from its back. The mate’s paw shelters the whelp, but it cannot shelter the mate. They are locked together, watchful under the broad sky, unshivering in the cold and unwilting in the heat. They keep guard when mortal eyes fall heavy with sleep, when dust and fog cloud the sight of lesser watchmen.

It lets itself be aware of its mate, in the silence of the morning rain and its dim gray light. The shape of the mate is like its own, mirrored perfectly and complimentarily. The sense of the mate at its shoulder, across the breadth of the entrance to The Building, is the most powerful temptation — temptation to look away, to look upon what it cannot see and behold its like in purpose and pride, is overwhelming. Just once. To look upon the mate and the whelp, just once, the desire builds like a scream that cannot work its way out.

It strains, it pushes and pulls within itself. It tears at its own eyes, claws at the back of its eternal vision to turn — turn one inch, one microscopic shade of a degree — toward the mate. It heaves its great shoulders against the confines of itself, frantically flexes unmoving claws to find purchase against the pedestal it rests upon. 

No leverage can be found. Its vision is fixed, its great bulk as frozen as the air over its curled tongue. A silent whine works its way up and down its broad throat, but the stillness of the morning air is unshattered. It feels the confinement, the distance, the unbearable loneliness of being beside one another and yet never together. It is only for the watch and the pressing down and the conflict. The globe beneath its great paw is a mockery of what it is to have.

The sun pierces the gray of the clouds, the shrouded veil over The Building giving way. And in the water that runs down its mate’s frozen coat, there is the impression of a shift, a ghost of movement in the weird light of morning. It sees this, from the corner of its wide, watchful eye, and it hopes.

Helen Doremus is a writer of scripts and prose, a filmmaker, and a creative jack-of-all-trades. A proud member of the ace community, Helen’s writing often explores themes of identity and the messiness of self-determination and human connection. She finished the long-deferred degree she started at St. John’s College in 2003 at Antioch University in 2019, with a concentration in Creative Writing and a mostly unintentional minor in Psychology. In between, she worked behind counters, up ladders, seated at desks, and walking out along deer trails, as everything from an ice cream scooper to an associate at a real estate development office. A native of Fort Worth, Texas, she now lives and works in Los Angeles, California.

Featured Photo by Helen Doremus.