Cover Photo: A Day With Max by Lauren Suval

A Day With Max

Two sesame seeds are lodged in Tom’s teeth as he eats his bagel on a bench in Union Square park. The cream cheese, which warmed in the sun, smears his lips and mingles with the sweat from his pores.

It’s a humid Saturday in June, and Tom desperately needs a reprieve from work. His boss recently hired summer interns. What was once a small start-up tech company is now growing, and gone are the days where Tom could sit at his desk immersed in online scrabble games with Pete. Pete is his uncle who’s retired; who’s living in a quaint coastal town by Kennebunkport, Maine.

Tom wipes the sweat from his dark brown curls that sweep his forehead. He’s been meaning to get a haircut. He undoes the first two buttons of his red plaid shirt. He takes several big gulps of water from his thermos. He peers to his right and smiles.

He adores Max, the friendly black lab that’s been in the family for 10 years. So much in fact, that when he moved into his studio, he sheepishly asked his parents if he can take Max with him.

Tom’s not one for relationships, romantic or otherwise. He’s not one for the social scene. He likes to read mysteries. He likes to play computer games. He likes girls but hasn’t been involved with one for more than a few months. Katie from New Jersey. They met on the Internet. She never really understood him.

Hey boy, do you want to go for a walk around the square? Or maybe we can just sit here for a while; it’s a hot one today.

Two women pass by and stare at Tom with peculiarity. He nods, as if to say hello, as if to say, I’m used to women staring at me peculiarly; it’s okay.

***

Tom prepares a light dinner with the fresh produce he picked up from the farmer’s market. He doesn’t like to label himself. He doesn’t like to say he’s a vegetarian, but he can’t pinpoint the last time he had a steak.

He’ll always recall that savory steak dinner he had with his dad, of course. It was right after they brought home Max from the shelter. We rescued a pup today, bud. Let’s go out to J & R’s to celebrate.

Tom and his dad gorged on porterhouse steaks, cooked medium-rare, and selected creamed spinach and buttery baked potatoes as their sides. Tom was 20 years-old, technically underage, but his father treated him to a tall glass of Hofbrau. It’s the best beer here, his dad said.

Tom always wanted a dog. A dog wouldn’t mock him, wouldn’t judge him, wouldn’t abandon him. A dog would be a constant companion.

Tom stands over his sink and rinses the lettuce, the cherry tomatoes, the carrots. He sprinkles the salad with goat cheese and tops it off with a raspberry vinaigrette. 

He eats at the tiny table in the corner as he plays a trivia game on his phone, content with Max beside him, licking the soles of his feet.

***

Tom flips through the channels before bed. Nothing particular catches his eye, but he figures he can always binge on a Netflix show. Lately, episodes of The Office have been played on loop.

Do you wanna watch The Office with me, Max? We can watch it after I give you your dinner.

He reaches out for his dog, playfully, and pulls him into an embrace. Tom knows he can count Max in for The Office. He can count on him for anything, really.

Tom checks his watch. It’s almost 9 pm, and he always receives a call from his mother at 9, regardless of whether or not he’s home. These days, he usually is.

I had a relaxing day. Work has been nuts lately, so I just wanted to sit outside and do nothing.

Did you call Annie's daughter? I really think you two would hit it off.

I don’t know, mom. Maybe. Maybe I’ll call her. Blind dates seem horribly awkward.

It’s just that it must be hard living alone in the city. I know Mike’s now in Boston, and Uncle Pete’s been at the house in Maine, and your Dad and I can’t make it in as often as we’d like. Annie said Jennifer has a great place on the east side. She’s still living with her roommate from college. She’s antsy to meet new people.

Tom knows his mom means well, but he’s not up for a monologue on how he needs to meet people. He has a lot on his plate already, and he’s in no rush for encounters that make his social anxiety skyrocket.

Mom, I have to get going. I’m kind of tired, and I’m going to give Max his dinner.

There’s a noticeable pause on the other end of the line. Tom can tell his Mom doesn’t know what to say.

Oh, honey.

He hears a distinct change of tone. His mother’s voice seems shaky. It gets like that when she’s about to cry.

Tom, I’m worried about you. Did you call Doctor Cohen yet?

Mom, we’ve been over this. I don’t like talking to therapists.

I know it was very hard when we had to put Max down. I’m just very worried about you.

Tom feels his entire body tense up, with intensity, but only for a second. He takes a deep breath in and decides it’s about that time to end their phone conversation.

Mom, I’m sorry, I really have to go.

***

Tom turns his fan on high and lies down. It’s dark in the bedroom, but his computer screen casts a soft light, a subtle antidote to the darkness.

Tom closes his eyes and begins to drift off to sleep. He thinks happy thoughts. Happy thoughts about his good day with Max.

Lauren Suval studied print journalism and psychology at Hofstra University, and she is a writer based in New York. Her work has been featured on Psych Central, Thought Catalog, Catapult Community, and other online publications. Lauren's e-book “Coping With Life’s Clutter” and her latest book, “The Art Of Nostalgia,” a collection of personal essays, can both be found on Amazon. She loves to be followed on Twitter @LaurenSuval and on Facebook @LaurenSuvalWriting.