Once, a man I loved left my dog alone in a car with an apple pie. The man had baked it himself. As our friends climbed from the backseat, the man took the warm, saggy-bottomed aluminum tin from my lap and slid it onto the dash. It bumped the windshield and blew a swift feather boa of frost up the glass.

Our friends slammed the doors and shivered under the lamppost where the parking lot snow was plowed hard and gray and out of the way. The man and I overheard their banter and wanted to be part of it.

Casey danced on the backseat and scribbled the window with her wet nose.

“You go,” I said behind my scarf. “We can’t leave her alone with a pie.”

“She’s a good dog!” He twisted in his parka to throw one elbow over the back of the seat so he could look my Border Collie in the eye and warn her, “Casey. Don’t. Eat. The Pie.”

Casey closed her mouth and averted her eyes.

He unwound himself. “Okay, let’s go.”

Pennsylvania in deep winter gets dark early and cold; the windows fogged fast with orgiastic apple-pie steam. I said, “She’s gonna eat that pie.”

He exited the car and stretched tall. The man was known for great apple pie. He was bringing it by our host’s special request. “C’mon,” he said. “Don’t kill the mood.”

I stayed in my seat, folded in my coat, and considered how Casey had gotten to be a good dog, and this wasn’t the way. “She’ll think we don’t want it.”

He ducked to look me in the face. “Let’s go,” he said, and he stood outside the car, staring back in at Casey and me deep in our good-dog groove. He couldn’t see how we’d gotten there. It had taken eight years of heeling, sitting, and staying, eight years of walking in rain, snow, and windy night, eight years of pairing up at the window because hers was a trustworthy bark. She and I had exchanged more Frisbees and forgiveness than anyone could count. 

I raised my eyebrows. “You’re asking too much.”

He slammed his door hard enough to rock the car, walked around, opened my door, and reached for my arm.

“Okay.” I shrugged and got out.

Laughing with our friends, we walked into the Wawa and bought ice cream for the vanishing pie.

As we returned to the steamed-up car, we saw the silhouette of a Border Collie minding her own business in the back seat. We caught the crinkled glint of the disposable pie pan on the dash.

“See?” said the man I loved. “She’s a good dog.”

But when he opened the door, the pan was empty except for a sickle-moon of well-licked crust jammed in the bend. Casey wagged uneasily in the back seat, hunkering under the weight of her windfall. At the sight of her worried eye, our friends and I laughed, but the man yanked her out and beat her right there on the wet blacktop.

I was in such shock—we all were—no one tried to stop it. Maybe it was over quick.

Casey forgave him right away. She rode to the dinner party dancing on the back seat burping cinnamon. I rode grim and glaring at my own reflection in the passenger-side window, hearing myself say things I didn’t say aloud—and that was back when I still thought you could talk about things.

The man I loved had a habit of scaring himself thinking I was going to leave him. I was a good woman, and I told him the God’s-honest truth: I loved him and would never leave him. One morning, about a year later, he got so scared he grabbed me by the hair.

Then, like the pie, I was gone.

Lisa Lanser Rose is the founder of the award-winning cooperative blog, The Gloria Sirens, which promotes women in the literary arts. She’s the author of a memoir, For the Love of a Dog, and her novel, Body Sharers, made top-five finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Foundation Award. Other honors include the Briar Cliff Review Nonfiction Award, The Florida Review Editor’s Award, finalist for the South Hampton Review Frank McCourt Memoir Prize, and a Best American Essay Notable Essay. 

Photo by Christina Brobby