The town of Confidence was connected to the outside world by only one two-lane road. Its residents had always liked it this way. It meant that drifters never passed through, because they would just have to go back the way they came. Certainly, the town would host the occasional vagabond looking to settle down somewhere where no one would recognize him, but they would always move on once they realized what little Confidence had to offer. This didn't mean that the road into and out of the town wasn't well worn. It saw its share of traffic. There weren't very many employment options in Confidence, so anyone with a family to support would most likely have to travel to the relatively nearby industrial town of White Sands, which wasn't white, but more of a dense gray with the smoke from the factories, and had no sand at all save for that little bit under the swings at the playground on the edge of the schoolyard.
They called the road Cat's Creek Way, named for Cat's Creek, the tiny streaming waterway that ran parallel to it, and was mostly used for the dumping of sewage, though occasionally some of the teenagers in Confidence and White Sands would cut school and hang out in the woods, on the stream's bank, getting high and drunk, and skinny dipping in the middle of the afternoon. Cat's Creek Way was essentially the town's spinal cord. It quite literally kept the town alive.
Make no mistake, Confidence wasn't what one would call a "lively" town, but it was alive. That is, people lived there, so it stood to reason that it could be called "alive." Most of the town's residents were failed artists. Unknown painters, writers, actors and the like, commiserated in the tiny hole to escape from bad reviews and financial failure. They no longer painted, or wrote, or acted. In fact, they aspired to very little and worked menial, though decent-paying jobs in the factories of White Sands, complacent in their collective mediocrity.
Consequently, the town, though pleasant, was never really pretty, and, though its residents were presumably culturally aware at one time or another, they had since removed art from their lives. Few of the homes contained books, and the ones that did only had the occasional set of encyclopedias and useful reference books. Even fewer housed televisions, and you could count on one hand the number of paintings in the entire town.
Everyone had arrived in Confidence via cities like Paris and New York and Los Angeles, seeking escape and refuge from the lives that they had held there. Much like these larger cities, Confidence had seemingly become a living organism that moved and breathed, but in the case of Confidence, suffered from severe depression, and did little else.
So, when Ida Rosen - a former soap opera actress who never amounted to anything else, announced over breakfast at Ingrid's Diner, that she had lost her pet Doberman the night before - an unwashed mop of matted hair with four legs, half a tail, and one good ear, called Bitsy, who had become a sort of town mascot - no one was surprised or deeply hurt, or astonished, including Ida herself, who stated the words without so much as an inflection for the dramatic:
"Bitsy ran away last night."
There were no gasps or fainting spells. Time didn't stop. Several emotionless faces looked at Ida blankly for a moment, then looked away, and returned to their breakfasts of scrambled eggs or bacon or pancakes. Nothing more was said about Bitsy. Everyone had come to expect disappointment and rejection. Perhaps this was the first time they'd been rejected by a dog, but nevertheless, they felt the same about it, as if it were a former agent or critic, or lover.
The children all thought, though no one dared to say it, that one couldn't blame the dog for wanting to escape the sleepy colorless town. The kids were practically born waiting for the moment they could leave. Every time someone did arrive from the outside world, they were berated with questions about people and places from which the adults of Confidence had tried so hard to shield them.
Such was the case when the one-hit wonder of a writer, Charlie Drake, rolled into town. He had published a critically acclaimed, though marketing-impaired novel approximately twenty years prior. It was an allegorical fiction of sorts that equated the Salem witch trials with McCarthyism. "Quite an unimaginative topic brought to task in an eerie yellow light," the critics called it. But no one cared, and after what little money he'd earned from its publication was gone, so too was his Greenwich Village flat and the life that he had acquired with it. Worse even, now, at the age of forty-eight, he had a chronic case of writer's block, and couldn't create even the most banal follow-up to his promising debut. Thus, somehow he ended up in Confidence with all of his possessions on his back, twenty bucks in his pocket, a thirst for cheap vodka, and a penchant for playing soccer in the nude.
All of this had seemed to enthrall young Samantha Dell, who, at the age of seventeen was still a virgin and looking to remedy the situation. And who herself, as the daughter of a former freelance poet, wished nothing more than to make a living as a writer, but had not as of yet tried her hand at the craft for fear of the damage she might do to her father, Andrew Dell, the former freelance poet in question, with a habit of wallpapering his house with rejection slips from literary magazines. Needless to say, the presence of a real-life writer like Charlie Drake, with stories about New York City, and the literary world, was more than young Samantha's virginity could bear. Nine months later, the emergence of the result of the affair coincided with the completion of Charlie's long-awaited sophomore effort, entitled simply "Confidence." Though he remained comically aloof in television interviews as to the source of his inspiration for the psychological thriller, it remained on the New York Times best-seller list for the three weeks directly following the trio's first summer vacation as a family. During this time, they left behind their Manhattan condominium, and headed west. Samantha tried desperately to write a novel about this experience that summer, but soon realized that her efforts at becoming a writer were in vain due to the oversight of never having learned how to read.
Yes, certainly, no one could blame Bitsy for wanting to leave Confidence behind as quickly as possible.
So life - if one could call it that - went on without the town mascot for quite some time. The citizens of Confidence continued to go to work in the morning at the factories in White Sands, and come home at night via the one two-lane road that led into town. In the evenings they would sit on their rotting porches watching the sun go down, and play poker with the neighbors, trying in vain to avoid thinking about what their lives might have been like had they actually been good at something.
It was however, quite unfortunate that the one to find the dog happened to be Emily Walsh - a manic depressive former painter whose talent died on the day she became a widow ten years earlier. The story around town was that her husband had been run over by the "L" train in Chicago, near Adams and Wabash. The details about how the young photographer ended up on the tracks in the first place were somewhat grainy, though he was known to be relatively reckless in the name of his art, and was found mangled with a crushed 1960's model Canon in what used to be his left hand.
So, it was understandable that the widow Emily Walsh would have certain sensitivities to the sight of Bitsy's flattened corpse lying in the middle of Cat's Creek way. She was on her way back into town from working the late shift at Vanguard, the paper making company where she'd been employed for eight years, and stopped her beat up Chevrolet when she saw the dog's body lying in the middle of the road back into Confidence.
Bitsy, a Doberman, however, was simply too large for the hysterical widow Walsh to lift. She turned her car's flashers, and stepped to the side of the road, crying and waiting for someone to drive down the deserted road, but no one came. Emily looked at the dog again, and something was different. Her tears stopped almost immediately as she considered the beauty of the canine.
Bitsy lay there in the moonlight with shadows from the trees at the edge of the road crossing her body in disarray. There was no order to the pattern of light and shadow on the dog's fur. It hadn't been there long, she was certain, as it hadn't begun to smell or decay, and no birds had picked at the broken flesh. Thin streams of dried blood matted the mange around its neck.
Emily Walsh felt the overwhelming urge to paint this picture.
She climbed back into her old Chevrolet, and steered carefully around the corpse, and back into town, where she gathered everything she owned, and left the keys to her tiny rented house lay on top of the stove. No one in the town of Confidence heard from Emily Walsh again.
It was several days before anyone moved the body out of the street. They all drove around and past the corpse at least twice a day, and no one bothered to move it so that it wouldn't interfere with the traffic into and out of down. Some even ran over it a second time, and a third, and a thirtieth. It just simply wasn't a priority for the citizens of Confidence. By the time the body was finally moved, it wasn't really a body anymore. Rather, it was several broken pieces of bone and skin that were dumped into Cat's Creek, which of course, continued flowing like nothing had ever occurred.
A strange thing happened after the death of Bitsy, however. The citizens of Confidence began disappearing in the same fashion that the widow Walsh had on the night the dog was first discovered. Without a word, they packed their homes and families, and in a rush of inspiration, left Confidence behind in search of something bigger. Eventually, the town fell apart, leaving only empty houses and shops with no people to fill them.
From then on, whenever one of the former citizens of Confidence would hear the name of another, and whenever their achievements were made public, as they often were, they felt a connection to one another, and to the town where they'd once lived, and to the dog that died in the middle of the road that kept the town alive.
about the author
Vanessa Molden is a 22-year-old writer and editor currently living in New Albany, Indiana. She is a recent graduate of the English department at the University of Louisville. Her work has appeared in The Giles Corey Press and The Poetry Explosion Newsletter. She is currently putting together her first collection of poetry and short stories, to be released in Spring 2005.