There is a straight line of footprints down the center of the road, a story tapped out on the first thin layer of snow. A story of a dog who has wandered off at bedtime. I shine the dimming beam of my flashlight along the pattern in the perfect white.
“Molly!” I call into the darkness ahead, shine the light on the ground, white and smooth and perfect, like icing on a cake. It looks good enough to eat.
This is a familiar sight, I think: pyjamas, boots, winter coat, flashlight, me looking for a dog. Snowflakes like delicate shards of glass glint in the light as they fall through the beam, tick gently off the hood of my coat.
Molly’s tracks pace out a perfect line from our driveway down the middle of the road, disappearing into the darkness at the farthest reaches of the flashlight. Each step has churned up the unblemished snow into a swirl of a footprint. The even spacing of the prints describes the rhythm of her pace as she snuck away under the cover of night. I imagine the bounce in her step, the happy smile on her face as she bopped along thinking she was being so sneaky. “I am black like the shadows and light of foot, they will not be able to find me.”
She didn’t think about footprints. I am pleased with this first snowfall, this blank canvas that betrays plainly Molly’s secret adventure.
I follow her tracks across the road to the neighbours’ driveway and shine the light ahead to see them disappear in a muddle of snow-covered leaves. I stop at the edge of where the smooth snow on the driveway gives way to the uneven patterns made by leaves strewn on grass and I call Molly quietly, imagining my neighbours looking out to see a flashlight scanning across the front of their house.
I listen and hear nothing but the quiet kiss of the tiniest snowflakes pattering on my coat and on the ground. The longer I stand without moving, without saying a word, the more abrasive my voice sounds when I call again, louder this time.
When I listen again, I hear the faint jingle of her collar and the gentle swish of her feet in new fallen snow and shine the flashlight toward the opposite corner of the house from where I stand. Just beyond the fading beam I see a shadow move and I stare at it until I can make out Molly’s shape, those big ears and sure stride. “Come on,” I say, in a stage whisper. She hesitates and I wonder if she is trying to decide if I have actually seen her or if she is still undercover, and if she has been spotted, how much trouble is she in.
I keep it light and airy. “Good girl Molls, let’s go,” I say turning towards home and waving my arm in a hurry-up fashion. She joins me at a trot and then pulls ahead on the road. “Let’s go home Molly,” I call, keeping my flashlight trained on her diminishing figure as it slowly seeps back into the darkness.
When she sails right past our driveway as though my being there means this is an authorized adventure and therefore not yet over, I yell, “Molly!” short and crisp. She stops in her tracks, swings sideways on the road and looks back in my direction and I imagine an innocent yet incredulous expression on her face. “Home!” I say pointing with my whole arm up the driveway. “Fine,” she seems to say as she turns and joins me and we crunch over the snow together up the path to the door.