The past is a vast attic -- the dusty toy, the old album, the forgotten fury, must mixing with desire.

Some experiences glow all the brighter for being gone. Youth is like that.

Years take away the gawky pain, leave only the sweet taste of first times.

Other moments are so bitter that no number of years will dull the sorrow. "If you want to keep the beer REAL cold," moans a country and western song, "put it right next to my ex-wife's heart."

But we are more faithful than we know to the things we leave behind, to the spent emotions, the discounted dreams, to the fears we've fought and the lovers we've left. Here than are a few tales of former times, ornaments from the attic, shadows of the future.

I used to see this dog that was about a million years old. I'd see it when I visited my friends Peter and Diane. The dog belonged to the people who lived in the downstairs of their house. I never saw the people, just the dog. lIt was the oldest dog in the world, so old you couldn't tell what breed it was, the way you look at very old people and you can't tell what race they are. w

In the warm weather it lived in a doghouse out back. It had worn a semicircular rut in front of the doghouse, a couple of inches deep at the end of its chain. There was a kind of dingy precision about the whole scene, like a barracks. I tried feeling sorry for it a couple of times, and scratching it behind the ears, but I got the impression it thought I was a jerk for patronizing it, like people in nursing homes when you say good morning to them because you want to cheer them up.

In the winter, it lived in a box in the garage with a lightbulb on, all night, to keep it warm. I remember being in there one night with Peter and peeking into the box. There was something weirdly ferocious about this dog, even though it just lay there, its little black lips shining in the bulb light, and its fur full of shadows. It had rheumy eyes, and it looked back at me with the resignation a dog or a person gets when being ferocious doesn't make it anymore.

Spooky. I kept thinking about it.

It had the kind of spiky fur that hasn't been brushed in 14 years, so I figured that there used to be kids who took care of it, but they grew up and left home, and the only reason the owner kept it alive was so when the kids would call, and they asked about the dog, he could say "same as ever."

When other people asked why he kept it around, he'd say: "For the kids."

It never barked, it walked in that rut at the end of its chain, and it had that old-soldier dignity.

One day I asked Peter about the dog.

It turned out the dog spooked him too. Except he'd figured it out, and when he told me, it explained everything: "The ex-German Shepherd."