Blame the Dogs

There were three dogs in the house: A yellow lab too timid to leave the basement, a black lab who stumbled as if intoxicated, and a clingy German shepherd sick with cancer.

“The dogs are disturbed,” I said.

“Be glad you haven’t met the children,” he said.

We had spent two days in the country dog-sitting for his friend, and dissecting our back and forth, yes and no, unable to start or to let go. The previous time we had left the house determined to part until back in the city we had resumed our coming and going, or, to be more precise, he had resumed his going and coming.

“These dogs want to tear us apart,” I said.

He was sitting in the living room going over some work as I went over my need. The shepherd followed me everywhere, and its clinginess irritated me. I suspected it smelled my cancer, and I rejected the camaraderie. The animal’s ribs were visible through its fur, and its pointed muzzle enabled it to slip through any barrier I put between us. No matter how I tried, I could not be rid of it.

He said, “The dog is sick. Try to be nice.”

I told him that I was sick, and to try to be nice.

He said, “You’d be perfect for me, but it isn’t there.”

“So much for perfection,” I said.

He said, “I wanted this to work out. I kept hoping that it would.”

I told him we should never have come here.

He said, “It wouldn’t have made a difference.”

He lured the dog close with tenderness, but it was me the animal desired while I would have given anything for his attentive care. I chose to blame the dogs.

The outpatient facility was a monument to deception: The attendants radiated optimism, the anonymous décor was indistinguishable from that of an upscale office, the brochures bore illustrations of serene people in pristine natural settings. Chemotherapy was not mentioned, only administered. I refused to interact with other patients, but I listened to their hopeful litanies. If the right attitude was the cure, I was dead. I was alone in an aseptic room; the IV dripped the dark liquid into my vein. It destroyed both cancerous and non-cancerous cells, and while we were at it there was more I wished it would destroy.

“Cravings for chocolate, I’m with you,” the nurse said. “But what’s wrong with hopes and dreams?”

The German shepherd was relentless. It pursued me while I inspected the house to make sure all was in order as we prepared to leave. My repulsion for the dog was not different from his repulsion for me. Unwanted love is repugnant. I despised my need reflected in the dog’s eyes. I shook the shepherd off as I walked out. I did it with the cruelty he reserved for humans, but detested when used against animals.

I wanted to be with him but he was not sure at first, and when he finally was sure, he was sure it was not me. We left the house and promised to be civil to each other during the ride back. It was hard to pull off, and I no longer had the dogs to blame.