Still Life with Dog
The dog leapt out at her that afternoon so quickly that it took Andrea by surprise. Andrea had been the one to insist on going to see the new exhibit at the Walker. They wandered through the broad white rooms together, Dylan’s hand pressed into her shoulder, his fingers holding her like a warning. He was remarking on the composition of a Van Gogh, which was code, as were all his statements these days, for “Why won’t you say you love me?” while Andrea studied a Gauguin and the skin tone of the islanders, wondering whether she should buy a print for her bathroom, if the color of the women’s skirts would match the lime-green of the new trim.
“Look at it,” Dylan was saying. “Don’t you think it shows poor judgment?”
Andrea turned to face him and looked deliberately into his left eye. He had brown eyes, the irises flecked attractively with gold, the lashes long and dark. Andrea’s lashes were already long and dark. When the partners at her law firm prepped clients for the courtroom they always counseled them to look the district attorney directly in the eye, as a signal that they were telling the truth.
“I thought you went for the artists,” her stepmother, Lisa, had said the first time Andrea told her about Dylan.
When Dylan gave her massages, he always pressed too hard. Andrea never told him this. She supposed he was trying to press out the secrets that lay alongside muscle and bone, to see what she carried in those endless interior spaces. All he really did was leave bruises beneath the skin.
“I think it’s sensual,” Andrea said of the Van Gogh. “Look at the way he layers on the paint. It’s a physical process. I think art should be physical.”
None of this was Andrea’s opinion. Randy had said all this to her two weekends ago, as they walked through this same exhibit.
“Massage is physical,” Dylan said. The lashes blinked, closing slowly over the gold-flecked iris, and then opened again. It seemed a question. She knew by this that he wanted to go back to their room at the bed-and-breakfast, which he had rented because she told him her apartment smelled like paint. They would lie on the lace-edged sheets of the tester bed and make love while the sun fell through the sheer gingham-checked curtains, curtains Andrea would never choose for her own bedroom. Andrea disliked making love in daylight, and this was an intimacy upon which Dylan always insisted. For her, daylight turned everything into a performance. She liked a rich, warm darkness, a closeness that heightened her senses and made her think of the dizzying underscent of autumn, a past-ripe earth under fallen leaves.
“I thought you wanted me to get therapy,” she had said to Lisa, in response to the remark about Dylan’s work.
“I meant, you know, see a doctor, talk to somebody.”
“I don’t want to talk to a doctor,” Andrea had said, quite reasonably. “They’ll just make everything about my mother, and everything is not about my mother.”
They turned to go, Dylan’s fingers prodding her shoulder blades, and there was the dog, staring her in the face. It was a gruesome sort of surprise, and it was a blue sort of dog, the kind of dog Matisse would have imagined. Outlined in green, with red-orange eyes, it leapt out of the canvas at her, a Cerberus of bold shapes and primary colors, with jeering eyes, a lolling tongue, flexed body and frothing mouth. Andrea felt the shock of recognition drive all the way through her spine. She hadn’t thought about that dog in years. She had hoped to leave it there in the ditch, never mention it, let it fall into the dark silence that had grown between her and her best friend when Andrea refused to drive back and look in the ditch for the body.
“What?” Dylan said, feeling her reaction before she did. “What?”
“Nothing,” Andrea said. “Let’s go back,” she said, referring to the bed-and-breakfast. None of Andrea’s lovers had ever seen the inside of her apartment. She wasn’t concerned that any one of them should find out about the others; she just liked her privacy. She didn’t want some man bringing in art, flowers, food, his presence, things that would linger there after she had left him.
“You know, Andrea,” Lisa was fond of saying, “you’re bound to run into Number One someday while you’re with Number Two, or maybe it will be Number Two and Number One, and then it will be over, for all three of you.”
Andrea waited for it as they left the Walker. She’d thought a lot about the confrontation, how it must happen. In her head it was always the same scenario, even if the faces of the men were different. She would be at the art museum one Saturday and, coming out of the architecture exhibit, Randy would see her with Dylan and see the way he stood so possessively beside her. Or Randy would see her with the guitar player, his hand on her shoulder, or the cook, his thumb brushing the back of her neck. It was always Randy who found them, Randy recognizing the post-coital flush that spread over them both, Randy realizing that while she sat for his portraits and told him about her brother and her father and her arguments with Lisa, she had an entirely separate life of which he knew nothing.
In the fantasy she was always wearing white. It was a difficult fantasy, since Randy, though a painter, did not often come to the museum. But she wanted the Walker Art Center behind her, broad and square-cornered, as the eyes of the two men met. Understanding would dawn over both their faces, accompanied by indignation and contempt from the one, hurt and bewilderment from the other. A moment of tension would settle over the three of them as they glared at each other with uncertainty and shame. Andrea would say, gracefully and clearly, as though she were Ingrid Bergman, “It seems there are one too many people here,” and she would leave, walking alone to her car, and drive straight home leaving her hairbrush and favorite skirt behind. It was always best to make a clean exit.
Later, making her way home, Andrea scanned the sides of the street carefully. The thing she would miss about Dylan was shopping with him; she liked going to his co-op, picking out organic vegetables and biodegradable soap. She would not miss the way he liked to point out the current world atrocities in the Sunday paper just after they had had sex. A moment earlier her body could have been glowing like a pearl with the perfection of gratified desire, and then he would say something like “And the killings are still going on in Rwanda,” and she could feel herself subside into vulgar flesh, able to be burned, raped, strangled, or mutilated.
But Randy didn’t understand everything, either. Two weekends ago, when she’d been posing for the latest in his series of oils, he had said, “If you want a dog, just get a dog.”
“I’m not against adoption as a general principle,” Andrea had said. “But I want my dog to find me. I want him to be meant just for me.”
“Most people who want a dog just go to the shelter and make a selection.” He stood at the other end of the loft, fiddling with brushes. He had made her undress and posed her on a backless couch with a silk hanging draped around her legs. She was supposed to be a Muse. With her long hair bundled into tight curls and costume jewelry dangling on her wrists, she felt like the Odalisque.
“I have a name picked out,” she said. “Sultan. I know what he looks like and everything. He’s a big shaggy dog, with black fur, and he likes to lick things.”
Andrea hoped people passing on the street below would not see her naked back and think they were filming a porn video. This was not something she would tell Lisa about. Lisa would not perceive it as art. Her father would threaten to sue someone, probably Andrea.
She had spoken mainly to fill the silence, and to make herself feel less naked. “When I was a Brownie, our service project was to go to the Humane Society and walk the dogs,” she told him. She remembered little else from Brownies except that her mother had been her troop leader. “Besides, I have this image in my head of my apartment with a dog in it.” She saw the dog in her mind’s eye sitting on the floor between the two tall narrow windows that let in all the light. The hardwood floor would gleam and her dog’s coat would gleam and through the window the summer sky would be the sort of blue found only in magazine photographs. In her imagination the sheer white curtains waved in a gentle wind.
She watched Randy while he worked, liking the way his thick dusty hair stood up like brush bristles and the way the grooves around his mouth remained even when he wasn’t smiling. Randy was an attractive man; all the men she slept with were good-looking. Randy had no scars. Her brother Eddy did. One afternoon when he was five he had tumbled off the kitchen table and whacked his forehead on the arm of a chair. She could still remember sitting in the emergency room, looking at the other people and wondering why they didn’t look sick. Eddy was the only one who was bleeding, a dishrag held to his head while he sniffled. She could remember her mother telling her not to stare.
“You never talk much about your mother,” Randy said.
“I guess not,” Andrea answered. “She died when I was seven and Eddy was five. I don’t really remember that much about her.”
Later, Randy had brought up what he really wanted to talk about, which was his idea that he would be celibate for a while, to see if it improved his art. He didn’t see how this would fundamentally change their relationship, aside from not having sex anymore. Andrea had nodded to say she understood and tried to recall the last time she had been broken up with. In her memory she was always the one who initiated these conversations.
But that came later. At that moment, when she had told him about her mother, Randy had stepped forward to rearrange her drapery and put a cold hand on her breast. Andrea had looked at the fingers splayed across her skin, the square tips, the smooth cropped nails edged with tiny lines of paint. She felt curious about the appearance of that hand in such an intimate position, not by the texture but by the fact of the contact, completely absent of desire. She wanted to take a snapshot for the years ahead. She expected that when her youth was completely gone and men stopped looking at her she would be left to a dreamy and drifting middle-age, but she could look at the photograph and remember that at least once she had been touched.
She had always supposed she would have to pay for what she did to that dog. The thing was, she had driven back to look for it, after she had gotten rid of Jess and the impending tears. The dog’s body hadn’t been there, even though she drove down that street for days after, wondering about it. There had been no evidence, ever, to accuse her of a crime. But she knew somehow that animal would get her back, returning when she least expected it to take something she loved away from her in return, something she cared about so much that its loss would crush her absolutely.
Lisa thought she was a cat person. Lisa had also told her at the very beginning of their relationship, kindly and quite frankly, that Andrea was an autumn color type, not a summer, and therefore she had to stop wearing green eye shadow. Having not been brought up with a mother, Andrea did not know these things, and she wished her father had introduced her to Lisa much earlier, instead of practically hiding the woman from her while Andrea was away at college. He had waited until Andrea was in law school and Eddy out of the house before he married again.
Andrea’s father never mentioned his first wife. It was as though Andrea and Eddy had come to him as orphans on the doorstep and he had raised them alone like the wise old wizard of a fairy tale. Once Andrea had asked him about a camping trip she was sure they had taken to a place in the mountains. She wanted to know where it could have been that she and Eddy had splashed in a cold spring and watched their mother dive from a tall cliff, her body bent like a swan’s neck. She’d disappeared for so long under the water that they’d thought she was never coming back. But her father said they’d never gone camping and she must have gotten the image from TV.
As was their habit, Andrea called Lisa on Sunday evening so they could watch their favorite lawyer show together. Lisa loved all the police shows, but Andrea only watched the courtroom dramas, intrigued by the way the lawyers were always sober and determined and worried, the clients tense and angry, and the underdog at the last moment flourished some minute point of law that overturned precedent. She wondered sometimes how many average people started a lawsuit thinking their life could become an episode of The Practice. How many defendants entered the room that held the rest of their life and were surprised to find it was just like any other room they had ever entered.
“I got a letter from Eddy this week,” Lisa reported. “From that place he’s at in California.”
“The monastery,” Andrea said. “He’s on retreat.”
“Right,” Lisa said. “Retreat.” Lisa knew, and Andrea knew, that the monastery had been Eddy’s refuge when his second attempt at rehab failed. Andrea wondered why he had written to Lisa. Eddy customarily had little to say to his stepmother on any occasion, but then Eddy was largely taciturn and spoke fluently with few people. Andrea was the person he called at four in the morning when he was drunk or in tears and coming down from a high.
“He asked about a box of your mom’s. Something he thought your dad might still have.”
“I thought I had all of our mom’s stuff,” Andrea said. While Lisa and her father were away on their honeymoon, Andrea had gone to the house and retrieved the boxes that her father had collected and stored but never gotten rid of: the photographs, the clothing, the scrapbooks that her mother had kept of her life from the time she was fourteen until the year that Andrea was born. Andrea had brought all these things to her apartment, locking behind her the silent house where the dust settled slowly back into place. She still remembered the pear-yellow light of her father’s bedroom and the musty smell of perfume that floated from the folded stack of her mother’s many-colored dresses.
“Baby books,” Lisa said. “Eddy wants the baby book your mom kept of him.”
“I didn’t know Mom kept baby books of us,” Andrea said.
Over the phone, as though in stereo, she could hear the relay of the television sounds, the same sounds coming from the television she kept in her study. She imagined her father was downstairs sitting at his bench press, sweating, a towel draped around his neck the way the men in the shaving cream commercials wore it. She imagined the V of dampness on his grey sweatshirt and the way he would blot his forehead before weighing himself and then climbing the stairs to pour a glass of water from the faucet at the kitchen sink. Lisa would tell him Andrea was on the phone and ask him if he wanted to say anything, and he’d say, “I’m sure you girls have all your chatting done. Just tell her to behave, and don’t let any criminals off the hook this week, Squish.”
Two months after taking Eddy to the emergency room, their mother said she had another headache and went out to the garage. It had been summer vacation, but a rainy week, and the headaches had become frequent and severe. Trying to keep quiet, Andrea and Eddy watched cartoons all day. Andrea fixed them peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch and they had no idea anything was wrong until their father came home and found the car, still running, sitting in the garage with the windows rolled up.
“But there are baby books,” Lisa said. “I found where your dad kept them.”
“I want mine,” Andrea said. She watched the commercial she could hear playing in the living room at Lisa and her dad’s house: a commercial for allergy medication, with a teenage girl running through a field of blooming flowers, accompanied by a dog. A golden retriever, his tongue lolling out as though to brush against the unnatural color of the flowers. Tulips.
“So what’s going on with Dylan?” Lisa wanted to know, and Andrea explained how she had driven home from the bed-and-breakfast to find that Dylan had already left a message on her answering machine at home. I know what you’re doing, he’d accused her. You’re breaking up with me to be with someone who will take you for granted. But he couldn’t possibly know about Randy.
“Tell him Eddy’s coming home soon,” she instructed Lisa, after Lisa had communicated the usual exchange with her father. “Tell him Eddy will be better now.”
“I guess so,” Lisa said.
“We’ll see,” she heard her father say.
She had never told Eddy about hitting the dog. Eddy had a deep affection for all things animal; he continually brought home injured creatures or tried to repair birds that had fallen out of their nests. Jess thought she had hit the thing on purpose. That had been at the heart of it. She thought that when the dog ran out in the street barking at them, and Andrea swerved, she had intended to hit it. But Andrea was driving the car without her father’s permission. He had taken his car to pick up his date, some woman Andrea would never meet. The car had been her mother’s. It had never been sold. Once a year her father pulled it out to tune it and change the oil, then parked it again in the second space in the garage, never to be driven. He would not have imagined Andrea would steal her mother’s car to pick up Jess and go for ice cream to celebrate getting her driver’s license. He left the set of car keys where they always hung, on the rack of keys next to the front door. Andrea still didn’t know where she had found the courage to take them. She had wanted to do something that would make her mother proud, demonstrate her independence perhaps, and instead she had hit the dog.
She wasn’t afraid of dogs. She and Eddy had never had a dog, true. She had never asked for a dog, had never particularly wanted one, but it wasn’t fear that moved the steering wheel when the black shape flew out into the street. She couldn’t say what it was, even now. The dog ran at her and she pointed the car at it in some pure reflex that made Jess scream aloud, and that had stopped the barking.
The dog’s body left no damage, not a dent, not a scratch. There was no trace of what she had done. The dog somehow dragged itself away, and no posters ever appeared in the neighborhood. She and Jess never spoke of the incident. The silence loomed between them until, for this and various other reasons, they stopped speaking their senior year, and after graduation never saw each other at all. Andrea still imagined that her mother’s hand had descended to prevent an impact, to keep her father from ever knowing what Andrea had done with her mother’s car.
On Monday Andrea took the day off from work. Since she wasn’t sick and didn’t feel she could lie about it, she asked for a personal day. Immediately upon saying the words she wished she hadn’t; they hinted at something vaguely troubling in her life, an issue the other legal assistants could bandy openly across the squat walls of the cubicles. Andrea did not want the other girls speculating about her life. There were things in it that no one should be acquainted with, including her. But she couldn’t think of any other reason, and since she had never been sick in the three years she’d worked there, the human resources manager gave her the day off with no questions asked.
Andrea went to her favorite park, the one that sat in a roughly trapezoidal shape between four wayward interconnecting streets, half-mature trees placed at careful intervals. In the middle someone had thought about building a fountain, but work had never progressed past bulldozing bare a patch of grass that sat neglected all summer, exposed and embarrassed. People from other neighborhoods drove over just to walk around the oval path and supposedly found it restful to contemplate the skyline looming over them. Andrea came here only to people-watch and made no pretensions about it. She was enormously interested in the couples, especially the young couples with children or the mother dragging a circle of toddlers in tow. Many of the women looked no older than she was. It was a peek into an alternate future, another lifestyle that she knew nothing of and, she suspected, would never have the credentials to enter. It was no fun watching the runners; they merely made her feel tired.
She didn’t see the accident so much as hear the commotion after it happened. It was still late afternoon, with that particularly mellow light that comes in cities in late summer, and there was no excuse other than that the driver hadn’t paid attention. There was no obvious screech of tires or thump of impact, but when Andrea heard the cries and screams she looked around to see a small crowd already gathering, and a man in a black leather jacket climbing out of a black four-door to a cluster of accusations. Behind him the row of shops looked like a jury keeping its mouth shut.
She had a feeling what she would see as she drew near. It wasn’t like the TV shows where the crowd parted to let the heroine through; she had to pry people away with her elbows. There was a surprising amount of blood. She hadn’t remembered seeing any blood the last time, not even when she drove back over the spot. But the dog lay with its eyes open, panting in low soft whines, with a wide wet slash across its middle, darker against the black coat. The back legs, though intact, twisted away from the rest of its body. Andrea could see the outline of his scruffy fur against the asphalt of the street. It was exactly the dog she had envisioned in her head.
“What happened?” somebody said. To Andrea it was obvious what had happened.
“Call the vet ambulance,” another woman said. She took a step back as the dog tried to lift itself to its feet, failed, and lay back on the pavement with another series of short whines.
“There’s no such thing as a vet ambulance,” said a disgusted runner. “This guy should take it to the vet. He’s the one who hit it.”
“What happened?” the first woman repeated. Andrea began to feel irritated with her refusal to grasp the situation.
“Look, it ran right out in front of me, okay?” the driver said. He crouched gingerly over the dog, drawing his jacket away from his knees. “People should leash their animals.”
“People should watch the road,” the runner sniped. “Whose dog is it, anyway?”
A long silence around the watching circle revealed that the dog’s owner wasn’t present. Andrea didn’t even consider that the animal might have an owner somewhere. As far as she was concerned, fate had broken that bond along with the dog’s hip. The owner belonged to a life previous to this moment. It was Andrea who bent, facing the leather-jacket man, and lay her hand on the dog’s side. She could feel the concave form of its ribs and the slow seep of blood.
“Somebody has to take it to the vet,” the second woman complained. “You can’t just let the thing bleed all over.”
“Where’s the vet?” Andrea asked. No one else tried to touch the animal. The fur of its shoulder felt like an angora sweater, impossibly soft and thick. She could feel the sun on the part of her hair. The blood smelled metallic, like iron, and at the same time as sharp as turpentine.
“I’m not taking it.” The runner shrank away. “I have five dogs already. I can barely afford vet bills.”
“I’ll drive you.” The man in black looked at Andrea across the dog’s body. “There’s an animal hospital back down the road a ways. I remember driving past it.”
He didn’t help her as she lifted the dog and climbed into his car. Neither did he comment about the blood on his leather seat. He steered his Passat through the tangle of one-way streets, remarking that his insurance would probably pay for the vet bill, or he would, but he couldn’t have a dog, it was against the terms of his lease. Andrea looked at him and noted the name-brand sunglasses.
“I’m taking the dog,” she said. The dog lay on her lap, almost completely still except for the panting and the low little whines. It was an armload of dog, big and shaggy. There was a terrible smell. He was full grown, but had never been altered, that much was obvious. She was still surprised at how accurate had been the image in her head. The man asked her name, where she lived, where she worked. When she mentioned the law firm he said again he would pay the vet bill, and he programmed her number into his cell phone. Andrea could feel the dog’s heart beating against the hand she had slipped underneath his side as she lifted him. Sultan, she thought. Your name is Sultan and you are my dog.
“Look, you want help carrying it in?” the man offered as he pulled up to the emergency entrance to the veterinary hospital.
“And get your jacket bloody?” Andrea was aware that she had dog blood all over her pants, soaking through her shirt. This was the kind of man Eddy would refer to as a rich asshole. Eddy would tell her she looked savage, with her stained hands and tangled hair. “Thanks for the ride.”
“I’ve got your number,” the man called after her as she walked to the emergency door, carrying a fifty-pound bleeding mess of dog. Andrea didn’t acknowledge him. She lowered her chin and rested it against the aluminum-thin curve of the dog’s skull. He pressed back in answer, his sweaty fur hot against her neck. Mine, Andrea thought. She couldn’t recall ever having had this thought before, about anything.
The vet techs didn’t ask her any questions. It was like an episode from a medical drama show: rapid calls on an intercom, the sound of feet pattering in back rooms, someone swarming through the swinging doors with a stretcher. After the dog had been carried away, Andrea sat down in the waiting area and looked at the blank card the receptionist had given her to fill out. No one had asked her if the dog was hers. No one had told her she didn’t look like a dog owner. They had given her this card and if she filled it out, there would be a record saying that this shaggy broken lump of a dog was hers.
After a while, Andrea became conscious that the terrible smell was coming from her, from the dried blood caked on her clothing. She couldn’t take the bus in such a condition, so she walked home. Her apartment looked exactly the same as it had when she left it. She showered, changed into jeans and a T-shirt. She walked through her apartment deciding where she would put the dog dishes, the dog treats. She decided she would buy a dog bed and place it in the living room against the wall with the pictures she had taken from her father’s house. These were the pictures of the original family; she kept the photos of Lisa and her father in her study.
Her father had only been to Andrea’s apartment once, to help move in her furniture. Andrea wondered what he might think to see the photos of his first wedding on her wall, to look at his younger face as he stood with her mother on the porch of his grandmother’s house or beamed from the center of a corn maze while holding onto a tiny Andrea with one hand and an even tinier Eddy with the other. There were pictures of her mother, too, always posed with different animals, rabbits or cats or horses. Andrea looked at this young girl’s face every once in a while and tried to find the hint that said later this woman, this mother, would become so tired and sore that she would lie down on the front seat of her car and roll up the windows while running the engine and the radio set to the classical music station. Andrea wanted to know where the danger resided—if it was in the lip, in the curve of neck or jaw. None of these pictures could tell her the color of her mother’s eyes.
The vet’s office hadn’t called her yet. Andrea found her purse and her credit card and drove to the pet supply store. When the wide entrance doors pulled open for her and she smelled the sawdust and heard the chattering birds and the squeaking wheels of the gerbils, and she saw the teenage girl with a tiny puppy on a leash stubbornly planting its bottom and refusing to go through the doors, all the noise and the music and the promise reached out to her and she had the sense of discovering some fabulous new reality, of coming to a place that had been waiting for her, all this time.
The vet looked a little like the man who had hit the dog, but he was wearing a rumpled white lab coat and used no gel in his hair. He looked up as Andrea was shown into the examining room, then quickly looked down at his clipboard, and she feared bad news. Sultan, she’d been told, was in the recovery room, and she and the vet were alone together. He looked up at her shyly, with smile lines that resembled Randy’s, and Andrea remembered that she was, in traditional terms, pretty. She supposed she might have been more pleased about her looks had she achieved beauty after an awkward, grotesque adolescence, but she had simply grown from a pretty, dimpled child into a tall, pretty girl into the slender woman she now saw in the mirror, a woman who more and more resembled her mother. She was aware of how people looked at her, but that only confirmed her ideas about how often the world allowed itself to be satisfied by the conventional.
“How are you?” the vet asked pleasantly, and Andrea considered whether she should confess to him. Maybe they had rules at this hospital against giving injured animals to people with a murder record.
“I’ve never had a dog before,” Andrea said. “I’m not sure I know how to take care of one.” This was how she had always imagined therapy to be: the compulsive desire to tell someone her whole life story, crossed with the compulsive fear of letting someone find out how seriously disturbed she really was.
“That’s okay,” he said. “You’ll learn.”
The rear door opened and the vet tech walked in with a groggy Sultan in her arms. A big swath of hair on his left side had been shaved away, and an angry pink line bridged with stitches crossed the blank space. His back left leg had been set in a cast.
“There’s a lampshade around his neck,” Andrea said.
The vet tech snickered as she set the dog on the examining table. “It’s an Elizabethan collar,” the vet said. “It keeps him from disturbing the wound.”
Andrea stepped to the examination table and put her hand on the head of her new dog. When she had first started working at the firm one of the secretaries had brought in her new baby. Andrea held it, since it seemed everyone was expected to do so, and she had been surprised by the fine textures and the softness of hair, skin, bones. Sultan’s head was just as fine and soft, but he had firmer bones; she could feel the determined curve of his skull, the thick eager muscles of his neck. Her fingertips were cold. Eleven years and two months ago she had walked, or rather driven away from this dog. She had ducked her head and shut her mouth and hoped no one would call her to account for it. Much the same had happened with her mother’s family after her death; her aunts and uncles had drifted away, and her grandmother stopped sending letters and cards to her and Eddy. If she didn’t say anything, Andrea knew, she could leave here with this warm-blooded dog. What if she killed it, too?
Lisa said she wanted a dog because it sounded like a good idea, like a sofa that would match her living room or the still life of pears that looked great in her breakfast nook. But this animal had bled on her linen trousers and she had felt its warm body against her skin. She might still have dog hair in her mouth. Andrea looked with wonderment at the thing on the examination table, which was groggily looking at the vet as though he were the savior of all dogs everywhere. Her dog tried to move his tail a little, and Andrea felt what she supposed was a humbling rush of love. With the lampshade around his neck he looked ridiculous and pitiable and brave. She could already foresee the long nights of training, the household disasters, items of value to her chewed to pieces, loud barking at three o’clock in the morning, and it all meant she would never be alone in her apartment again. Here was something that needed her. She was terrified of it.
“You are absolutely crazy,” Lisa pronounced. “You won’t last a week with that dog.”
That wasn’t entirely true. She lasted a week, or almost. Introducing Sultan to her apartment was a moment of wonder she would never forget; she felt as if she had been saving the place for him. Arranging dog supplies in the kitchen cabinets was a pleasure that surpassed hanging up new clothes. Joy met her each moment when she woke up and went into the living room to see what her dog was doing, to see him lying under the windows exactly as she had imagined him. When he gamely limped beside her down the hall and onto the small patch of grass in front of her building in order to discharge his doggie business, she wanted to call somebody, the vet maybe, to exult that he was already housebroken.
But the exuberance passed fairly quickly. The soft little whines that she thought were brought on by pain seemed to be a habit of his; he whined on pain medication, he whined in his sleep. Even when he was looking at her with what she thought must be love, he would whine a little. She found dog hair everywhere, even in the refrigerator, though he spent most of his time beneath the window. When she was at the office, she worried that he was getting into something, or that he was frustrated and bored. When she was home, if she went anywhere in the apartment where he couldn’t see her, he barked until she came back to shush him. She had begun to grind her teeth in her waking hours as well as at night while she slept.
I thought there was a secret society of dog parents, Andrea imagined herself saying to Randy, though Randy hadn’t called. She had thought that the world of dog ownership would be a charmed place, yet other owners walking their dogs down her street did not stop when they saw Sultan to chat and compare notes. Sultan had not turned her into a kinder person; she was still annoyed by the loud ignorant people on the bus. Her law firm’s clients murdered their exes and their exes’ new love interests in as many hideous ways as ever.
The city did not open to her as though she knew a secret, although she went to the library and checked out books on dog behavior, dog training, dog psychology. She bought stuffed chew toys which Sultan devoured in five seconds. She bought him rawhide chew toys which it took him only slightly longer to destroy. She felt like she was trying to entertain an impatient two-year-old. If he had nothing to distract him he would work at trying to lick himself despite the lampshade. Finally he would settle on the only part of his body he could reach, his front paws, and groom himself. He licked incessantly. He was wearing off his fur. The worst part was the sound he made as he was licking. Andrea could hear the slurping from every corner of her apartment.
Andrea called Lisa every other night to report on his progress and ask advice. Lisa had never had pets, but she’d had many younger step-siblings. Andrea managed to ask at least once during a conversation, “When are you bringing over the baby book?”
“I’m not bringing that thing where he could chew on it,” Lisa said. “Plus, I’ve got two sick girls at work. We’re sinking.”
“He doesn’t chew on things,” Andrea said, but this was untrue. As Sultan healed he became more mobile and began to lurch around the apartment on his three legs, chewing anything that came within his reach. First it was an art book she had on her coffee table. Then it was an afghan she had draped over a chair. The last straw was when he started chewing on her dining room set. It was Saturday, and she’d managed to avoid Dylan all week. Randy had not called. Andrea spent the day cleaning her study, making up the spare bed, arranging the room in case Eddy wanted to stay in it. She knew he had given up his apartment when he went into the monastery. She wondered if he would come to her place first or try their father’s. She imagined them sitting on the bed together, looking at their baby books, with Sultan sprawled at their feet.
She emerged from the room to find that Sultan had crawled into the dining nook and chewed on the legs of the cherrywood chair she had been sitting in at breakfast. The feet of the chair looked like splintered matchsticks, all their color gone.
Andrea stared at her dog, trying to remember what the training books advised. “No,” she said dangerously, pointing at the enfeebled legs of the chair. “No.”
Sultan wagged his tail and rested his chin on his front paws, despite the lampshade. Then he moved his head and scratched his teeth along the third leg of the chair, the one he hadn’t touched yet. “No!” Andrea screamed, scaring them both.
She took a deep breath and walked into the sitting room. The sight of her book on Delft china with the edges eaten away outraged her all over again, just as it had Wednesday evening. “You can’t be my dog,” she said to the animal hobbling into the room behind her. “You don’t even have a sense of irony. Why can’t you chew on the training books?” She was getting sick of those training books. The authors all supposed that owning a dog was the easiest and most delightful hobby in the world.
And then she saw the pillow that had fallen behind the armchair. She grabbed at the pieces while Sultan tried to nose forward and steal them from her. The pillow was completely destroyed. It had been a needlepoint with two figures on it, two names, a date, and a message of love. Her mother had made it for her father as a wedding gift. It had been stored at the top of all the items in her mother’s hope chest.
She turned to look into the grinning face of the animal next to her. “You are not my dog,” Andrea said to him, clearly and slowly. “You are the Jaws of Death.” And she walked out of the room. She walked from the sitting room through the narrow archway into the cabinet-sized space of the kitchen, and through that to the bedroom where her bed was precisely made with the beige down comforter hanging evenly all around the edges, two inches above the floor. Usually this precision soothed her. She looked at the Matisse on the wall above where the headboard would have been; usually that soothed her too. There was no sound from the sitting room. He didn’t seem to be scrabbling around anywhere in there. Probably he was trying to lick himself again.
She went to her closet and opened the mirrored door. She would go out somewhere. She would put on a nice pair of slacks and go to one of the fashionable bars, maybe one of the clubs downtown, and she would order a drink all by herself, something she had never done. If someone approached her, she would act like she never had a dog. She would leave the thing here and maybe, when she returned, she would know what to do with him. Or, even better, he would simply be gone.
She went back into the sitting room. Sultan lay under the windows, exactly between them, his head on his paws. When she entered he looked up at her, and his tail swished back and forth across the floor, a black little broom. His look was expectant. One long string of embroidery floss dangled offensively from his muzzle.
She marched to the hall door and pulled it open. Outside the hallway looked as it always had, light drifting in through the high, grimy window. The runner stretched serenely down the length of the floor, patterned with green ivy, leaving a border of deep-cherry hardwood panels bare on either side. A small antique table with a tasteful antique porcelain vase on it stood under the window, as they had since the day Andrea moved in. Occasionally an unseen hand came through to free the antiques from dust. To Andrea it looked like a contract, as if the whole world stretched beyond, every bit as clean, well-maintained, and tastefully decorated as this hallway. Her dog kept looking at her, panting, his tail swishing back and forth. Andrea had the sudden consciousness that every nerve in her body was alive and waiting, that the air itself had gathered extra ions humming with their own expectancy. That the shapes of things had somehow gotten clearer, and if the dog actually walked out right now and she closed the door behind it, the light would remain so, extraordinarily sharp and clear, like the charge of full sunlight.
“Do you understand?” she said from the door, and she didn’t care if down the hallway any one of her neighbors could hear her begging to her stupid, crazy, car-wreck of a dog. “I’ve tried everything. If we can’t learn to live together, one of us has to go.”
He put his head down on his paws and looked at her, his eyes flat as black pearls. She closed the door gently behind her, locked it, and then put the keys in her brown leather purse. It was the cleanest, most honest break-up of her life.
Andrea walked several blocks down the street, past the park where Sultan had been hit, and then several blocks more past the vet’s. The bar she had been thinking of was dimly lit and already half-full of murmuring people. Andrea couldn’t remember the last time she had spent a Saturday afternoon alone. She considered calling back the leather-jacketed man, who had left messages for her both at home and work, offering to meet for drinks to hear about how the dog was doing. The vet had also called, twice, inviting her to call him back if she had any questions about dog parenting, hinting that he would be happy to give pointers over a drink. And why shouldn’t she go on in precisely this fashion, Andrea wondered, adding to the list of men she took to the Walker museum, adding to the list of men she had known who could do extraordinary things with their hands but with whom she never spoke about things like her work, or her mother, or Eddy. She ordered a glass of wine, and another, and then accepted the entire bottle. She placed several calls on her cell phone, but apparently she was the only person of her acquaintance who spent Saturdays at home cleaning her apartment. She watched the booths around her slowly fill up with well-dressed and smiling people, people filled with purposeful intentions and leading purposeful lives, of which an afternoon spent drinking at an elegant bar with friends was merely an ornament to several other layers of meaning. In looking at the scene Andrea supposed she had a concrete image for the way she had felt all her life: that she was trying to communicate across some wide deep crevice that was located inside her, and no one outside, on the other edge, ever quite understood what she was saying. She paged through the list of dialed calls on her phone and was looking at Randy’s name when the phone rang.
“Where are you?” Lisa said.
“Randy?” Andrea inquired.
“It’s Lisa.” She sounded fuzzy, impatient, the way she sounded when Andrea called her at work. “I’m at your place. I came over when I got your message. Do you know who’s here?”
“The dog,” Andrea said.
“Eddy,” Lisa said.
Andrea thought about this. “How did you get in?”
“He let me in,” Lisa snapped. “What I want to know is, how did he get in?”
“I mailed him a key,” Andrea said immediately, and immediately after that realized that Lisa would be offended that Eddy had a key when Lisa did not. Eddy was the only man who ever had the key to Andrea’s apartment. “How does he look?” she whispered.
“He doesn’t have any hair,” Lisa whispered back, in a way that Andrea knew would annoy Eddy.
“I’ve had a few drinks,” Andrea said. “I’m going to flag a taxi home.” She pondered that statement as she stood out on the sidewalk. Echoing in her head, it didn’t sound quite right, and yet she couldn’t find anything semantically wrong with it. Two men, both quite good-looking, turned to look at her standing on the sidewalk as they walked into the bar. Andrea ignored them. Eddy was at her apartment. She would get to see him, put her arms around him. Her stomach moved with such force that at first she thought she was sick.
The day he fell off the table, Andrea was supposed to be watching him. Their mother had a headache and had been lying down in her bedroom. Andrea and Eddy had been playing jungle, climbing on furniture, and she didn’t tell him to get down from the table even though she knew her mother would yell at them if she’d seen. The accident left a dent in the middle of Eddy’s forehead in the shape of a tiny cut-out V, the bottom of a valentine heart. Throughout his adolescence Eddy had always been smaller than the other boys, never bulking out like his father. He and Andrea stood nose-to-nose in their stocking feet. Every time she looked at him she could see that scar looking back at her, an emblem of her neglect.
“Where is he?” she said when Lisa opened the door.
Lisa looked a little harried. She’d been pulling on her short sandy-brown hair and it stuck out on the sides like wings. Her lipstick was not fresh. In her hand she held a martini glass filled with vodka. It had not occurred to Andrea to stay in her own apartment and drink.
“Someone else showed up while you were on your way,” she said, and stepped away from the door so that Andrea could see into the room. Sultan lay next to the couch, stretched out on his side, his tail moving in a happy rhythm. Eddy’s fingers threaded absently through the dark fur. Eddy’s body and face were turned away from her as he spoke with great animation to Dylan, who was sitting on the couch next to him.
“Hey, Squish,” Eddy said, looking up as she entered. “It’s good to see you.”
Andrea averted her eyes as Dylan stood to face her. Eddy looked thinner than she had ever seen him. His dark blonde hair had been recently shaved and it made his cheekbones stand out like billboards. The sight of his open face, glowing, made a tiny hole open in her lungs. She thought perhaps she should wait to put her arms around him, with Dylan standing right there.
“You called me,” Dylan said.
“He’s cool,” Eddy enthused, gesturing. “He does massage and stuff.”
“Where’s Dad?” Andrea asked.
“On his way,” Lisa said, and looked pointedly at the wall of pictures.
The bell for the downstairs door rang, and the bottom dropped out of Andrea’s stomach. “That must be him,” she said to Eddy. “He’ll want to see you.” She buzzed him in and decided there was no time to hide the photographs. Her father was an adult; he would have to look at things sometime. At the knock she opened the hall door to find Randy.
“What on earth are you doing here?”
His blunt face registered surprise. “You called me. You sounded upset. I decided to come see what was wrong.”
Andrea tried to remember calling him and could not. “Come in,” she said. “Meet the dog. Everyone, this is Randy,” she said as she let him into the room. “He’s a painter. Can I get you something to drink?”
“Allow me,” Lisa said, and moved into the kitchen to hide her smirk.
“Hey,” Eddy said from the couch.
“Hey,” Randy said.
Eddy pointed. “Well, I guess this is the famous destructo-dog.”
They all looked at one another in silence, while Sultan yawned.
The phone rang. Andrea prayed it was her father. She prayed he would want them all to come over to the house so everyone would have to leave. “Is everything all right?” the vet said.
“Um. We had a bad moment this afternoon,” Andrea said. “He ate a pillow and he chewed on a chair. I was afraid it might make him sick or something.”
“I made martinis for everyone,” Lisa announced loudly, coming from the kitchen.
“Squish can have mine,” Eddy said. “I’m on cranberry juice.”
“It sounds like you’re busy,” the vet said.
“I’ll keep an eye on him and call you back,” Andrea said and hung up.
She turned to see that Dylan and Randy had squared off, sensing a territory dispute. Eddy sat on the couch with his hand in Sultan’s coat, avidly watching the both of them.
Dylan put out his hand. “Maybe I should introduce myself,” he said to Randy. “I’m the man who’s in love with Andrea.”
“Hello,” Randy said. “I’m the guy she’s been sleeping with for six months.”
The two men glared at each other. Andrea had the feeling she had read this scene in The Great Gatsby. This was not the way she had imagined it. She did not feel like the tailored, soft Casablanca Ingrid Bergman; she felt like the hard, bitter, near-suicidal Ingrid Bergman who’d just been told she was the lost princess Anastasia and couldn’t stop hysterically laughing.
“I think my dog needs to go for a walk,” Andrea said. The phone rang again. Lisa answered it, and her eyebrows flew upwards.
“You know an Ian?” She held out the phone, and Andrea groaned.
“Who’s Ian?” Dylan demanded. “Someone else you’ve been sleeping with?”
“It’s the man who hit my dog,” Andrea said. She shook her head at Lisa, who hung up the phone. The downstairs buzzer rang.
Randy turned to the couch. “And how long have you been sleeping with him?”
“For Christ’s sake,” Andrea said, wondering how she had ever sat naked in front of this man. “That’s my brother.”
Randy recovered with a sneer. “The junkie? The drug addict?”
Lisa nearly dropped the martini glass. Vodka sloshed onto the hardwood floor. Sultan lurched over to sniff. Eddy sat frozen on the couch, one hand still extended into the space from which the dog had removed himself. Under his tan skin Andrea could see the curves of his bones, the hollow of his temples and the crease at the bridge of his nose. The V in his forehead flared at her like an eye.
“You need to leave,” she said quietly to Randy. “Now.”
He took a step toward the couch, where Dylan stood his ground. Sultan sat down between them, looking from one to the other with an eager whine. Eddy sat perfectly still.
Randy bristled at Dylan. “What about him? Shouldn’t he leave, too?”
The buzzer rang again, and Lisa sprang into action. She opened the door and pointed to both Dylan and Randy. “You two. Out.” She caught Sultan’s collar as he hobbled toward the carpeted hallway. “You, stay.” She caught Andrea’s eye, then stepped out of the room and closed the door. They both knew her father was downstairs. Andrea faced her brother with the wall of pictures behind them mapping out their early lives. Save for Sultan’s panting, the room was completely still. Eddy’s cranberry juice sat on a coaster on the side table, as red as an open mouth.
She sat down on the couch. She could feel his body heat, smell a faint scent of orange and lemon. Their mother had always smelled of oranges, too.
“I told him once you had been in rehab. That’s all I said.”
His mouth was set tightly, but the scar no longer looked inflamed. He nodded toward the wall of photos behind them. “Dad’s going to be mad at you.”
“I think he knew I took them. He just doesn’t know I’ve put them up.” She reached for the two leather-bound albums sitting on the end table at Eddy’s elbow. “Are these what I think they are?”
“Don’t.” Eddy caught her hand. “I don’t want to look at them.” His fingers around her wrist felt like bands of wire. She had always been surprised at his strength when she went to his high school wrestling matches or later went rock climbing with him when she visited him in San Francisco. His bones never felt brittle the way her own did.
“But it’s yours,” she said.
“I don’t think I can stand it yet. That she could have kept locks of my hair and my height and weight measurements and all that shit, and still she left us.”
Andrea let her hand fall back into her lap. That swan dive, her mother’s body cutting the water without even a splash. The water had been so cold it turned Eddy’s lips purple. The deep pool had been a blue Andrea had never seen since. It had to have been real.
“I hit a dog once,” Andrea said. Her hands shook. “With Mom’s car. I killed it.”
“I know,” Eddy said. “Jess told me. I wondered why you never mentioned it.”
Andrea didn’t know what to say. She leaned against his chest. With a big sigh her dog flopped down in front of her, nails raking over the polished wood. He stretched out his legs as far as they could go, stiffened, then relaxed. He tried resting his head in various places and finally put his nose on her knee. Andrea put her hand on the top of his head, surprised all over again by the corn-silk softness of his fur. Eddy put his hand on the dog’s side and they stroked his coat in rhythm. She felt sore and slow and emptied out. Her teeth ached.
“I want you to stay here,” Andrea said. “I want you to move in here with us.”
She felt Eddy’s heart beat beneath his ribs. His hands grasped her back as tight as vines. The pressure of his cheek on the top of her head felt like he was pushing something back into her.
“I’m clean,” Eddy said.
“I know you are.”
She wiped her face with the back of her hand as Eddy stood. He walked to the wall and began looking at the pictures, staring into their mother’s face. Andrea sat on the couch stroking her dog’s soft ears and watched the way Eddy’s shoulders lifted sometimes and then fell. She watched the dust motes floating through the silent room and imagined her mother’s eyes had been green. As green as Sultan’s collar, as green as a field full of tulips, as green as the ivy on the carpet in the hallway where they waited for the footsteps that meant their father had arrived.