The Joys of Watching a Dog Fall Apart

Matt Farrell

I should tell her to get her own life. I should tell her to get her own husband so she can corrode his happiness and not mine. "Look at me," I say. "I need to talk to her. Please, let me."

The floor creaks as Linda's sister shifts her considerable weight. Her dry skin rubs against the door knob. "She's at the market. She'll be back in a minute. Do you want to wait here until she gets back?"

Fiore slumps down on the porch, wheezing as if he just got back from a marathon. I kick him to his feet. "No. I've got better things to do." 

Of course I do wait, though, but in the bushes next door. I walk around the block first, to allay suspicion, and then crouch behind an oleander bush, depositing Fiore next to me. He falls to the dirt like a dead lump of meat. I run my hands over his patches of bare skin. "What do I do, Fiore?" I whisper, aloud. "What's wrong with you?" He barks and wiggles his legs. He wants to help but can't.

Then suddenly I know. Linda never gave him the Flagyl. She just pretended to. She doesn't want us to recover.

The sound of rubber on gravel. A car pulls into the driveway. Someone exits the car, definitely Linda, given the recognizable pattern of her waddling gait. Maybe she's not cheating on me. Just biding her time until our relationship dies. I'll kill it for her. I'm about to stand up and yell, but then I hear another car door open, another set of footsteps. Definitely not the clip-clap of heels, either, but the scraping of rubber soles, a man's shoes. I leap up, pulling Fiore to his feet, the two of us stumbling forward.

"Who the hell is that, Linda?" The footsteps stop. No escape now.

"John?" she says, her voice a tremulous squeal. "Is that you?"

"Of course it's me. Who's that? Who's that you're with?"

"It's me, John." A man's voice. Full, resonant, seeming to come from all directions. It takes me longer than usual to identify it as the voice of Linda's father, with his almost imperceptible Italian accent that makes each word sound faintly wrong. "John, what the hell are you running around the bushes for?"

Fiore collapses to the ground. The air crushes my head. The crickets' screeches drill into my skull.

"What are you doing here?" Linda says.

"It's time we talked, John." Does he have to say my name every time he addresses me?

 "Your father?" I say. "But he lives in Placerville."

"He drove down for the night. We wanted to eat dinner as a family."

"A family dinner," I say. A few raindrops hit my nose, my hands. More come quickly. The onset of rain almost makes me feel better, like none of this is really happening, like it's all a perfectly staged test. Fiore whimpers and shivers against my leg.

"Linda." I almost whimper myself. "I know you didn't give Fiore the Flagyl."

"What?" she says. "Are you nuts? You were right there, John. How can you say that?"

"Because, Linda, as you can see, he's not better!"

I push through the rain, away from Linda and her father, pulling Fiore. The world is wild with noise. I continue for a mile, maybe less, then call a cab. Don't shit on the seat, Fiore. Don't piss on the seat. And he doesn't.

Back inside my house, I sprawl on the couch in drenched clothes. Fiore jumps up too, dripping water and hair. We lie in the dark (it's always dark), the rain tapping all around us. Tapping tapping tapping tapping. Then the front door bursts open, and the sounds of the world crowd into the living room.

"What is wrong with you?" Linda slams the door.

I scream at her. I list every single one of her shortcomings. I shout "Speak!" to Fiore, and he barks at her. I accuse her of cheating on me, of sleeping with other men. She hurls her favorite vase against the wall, the one holding her new roses.

"I'm not cheating on you!" she screams. "I've never cheated on you!"

"Then why do you disappear night after night?"

She is silent. She breathes, scrapes her nails across her arm or skull. I can feel her looking away, at the ground, at the mud I know I've tracked through the house. When you're blind, no one's compelled to look you in the face.

"If you're not cheating," I say, "why do you spend so much time away?"

She responds, but her voice is muffled and Fiore chooses this moment to bark. A kick turns the bark into a groan.

"Look at me." I tap my forehead three times. "Say it so I can hear it."   

"I just don't like spending time with you anymore."

Silence again, except for the wheeze of Fiore's sputtering breath and the nearly audible squeal of the last bit of my soul being squashed like a grape. I try to picture what her face must look like at this moment. Disgusted or sad or fed up. Or she's probably making faces, mocking me, and even Fiore can see what she really thinks of me.

I want to burn the house down. I want to tear out her eyes, pour blood on her occipital lobe. Instead I leave. The rain has stopped but the wind cuts at my face, and I pant and curse as I drag the dying lug of a dog down the street. We lurch through the darkness along the sidewalk littered with wet leaves, whining in pain, our faces tilted toward the sky. Flies zip by my face, into my ears, into the decaying man they've been searching for all night. While imagining vultures circling in packs above the trees, I trip on an uneven crack in the sidewalk and smash my face against the cement. Fiore licks at the blood gushing out of my nose. He licks and barks and moans and cries.

But then he stands up on his hind legs, looks through my eyes and offers me his hand, and tells me that most of the important work in this world is done by those who suffer.

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