The Dog Lover
Lycos ofDeli Fishing
The Dog Lover
The Dog Lover
Lycos of Deli Fishing
The Dog Lover by Agrippina Domanski
The Dog Lover
by Agrippina Domanski
Andrew's new house stood nearer to Twickenham than Richmond--a little aloof, like its owner. The house looked like it had been built around the '30s and then renovated. But it was so unfamiliar Lily thought of it as new. Andrew and she had moved here two months ago from Newcastle where they'd met, and Andrew had set up a small accessories shop for her here in Richmond, so she wasn't 'bored'. As if she could be, with all the housework he expected her to do. And there was plenty, in a huge house like this. Cleaning the carpets and vacuum-cleaning all the way to the second floor every day, though they never used any rooms there except the bathroom and the bedroom--only to get rid of the dog hairs.
Gardening and trimming the lawn in the backyard was Lily's job too. Apparently, only the '30's houses had enormous gardens like this. She suspected Andrew was making use of her American mindset. A British couple would probably hire someone to manage the place.
The house was red brick with a white concrete section on top, right under the black roof. A better house than Andrew should have been able to afford. He had something to do with sales now. The job had come from his military connections. That was all Lily knew, though she had a feeling it was a lie. She'd never asked a thing.
She knew he'd gone back to Newcastle in February, supposedly to take part in some charity action for homeless soldiers by the monument. But she hadn't recognized him in any of the guys crouching in sleeping bags under the sign 'HELP THE HOMELESS VETERANS WHO'D COME HOME' in the front cover of The Guardian. He'd returned with a bag full of cash.
The house stood on a narrow road called 'Warden Avenue' or something like that--four months after moving, Lily still couldn't remember. The road was perpetually blocked by parked vehicles on both sides, so whenever two cars at a time drove by, one of them had to back down and crawl onto the pavement, trying not to hit any dog walkers, who had occupied the pavements long before the parked cars had joined in.
Whenever a car backed down onto the pavement like that, red rear lights glaring angrily, the dogs started yapping and tugging on their leashes. It all felt very bizarre and British. After reading the RAC newsletter, Andrew had told Lily it wasn't illegal to park on someone else's driveway--as if she'd asked him if it was. If she bought a car, he'd said, she could park it on their neighbours' driveway on the other side of the road. The shed was only fit for one car. If it had been a joke, she hadn't understood it.
They had few neighbours, and those they did never talked to Lily. Maybe they didn't like it that she was French--with that American mindset, to add insult to injury. She had lived in the States when getting her MA and it had rubbed off on her more than she'd expected. There was a more obvious reason she was an outsider, though: everyone around Warden Avenue was a dog lover. Everyone in Richmond, it seemed, except Lily. The neighbours talked to Andrew--about the dog, and other important things. They talked to the dog too.
Lily tried to busy herself with housework so as not to worry about settling in too much. There wasn't much she could do about it, except letting it go. She was Canadian on her mother's side. She'd tried to live in the States between '05 and '08 as an MA student, but had never settled in either--and she'd soon returned to Britain.
In those days, Andrew had been suffering the beginning of his relationship with the dog--suffering it, because it was a sort of disease. Andrew had taken in the dog as a puppy straight after getting demobbed in the early noughties. By now they had a telepathic understanding.
On a Tuesday in early September, Lily came back just after five--and a single scornful yap greeted her. The dog followed Lily into the kitchen and came to lie under the table. He was watching her every move with the cynical gaze of black hooded eyes.
She always felt awkward staying on her own with the animal, when nothing could mask their dislike for each other. The dog couldn't voice his, and usually Lily preferred not to voice hers. A sense that he understood more than he let on, or than a dog should, haunted her.
"Yeah, fuck you, dog," Lily said.
The dog said nothing.
Lily insisted on calling him "the dog"--or "dog". This morning, when she'd taken him out for a walk, she'd revelled in satisfaction when a woman with a poodle asked her what kind of dog she had, and she'd answered, "It's just a dog." But it was a German shepherd. It was hard to believe anyone among the dog people would not know the breed. His name was "Blue".
It was an odd name for a dog. Rather American, too, though Lily doubted Andrew knew it. It had always unsettled her--but she'd only realized it after Andrew had made a random decision to paint the shed three weeks back. It had been one of the many time-consuming activities he'd shared with the dog.
The crammed shed in the backyard had belonged to the previous owners of the house. It had been grey before Lily and Andrew had moved in. The dog and Andrew had decided it would look better if it were blue. Andrew only used the shed to store junk. The crappy old Volvo always stood outside because the shed didn't have a solid floor. Andrew probably couldn't remember he had a shed anyway.
It had to be the dog's idea.
Lily had gone outside to see where Andrew was on a Sunday morning a few weeks back and found them at it. Andrew had the roller. The dog had been holding a can of paint by the edge in his teeth, black lips and nose smeared in aquamarine. The sight hadn't been particularly weird--Lily wore lipstick, and why couldn't the dog?
By getting Andrew to paint the shed blue, he was marking its territory. They'd paint her blue, too, before she knew it.
"Why are you painting it?"
The dog had barked and growled.
Andrew had shrugged.
She'd found them sprawled on the double-bed the day after--Andrew reading and scratching the dog's belly and the dog snoring, dirty paws on Lily's pillow. Andrew and the dog had been lying under a quilt covered in black and ginger hairs. For a minute Lily had thought they were Andrew's.
"What do you people think you're doing?"
It had been a Freudian slip, but Andrew hadn't noticed. "Reading. Fuck off."
The dog had given two short, low growls which together had sounded just like "Fuck off."
Lily had stood there with her arms crossed, aghast, feeling like an idiot.
Her mind returned to it now as she changed the bedding. It was her second time today--the dog had jumped on the sheets after the morning walk and rolled around, leaving hairs and saliva all over the place. Lily had not had the time to pay attention to the little things until she'd moved in with Andrew. But she'd noticed at once he let the dog jump on the bed and roll around when she was lying there naked.
A lust for Andrew filled her now as she pulled the sheets off the bed. She felt watched in this house whenever she was doing the chores and hated it. The dog was worse than a mother-in-law, because it was silent and menacing where a woman would nag. Blue sat by the door like those bronze bulldog statues people bought to prop doors open, watching her and not blinking. After a while, it was like being stared at by a hypnotist. Her mind went blank and sluggish, and throwing the last embroidered quilt over the made bed began to feel like hard work. Still, she finished it, moved past Blue, and went to the kitchen to cook dinner. Once she was out of the dog's sight, she began to feel better.
When Andrew rang the bell, Lily was frying aubergines and courgettes. White onions were cooking in a smaller pan. She turned the heat down and walked to the door. What's he done to his key, cretin?
It seemed she could smell Andrew through the gap under the door. He had a wet, strong canine smell. When she saw his face in the peephole, a little haggard and impassive, she reached to take the chain off the inner lock.
The dog gave a low growl, and backed away from the door. Then Blue began to bark.
Now Lily felt like calling him by the name, though it was a stupid name.
A stupor came over her.
The onions were sizzling in the kitchen. Blue's barking sounded like the taps of someone's prosthetic foot on the floor tiles. His claws scratched. Lily could no longer hear the onions.
Blue shut up without warning, but Lily's ears were still ringing. The ringing was everywhere--in her mind and even in her diaphragm, as if she'd swallowed an alarm clock. Maybe it was the blood pressure. It took her a few seconds to tie the sound to the phone in her pocket. She picked up, and listened to Andrew say he'd be home in thirty minutes.
She was too stunned to say a thing.
* * *
Andrew kissed the dog on the nose and patted her, Lily, on the head when he came in, as if he got momentarily confused between the two of them. Soon he was eating the vegetable ratatouille. It was a word he could never pronounce to Lily's satisfaction. She always heard 'rat' in it and couldn't stop thinking of rats afterwards.
Andrew was feeding half his forkful to the dog, bending down. Some scraps fell to the floor and the dog licked them up, smearing the kitchen tiles with spit. The sloppy sound rang all around the kitchen.
A dog returns to its vomit.
Lily wanted to tell Andrew about the bizarre hallucination she'd had. She hadn't immediately gathered it wasn't real--when he came in (again, as far as she was concerned), she almost expected him to say he'd been drunk when he left, or something along those lines. His silence convinced her she'd imagined it--and that the dog was to blame, because harmless as it looked, they both knew its goal was to drive Lily mad. But Andrew was engrossed in the feeding ritual and wouldn't care even if she told him. She did wish she could talk to him alone for a change. Jealousy rose in her throat like a cobra, blocking her airways with its hood. She almost couldn't remember how to talk. "He's leaving a mess."
"Whatever. Good stuff, eh, buddy?"
"It will get cold if you don't finish it soon. And the mess --"
"Don't fuss. We're eatin' it, ain't we, buddy?"
Americans used the moniker 'buddy' to refer to their children. Lily used to find it odd--but that was before she met Blue and Andrew, the prickly pair (she used to think the T.S. Eliot poem was about two people, not a pear, and had continued to see 'prickly pairs' around her even when she learnt otherwise). Blue and Andrew were one prickly pair, for sure--prickly like roses. She tried to breathe through the snake. The hood stood upright in her throat. She turned away from the revolting sight of them eating and tried to imagine a dog-free conversation with Andrew.
"I saw you standing outside the door a few hours earlier. Your face, your--it was you. I went to open it, but the dog started barking. And you--that thing--just continued to stand there in silence until I went to turn the heat down. Then you called and said you were on your way. When I came back you--that thing--was gone."
"Ridiculous. Maybe you were asleep."
"No. I was frying onions and the dog was barking, I wasn't --"
"And where are they?"
"Oh. I ate them. I was very nervous afterwards."
"Rrrright. He's got a name, by the way. Blue. Would you like it if I called you 'the bitch'?"
"I'll take a shower," Andrew said, and scratched the dog's scruff.
He didn't speak first unless Lily was suspiciously silent.
"Hmmm," Lily said.
At least he hadn't said 'we'. But the dog followed him.
Lily moved shit around on the kitchen shelf for a few moments. She washed Andrew's plate the dog had already licked dirty, opened the window, and lit a cigarette. She watched the smoke escape the kitchen and travel all the way onto the roof of the Richmond Hill Bakery only just visible from the kitchen window. Plenty of fucked-up dog people like Andrew in that place. She'd spent some time observing them over weekends as they smacked their doggies on the nose--and kissed their wives on the mouth within a second. Andrew did it too.
Dog lovers took dogs more seriously than people.
When she turned back around from the window, Blue was sitting in the doorway just like before--only this time, it was the one separating the kitchen from the rest of the house. He stared at her, unblinking, the way people couldn't--and she wished in her mind 'he' was still an 'it'--just a dog.
The idea seemed to emerge from the depths of Lily's unconscious. She couldn't place the instant it came to her. She remembered reading some stupid post on the French version of Quora about a rich Belgian entrepreneur who'd walked in on his wife making out with the family Rottweiler and shot himself the next day. Bullshit, it probably was.
Lily took Andrew's bottle of Glenfiddich from the cupboard and poured it into the dog bowl. She did it quickly, before she could think better of it--a sort of terrified excitement rising in her chest like a butterfly and spreading its wings.
She found the remaining turkey steaks in the fridge, raw and pink like grapefruits, and dropped them into the dog bowl. She'd fried two in the morning for the dog's breakfast--and didn't give any to Andrew. The irony had been lost on him. The dog would never settle for Pedigree--not this bloody gourmet--but Andrew could, if she didn't make anything else. Lily had a threefold function in this ménage-a-trois: cooking, cleaning, and fucking.
Spread your legs and think of Paris, cunt. Not that Andrew would ever say that. He was well-bred on the surface--just like his dog.
The dog lowered its muzzle before Lily could step away, and began to eat.
When he was done, the dog staggered around the bowl and ran into a table leg. His forehead hit it right in the middle, and he jumped back with a bemused, insulted yap. He yapped and yapped at the table, and backed away when the table didn't yap back.
Lily added more whiskey.
The dog slobbered it all up. He licked his black lips, yawned, burped, and settled down on the floor.
Lily stood still, trying to overcome her disgust. She sighed.
"Alors!" she said.
The dog was heavy as fuck. Lily strained to pick him up so he didn't slip out of her arms. But at last she had him. She carried him into the bedroom and placed him in the bed under the quilt, head bent and resting on Andrew's pillow.
The dog burped again, but otherwise he lay still.
Lily covered him with a quilt.
Andrew walked out of the shower, humming the Eminem armed forces tribute chant because he couldn't sing it. Wasn't much of a singer, Andrew Green. Wasn't much of anythin'. But he was doing rather well, wasn't he, with a house like this? It was high time Lily did something about that sour face of hers.
He saw the whiskey bottle on the edge of the kitchen table when he passed it on his way out, wrapped in a towel, surrounded by a cloud of steam. She never used to need to get pissed before, but why not. She had a sort of dirtiness in her, did Lily. That's what he liked best in French girls.
He took a swig from the bottle, and headed into the bedroom.
He'd counted on exchanging a word or two with her. But from the moment he appeared in the doorway, Lily was all over him like she was on fire, kissing him hard on the mouth--all teeth and eagerness. She smelt of that lemongrass Joe Malone perfume with a hint of the Lebanese spices she'd used in ratatouille. Great stuff.
The physicality of their relationship was keeping them together. Andrew was often away, especially now he and the gang got more orders than ever--the border controls had been recently tightened, and the clients believed no one except 'elite' soldiers could do the job. He thought it wasn't half as bad as being separated for months like he'd been with his ex when he'd still been serving, but he knew women felt differently about such things. Women wanted you to stick around. If it hadn't been for the physicality, Lily and he would have gone their separate ways already.
Lily hadn't been this forceful in a while.
Excitement crawled up his veins in synch with her raspy breath in his ear. He closed his eyes.
She threw the quilt over his head.
It was one of the many they'd piled onto the bed during this beastly-cold November--the wool and cotton quilt, it seemed from the way it felt against the skin on his chin. The steam had collected in beads of sweat over his forehead. The quilt had wiped it.
Andrew shook it off and saw she'd crawled deep under the covers, piling the duvet, the other silk quilt a friend had brought him from China, and two decorative red covers over the pile so he had to dig for her. She'd even thrown the pillows over her head and made a soft mountain smelling faintly of lemongrass. He had to peel every layer off like some animal's delicate skin, digging deeper and deeper to the sound of her giggles.
He smelt warmth and a sudden whiff of whiskey over the lemongrass. He reached forward over the last set of blankets. His arm touched something cold and moist through them.
He dove under the quilt.
In a moment, his mouth was full of hair.
Not hair. Hairs. Fur. Fur.
Terror washed over him. It was a bit like the de-realization he'd felt after smoking Afghan black in an old tribal leader's cave in the hills outside Kabul--floating away. Blue's hairs were all over his face. He could see himself--and the fur--from up high, as if his eyes were a CCTV cam filming the scene. Some long-forgotten, buried combat memory had come alive inside him--or a false memory of fighting some prehistoric beast.
THAT CUNT. THAT FUCKING CUNT LILY.
His chin was smeared in dog spit. Some hairs had gotten to the back of his throat so he choked on them. He coughed. It was dark. The blankets were attacking him like fish nets. He couldn't get out. He fumbled in them, trying to spit out all that fucking hair, Blue's heavy, steadily breathing body blocking him from one side like an abatis.
At last he kicked the crumpled ball of the fucking stuff off the bed with his feet--and Lily with it.
Lily crashed onto the floor, dragging the last duvet with her.
Blue was slowly coming to--and the first thing he seemed to notice was his master's distress. He gave a quiet, moan-like howl and tried to lick Andrew's hand. He missed it an inch and licked the edge of the bed instead, teeth clucking together.
Andrew said, "Seize."
Blue leapt out of the bed and down at Lily. He flashed past Andrew like a smudge of colour. His coordination was still a little off, but he set his paws on both sides of the red quilt with which Lily was still fumbling, trapping her inside it, and bit into the fabric.
Lily made a muffled sound from inside the ball of quilts--a sound that wasn't a proper scream. It was more like a wail, or a cry of a bird. Wetness spread through the crimson, colouring it a shade darker.
Blue snarled, and began to gnaw on the quilt, holding it with his paws, like a toy ball he used to sharpen his teeth on as a puppy.
Andrew stretched out on the bed and stared at the ceiling. It had a long crack running through it. He hadn't noticed it before, but he kind of liked its authenticity. He'd have to have a RICS surveyor over at some point to check the wall ties for corrosion, but that could wait. He loved the houses built in the '30s. He'd always wanted one. Not that he could have really shared it with the bitch, in the long term.
He'd always had a fear at the back of his mind that Lily would harm Blue. He'd felt the hateful impulse come from her when she wasn't busy containing it. People who could hurt a dog--even think of hurting one--weren't quite people to him. Humanoids. Lily was a mean coward. No wonder the French folded over and sucked cocks during WWII.
He hoped Lily sucked cocks in hell.
She'd drugged Blue while he hadn't been looking--maybe she'd have poisoned him, if he'd lingered in the shower longer. Never did have the guts for an open confrontation, Lily. Not this bitch.
He listened to Blue gnaw at her bones. They cracked and snapped like chicken joints. She'd prefer to be licked to death--Blue's tongue weathering down her bones like water weathered down the rocks.
"You gotta finish it all now, like she said, buddy." Andrew said. "Don't leave a mess on the floor. This'll last us till Friday. A real feast, eh, old man?"
But Lily's remains were still around on Saturday morning. Blue was circling them, lapping at them with laziness when he felt like it and lying down again to guard them.
Andrew lay on the bed, where he'd spent the last four days. He didn't mind the stench. He'd smelt worse in Afghanistan. But his mind was restless from the silence. He scratched Blue's scruff.
"Fucking speak louder!"
Blue continued to bark, though not much louder than before. He gave Andrew a reproachful look.
"Yeah, you're right. Fuck it."
He got up, stepping over the mauled mess he'd gotten so close to at a bizarre point in his life, and went to her wardrobe. She had a whole lot of stuff. She'd told him once Karl Lagerfeld made designer clothes for his cat called something like 'Shubert', as if it has something to do with Blue.
Cats were nothing like dogs. Cats were cunts, like Lily. She'd always thought he was rich and didn't even care why. That's all she'd ever wanted from him. He'd bought her so much expensive shit.
Andrew opened the wardrobe and stared at her clothes. He picked out a dress, then another. They were all the same to him. He didn't know about these things.
At last they had lunch, Blue and he--the remainders of the ratatouille the bitch had made on Tuesday. Andrew had left it in the fridge and it was still edible. Blue wasn't hungry, but he kept Andrew company. He sat still in Lily's black lace slip which kind of sagged at the front, a pink Moschino dress of some stretchy fabric on top and a bow tied between his ears, made from a scarf. Such a well-bred dog.
Neighbours passed the house and stared. Someone was beginning to take pictures.
I wonder if I had better draw the curtains.