AUGUST 2009

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About Husbands and the Dog
By Heather Fowler, Jun 08, 2009

The dog was arthritic. Below the porch in the shade granted by rotting planks, she sat, now, all day. Her fur had gone patchy. When I tried to feed her, she whined and whimpered; then I’d coax her out, saying, “Here, love. Here, darling. Raimey, come out.” At first this worked. Crying, she’d come scooting to the furrowed dirt just beyond the wood where her bowl sat, eat some food, drink some water, and go back under. At night, when the temperature dropped below thirty, often she meandered into the house, roaming in the screen door to reach the couch beside me for evening television, but after some time, as her health worsened, she stopped doing even that. I missed her there beside me.

In the way one recovers things in the process of escape, I lured her back with better food, more affection, allowing indiscretions previously unacceptable like her occasional beg at the dinner table or defecation in the house, but she was old, tired. “Mama, let her go,” the kids cried. “She’s not happy here anymore.”

This was true. The vet said we could do a surgery to help with her leg, but it would cost several thousand. He said, too, we could try other diets and block off the porch—this advice after I started to crawl in after her, gently pulling, gently pleading, “Come and eat, Raimey girl.” All this to no avail. I twisted my ankle. I couldn’t do it every day. It was dusty down there, invariably coating me with a fine cast of pale brown. I think she tried to kill herself when she got the inkling things were bad, and one afternoon, I saw her lying on her side in the road, past a copse of mulberry trees. I said, “Get up! Get up! Come on up the driveway, Raimey!” She lifted her head. She would not, for a long while—but she didn’t get hit that day.

Simultaneously, my marriage fell apart. The husband was anemic or moronic. Below the ceiling fan, in the shade granted by our dwelling, he sat, now, all day, every weekend. When I tried to feed him, he demurred. There was no coaxing him. At night, he couldn’t seem to find the couch at my side, but after a while he could hardly find the room. I wondered, in a house so small, how we could possibly miss each other.

In the way one recovers good feeling in the process of decline, I lured him with better food, more affection, and allowing indiscretions previously unacceptable to go unnoticed, like his occasional late arrival home or the smell he came in with of lilacs, shampoo from other women’s showers, and human-reeked salt. I tried, but I was old, tired. “Mama, let him go,” the kids cried, both at least twenty then—both tired of both everything and nothing. “He never wants to be here except when everyone’s gone,” my daughter Charlotte said.

This was true. The marriage therapist said we could do a series of emergency marital counseling sessions, but it would cost several thousand. She said, too, we could spend more time together and explore why I made him feel less of a man, why he needed other women—but we all know a cheating sonofabitch doesn’t need a goddamn reason other than that his hips itch to take chances—so it was my view that there was no damn bleeding heart to cry to who could fix his ills with a happy little hug. I wasn’t to blame either. Sorry. Fix a laundry-floor-tossing husband, or a cold glance disorder.

Cheating? That was bone deep.

So, I stopped crawling in under his gaze, stopped smiling at him for approval, stopped caring if he beheld me at all. After a time, I said, “Get the hell out.” I said this and I meant this, but all of this was to no avail. I had wasted my breath for months, all the while ferrying back and forth to the yard to deal with Raimey, who still lingered under the porch, still stuck as ever, but in a far sight more pain. When I heard a moan that sounded like death, I started crawling down there again, ankle be damned.

I cried with her when I could see it had hurt her to move one leg or the other. I cried on her when she could see that it hurt me to move. One day, I took her to the vet. She had been whimpering something terrible.

I felt I had no choice. “Put her down,” I said, tears streaming from my eyes.

I thought about somehow getting a second syringe so that I could go with her, even kind of wanted to go at the same time, but I realized I’d need two, maybe three syringes, to accommodate for my larger weight. And could I really ask the vet for that, could I? Say, “Please, sir, put me down at the same time as you euthanize my dog?”

I thought not. A week before, I had lain at the side of the road under the mulberry trees. I think I tried to kill myself by sheer will when I got the inkling things were that bad; then I stuck a fork tine in an outlet, hoping to get shocked, but it was the fine silver, a serving fork, too thick, and besides, I reminded myself, the children would be disturbed if I left so suddenly and in such a state.

But that day at the vet, with Raimey whining and crying just before a single set of injections that would get rid of all her pain, I almost wanted her to console me as I let her go. You’re going somewhere better, I thought. And I was glad.

Then I thought about shooting the husband up instead—one, two, or three. This would be painless. He would go to sleep. I could spend the several thousand then if I got his life insurance, and this was a fantasy, of course, but when I got home, all I knew was that I didn’t have my dog and there he was.

It was Saturday. I missed her already. There was nothing more to do, really. They would cremate her, they said. I would get a postcard when I could pick up her ashes. The husband was in the living room, watching golf, but I had nothing to accomplish now but to vacuum the couches for the last traces of Raimey’s fur, pick up her chews and toys and go on—no live dog to go tend, no kids living here, no goal other than cooking some kind of dinner and staring at his blank face, hoping to recognize it.

“Raimey’s dead,” I said.

“I’m sorry,” he said, looking up briefly to say that.

“Get the hell out,” I said again.

“No," he replied again. “Everything’s fine.”

“This is not fine.”

As usual, there was no, “But I love you too much.” No, “Let me fix things.” No promises to be more present, or, conversely, less absent. No. Nothing. So, I went out to the porch. I crawled under that wood one last time and cried in the dirt, stroking it like it was my gone dog. It was the color of my gone dog. I then called my therapist with the cell phone in my pocket to ask for an emergency session.

Her phone rang and rang. The machine picked up. I pushed end. There was no one I could give myself permission to tell: “I am lying in the dirt, touching it, missing my dead dog, and I’ve asked my dumbass man to leave again, but the damn fucker still won’t go.”

I thought about that. I cried some more—and then I coaxed me out from there. I fed myself. In the way one recovers things like a sense of self in the difficult process of detachment, I lured me back with better food, things I liked and hadn’t eaten in years, more affection—allowing indiscretions previously unacceptable like my own time spent doing my own things, listening to my own music, and acting with my own agenda. I ignored and did not cook for the husband. I wore home the scent of men’s cologne from the local Rite Aid. He did not notice.

I hoped enough ignoring would cause his desire to flee with more permanence, but after several weeks of this, he still hadn’t left. So I packed my things, including the dog’s ashes, and made a big show of it. “I’m leaving,” I finally said, the ratty tan station wagon packed and my boxes all crammed in. I had ripped my curtains from every window in the house. I would take them with me. Let him live awhile with no privacy, I thought. He may miss me then. Not that I was coming back. Not that he would notice. He likely wouldn’t.

He was standing in the driveway wearing a pair of neat jeans and a cardigan button-down. “It’s almost time,” I said as I passed him yet again with last effects to be crammed in the car.

This time, he stopped me. “Don't leave,” he said. “It’s cause of the dog, ain’t it? You’re sad. You’ve been sweet on her for years.”

“Yes,” I said. “That’s why.” And that wasn’t really why, but I didn’t want to make things complicated, didn’t want to say: She was my only real friend. I loved her so much more than I ever loved you. “That,” I repeated, “and your cheating.”

“I’m not doing that anymore,” he said, his soft silver eyes stretched believable yet again.

“How could I know?”

“You always know," he said. “It’s like you're psychic.”

“I’m just not stupid," I replied. “And you have impulse control issues.”

“But I have stopped this time. I promise.”

I considered this, but “I promise” had been promised to the gills. He could take his promise and shove it up his—oh, I was sad. I began to think, but I couldn’t get upset then. No. I had to stay calm. “Maybe so,” I said. “But my hair is grey, and my worry is sick of you. Or, actually, yes, come to think of it, it was the dog. I am devastated about her. There was this look in her eyes. This great look. And I miss it.”

But this was not said to him but out the window, five miles down the pike. I had pulled out of the driveway at the start of his word “promise”—not wanting to hear him self-conclude. The wheels peeled to satisfy that equation.

As I drove and continued to drive, there was a wheat field on one side of me and tall, unmown grass on the other. The sky began sprinkling. I pictured Raimey’s face again, her wet eyes, soft patchy fur, and sweet temperament. I would come home and she would greet me. I started to sob. Now, you might think I was crying for that husband and the years I spent seeking his affection—or the sake of the grown kids. You might think this was some kind of transference that I felt my heart was breaking over a dead dog being gone and not home, as I pulled off to the side of the road—some kind of coping/hiding behavior to secretly morn a human loss. But I loved my dog and none of that is true.

We love back most the ones who love us most, I decided—preferably those who love with the non-painful, positive love that does not vanquish. In light of this, this story was not about the husband at all. Not really. It was about leaving him. Striking out to find new destiny.

Or more about the ashes of my dog.

Heather Fowler received her MA in English and Creative Writing from Hollins University in 1997. She has taught literature, writing, or composition related courses at UCSD, Modesto Junior College, and California State University Stanislaus. Her work was among the short-listed stories on the storySouth Million Writers Award Notable Stories of 2008 list. Among other venues, her work has appeared or is forthcoming from: Surreal South 2009, Etchings, filling Station, Feminist Studies, The Abacot Journal, Night Train, Underground Voices, A cappella Zoo, Trespass, Keyhole Magazine, SUB-LIT, Coming Together: With Pride, Word Riot, Storyglossia, DOGZPLOT, Temenos, and Mississippi Review online. Her poetry has recently been featured at Empowerment4Women and INTHEFRAY, as well as having been selected for joint first place in the 2007 Faringdon Online Poetry Competition judged by Professor C. C. Norris, Distinguished Research Professor at Cardiff University. Her poems are also published in various venues including: the Map of Austin Poetry, The Coast Highway Review, the Driftwood Highway 1999 Anthology, Joe's Journal, Best of the Beach 1998, and The Publication. She currently seeks agent representation for her short fiction and novels. Please feel free to contact her at fowlerhm@hotmail.com or visit her website at heatherfowlerwrites.com.

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