by Gloria Frym
Rumor has it, this woman goes through dogs. Some women go through husbands, some men go through women, some kids go through clothes, ballerinas go through toe shoes, spendthrifts go through money, overeaters go through cookies. And so forth. But this woman, this is her sixth dog in a short time. Longer, of course if you count it in dog years.
The porch gossips say, and who knows if they can be trusted, who really knows what’s what, that she might have a disease. You know the kind they feature on a 60 Minutes or “ER.” The kind that glues people to the TV because they’re horrified and compelled like they’d be at a bloody accident or a building on fire. So long as it’s not them or theirs.
Dog #1 died suddenly.
Dog #2 died suddenly after a brief illness.
Dog #3 died slowly after a slow illness and many vet visits.
Dog #4 died some way, no one remembers.
Dog #5 rolled over and died.
Dog #6 is okay now but was sick as a small puppy.
The gossips are crossing their fingers. After all they live in the same vicinity. The woman says the veterinarian says that there’s something toxic in the soil in her backyard. What if there’s something toxic in all their backyards? What if her house and their houses were built over old gas stations or car repair shops? It’s hard to believe that this woman would ever let her dogs out in her backyard. Dog #6 she carries in a baby front pack because he is very little. He’s not going to get much bigger, either. But now, she says, he’s better, and she lets him move around on a leash. In fact, she walks him. So, say the gossips, and she probably never puts him outside alone. That’s why they’re suspicious.
It could be that this woman simply has bad luck with pets.
It could be that this woman makes her pets ill so she can nurse them, right up to their death.
She has no children and no husband.
The gossips say, Thank God for that.
It is very hard, given the circumstantial evidence, when one is told of such events, not to believe them. They sound so plausible, even if there is no proof. Why do they appeal to one’s instincts rather than one’s reason? Juicy bits of information about a woman who is rather nervous and neurotic, who strolls down the street with a different dog every year or so.
Goes to great lengths, far away places to buy the dogs, after long email conversations with their breeders. Always a pure-bred dog. Always from out of state. The facts start to pile up, right? Something, if one had nothing else to do, one could take to a private investigator. Heâ€™d solve it, all right.
Can you go to jail for murdering a dog? It’s a misdemeanor. The law considers dogs “chattel.” But you remember that guy who threw a dog off the freeway? That was cruelty. That got him jail time. How about murdering someone else’s dog? That would also get you jail time.
Somewhere there is something called an Animal Patrol. Not like they take animals to the pound, but they remove abused pets from homes. Kind of like Child Protective Custody Services.
Yesterday, I lied.
A good lie, told spontaneously, is a piece of art, though it makes person like me guilty. It could be addictive. It worked that well.
It all started after I’d heard about the woman with the succession of dogs.
The car wouldn’t start. The battery dead, again.
The operator at triple A says, 45 minutes.
Forty five minutes, I say, oh no! I have to pick up a child!
From school or from daycare? the operator asks.
From daycare. If you’re late, they just take the kid to Child Protective Custody Services.
Oh my God, the operator says, greatly alarmed. Is that what they do these days?
Oh yes, I say, they just don’t want to wait.
In two minutes, a tow truck arrived.
So your little car wonâ€™t start, hon?
Yeah, it’s always the battery.
He did his jumping magic with great dispatch.
When I thanked him for arriving on the scene so quickly, he said, Oh, you deserve even faster service.
How could it be faster, I thought?
Of course, he said, What you deserve and what you get are two different things in this world.
Yeah, I know I said. I mean I was just laid off, I lied again.
You in the tech biz?
No, I’m a school teacher.
A teacher! For Christ’s sake, the bastards. It will come back to them. Some kid will kill a dog because nobody taught him the right way to behave.
Gloria Frym is the author of two story collections, How I Learned and Distance No Object, as well as several volumes of poetry, including By Ear, Back to Forth, Impossible Affection, and Homeless at Home. She is also the author of a book of interviews, Second Stories: Conversations with Women Artists. Since 1987, she has been a member of the core faculty of the Poetics Program at New College in San Francisco. She also teaches in the MFA Program in Writing at CCAC.