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On Valentine’s Day last year, the dog started biting you. Its jaws responded to you with lazy discrimination and every time you got near it, it snapped. All those times it bit you, drawing blood, taking off the top layer of skin, puncturing the fleshier parts, gnashing at your heels and it never bit me. I remained untouched. Afterwards, when you would tell our friends about what had happened, you always said that the biting was the start of it.
We had bought the dog together two days after Christmas, walking around the kennel with its waterlogged pavement, water pooling in the collapsed concrete and the rain soaking our jeans and trainers. You said it smelled how you imagine dogs smell and you wanted a dog that didn’t smell like that. We peered into the cages, making eye contact with every dog we saw and waited to find the right one. You had decided it was the right time for us to become the people that buy a dog for life and not just for Christmas. We were at that stage, you said.
A man in a large puffer jacket and hands like shovels led us down the endless corridor of dark cages, shouting facts about each dog back to us – “half-blind,” “angry as fuck,” “don’t even think about letting it near children” – and his boots scratched against the wet path with weary obedience. The dogs looked sad and soulless and some snarled and shouted expletives at us. None of them were like the dogs on the website with their paws against the wire bars and their pink wet tongues lovingly lapping at the metal. By that point I was thoroughly depressed and you were starting to think that we weren’t at that stage after all.
The final cage was different.
“Deaf as a post this one.”
The dog looked like a plasticine figure from a film I used to watch as a child, motionless but somehow alive, its white hair coarse and still and its eye deep and black and shiny. It stared right at me, right into my own eyes and it didn’t drop its gaze, just looked and looked and I felt unnerved and comfortable at the same time, wondering what it would do next and I was seeing my hesitancy as the confirmation I needed. Moisture dripped down its black nose and it looked at me as if it had been waiting for me.
“This is the one,” I said to you.
“This one? Are you sure?” You looked at me lopsidedly with something that resembled sympathy.
“This one. I know it. I feel something.”
“Okay then.” You turned to the man who was also staring into the dog’s black eyes. “We’ll take this one.”
“He’s sixty pounds in cash,” said the man with large hands, snapping his head towards you. “I’ve knocked you off a tenner to apologise for the deafness. If you pay me now, you can take him today.”
I pulled a roll of notes out of my jeans pocket and counted out three.
The man handed me a rope lead, knotted like a noose, opened the door of the cage and the dog sat there waiting for us.
“He’s all yours.”
The first weeks were blissful for me. The dog followed me around our flat, intrigued by everything I did. I had never seen anyone look at me so fondly as I put on my shoes to leave the house. It would paw at the bathroom door while I was sat on the toilet and when I opened the door it would be there staring at me with the black eyes. At night, when we laid in bed and read the Collected Stories of Chekov to each other or watched a French arthouse horror film, it would sit there watching us, its black eyes shining with the reflection of the distorted colour on the screen and then when the television was off, it would climb on to the bed, slip itself underneath the duvet and wriggle down to the foot of the bed where it would press itself against my leg and rest its jaw on my shin bones.
When we awoke, the dog would already be there, sat by the bed, staring at us and then it would spend the rest of the day following us around and sitting down to marvel at our movements and our making of dinner and our hugging on the sofa. We tried to teach it tricks and get it to lie down and roll over but teaching a deaf dog to do tricks is difficult if you don’t buy the right books and we didn’t.
After a few weeks of this, you came back from the bathroom one night to get into bed and I was lying there bathed in the soft glow of the lamp on the bedside table and the white dog was laying on my chest and I was staring into its black eyes and rubbing my hands up and down its front legs, massaging them with my palms. I asked you what you thought it was thinking and you said you didn’t know, maybe it was thinking nothing and we had got a dog with dementia and I laughed about how funny that would be if that was the case but you were completely unmoved and told me that you’d had enough of this and we needed to find alternative sleeping arrangements. You said to me that I needed to go to the pet store and sort the situation out, so the next morning I did.
I returned from the garden centre the next day and unloaded the cage from the car. It had to be folded down to fit in the boot and you came to help me get it out and, each taking one end, we carried it through the front door and into the living area. Together we erected it, a huge dark structure with interweaved copper bars and we stood it in the centre of the living room as the dog sat in the doorway watching us with no emotion on its face, its pink tongue occasionally moistening its dark lips. I asked if you were happy now and you said that you were excited for us to get our bed back.
That night, we ate dinner together and I shared mine with the dog as it sat by my chair, quiet and still, looking up at the underside of the table, where it imagined my plate to be. I fed it pieces of chicken skin, peas mashed into chunks of potato and at the end of the meal let it lick the grease off of the plate.
We read at the kitchen table for half an hour while our food settled as you had said it would be unfair to get into bed before putting the dog into its new night-time home. I put my book down and said to you that I actually thought keeping a dog in a cage was immoral and I didn’t want to have any part in forcing it into the cage before bed because it felt like such a cruel thing to be doing and I was worried it would be upset. I found myself running out of breath and my lips were wet with the saliva that had built up in my mouth as I was speaking. You blinked twice and said that was fine, you would do it. From the fridge, you took two slices of wafer-thin ham and, as I made my way out of the kitchen and towards the bedroom, the dog looked at me, firm and unblinking.
I climbed into bed, still fully dressed and pulled the duvet up to my chin, missing the absence of white hair at my feet and I heard the echo of rattling copper from the living room as I waited for you. You came back into the bedroom, took all of your clothes off in silence and joined me, both of us lying on our back, staring up at the white ceiling.
“How did it go?” I asked.
“Fine,” you said, but you didn’t sound sure.
That was the night of February 13th.
The next morning, I made us both a coffee and brought yours to you in bed before I went into the kitchen and out of the back door for my morning cigarette. The first hit of nicotine brought a strange unease in my chest and I realised I hadn’t thought about the dog yet. It hadn’t made a noise during the night and hadn’t felt the vibrations of me walking through the flat when I awoke. I imagined its soft white face, curled back over itself so that it rested on its thigh, a position it seemed to find comfortable when it slept, and the rest of the cigarette became more enjoyable as I looked up at the heavy sky.
It was Valentine’s Day and I knew you liked me to make an effort, so back in the kitchen I whisked some eggs in a bowl, put four slices of toast under the grill and asked Alexa to play some Lana Del Rey. I heard you leave the bedroom and move towards the living room, heard the bars of the copper cage being slid back and then I heard you scream. I ran into the living room, upending the Pyrex bowl full of liquid egg and saw you on the floor holding your arm to your chest, blood dripping on to the white carpet, the dog looking at you with its black eyes.
I asked you if you were okay.
“It fucking bit me,” was all you could say in reply.
I went to get some antiseptic cream and plasters and the dog followed me into the kitchen, licked my bare feet with its hot tongue as I went into the medicine cabinet and then it led the way back to the living room, its testicles swinging pendulously in front of me. While I dressed your wound, it sat and watched with its black eyes and blood-stained mouth. You asked me to keep it away from you and I tried to defend the dog, saying that the new environment probably frightened him. You left the flat and told me to stop being such a manipulative arsehole.
After that, the dog kept biting you. It stood in front of me protectively, moaned with a growl like distant thunder whenever you came close to me and when you did get too close, it snapped again, always drawing blood and always looking disinterested once it had hurt you. It bit you so many times that I had to go to the chemist and get another tube of antiseptic cream to keep patching up the new wounds it inflicted. Eventually you started staying in bed and I would bring three meals a day to the bedroom, trying to shut the dog out when I could but sometimes it would slip through the gap in the door and would sit at the end of the bed growling and snarling at you.
I tried to repair the relationship. I would bring the dog into the bedroom and press a handful of ice cubes into your palm and get you to drop them on the floor for the dog so that it could lick them up, an activity it seemed to relish. It would lap its tongue at the melting ice, trying to clamp its jaws on to each of them, but it made no difference once it was done and would be back growling at you when it realised the liquid was gone and I was sitting next to you in bed. You told me this wasn’t normal behaviour for the dog and I asked if you meant the ice cubes or the growling and you said obviously the growling and incessant biting and you said I should probably take it to the vets, so I did.
I sat in the reception area waiting for the receptionist to call the dog’s name or my name; I didn’t know how these things worked. It was my first time at the vets and it smelled exactly like the hospital waiting room we sat in when you broke your arm after falling off of the rope-swing we made in the woods one summer. I kept looking down at the dog who seemed unimpressed by it all. Eventually, the receptionist called its name and it took me a moment to register what she was saying so she quickly shouted the name twice more. I took the dog up to the counter.
“Well, that took a while,” she said to me, looking bored.
“Yes, sorry, it’s deaf. It didn’t hear you call its name.” The receptionist looked at me like I was an idiot.
In a small room at the back of the building, the vet listened to my concerns and then pulled on a pair of blue latex gloves and, without asking for my permission, jammed a finger into the dog’s arsehole.
“I’m just checking the Anal glands. They can sometimes be full and that can cause discomfort and make them a bit irritable.”
She wiggled her finger around, the dog opening its mouth and panting, its pink tongue holding on to its saliva and the vet looked up to the ceiling, like she was trying to find the perfect spot or had spotted a spider crawling out from beneath the polystyrene tiles. After a few minutes, she removed her finger in frustration.
“Well, it doesn’t seem to be that.”
She appeared to have a cold and sniffed, wiped her nose on the back of a gloved hand, took them off and threw them on the floor.
“See how he gets on over the next two weeks and if he’s still biting, we’ll have him back in.”
I stood there looking at her, waiting for more.
“You can go now,” she said.
I picked the dog up, placed it on the floor and went to reattach its lead but it walked right out of the room and into the reception area before I could get near it and when I appeared to pay the receptionist, it looked at me once before leaving the building. I followed it outside and it was sat by the boot of the car, droplets of rain collecting in its white fur, staring at me with the shiny black eyes.
After the visit to the vets, strange things started to happen. The next morning when I woke up to let the dog out of the cage, its shoulders and back were pressed tightly against the copper bars, the white hair erect through the gaps. Its spine was curved over and seemed shorter, its back legs looked longer and the toe joints on both sets of paws had grown at least two inches. I pulled the bars back and let it out and it moved with great speed across the carpet, hunching over in the corner by the living room door, looking at me more intently than ever. I decided to not tell you about this and hoped things would go back to normal but I wasn’t sure how.
The dog continued to grow, its arm and legs lengthening each day, its fingers and toes resembling that of my own. The ears were still folded over, but were shrinking and had moved towards the top of its head and the protruding nose had started to shrink. Within a few days, it could just about support itself on two legs. I went to the supermarket and bought fresh meat, bread and milk and then spent the evening preparing different sandwiches for it. It still sat on the floor, but it looked ludicrous, like when one of my parent friends went to the soft play with their children and decided to join in. There was something perverted about its new look. Whenever I came to check on you in the bedroom, you would ask how the dog was and I would say it was fine, which was true in a way because it seemed happy enough, but I dreaded showing you my bank balance that was rapidly decreasing in order to accommodate the growing guest.
It seemed cruel to force the dog into the cage now, so at night I let it roam the flat. One evening, about three weeks after the dog started changing, we were watching the Japanese version of The Grudge in bed when the bedroom door opened and the dog walked in on its back legs.
“What the fuck have you done?” you asked me, your face filled with horror and disdain.
I didn’t really know what to say in reply but I got out of bed and led the dog through to the kitchen, offered it a seat at the table and made it a ham sandwich which it accepted with thin fingers and stuffed into its mouth, swallowing it in one. It sat there staring at me intently, its shrunken nose a black mascara smudge in the centre of its face. I thought about bargaining with it, asking it to leave but remembered it was deaf. The dog was sat with its legs spread apart and its bollocks repulsed me, the thin membrane of the sack stuck to the plastic of the chair like cling film. I went back to the bedroom and came back with some clothes, forced a pair of jogging bottoms over its legs and a Dark Side of the Moon t-shirt over its thin arms and torso. I slept on the sofa that night and the dog spent the night watching me. When I woke up the next morning, it was on the adjacent sofa, its legs propped up on one arm, drinking a can of Kronenbourg it had got from the fridge. I didn’t think that was what dogs would like to drink but it was slurping it out of the can with vigour.
Our living room and kitchen became the dog’s living room and kitchen, then. Every time I would try and make myself dinner or make dinner for you, it would be there, drinking the lager from the fridge or eating raw meat from the freezer without defrosting it. It pissed in the sink and shit on the floor and then went back to lying on the sofa, staring up at the ceiling with its black eyes, a darkness sitting on its brow. Eventually, I could not take it anymore and I moved permanently into the bedroom with you. I asked you if we should take it back to the adoption centre and you laughed right in my face. I saw your point.
Then one morning, the dog had disappeared. You left the bedroom tentatively, to see what it was doing as had become our habit every morning for the previous month. We left the bedroom only to pick up the takeaways that were delivered and to take the rubbish back out or to use the bathroom although sometimes the dog would be in there, looking at itself in the mirror and touching its face with its pink fingers and curved nails. That morning, you returned jubilant.
“It’s gone,” you ran around screaming. “It’s gone, it’s gone, it’s fucking gone!”
We held on to the faint hope that it had gone forever and danced in our new found liberation, trying to drink in everything that we both knew would probably come to an end. I went to the kitchen, sifted through plastic bags of rotting fruit and vegetables, found a bottle of sparkling wine and we sat naked in bed drinking it in large gulps, the sun shining yellow through the skylight above us and casting sharply defined shadows of our fine forms on the walls and the duvet. You put on a record by Sharon Van Etten and then we moved to the shower and made love against the cold tiles, trying to find comfort in the small space. You hated it when I used the phrase “made love,” but words were not a strength of mine at that point and in that moment of relief, I don’t know that there was a right word for it anyway. After we had finished and we were washing each other’s hair, the bathroom door opened and the dog was there, its black eyes shining bright, stood up fully on two legs now, a cigarette in its left hand, slowly raised to be sucked by its horrible wet and red lips. You whispered in my ear, through a mouthful of shampoo foam, that you thought we might be stuck like this forever. I said I was starting to think that you were right. The dog looked forlorn and moved away from the bathroom door and towards the living room.
About two weeks ago, during the middle of the night, I was woken up by the sound of the dog moving around the flat. I found it sitting in the kitchen, a cigarette in one hand, a pen in the other, trying to write on the surface of the kitchen table but struggling to move the pen into forming discernible shapes. It was wearing a black suit I had meant to take to the dry cleaners months ago. I sat down next to the dog, took the pen from its hand, and held on to it. It flicked the cigarette on to the floor, lifted up an index finger, the nail curved over the tip, and brushed a strand of long white hair from its eye. I felt like it was trying to tell me something but its eyes were so deep and dark that I couldn’t make out anything at all. It went to the fridge, took out two plastic packets of meat and a four pack of lager, put them all in a carrier bag and then moved towards the front door. The door opened and the dog moved out into the dark and wet night. I followed it out.
“Hey!” I called out to it, hoping it would feel the vibrations. I felt like Marlon Brando in that scene in Streetcar as the rain soaked my hair and body. The dog turned around and looked at me. It was always looking at me. It moved towards me, grabbed the back of my neck with one of its rough hands and pulled me towards it, kissing me firmly on the mouth, slipping its tongue in between my lips and massaging an ulcer on my cheek. It removed itself, looked at me with the black eyes one last time, pulled the suit jacket tightly around itself, turned away from me and walked down the road in the rain with purposeful strides.
When I got back into the flat, I was still in my underwear and soaking wet and you were standing there in one of my t-shirts, the material clinging to your hips and your mouth was curved into a large, open O. You asked me why I was crying.