by Ari Braverman
The young professor, now that the dog sleeps in his bed, regularly wakes up with grit in his pubic hair and cockleburs attached to the side of his pillow.
The dog—about forty pounds, two feet tall from her feet to the tips of her pointed ears—looks like a little red wolf. Her eyes are golden coins in the copper dish of her face. Her paws smell like corn chips. This morning her tail goes thump thump thump thump at the end of the bed.
She is no longer just an empirical exercise, which surprises her master every day. He had never felt any particular warmth or loneliness for pets, but a quote opened him towards a new perspective.
“The animal is in the world like water in water.”
The young professor, too, had experienced self-consciousness as something painful and disappointing. Life’s more tender possibilities eluded him. And so he decided: a dog. He would feed it and in return its behaviors would teach him how to curtail his mind.
Two weeks after bringing home the pye-bitch, the young professor put a kettle on the stove and, somewhere between selecting a teabag and pouring the cream, he became ripe for attachment. The dog dozed on the floor. Her ribcage rose and fell. As he looked at her, a cloud of well-being swelled inside him until it seemed his head might separate from his body and float away. It felt good and bad at the same time. The abstraction he craved suddenly seemed so desolate.
“Little Killer,” he said. She flicked an ear. A rush of affection made him dumber than he had ever been— “Are you a bad dog?”—and it was a relief.
This morning, she rolls over on the coverlet and he declares, “What a ham!” He stares at her black eyelids, her flexible ears, her gummy lips, the soft cone of her vulva. “Little Killer,” he says softly. “You’ll be all right.” His voice contains an emotional quality that still embarrasses him. He allows the dog to lick the salt from his palms and kisses the top of her head, neither of which he has ever done before. He bends to smell her breath.
They must go to an appointment: last weekend the young professor discovered a lump in her belly.
At the clinic, they wait for forty-five minutes. Finally the veterinarian comes in the door, mid-laugh. She holds out her hand and he grips it. “Sorry for my lateness,” she says. “Had a false alarm south of town. It turned out we just had to flip a flap.” The young man has no idea what she’s talking about but he makes himself laugh anyway.
He hoists the dog onto the examining table. The vet’s hands are long and sensitive-looking for someone so plump. Glittering, the needle slides into a foreleg. With one hand on the dog and the other resting on a notepad, the veterinarian explains the need for blood work, recommends an exploratory surgery, and quotes a price: seven hundred dollars.
The young man is stricken. He lives on adjunct’s stipend. He looks at the dog’s body, solid as an object. Her ears are flat, her tail tucked. An aide holds the dog in place as the vet inserts a thermometer into her rectum. The juxtaposition of his love and this medical setting feels perverse. Words bubble up from a place the young man hasn’t accessed since he was a boy.
“You think…They care about us, right?” he says and looks at the floor, appalled.
“Is this something that affects your decision?” The veterinarian regards him from behind her plastic glasses.
Worry and resentment force his shoulders towards the floor. He thinks, “I’m a grown man! She doesn’t know anything about me!” But his icky feelings are a brown cloud, filling the room like a fart. He can’t remember the last time he finished a drink in public. He hasn’t had sex in fifteen months. His parents will die sooner rather than later.
“They bond, sure,” she says, then lumbers down the hall to speak with the receptionist, her husband.
Ari Braverman is from Iowa City and Denver by way of New Orleans. She was awarded a 2015 De Alba Fellowship from Columbia University, and some of her recent stories have appeared at BOMB, in the newest issue of Tammy Journal and at SmokeLong Quarterly. She is an assistant editor for Conjunctions, and lives in Harlem, New York.