Sunday Stories: “Dead Weight”


Dead Weight
by Harold Stallworth


Barkley is either too old or too fat to climb up the stairs to our second-floor condo. Sadly, the promise of leftover beef and broccoli is no longer enough to lure him up the stairs after his morning walk. To be fair, the stairs are especially tall and steep, and there are few things that I dread more than scaling them after a long day of work.


The prescription for doggie Advil is somehow 20 times more expensive than human Advil. The veterinarian says that Barkley needs to lose weight, at least ten pounds. She recommends a leaner diet and consistent exercise, and though I’m deeply offended by the notion that Barkley is in terrible shape, I feel some smug satisfaction in the fact that the doctor dispatching this advice could stand to do the same.



For weeks, Barkley’s diet is limited to dry kibble and little white pills dressed with organic peanut butter. He drops the weight much faster than expected, but this does nothing to address his handicap; his new and improved physique only further enables his obnoxious quirks. He now has more stamina, which in turn translates to more barking. So much so that the neighbors give me dirty looks whenever we cross paths near the mailbox slots. “Just feed the damn thing,” I can imagine them thinking. I wish it were that simple. But I have a hard time divesting myself from Barkley’s girth. The way I see it, his obesity reflects poorly on me and only me, for he can only grow as fat as his master is willing to feed him.



The small of my back aches like hell from lugging Barkley up and down the stairs three times a day. I have no choice but to start looking for a new place to stay, a ground-floor unit that Barkley and I can call home.



The first apartment complex is surprisingly decent. I say surprisingly because several of the reviews that I read on Yelp made mention of an incident that took place months earlier, in which an argument between two women resulted in a pit bull being shot in the face. And as horrible as it may seem, the issue that most concerns me is not the murder itself, but the glaring lack of context. There was no explanation of how the argument started, no discussion of whether or not the dog was being an asshole. I cannot nor do I wish to be the judge of whether a pit bull deserves to be shot in the face, but I can imagine countless scenarios wherein one would be justified in pulling the trigger. But the comments on Yelp had been especially vague. I think of this when the property manager introduces herself at the first apartment complex.

Desperate for small talk, she asks me what prompted the move. I tell her about Barkley. A look crosses her face, something between a sneer and a smirk. She can barely contain her disgust for my willingness to uproot my life for an animal. “That’s cute,” she says with an air of poorly veiled derision.

We walk the property and she points out the amenities. There is a pool on the roof and a park in the courtyard. The size of the available ground-floor unit is comparable to our condo, but the rent is twice as much as our current mortgage.

I ask her about the pit bull.

“What pit bull?”

“The one that got shot in the face.”

“It’s dead, I presume. Why? Is your dog a pit bull?”


She clears her throat. “That’s good. We no longer allow that breed.”

“I just thought there might be some kind of discount, all things considered.”

She leans in close and lays her hand on my shoulder. “This,” she says, whispering as if she was telling a secret, “is the best deal that you’re going to find in D.C.”

And she’s right. I go on to visit six more properties in as many hours, each more expensive than the last.



Later that night, I go on Craigslist to put Barkley up for adoption. As I begin to type a compelling argument as to why one should consider a nine-and-a-half-year-old dog, Barkley plops down on the floor beside the desk, using my foot as a pillow. I assure him that there’s nothing to worry about. I tell him that his new home will likely be furnished with a big, beautiful backyard, and that the stairs will be entirely optional. I believe he took the news quite well.



The family seems nice enough. They live in Petworth and take great pride in being transplants.



It doesn’t take long for Barkley to assimilate with his adopted family, at least judging by their Facebook posts. Part of me is disappointed by how happy he looks. He looks good. He’s still shedding weight. Our condo has never been so quiet as it is right now.


Harold Stallworth lives down the street from the Pentagon. His reporting, reviews and essays have been published by The Washington Post, Washington City Paper, Hobart, and Passion of the Weiss, among other places. His short stories can be found or are forthcoming in Alexandria Quarterly, Seven Scribes, District Lit, and Politics and Prose’s third annual District Lines fiction anthology.

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