By Kathy Fish
The woman’s lover died quickly and unexpectedly on his front porch. He’d been drinking whiskey and now the sun was low and shown on his dead face. His dog licked his chest, right above the spot where his heart had seized up, until his wife came and found him. She put her hand to her mouth, collected the bottle and the broken bits of glass, and went inside to make the calls she had to make.
In his will, her lover had stipulated that should he die before his dog, he wanted the dog to go to her. It didn’t make sense. She didn’t like dogs. She didn’t like Shep. When her lover came to her place, it was always under the pretense of walking Shep, so Shep of course had to come along. The dog scratched at the bedroom door while they had sex.
When she came to pick up the dog, her lover’s wife said, “I’m so sad, but I don’t like this dog. I’m glad he’ll have a good home.” As far as the wife knew, she had just been her husband’s friend and co-worker at Price King.
She opened the car door for the dog, who loped in with his tail down. The dog looked like a wolf and she didn’t like wolves. She sat in the car, in front of her lover’s house and watched his widow move from room to room, up the stairs and down. She watched for a long time and then she drove away.
Immediately she changed the dog’s name to Bill. That was her lover’s name. But, the dog never came to “Bill.” The dog stared when she said “Bill.” He cocked his head to one side, like what?
At night, she tried on looks–bored looks or smart looks or amused looks–before the bathroom mirror. She put on the hat she wore to the funeral, pulled the netting over her face.
“Do you like my hat?” she said to the dog. “Bill? Bill!” The dog lifted his eyes, but kept his chin planted on the floor. She threw the hat in the sink and ran water over it, as if it were on fire.
When she went to bed, the dog stood by and whined.
“So he slept with you, too, eh?” She dragged the dog by the collar to the hallway. “Sleep here,” she said. And she went back to bed and hummed. She burrowed under the covers and hummed and rocked from side to side every night. The dog scratched at the door. “Go, dog,” she murmured, vibrating with grief until dawn.
Her friends from Price King, who worked with Bill too, liked to talk about him after work at The 929. How he was so kind and smart and how he helped so much. How he didn’t mind doing a price check once in awhile, or replacing a carton of eggs. All this, even though he was the manager. But she knew this to be a little untrue. Bill could be a prick. But she’d listen on, remembering the feel of him between her legs, his whiskers against her cheek and she’d remark cooly that he certainly was a nice guy and a good boss and they’d sip their beers and nod.
As the months passed, she noticed her house filling up with the smell of dog, a smell she associated with Bill, his visits, their sex. She lit candles, sprayed deodorizer, opened windows. Finally, she gave the dog a bath in her tub. Her hands shook as she squeezed the handle of the sprayer and she missed the dog, showering the walls.
“Bill! Bill!” she shouted. The dog barked and she dropped the sprayer on the floor. She sat on the side of the tub until the dog started to shiver and whine. “Shit,” she said, and hoisted him out and toweled him off. Later, when she was brushing her teeth she noticed how the veins in the backs of her hands had grown bulgy as earthworms as if she had been turned inside out.
Once she and Bill had taken a ferry ride together. It was an impulsive, risky act but they held hands in line and a photographer made everybody stop before they boarded and have their picture taken. At the end of the trip, the photos were displayed in a kiosk for purchase. She’d wanted to stop and take a look at least, but Bill pulled her along past the crowd. She wanted that photo now. She wanted to put it in a nice frame and display it next to her bed.
It snowed all night and was still snowing next morning, but she bundled herself and took the dog out. He kept his tail low, sniffed and pawed, moved slow.
“We lack zest, Bill,” she told him. She thought she might get him one of those jaunty sweaters some people put on their dogs.
She had seen her lover rub the dog’s chin and neck. She tried it and he lifted his nose and closed his eyes. She patted the top of his head, his ears. She knelt in the snow and held his face in her hands. The flakes on his brow gave him a wizened look. She took off her gloves and buried her fingers in his fur. It felt as though they were both sinking into the ground. The man across the street, who had been shoveling, called over to her. Can I help you? Is everything all right?
It was the kind of wet snow that wanted melting right away, the kind that preceded the sudden, glad appearance of spring. You only had to wait a little longer. She pressed her ear to the dog’s warm side and listened.
Kathy Fish’s short fiction has appeared in Indiana Review, The Denver Quarterly, New South, Quick Fiction, Guernica, Slice and elsewhere. She was the guest editor of Dzanc Books’ Best of the Web 2010. She is the author of three collections of short fiction: a chapbook of flash fiction in the chapbook collective, A Peculiar Feeling of Restlessness: Four Chapbooks of Short Short Fiction by Four Women (Rose Metal Press, 2008), Wild Life (Matter Press, 2011) and Together We Can Bury It (The Lit Pub, 2013).