By Kelsey Larson
I get the dog because my therapist says it will help me. “You need to practice loving something,” he says.
“You don’t want that one,” says the man at the shelter. “She will bite you.”
The dog has stupid ears that stand straight up, a mangey coat the color and consistency of the underside of an orange peel, and she’s chihuahua-sized but not exactly a chihuahua.
“What kind of dog is it?”
“No kind,” says the man at the shelter. “No kind that anybody wants.”
I pay for the dog.
She does bite me. My hands are adorned in rings of red puncture marks. At night I try to get her to sleep on the bed with me, but she growls quietly until I put her back in the crate. She’ll only sleep with the door closed, with wire bars between us.
In the morning I eat some terrible off-brand fruit loops with marshmallows and cry into the bowl. The marshmallows are pale and hard and stick in my throat like little pieces of bone. The dog watches me jealously and I wonder if this is what she wants more than anything else, little chunks of the bones of her enemies, washed down with milk.
“Me too,” I tell the dog, and bend to give her a marshmallow. She bites me and eats the marshmallow. The milk in my bowl is stained pink. I can’t find any Neosporin for my hands, so I take the dog with me to Rite Aid.
Suddenly the dog is on my side. For the first time we’re a team. She hates strangers as much as I do. She growls at everyone who passes, barks at every dog she sees. A child squeals, “Can I pet your dog?” and bends toward her. She snaps at him and he screams. His mother glares at me. I tug the leash and say, triumphantly, “Better not. She will bite you.”
After a few days with the dog my ex comes to visit. He studies the dog doubtfully, my torn-up hands. “You got the meanest dog you could find,” he says, after the dog bites him.
“She’s not mean,” I say. “She’s misunderstood.” I reach out to the dog and she sniffs my hand, bites me gently this time, holds my fingers in her teeth as if they’re a little broken-winged bird.
“I don’t think this is what the therapist meant,” says my ex.
He tries to kiss me at the door and I bite his lip so hard it bleeds. He leaves in a cloud of curse words with a red-dotted tissue in his hand, threatening to stop paying for my therapy, the dog barking at him until the door closes.
“I don’t like him either,” I assure the dog, and I pour us both a bowl of fruit loops, turn on the TV. The dog sits quietly and watches, eventually curling up on the carpet to sleep, the first time she’s fallen asleep outside of the crate, and I dream that I’m in an old stone building filled with skeletons hanging from the ceiling.
“What kind of bird is that?” I ask a man in a uniform, pointing to a marvelous skeleton covered in feathers.
“No kind,” he says. “It’s imaginary.”
“Isn’t this a museum?” I ask.
“Sure,” he says. “But only half of all creatures are real.”
My therapist doesn’t like the dog, either. It bites him immediately. “You need to get a muzzle for that thing,” he says.
The dog jumps onto my lap and I look at her with some surprise. She curls into the shape of a bagel, her large ears still alert. My therapist is distracted. He says the dog is glaring at him. “Dogs can’t glare,” I tell him. He takes a photo on his phone, shows me, and I laugh. The dog is looking at him as if she wants to eat him. I’m sure she does.
The next morning, I make the dog a special breakfast of kibble with marshmallows. When Animal Control comes for her I’m not surprised. It could have been anyone: my ex, my therapist, the woman on the street. “She bit a lot of people,” I tell the Animal Control man, fondly, as I hand her over, as she tries to bite him. When she’s gone I cry into my cereal bowl again, then I throw the whole thing against the wall so that it shatters.
“I’m sorry about the dog,” says my ex, over the phone, later, while I stare at the pink stains dripping their way down the wall, the stuck, soggy loops.
“That’s okay,” I say. “Only half of all creatures are real.”
I imagine the dog’s skeleton covered in white orange-peel fuzz suspended from the ceiling in the museum. Maybe one of these nights I’ll see her in a dream, a plaque on the wall next to her that says something you tried to love, and a man in a uniform.
“Watch out,” he’ll say, as I reach out to touch the dog’s little bones, her shiny sharp teeth. “She will bite you.”
“My little dog passed away this year, and this story came to me in a dream soon after. My dog never bit anyone–he didn’t have any teeth–but I feel the story is a fitting tribute to his weird personality. I am so honored to win Blue Earth Review’s Dog Daze contest, both because I am a Minnesotan myself and have admired this publication for years, and of course, because there couldn’t be a better theme than one that includes dogs! :)”
Kelsey Larson grew up in Minnesota and currently lives in the Seattle area, where she hikes in the summer, skis in the winter, and drinks too much coffee year-round. Her work has most recently been seen in the Vassar Review, The Molotov Cocktail, and Second Chance Lit.