I liked to go walking at night, and so did Alice. My roommates, Edith and Elizabeth, thought I was a fool, but I always went prepared. I wore an old striped one-piece swimsuit over top my underthings, a baggy Irish fisherman’s jumper, a woollen plaid skirt, and two pairs of thick stockings. The long laces of my bovver boots were tied around my ankles like ballerina ribbons, a green beret hiding my hair. And, of course, I had Alice, whose white body glowed like the body of a cartoon ghost. She was a bull terrier, stocky, with a head worthy of a Roman emperor. At night, there were fewer women and dogs out and about, so Alice was less distracted, but it was also harder to see the dog filth that was everywhere, and when I went back home, I always had to scrape some off the bottom of my boots.
Edith, Elizabeth, and I, along with our dogs, lived in a basement apartment. Inside, it was painted all white with decorative trimmings, though it had terribly low ceilings, as if our apartment were a cake in a box being squashed. The ceiling lights were round and breast-like with copper tips and trimming, as if gigantic naked women lived above us and stuck their large breasts through holes in the floor, laughing at our misfortune for living in a basement. The white radiators gave off a weak heat, and the plaster mouldings were like bits of a starved-girl’s skeleton. When we first moved in, we discovered an old image of a naked woman taped in one of the closets. She had no dog. It was a very old photo. Boys must have once lived in the same apartment. The thought frightened us, and we cleaned as best we could, using bleach and baking soda. Edi burned the photograph of the naked woman over the stove, the woman lingering like a grey ghost made out of smoke, much larger than when she was flat and contained in a square.
Our apartment was the bottom of a very thin five-storey house made of dark red brick. The top floor had a tower covered in green shingles, it looked like a dragon’s neck, and was the bedroom of a girl named Lou-Ann, who slept in an armchair because the tower was too small and round to fit a bed. Lou-Ann owned a black poodle named Edgar, who was known for being clever, and together they worked in the back room of a post office, sorting envelopes and sniffing them for wicked things. Lou-Ann told us they once discovered a package full of men’s hairs, addressed to a woman, and another time a drawing of a shirtless man on a horse surrounded by hearts. Lou-Ann shared the top floor with four other girls. All the apartments were crammed, with the exception of the third floor, a large three-bedroom where only two girls lived. They owned bulldogs and hardly went outside.
Our basement was a two-bedroom. Elizabeth slept on a fainting couch in the living room. Her job was picking up rubbish off the street, so she couldn’t afford to rent a bedroom of her own, but neither could Edi and I afford the apartment without her. I told Edi we should just let Elizabeth have the living room as a bedroom, but Edi said that because the kitchen was so small she needed another room to sit in.
Edi didn’t work. I don’t think she wanted to.
She received money and parcels from her father, who sent them under the name Miss Djuna-Rose. Lou-Ann made Edi nervous. It was a disgusting thing to be in contact with one’s father all the time. Edi was the only girl I knew who was. She was afraid Lou-Ann would figure it out.
Like me and Elizabeth, Edi applied for a job by post after leaving school. She received a position as a file clerk. It was a good position, but she was fired after her first day because Benjamin, her dog, made a mess on a bunch of papers and bit another girl’s dog.
Benjamin was a Rottweiler, and she had never trained him properly, even though it was the most important thing a girl was supposed to do. He was constantly restless, because Edi rarely went outside.
Edi was a redhead. Her hair was very long and thick and dry, her skin very freckly. The bones of her wrists, ankles, and nose were all prominent and her eyes very narrow. Her eyebrows were very light, almost blonde. She didn’t trim them. From certain angles you could see tiny golden hairs down on her eyelids, high on her forehead, and also on her chin and above her thin lips. She didn’t have bangs, her forehead stuck out. If she grew old, her forehead would become more and more prominent, I thought.
She kept her orange hair up with an ugly lacquered black-and-gold clip or tied it in a braid using a rubber band, the kind our dogs ate if we left them lying around. After, we’d have to feed them bicarbonate of soda to vomit them up.
Everything she wore was covered in stains because she never used protection when she had her period. Sanitary napkins were expensive: we kept them for going out, so Elizabeth and I stuffed our underwear with toilet paper or old rags from around the apartment. Benjamin often managed to get into the garbage bin and chew them up, leaving flakes of bloodied, slobbery paper and cloth around like the feathers of a butchered chicken.
Edi always came to my door and stared at me as I prepared to go outside. I knew she’d go through my things while I was gone. She borrowed my clothes and returned them dirty, dark brown bloodstains on my grey wool stockings, tea stains on my cardigans.
The air was cold, so the smell of dog filth was not so strong, though I could hear dogs barking everywhere, see them pawing at lit, uncurtained windows, wanting to go outdoors too. Alice pulled me onto a quiet, darker street and went to the bathroom on the wild lawn of a house with no lights before we continued on.
Walking towards us, on the sidewalk, was a clown.
Alice and he were the brightest things on the street. He wore a blue wig, a yellow-and-red suit with large buttons, and exaggerated saddle shoes. Alice stopped and growled, waiting for him to pass.
The clown got down on his knees and held his palms open for her to sniff, which, to my surprise, she did. His hands were shaking. He told me his name was Charles and would I like to come over to his house for a cup of coffee.
I was frightened, but Alice was no longer growling, she even wagged her tail a bit, so I said yes. I had only had coffee once before in my life, in a tearoom with Elizabeth and Edi. We each had a cup and shared a pastry that looked like a small purple hat. Our dogs whined underneath the table and we felt horribly guilty. It was a place where girls went. It served coffee, tea, and desserts.
The pastries looked stale and were all bright, fake colours. The smell of dog was everywhere—we were used to it, but some dogs were worse than others. There were many girls who didn’t take care of their dogs and let them go to the bathroom wherever without cleaning it up: their fur was matted, their ears smelt like dirty socks, their nails were unclipped, their beards yellowed, their anuses unwashed. It was unpleasant to go somewhere like a dog-friendly tearoom. We never went again. I didn’t want to be around so many girls with filthy dogs.
Charles the clown was short. His wig and the heels of his clown shoes added some height, but Alice could reach his throat in a moment, if need be.
He took me to a large, salmon-coloured brick house with green trim and a bunch of bicycles parked on the lawn. Men often used bicycles or the trams to get around rather than walking because there was less chance of being bitten by a dog. Dogs weren’t allowed on trams or trains, and it was impossible to use a bicycle with a dog. This meant men who walked were either seen as suspicious, or as actively seeking a girl. Charles told me he walked home from work because other men made fun of his work clothes on public transport, and the clown wig flew off when he cycled.When off work, I like to cycle, he said. He pointed to a black bicycle with a light on the front and a basket on the rear, and said That one is mine.
I knew he was telling me this so I wouldn’t think him a creep who spent all his time strolling around.
We entered a green-and-yellow tiled foyer filled with men’s brogues and cigarette butts. There were three fancy umbrella stands. I didn’t understand why men needed walking sticks or umbrellas, since they never walked anywhere. Charles noticed me gawking and said men used them decoratively, but also to hit each other on the tram and in pubs. Two of the stands were painted gold, and the third was covered in some sort of oily fur. I heard birds chirping, and also music, a cheery trumpet melody drifting from upstairs. I supposed most men could afford record players and radios, and liked to keep birds as pets because of the nice sounds they made.
The halls of the house smelled like polish and sweat. There were framed photographs on the walls, of men playing lacrosse or rowing in boats. Charles held one of my hands while my other held tightly onto Alice’s leash as she sniffed and growled curiously.
We went upstairs and passed through a kitchen, which was abundant with food, and filthy. Wine and beer bottles, open tins of sweet corn and beans, bags of sliced bread, a half-eaten roast chicken, crates of apples, boxes of tea and metal canisters of coffee, a large dish of butter with the cover off, potato peels, a crate full of green cabbages. On top of the refrigerator was a cake with green icing, covered with a fancy-looking glass lid.
I didn’t mind the mess: I supposed if Edi, Elizabeth, and I had as much food as they did, our kitchen would be messy too.
His bedroom was a sunroom, a covered balcony on the fourth floor, right off the kitchen he shared with several other men. He shut his door and opened one of the windows as the rotten apple-and-meat smell from the kitchen was also in his room.
The top of his windows had stained glass depicting pheasants and herons. The light that filtered through them was brown, green, blue. Masculine colours, I thought. Despite the smell that wafted in from the kitchen, his room was very clean and austere. The furniture was all dark green and metal. There was a wool blanket on the bed and no pillow. A shelf of paperback books with orange and white spines, a brown rug.
He owned a grey electric radiator, a metal fan, and a record player.
“Excuse me one moment,” Charles said. He took a canvas knapsack that lay on his bed and left, locking the door behind him, which relieved Alice and me—the house was full of other men, after all. I sat down on the bed. It was as hard as a bench. It was only then I noticed a white plastic cage with a real mouse inside, crawling around amidst old bits of cloth and loo roll. Beside the cage was a package of fancy cream crackers.
The only thing in the room that gave hint of his profession was a black-and-white postcard on the nightstand of a French clown sitting on a half moon.
He returned, a plain, blond man with a crew cut wearing grey trousers and a blue jumper and holding two cups of coffee. He handed me one, saying Careful, it’s hot, and put his down on his nightstand while he unlocked a metal chest and put the knapsack, now much fuller as it contained his clown costume, inside and locked it.
He gave me some cream crackers to have with my coffee, and some to Alice, too. He saw me out after I promised to come by again.
When I got home, Edi was wearing a green cardigan of mine over her nightie and sitting on Elizabeth’s fainting couch with Benjamin. The living-room carpet was gone and Edi told me Tobias was really sick again. Elizabeth was washing the carpet in the bathroom. I went to help her, as Edi wouldn’t.
Tobias was whining on the bathroom floor, and Elizabeth was hosing down the carpet. It wasn’t the first time Tobias had made a mess.
Elizabeth had short black hair, which she cut short so filth from Tobias wouldn’t get in it. We were all only nineteen, but she already had some white hairs. We tried pouring tea on her head to dye them, but when she sweated while working her ears and neck turned reddish brown. Edi muttered to me that it was a waste of tea, and no man would get close enough to Elizabeth to see her white hairs anyway. She always wore jean overalls with a jumper over top, and smelled clean, of yellow soap, despite being in such close proximity to Tobias all the time. Elizabeth did her best with Tobias. She brushed him every day, keeping the hair in a plastic bag before throwing it out; gave him baths, swabbed his ears, brushed his teeth, and cleaned his privates after he went to the bathroom—she carried a rag and a small glass bottle of water for this. It was like patching up a leaky old boat: he wheezed, vomited, farted, had diarrhoea, got sores on his knees, back, and behind his ears.
The free government dog food didn’t sit well with him, and neither did the meat Elizabeth found, or bought when she had the money. He was so cute and goofy as a puppy, she sometimes said sadly.
When I first got Alice, she was so small she resembled a white rat and would sleep underneath my jumper, against my stomach. We were given advice on which type of dog to choose, but many girls ignored it and went for the cutest, fluffiest ones.
I didn’t understand why they gave us too many options: if they only provided vicious dog breeds, fewer girls would get hurt or disappear. But the state believed in giving girls the freedom to choose what type of fate they wanted, whether a miniature poodle or a great Dane.
They brought them in boxfuls to schools, a surplus for us to choose from, yelping and pissing, the girls squealing, and some crying, realizing they were afraid of real dogs, even puppies.
Let’s just throw the carpet out, I told Elizabeth, I can get another one from work, there are plenty rolled up there.
I worked at a second-hand store. We sold women’s clothes, stained teapots, dolls, pots and pans, records, tapes, blankets, porcelain figurines, lamps, and whatnot. Mostly we sold women’s bovver boots, with beige and red laces. Some were almost brand new, some had holes in the bottom and smelt bad.
We had a small selection of other women’s shoes, fancy ones that some girls wore around their apartments, which wasn’t very wise: if there was a break-in, they couldn’t run away.
I was always excited when Sophia and Violet merchandise turned up in the shop. Sophia and Violet was a book for girls that had been written when we were little, and was so popular that for a time there was Sophia and Violet everything, from band-aids to toothbrushes. At school, whenever someone won a prize, it was always a Sophia and Violet book or poster or set of stickers. I had a poster of Sophia sitting on a giant toadstool, her beautiful dog Violet below, with a butterfly on her nose. No one knew what breed of dog Violet was, she had white fur, purple eyes, long eyelashes, and a long nose like a borzoi or a collie. I was proud that Alice had a distinguished nose similar to Violet’s.
In the window was a sign indicating we were dog-friendly, which meant men often didn’t shop at our store. My co-worker Louisa said she once had a man come in and try to buy an old frilled dress, but her dog Henry growled so viciously the man left, leaving the dress, and his money, on the counter. Louisa said she used the money to buy herself and Henry four cream buns with candied cherries, their favourite.
She told the story often, and each time she described the dress differently. Sometimes it was polka-dotted, other times striped. I wasn’t sure if the story was true, or just an excuse to describe cream buns, which she loved, but could rarely afford.
Henry was an Old English sheepdog, whose white and grey hairs stuck to everything in the shop, especially the sombre black clothes and blankets. I particularly noticed them because I was the owner of a short-haired dog, but most girls didn’t care or pay attention. Dog hairs and dog smells clung to everything female, more so to Elizabeth than to anyone else I knew, despite her efforts to repel them, which is probably why rubbish-picking was the only job she could find.
When we came back inside from taking the carpet out, Edi was turning over the teabags she’d left to dry on one of the radiators. They looked like tiny, dirty nappies, but we couldn’t afford to waste anything.
Though her father sent her enough for rent and presents, Edi barely had any money for food. She was too frightened to sell her father’s gifts, which included an elaborate box of makeup with a mirror on the inside of the lid and a tiny blue ballerina that, when the box was opened, twirled in front of it accompanied by a mechanical-music-box version of “A Spoonful of Sugar” from Mary Poppins, which we thought must be some sort of factory mistake; it ought to have played something from Swan Lake or another ballet.
The makeup colours were horrid: dark green, blue, black, grey, rust red, with lipsticks in fake enamel containers.
Edi never used it. The box was covered in red velvet with a cream trim, which I suppose to Benjamin made it look like raw meat. He chewed and ate the whole thing: there were coloured powders all over his fur, and bits of lipstick and mirror all over the floors. He vomited a lot, but the ballerina was never found.
The state gave us free kibble and biscuits for the dogs. Often, we ate a porridge made out of smashed dog biscuits and milk and sugar, or dog biscuits spread with margarine, which we had with our tea. The biscuits were alright. The kibble made us smell bad if we ate it as it was full of nasty meat. Some girls soaked it then mixed it with mayonnaise for sandwiches—you could always smell which girls ate kibble. I didn’t tell Edi or Elizabeth about Charles, or about the coffee and crackers he fed me.
A few times a month a young man came by for Edi. He first visited when we had been living in the apartment for a year. We didn’t know how she met him, as she hardly went outside. Whenever he came over, Elizabeth and I hid in my room with the door locked, our dogs by our feet.
Even though it would be three dogs against one man, we were still scared. Edi was kind enough to lend us her tape player so we didn’t have to hear them in Edi’s bedroom. It was a very small, old silver tape player; another present from her father.
When a tape finished, we could hear them, Edi and the man, but couldn’t picture what they were doing. We had seen dogs mount each other of course, but didn’t know if people were supposed to do it the same way. One of us would quickly add another tape. Efficient and mechanical in our movements, we avoided looking at each other.
I had a collection of tapes I brought home from work, soundtracks to films we had never seen: Mary Poppins, The Sound of Music, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Annie, The King and I, Oliver! The small, colourful tape cases almost looked like boxes of candy.
Neither of us liked Edi’s tapes—choral, organ, and banjo music—which she constantly played without regard for us or anyone else in the building.
Of course, nothing could drown out Benjamin’s barking.
Edi didn’t lock Benjamin in the bathroom; she didn’t want him to be too far, just in case. The door to Edith’s bedroom was covered in bites, dents, paw marks, and dog spittle. He had made a few large holes that Edi covered in paper. Edi locked Benjamin out, and he battled with the door, trying to get in. The man came and left through Edi’s bedroom window, we could see his legs walking past my own window, there was a lot of barking from the other apartments as all the dogs could smell him. I once slipped out of my window with Alice and followed him at a distance. He walked hurriedly to a tram stop, and kept turning his head in all directions. He had a wide mouth and a scar on one cheek, a row of pink indents, the ghost mouth of a dog.
Edi would go into the bathroom and moan after he left. I think he caused her a mysterious pain she wouldn’t tell us about; she’d come out walking stiffly and awkwardly. She had to bathe right away so Benjamin wouldn’t hurt her because of the man’s smell.
The man always left a loaf of grey-looking bread for Edi, and occasionally some jam or cheese. She acted like she didn’t care about it until he left, when she grabbed the food and sometimes ate it in one sitting, Benjamin pawing at her dress and whining because he wanted some too.
Once, he left her five dollars instead of food, and it lay on her windowsill for weeks. I was worried Benjamin would chew it up until Edi handed it to me, quietly asking if I could pick her up some digestive biscuits, eggs, and Bovril at the grocery store. She didn’t offer me any when I came back, taking the bag into her room. I never saw her cook the eggs. I didn’t like to imagine her eating them raw, sitting in bed, which she probably did.
I had read one of her father’s letters before. I had found it half submerged in the toilet.
I could only make out a few sentences, as the ink had run.
I wish I were your dog.
I imagine you have nice pink ears.
I want to take your dog away…
I dried it on the radiator in my room, folded it up, and put it in a jar of dog vitamins, where I knew Edi wouldn’t look. Now and then I unfolded it and read it in bed; it made me feel dark and strange. My father only sent me postcards that said, “I hope you and Alice are Well Love Dad and Mom,” always in his handwriting.
I went over to Charles’ house three or four times a week. Alice and I felt less afraid each time. He always gave me something to eat: pineapple rings on toast, boiled eggs, cinnamon doughnuts, slices of cake or pie, tomato soup, baked potatoes with butter, bowls of jello, preserved cherries. He did events at birthday parties and boys’ schools, and sometimes had old cake, tiny sandwiches, and all sorts of candies leftover from them.
I had never eaten so well. He fed Alice too. He bought special food for her from a butcher’s: sausages, lamb livers, tripe, and marrowbones. I had to be extra careful to keep her beautiful white chin clean, it was always getting wet with blood.
Soon, she let him pet her, and she even licked his hands. He had never touched a live animal before, not even his mouse, which he said seemed too delicate. He had bought it in a cage and had never taken it out.
I felt jealous of the mouse, though he told me he didn’t have a huge attachment to it, it didn’t mean anything really, he just liked to look at it, it didn’t have a name. We could get rid of it if I liked. He hadn’t directly asked me to move in with him, but took it for granted, from my second visit to his house, that I would.
He kept in contact with an old roommate of his who now lived in a couples’ building, there was a free one-bedroom that had its own bathroom and skylights.
He bought things in anticipation.
A percolator, which was for making coffee, he explained; a box of sanitary napkins; a strange pair of silver tongs whose ends looked like a bird’s beak; bed sheets; a small rubber ball with a plastic tube sticking out of it, which he squeezed, demonstrating something unknown to me; a cookbook, with a large piece of meat covered in cherries and orange slices on the cover, whose recipes he said he was excited to try; a box of spoons and forks, laid out on red velvet like jewels; and a few nice outfits for me, including a green dress, a navy-blue pea coat, a chequered scarf, a bunch of black and beige nylons in square packages, black shoes with a thick, embossed strap, pearl buttons, thick heels, and a pair of blue slippers with embroidered flowers on the toe. I couldn’t imagine what it would feel like to wear them, the top of one’s foot so exposed. Charles was used to wearing various types of shoes.
I’ll buy you underthings too, of course, he said before putting everything away, neatly refolding the clothes. He kept it all under lock and key in his chest.
He bought me several boxes of sanitary napkins, an expensive brand I had never used before. I was surprised, and ashamed that he knew what sanitary napkins were; I assumed it would be something I would hide from him, but I was also relieved he had bought so many, and even a belt to hold them in place, as I would no longer have to use twists of toilet paper. Also, shampoo, which I had never used before, lipsticks, and paint for cheeks, a bar of soap wrapped in purple paper that had the words SOFT SKIN printed on it, and a tin of cotton sticks with an illustration of an ear on the lid.
I had never cleaned my ears before. I did Alice’s with a wet rag so they wouldn’t smell.
At home, we just had baking soda for hair and teeth, and washed our bodies with thick bars of pale yellow soap that was sold as useable for both ladies and dogs, and also laundry and floors.
Every time I went over he had more things. Metal tins filled with fancy nut biscuits, liquorice, and other treats; an iron, a bottle of feminine perfume he didn’t open to let me smell. I didn’t know what I would smell like as a woman who lived with a man, but the bottle had a rose on it. We spent all of our time drinking coffee, eating, and looking at everything in an orderly fashion before he put it all away again and it was time for me to go home. Mostly he saw me out, but one evening he didn’t and a man in the hall downstairs opened his door to look at me. His hair was greased back. He wore makeup so that his face looked like a young woman’s, the skin of his neck tan compared to his pale, false face. He was naked. I had never seen a naked man before: I hadn’t even seen Charles naked. I had only seen dog’s penises. I was shocked to see men had pubic hair. The man looked like some gross amalgamation of a naked woman and a male dog, and his penis moved as he looked at me.
Alice snarled and barked. The man quickly shut the door.
I didn’t tell Charles what I had seen, but Alice was agitated, no matter how many bones and wedges of cheese we fed her in the days that followed.
In Charles’ backyard, there was a crab-apple tree surrounded by fallen brown crab apples no one there wanted to eat. A waste, I knew Elizabeth and Edi would eat them, regardless of the taste. Getting enough vitamin C was a worry for them. Charles gave me glasses of juice and tins of fruit salad.
I wasn’t allowed in the yard. They were afraid of Alice, he said of his roommates, and didn’t want her smell or her hairs around the building, which offended me because Alice was very shorthaired and didn’t smell at all. I made an effort to keep her clean.
I was too afraid, even with Alice, to use their bathroom, and so my visits were always regulated by how long I could go without relieving myself.
Sometimes, walking home, seeing Alice pee was unbearable, so I pulled down my stockings and squatted too, which was foolish and dangerous, and I got piss all over my bovver boots, and my underwear had marks in them from not using toilet paper. Usually I wore them three or four times to save soap, but I was worried that Charles could smell them, even under my stockings.
Charles and everything in his room was very clean, except for the mouse cage, which gave off an odour. I was glad he’d never see my apartment, the blankets covered in stains and chewed on by Alice, and Edi and Benjamin’s behaviour, poor fat Elizabeth and Tobias, the bags of dog food, the cheap teabags.
After the night we met, Charles never let me see him in his work outfit, a fact I knew would change if we ever lived together. I was embarrassed by the idea of watching him get ready for work, his nice dull face hidden under cheerful makeup. I wished that Charles had such a lovely, simple outfit as the clown in the postcard on his nightstand instead of the bright yellow, red, and yellow satin and the hideous wig he had to wear, and which I knew shamed him terribly.
Charles told me he put cream on his face every night because the clown makeup wasn’t very good for his skin, and he suggested I ought to do the same.
He gave me a red tinful to take home. I didn’t want Edi or Elizabeth to see it, so I hid it in my drawer of jumpers wrapped up in an orange cardigan that was too ugly and moth-eaten for Edi to borrow.
Charles’ hair was receding slightly at the temples; I wondered if it was because of the wig he had to wear for work. He didn’t tell me if he had any special lotion for that.
Charles often kissed me, without touching any other part of my body, while we sat facing each other on his bed, his hands either sitting in his lap or fist-shaped and kneading the mattress between us. He always made sure Alice had something in her mouth beforehand.
I was home the night Elizabeth didn’t come back from work.
Edi and I walked around our neighbourhood, calling, ‘Elizabeth, Elizabeth’ and ‘Tobias, Tobias’ but lost our enthusiasm after a few hours because we had half expected it to happen; Tobias was almost worse than having no dog at all.
I was too sad, listening to all my tapes without Elizabeth, so I brought them to Charles’ house. Perhaps there would be a time, when I lived with him, when I could listen to them again. I also thought if he listened to them he would understand more about me. He only listened to instrumental music, Percy Faith Orchestra: Continental Music, Santo & Johnny: Sleep Walk, Important Symphonies of Europe, Best of Bach.
When Edi’s man came over, I lay in bed with Alice and covered my head with a pillow, thinking about Charles and nice food to eat.
I put up ‘Room Mate Wanted’ signs in the second-hand shop, we had a few weeks before the end of the month, and no one to cover Elizabeth’s half of the rent. I didn’t know when Charles planned for us to move, but I couldn’t leave Edi on her own.
I noticed that all the stains on her clothes and our furniture were now familiar, there weren’t any new ones, no fresh drips of blood on the toilet seat and floors.
Edi had cried for days after Benjamin was fixed; it was illegal not to. You couldn’t have girls going around breeding puppies—a woman was only given one dog in her life. It was less noticeable when Alice was fixed, which made it easier, she didn’t look different; but I had never thought of myself, or Edi, as needing to be fixed too. Charles hadn’t bought any baby things, just stuff for two grownups. I hadn’t seen him naked yet. I didn’t know what his plans were, besides for us to live together and eat liquorice. I asked Charles when we would move in together and he said, Whenever you are ready, everything is prepared.
Edi was suspicious because Alice and I had both gained weight, even though I didn’t snack on dog biscuits anymore. She’d pull at my hips or poke me in the back but never asked outright if I was seeing a man. She wasn’t secretive about her own predicament.
I’ll feed it to Benjamin, a dog needs fresh meat, why not my meat, it’s the only I can afford, she said over and over.
Not long after we moved in together, Edi and I saw a woman with a small greyhound. It barely reached her knee, and its tail was tucked between its legs. It looked frail as a bird. The woman wore heels, sheer stockings instead of wool ones, and a green dress with blue flowers on it. She was the same age as us, but taller, and prettier. What her dog, and her outfit, were meant to convey was simple: I don’t need to rely on precautions or follow conventions because I am so beautiful I’ll find a nice man before it matters.
Edi kicked Benjamin and let go of his leash. He chased after them. The greyhound bolted. The woman, trying to hold onto it, fell down, was dragged, and let go of the leash. She screamed as her dog disappeared.
We quickly walked away before we saw what happened to her. Eventually, Benjamin caught up with us, wagging his tail and barking. He wasn’t trained but he was still loyal. I would never have taken the risk to let Alice off her leash outdoors.
I still hadn’t found a new roommate for us when I discovered Edi lying on our living-room floor. The bottom of her nightie was all red, she had bunched it between her legs. Benjamin whined excitedly in circles around her.
It’s early, it will be much smaller than expected, she said. Her tape player was on, Mary Poppins was singing, and I wanted to leave before it finished. I went into my room and began to pack before remembering all the things Charles bought. I didn’t need to bring anything besides myself and Alice. Everything we owned was rubbish anyway. As I left, Benjamin was licking Edi between the legs. She had her hands on his head, and was scratching his ears and moaning.
I put Alice on her leash. As soon as we were outside she began to behave strangely and I had to pull her away from the house. She kept trying to sit down, refusing to budge. She had diarrhoea on the street. It was a vivid ochre colour. I didn’t know what she had eaten to make it that shade. I didn’t have time to stop and clean it up, I was starving and I wanted to see Charles. A smear of diarrhoea followed us as I dragged Alice along. She was whining, and refused to get up on all fours, no matter how many times I kicked her. It took much longer than usual to reach Charles’ house because Alice was acting so difficult. When we finally arrived, I asked Charles if we could spend the night. He told me he’d have to kill Alice first, that he had bought a needle that would do it quickly; it’d be alright. He showed me the leather case that the needle was in.
It wasn’t Alice who bit him, it was me. My teeth weren’t used to biting, or to meat. I went for his throat, as a dog would. He made a choking sound and pushed me away, but I leaped on him and pushed him to the ground. I bit again, then Alice helped me; once she saw blood, she was jolly to eat.
Soon, his face and neck were a mess. I covered him with his costume and clown wig. How to get out of the house I didn’t know, and I didn’t exactly want to. There was food and other comfortable things in the room, and we had nowhere else to go, but I would have to eventually because the house was full of other men, and I was just a woman with a dog. The clown costume brought attention to, didn’t hide, Charles’ body. Alice would have to eat the whole of Charles, every little bone so the other men would think he was just out for a long time or had moved or something.
Eat, Alice, I said. Eat, Alice.
I wasn’t sure if women who lived with men were allowed to leave their houses or not, and there was nobody to ask. I should have asked Charles before. I had never seen a woman wandering around the city in the company of a man, dogless, but who knew, perhaps there was special transportation and places for couples I didn’t know about but would soon discover.
—From CNQ 102, Summer 2018