Friday
Oct142011

Weimaraner

Kate Lorenz




The door was locked, so Kathleen had to knock. Jack barely opened it.

"You're going to hate me for this," he said.

He was always saying that. Stop doing things that will make me hate you, Kathleen would say. She was already annoyed for having to knock. He knew she was coming and could have easily left it unlocked, and now she was left standing on the porch with a bowl full of biscuits.

He opened the door all the way. With the living room exposed, he gestured with one hand to a dog lying in the middle of the carpet. It was greyish-brown, with a long ghost face. It saw Kathleen, and leapt to its feet and toward the door in one arching motion. She stepped quickly back onto the porch and closed the door. She balanced the red plastic bowl on the porch rail, carefully.

It's a dog, Kathleen thought. What can be done about a dog? She began to wring her hands, a behavior she had adopted because it felt soothing and because she liked its melodramatic and historical implications. She sat on the porch rail. Jack opened the door again, and shut the dog inside. He sat beside Kathleen, putting a flat, heavy arm over her shoulders.

"I'm allergic," she said.

"I know," Jack said, "but I couldn't let my aunt put him down. His name is Cooper."

"Cooper," she said.

"He's a Weimaraner."

He was the same kind of dog she had seen in calendar pictures, often on its hind legs and wearing a detective suit. Also, standing on square blocks in interesting poses. That either gave him a sad dignity or made him a marketing pawn. She looked toward the living room window. Under the curtain, a dog nose moved.

 

Jack wanted to leave her, because she behaved in a needy fashion. She knew that she did. One day she said to him, I'm thinking about chopping all of my hair off. He said, Sounds like you need some new things to think about. Then it was clear to Kathleen and, despite his numerous shortcomings, she disagreed with his decision not to love her anymore.

You're going to hate me for this, he had once said. Then he told her he was going on a cruise through the Arctic with his ex-fiancée. It's been planned for months, was his excuse. Besides, they were still friends, which Kathleen was encouraged to accept without ill will toward either of them. She had spent the week going to work and cleaning her apartment, as it was impossible to mop and cry at the same time. Then Jack had returned bearing a snow globe with an Eskimo in it. He was very kind to her for several days. It occurred to her that maybe the cruise was originally intended to be his honeymoon.

 

Jack got Kathleen a glass of water, and tenderly dropped a Benadryl tablet into her palm.

"Try this out," he said. "It might work."

She wondered if she could kill the dog and get away with it. She was smart, and had succeeded both in school and in her employment as an archivist at the Mossberg History Museum. As a young girl she had fantasized about heists: rappelling down a wall to lift a painting, using glass cutters and tactile sensitivity to pluck a diamond out of a case. Kathleen was sure she could map out a decent murder. Even though she detested the dog's presence, she was unhappy at the thought of killing Cooper; but the dander would make her nose itch and her eyes water. And Jack didn't like coming to her place.

Kathleen dropped the glass into the bushes behind her and swallowed the Benadryl without water.

 

Jack was having a dinner party. That was why Kathleen had made the biscuits. She liked to bake because she found it interesting the way everything worked together: the flour, the water, the heat. How anyone thought to do that in the first place was beyond Kathleen. Sometimes she tried to do a thing for the very first time—invent something, combine two elements that no one else would have thought to put together. A new compound that would make the world cleaner or less difficult, and they could put her name in its name, if only informally. She never could, so she baked instead, and pleased herself with flakiness and roundness and soft white insides.

Jack's friends had liked Kathleen at first. Jack was happy, so they were happy. Brian, his former roommate, even flirted with her. Give me a hug, he'd say, circling his arms around her lower back. Inappropriate, is what Kathleen thought about that, but she did not stop him. Jack's other friends were Bonny and Julia, both bartenders, both kind and slightly hostile when faced with Kathleen's permanence in their social circle. She tried to avoid conversation with them, because she could tell they thought Jack's happiness was an illusion, and that they had seen many girlfriends come and go, some much prettier than Kathleen, more knowledgeable about music and film.

Jack was proud of his house, which he purchased with money he earned by teaching other people business strategies that enabled them to make up to one hundred thousand dollars a month. It was a one-story Craftsman with a bedroom loft, containing solid walls and large doorframes and thick windows that would be difficult to shatter. Kathleen had noted this the first time she came over, as she scanned for fire exits and places to break out if there were another kind of emergency. Jack had a medieval-sized oak table in the dining room. He showed it off to everyone; that's why he liked to host parties.

 

"The dog's going to chew up your table," Kathleen said, upon reentry.

"Dogs chew bones."

Jack took the bowl of biscuits into the kitchen. Kathleen sat on the living room couch, willing the dog to stay away. He stood at the door, quivering. She noticed the severe curve from his ribs up to his hind legs, and wondered how all his internal organs could fit inside that lean container.

"Then he's going to scratch up the table trying for food." Kathleen shouted. "Look at him."

Cooper had risen onto his hind legs and pressed his paws to the door. He was trying to look out. Maybe he understood that she was not the only invited guest that evening, or maybe he just hoped she wouldn't be. Jack returned to the living room and perched on an ottoman. Then he slapped his thigh, and Cooper bounded over and rested his strange grey head in Jack's lap.

"See? Dogs don't scratch. Cats scratch."

"You could cover the legs," Kathleen offered. "My sister's friend got a cat that climbed up table legs. She had to tie big t-shirts around them so the cat didn't destroy everything."

"Dogs don't have destructive personalities," Jack said. "Not naturally."

Kathleen wondered whether or not her personality was naturally destructive, and hoped to someday establish it as one thing or the other.

 

They met because a teenage girl had almost been sexually assaulted by an older male, possibly a family member. Both Jack and Kathleen had been called for jury duty. Jack was wearing a suit with no tie, and had round blue eyes that didn't quite focus on anything. He looked like the pictures of World War I soldiers Kathleen had archived: the Lost Sons of Mossberg, unprepared for trenches and gasses and death. She had slept through her alarm that morning, and wore a black skirt, a striped t-shirt, and mascara that she could feel melting into rings under her eyes. It was summer, so no one could expect too much of her.

Due to the nature of the case, it was necessary for the attorneys to ask the potential jurors about their experience with sexual abuse: whether or not they had any, whether or not their friends, family, or loved ones did. Hands shot up immediately. Many of the potential jurors were eager to share stories of cousins that had been drugged and fondled at college parties, men who had exposed themselves to childhood friends, the stranger down the block whose house they were forbidden to go inside, even to just play video games. Sensationalists, Kathleen thought. Even if she did have something to say, she wouldn't have told those sensationalists. Jack didn't raise his hand either. He caught her eye and smiled.

A criminal action had brought them together. Kathleen thought about this on nights when Jack would not let her come over.

 

It was Brian and Bonny at the party, as usual. Julia couldn't get off work. Kathleen wished Jack would make some new friends, and then thought that maybe she should make some instead. Still, dinner was good. The foods—roasted chicken, broccoli and cheese casserole, fruit salad—coordinated much more smoothly than at a usual potluck. Everyone complimented Kathleen's biscuits, and she thanked them and drank several glasses of wine and listened to Jack talk to other people. Cooper wove in and out of their legs under the table like a great grey fish just under the surface of the water. Every so often Jack would feed him a shred of chicken. He rubbed against Kathleen's leg. She shuddered.

"Shall we to the living room," Jack suggested after dinner. Kathleen hated when he used his host voice. He pretended it was ironic, but it wasn't. Shall we to the bedroom, he'd say. Then Kathleen would poke him in the gut with her index finger.

Jack sat on the couch next to Bonny, and Kathleen sat in an armchair. Brian sat on the ottoman, and scooted it closer. The ceiling fan spun. Kathleen liked to pick one blade and trace its circular path until her eyes were too slow to follow. The five blades looked like fingers, and Kathleen imagined the fan turning into a giant hand and lifting her out the ceiling.

"What do you think of the new house guest?" Brian asked, motioning to Cooper. The dog sat in front of Jack, his grey mouth nearly dripping, expecting more chicken. Kathleen remembered the phrase "put down." He couldn't have Cooper put down.

"I don't understand it at all," Kathleen said.

"Come on," said Brian. "He's just a little doggie."

Brian scooted the ottoman again, in front of her, so he was sitting almost between her legs. Kathleen wondered if Jack had observed his behavior. She looked at Jack, his torso turned toward Bonny so as to better hear what she was saying. From the nouns Kathleen could overhear, they were talking about either a film industry scandal or a blues album. Kathleen thought she might be able to unite the conversation if she said something witty.

"How much is that doggie in the window," she sang.

Jack looked at her. Brian guffawed, and went to get the bottle of wine. The night continued in all the ways Kathleen didn't want it to.

 

Jack took Kathleen into the hallway.

"Why don't you go to bed."

She couldn't focus on him. She closed one eye, and tried to say she wasn't tired.

"Hey, Stinkeye," he said. "It's fine if you have a crush on Brian. You and I both know this isn't working out."

He extended a finger and pointed it back and forth. She waved a hand in the air, and then put it to his face.

"Here," he said. "Go upstairs, and we'll talk about this tomorrow."

She started up the stairs to the bedroom, then turned to shut off the light. She fell, bouncing and hurting. She got up and fell again. Then she heard running and scratching, and a dog ran past her. She crawled the rest of the way to the bed. The dog had beaten her there.

Kathleen woke in the night. She couldn't breathe through her nose. She felt a weight on her ribs. Jack, she thought. Then she realized it was a paw, and went back to sleep.

 

Mornings were bright in the loft. Kathleen rolled over. Cooper was there, arched away from her. She reached for a tissue, but there were none. The dog sniffed and moved.

"Dog," she said.

He raised his head. She stroked him between the eyes, then stopped. He slammed a paw on the pillow in protest. She pet him again, thought about the previous night, and was filled with rage.

 

She stepped down the stairs slowly, putting pressure on the rail; she was still off-balance, and her hip ached in a deep, slow way. Cooper followed, overtaking her in his rush to the door. Jack, who had fallen asleep on the couch, was now on the floor rolled into a cocoon of blanket. Kathleen squatted down to inspect him. The back of his hair swirled upwards, and he had been drooling on his wrist.

She went to the kitchen door and let Cooper out back. He circumnavigated the yard quickly, his body swaying, stopping randomly to sniff at the fence in spots where other animals had probably peed. Kathleen found the scene grotesque. She went to the knife block and examined the assortment. There were knives for cutting small bites of meat, knives for neatly slicing bread. Kathleen liked classifications, but in truth the same silver knife could carve through a turkey or chop garlic into a fine paste. Finally she chose a thin, serrated blade that was slightly shorter than her forearm.

Jack had not moved. She squatted again, feeling the bruise in her hip stretch and pulse. Then she took the knife and poked him in the shoulder, softly. It bounced back, failing to pierce the skin. She poked him again, lightly. The knife's point made a round dent in his skin, and still he did not wake up.

There was a bang. Cooper, having finished his natural dog behavior, had hurled himself against the kitchen door to get back in.

You're going to hate me for this, Jack had once said. I already hate you, Kathleen had replied. She thought about the snow globe, with the chemical flakes swirling around the Eskimo's plastic body, and how all it really meant was that he had gone someplace she couldn't go.

Kathleen let Cooper in. He ran to Jack, sniffed him briefly, then sat at Kathleen's feet. She reached down, finding a soft ear with her fingers. A leash hung on the doorknob. Kathleen checked the dog's collar and found a small brass loop. She picked up the leash and Cooper responded with a series of small hops.

"Walk," Kathleen whispered.

Cooper stamped his paws. Kathleen attached the leash, and the dog pulled her forward, toward the door then out it, no time to lock it behind.

 

It was a lovely morning. The sun shone, and if it hadn't been the dead of winter, birds would have chirped. The ground was hard, and Cooper's paws crunched the grass. An old man raked leaves into a pile. A woman hung wind chimes at the corner of her porch. A cat in a window watched Cooper pass, and Cooper watched a squirrel claw its way up a bare tree. There were many people out walking dogs. They smiled and greeted Kathleen, politely and with great understanding, as the dog pulled the leash and her fingers strained to shaking.