I heard him first. It was just a low growl that starts at the back of the throat, and then develops into a full bark. Only it didn’t. I slipped out of bed, and peeked out from behind the curtain. In the dim light of the moon, I saw his silhouette. He sat outside the house, growling. Minnie slept undisturbed, oblivious; her chest rising and falling in a gentle rhythm. I watched her for a minute, and then turned back to the window. He was gone.
“How’s it going darling?”, her citrus perfume enveloped me, making me gag. I leaned away.
“I don’t like that scent. I wish you’d stop wearing it.”
Minnie giggled. “Adam, you bought it for me”
“Anyway, I just wondered if you’d finished writing your article. It’s nearly noon. We should be making tracks.”
My heart sank at the prospect of another Sunday afternoon in the company of her parents. Her father’s bombastic views, her mother’s saccharine simpering.
“No, darling I can’t. I haven’t made much headway, and you know what the boss is like about his deadlines.”
Her face fell, and instead of feeling sorry, I felt like smacking her. Spoilt bitch.
“Okay. I guess I’ll just have to make our excuses.”
“Don’t be silly. You go. It’s the only afternoon you get with them in an entire week. I insist. Go.”
She left soon after, taking the sunshine with her.
As the clouds gathered ominously in the afternoon sky, I knuckled down to research. I was elbow deep in numbers when I sensed I was being watched. My breath caught in my throat as I looked into the brown eyes at the window. His head was cocked, and he seemed to be eying me quizzically.
“Shoo”, I whispered weakly. “Shoo”
He didn’t move. His gaze was unwavering. Beads of sweat broke out on my forehead. Whose dog was this? Where was its Master? Why didn’t he wear a collar? Why was he hounding me?
I looked around me for something I could frighten him with. The Miriam-Webster dictionary was large and thick enough. Even as I approached the window with it, he got up and sauntered off, of his own volition, as though bored of the watching game.
“There is a black dog on the loose”, I spooned the soup in as I casually inserted it into our dinner table conversation.
“A black dog?”, asked Minnie, perplexed.
“I’ve seen it a few times. Just be careful. It could be dangerous, and the owners seem to let it run around.”
“Okay, but are you sure? I mean, there aren’t that many houses around here, and I know most of our neighbours. No one owns a black dog. What breed is it?”
“Oh for fuck’s sake woman! What do I know what breed it is?! It’s big, it’s black and it’s an ugly motherfucker!!!”
“Adam please! There is no need for such language. Just calm down. I’ll watch out for it, okay! Okay?”
There were pumpkins everywhere, and ghouls and ghosts that came knocking. Trick or Treat they lisped, and Minnie handed out handfuls of sweets gleefully. She was dressed as a witch, and had insisted I put on a Count Dracula costume.
I hated it. The collar itched and the false fangs made my gaunt face resemble Christopher Lee more than I wished.
“It’s Halloween darling. Get into the spirit of things, come on.”
The only spirit I wished to get into was the Jack Daniels in the liquor cabinet.
That night, the witch undressed for me. She had a pumpkin in her belly. Her long green hair swung over me as she bucked and moaned. Flesh slapped against flesh, and it was all I could do to not dig my fangs into her neck.
Autumn leaves crunched under my feet. My walk was leading me to the stream that ran a few miles behind the house. I remembered doing a similar walk with my old man.
“Why is Mama so sad, Dad?”
“She lost the baby. You know that, son.”
“Yes, but that was two years ago. Why is she still sad?”
“Sometimes, people take a long time to recover. Sometimes an entire lifetime.”
Mama didn’t last that long.
A solitary tear rolled down my cheek. I stopped to wipe it, and the footsteps behind me stopped too. I turned around to face him. Of course it was him. How long had he been following me?
He stood there, watching me with that same quizzical expression.
I don’t like dogs. Never have. But perhaps this was a friendly one? I held out my hand hesitantly. He looked at me and at my hand, and then bared his teeth. No. Not friendly. Definitely not friendly.
I backed away slowly, keeping one eye on him, and another on anything I could use as a weapon, to attack or defend.
I picked up the branch quickly, ready to swing, but he had already disappeared.
“Such foolishness! Who’s ever heard of being stalked by a dog? Moreover, no one else has seen this animal. Minnie says the police checked the neighbourhood, and found no evidence of it. What have you been smoking Adam?”, Jim guffawed loudly.
“Oh dad! Don’t be mean. Maybe it’s a wild dog that’s taken a shine to Adam?”
“Darling, didn’t you say it growled and bared it’s teeth?”, asked Sheila helpfully.
“Look, let’s just put all this dog business aside and enjoy our Thanksgiving dinner. Lots to be thankful for!”, said Minnie,smiling and rubbing her pregnant belly.
I put on an act that evening. I laughed and joked, and ate Turkey. I drank brandy with Jim and discussed business. I kissed Sheila on both cheeks before escorting her to the car. Then I went inside and threw up in the bathroom.
My head was pounding as I made my way in the dark to the kitchen. A couple of Tylenols would take care of it. I’d forgotten to drink a gallon of water before bedtime. That would have preempted a hangover. Anyhow.
I leaned on the sink, drinking my water, and watching the first orange fingers of dawn reach up to lick the cerulean sky. Through the dull throbbing of my head I heard another sound. Panting. Near the kitchen door. I could make out his dark shape behind the pane of glass that separated us.
“Why?”, I asked him. “Why?”
I leaned against the door, and it was as if his hot breath was on my face.
The tree was too big for the living room, but Minnie insisted on having it there. She handed me all the baubles, and I placed them carefully as per her instructions. That was still not good enough.
“Oh Adam! What a mess! Get off the ladder. Let me do it.”
“Minnie, I don’t think that’s a good idea in your state.”
“Oh hush! You men are useless. It’s a woman that makes a home.”
I watched her balance the star on top of the tree, her pregnant belly distended beyond belief, and felt a wave of revulsion wash over me. How could I have ever made love to her? Her ankles were thick, her neck an unpleasant shade of grey, her hair wild and unruly. She was snappish and irritable. I couldn’t stand to be in the same room as her.
So I left.
She was weeping when I returned. I cradled her, and apologised, and said all the right things at the right times. All the while I felt nothing. Nothing at all.
“I hear you’ve been promoted Adam?”, said Tina, leaning into me.
“Yes, that’s right”, I smiled and tried to move away.
She slid closer, her body rubbing up against mine.
“So, what does a gal have to do to get a cigarette off a fella?”
We stood on the fire escape, smoking our Marlboro’s in silence. Jazz music wafted out of the open windows, and sequins and glitter competed with satin and silk indoors.
“When is the baby due?”
“Another four weeks”
“Hmmm. Minnie looks well.”
“She’s tired a lot”, I paused, “A lot”
The tip of her cigarette glowed, and then she stubbed it under her heel.
I pushed her up against the wall, my tongue snaking into her mouth. She tasted sour, like a cheap Chardonnay. In her I went, up and down, pushing, pushing, and our grunts were masked by the tinkle of the glasses.
He was waiting for me that night. Outside the front door.
“There he is Minnie”, I whispered urgently, trying to shake her awake.
“Who? Whaaa….?”, she looked around, confused, rubbing the sleep from her eyes.
I opened the car door carefully. No sudden movements.
“You wait. I’ll tackle this.”
“Adam….where are you going? I can’t see anything. Where are my glasses?”
I grabbed the garden hoe and walked quickly towards him. I was going to be rid of him tonight come what may! I swung the hoe towards his head, and felt his jaw clamp over my ankle. The pain…the pain…..I screamed and lost consciousness…….
My ankle was in a cast when I woke.
“You’ve broken it”, Minnie informed me flatly.
“There was no dog. You were swinging the hoe like a madman. Then you tripped and twisted your ankle. I had to call 911.”
She looked at me with distaste. Like I was a foul smell that she couldn’t get rid of. I shrunk back into the hospital bed. “I’m sorry”
She had already left.
Minnie’s waters broke in the evening. Sheila came and collected her. She was frosty with me. But Minnie hugged me before she left.
“We’ll ring as soon as we have some news”, said Sheila.
I nodded gratefully, and hobbled to the door to see them off. Minnie gave me a watery smile, and then doubled over in pain. Sheila drove off, her tires screeching.
I hobbled back indoors, feeling sad and spent.
There was an old black and white rerun on the Television that I watched with little concentration. With every passing minute my anxiety increased till each nerve felt like it was stretched to breaking point. I poured myself a drink. Then another. And another.
The shadows grew long, and the clock ticked loudly in the corner. One movie melded into another. Dorothy’s house blew from Kansas and landed on a scooter in Rome. A Princess kissed a pauper, and a Tin Man found his heart.
A black dog waited at the door. Crouching low, growling deep. It asked to be let in. Pant. Knock. Pant. Knock.
I couldn’t stand it anymore.
I opened the door.
He went straight for the jugular.