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Every Dog

The day before my dog died, his stool turned a bright yellow, the color of brand new tennis balls. The poor guy squatted on shaky legs, more closely resembling a blond woolly mammoth than a golden retriever, until the discharge spewed forth like radioactive frozen yogurt.

My wife, Melissa, didn’t want to hear about it. She’d come to blame Roscoe for her vast unfulfillment and had spent the last six years waiting for him to die. Against her protests -”Don’t you dare spend another dime on that dog! Remember our agreement!” – I took him to the vet.

“He’s an old dog,” the vet said. “It could be anything. Kidneys. Maybe he got into some gopher poison.” She ran her fingers through his coat, probed his ribs with a stethoscope. Roscoe groaned. She was an older woman with a long iron-grey braid down her back, and had treated Roscoe for all of his sixteen years.

“I wouldn’t know where to begin with tests. I recommend you wait it out. Give him some cottage cheese and see if it clears up. Otherwise…”

She didn’t have to say more. Every recommendation she’d made for the last five years had ended with the same otherwise. The humane thing to do and all that.

“He’s all I have left of my grandfather,” I would always say.

Which was not true. We had his house, a rambling gingerbread Victorian which he’d bequeathed to me and with which I’d lured Melissa away from the city. Away from the parties and dance clubs—things people are supposed to give up after they get married—and toward the house and kids and dog lifestyle we both claimed to want. A chance to focus on our relationship.

At the time, we’d only been married a few years, but were as close to divorce as two people can get and still be together. In those days, Melissa alternated between brooding silences and nonstop yammering about her needs and how I wasn’t fun anymore. On and on until I actually wished that somebody would shoot me. People say that like a joke—Please! Somebody just shoot me!—but believe me, it’s an actual emotion. I have direct experience.

The village was only a few hours from the city and exuded Small-Town-America charm with streets named after the trees that grew everywhere. Oak, Pine, Maple. The kind of place that still had a big Main Street parade every Fourth of July, bunting everywhere.

We didn’t learn about Roscoe until the lawyer noted that my grandfather had set aside a tidy sum for the continued care of his beloved pet. After that meeting we picked up Roscoe from the kennel where he’d been boarded and drove over to the house.

Melissa and I stood on the porch while Roscoe ran and sniffed around the yard, happy to be back home.

“We can be happy here,” I said and put my arm around Melissa.

She stiffened. “I don’t know.”

“It’s so quiet. No traffic, no car horns or alarms going off.” I nudged her. “Everyone speaks English.”


I took a deep and audible breath. “And smell that air. No bus exhaust, no garbage smell.” She hated the stench from the restaurant dumpsters in the alley below our bedroom window.

“I mean, who knew small towns like this even existed any more. How many people do we know in the city dream about moving to a place like this? Where their kids can run around on their own? No gangs, no stray bullets.”

“Sure, honey, but there’s no museums, either. No opera. No theatre.”

Right, like she went to the opera all the time. The the-uh-tuh. Ooh, fetch my top hat and cape. What, she really meant was there were no dance clubs.

“The State College is just outside of town,” I offered. “They must have plays, art exhibits.”

“What about my sister?” She and her sister, another dance club fanatic, were close and saw each other all the time because they worked in the same hospital.

“The city’s only a couple of hours away. And I’ll bet she’ll like coming up here, too, if just to get away from all that craziness.”

She softened, head leaning to rest on my shoulder.

“And besides, when we have kids, we can make weekend trips to the city. It’ll make it special for the whole family.”

She was quiet. Maybe she was wavering. Maybe she was already sold. Just then Roscoe came up the stoop and plopped down next to Melissa. She dipped and scratched his head and he rolled over, begging her to rub his tummy. She obliged, called him her good doggy.

“Okay, let’s do it.”


She beamed up at me and nodded. “Yes.”

We packed Roscoe into our car and headed for the city. Melissa made to-do lists the whole way back.

Throughout the process of packing up and selling our apartment, Melissa was infused with an almost girlish glee, laughing and smiling and talking for hours to her sister about the wonderful old house in the wonderful small town. Her affection for me returned like a strong tide and we frequently made love among the moving boxes and scattered electronics. She couldn’t wait to quit her nursing job.

Moreover, she took to Roscoe. She’d grab his face in both hands and shake the saggy skin and coo who’s-a-good-doggy in a silly voice that made me fall in love with her again, made me believe again in the possibility of happiness.

Roscoe was a beautiful animal then, only a couple of years old and the kind of golden retriever pictured on bags of dog food. Happy eyes and a glossy coat. Sure, he was subdued for a few weeks, curling up for hours under the kitchen table, but he perked up thanks to Melissa’s constant affection and long walks in the park. After we moved, he and Melissa quickly became a local fixture, the perky, long-legged brunette with the big dog, waving to people we didn’t know but waved to anyway because that was our idea of how people lived in small towns, constantly waving to each other and asking about the weather.

Melissa was happy and I was happy because a man is happy when his woman is happy. I hoped she’d be happy forever.

Then one day I came home from errands and perceived her unhappiness as if she were cooking an unhappiness stew, the smell permeating every hollow space of the vast old house.

She just wanted to go out, she said. To a real place in the city. Her sister had told her about a new club on a warehouse roof with sofas and views and heat lamps. Mojitos. She just wanted to drink a mojito in a sophisticated place, if that wasn’t too much to ask for in this life.

We went, because when Melissa wanted something badly enough, she usually got it. That wasn’t the end of it, though. Over the next couple of years we spent more and more time in the city, which meant long drives back home. Some nights we got a motel room, but that was too expensive to do regularly. I started begging off, suggesting she stay at her sister’s.

She’d say, “No, no, you need to come, you have to come,” but that was just token resistance because not for one second did she really consider not going. She never wanted me along. I was no fun at clubs, I just sat around nursing an over-priced beer and hoping a laser didn’t blind me. To be honest, I let her go alone because I wanted to have some time to myself, to spend an entire night not wanting somebody to shoot me.

The clubbing situation resolved itself because, let’s face it, she was getting a little long in the tooth for that lifestyle. When her little sister got married and had kids, Melissa had no one to go with. Even her divorced girlfriends found the idea of clubbing embarrassing.

Of course, the unhappiness stew kept simmering. After several years in the wonderful small town, she got fixated on moving back to the city.

“Who are we fooling?” she’d argue. “We’re almost forty; we’re never going to have kids.”

She wanted to get back into her career, she’d been a surgical nurse, which is no small thing, and we had retirement to think about.

“What about the house?” I asked. We were eating dinner in the kitchen.

Her answer surprised me. “Let’s rent it out!”


“We own it free and clear, right?”

“Yes, but…”

“It doesn’t make any sense to sell it. This real estate market is not exactly hot, so why not convert it to apartments and collect rents?”

I didn’t know what to say. It wasn’t a crazy idea. Half the houses on our street, once an upscale neighborhood for the local elite, had been converted to apartments and the State College provided a steady stream of students needing housing.

She wrote down some quick math. “It’s good money. And think about what it would do for our retirement.”

“What do you mean?”

“All that free rental income! It would add a nice cushion to our savings.”

Before I could say anything, she slid a business card across the table.

“This is the architect who designed a lot of the other conversions in our neighborhood. I met him at the farmer’s market. He’s really sharp.”

“I don’t know, sweetie.”

“What would be the harm in just talking to him?”

The architect suggested a design that converted the house into four apartments. There was a lot of back and forth because I kept finding things I didn’t like. Where the extra bathrooms would go, how the partitioning would affect the space, the feng shui.

The real reason was that I didn’t want to do it. I didn’t want to move back to the city because I knew we wouldn’t last six months there.  Melissa would leave me for someone more exciting.

Finally I wasn’t able to justify any more design issues. But before Melissa could call up an army of carpenters and electricians, I insisted we wait for Roscoe to die. He was already old by then, almost eleven and doubtless on his last leg. She looked at me and at Roscoe and back at me and took a long slow breath.

As she did so, the wrinkles around her eyes and mouth tightened and revealed themselves. How much we’d both aged! My hair was shot with gray; hers too, beneath the L’Oreal. Her complexion had grown dark with freckles; the country winters had not been kind. She’d kept slender with constant exercise, avoiding the weight I’d put on, but gravity was winning the long war on her figure.

“Okay,” she finally said. She looked at Roscoe and her eyes softened.  That’s one reason I loved her. She came off as difficult but could be really sweet if given the chance.

“That’s fair,” she continued. “But no extreme medical interventions. No hip replacements, no cancer treatments, no surgery, nada. He gets sick, that’s it. Agreed?”


We rolled up the plans and slid them back into their paper tube and took Roscoe for a walk downtown. It was a beautiful evening with the colorful sunset you get upstate, orange splashing across the sky. We had dinner at the converted railroad station and strolled back, lazy with wine, her arm hooked in mine.

Roscoe held out for another six years before the day his poop turned bright yellow.

After the vet, I stopped at the Buy-Rite to get cottage cheese for Roscoe. Hefting the cold plastic tubs, I thought about the poor guy and if I really was being inhumane, keeping him alive so long he almost couldn’t walk anymore. Keeping him alive, really, so I could hold onto the life I’d made in my grandfather’s house.

My house. Melissa’s house. We hadn’t always been happy there, but the happy times made up for the bad, and I believed we’d be happy again. And besides, my grandfather had died alone, and nobody wants that.

I put the tubs back in the dairy case and went out to the truck. Roscoe looked up at me, his head weaving with the effort, and I could almost hear him pleading.

Please! Somebody just shoot me!

I called the vet, who said I could come right back, she’d wait for me. Better to just get it over with. I called Melissa and told her my decision.

She was quiet so long I thought the call had failed.

“I’m sorry. I loved him, too. I know this can’t be easy for you.”

“Do you want to come down, meet me at the vet’s?”

“No, you take care of it.”

I waited for her to say more. Like: Yes, of course, I’ll be right down. Or: No, I couldn’t bear it, I just couldn’t.

She didn’t say anything like that. Just for me to take care of it.

When I got home, it was late afternoon and Melissa was in the kitchen, a glass of wine in her hand, the architect’s blueprints spread out on the table, curling at the edges.

I opened the cabinet and poured a couple fingers of whiskey into a glass. The whiskey was old and burned the whole way down, but I poured myself another and threw it back. Not because of what had just happened, but what was coming, the conversation with Melissa.

“I can’t believe he’s gone.”

She nodded. “I know. Me neither.”

“He was a good dog. He kept my grandfather company,” I said. I also wanted to say how Roscoe had kept our marriage together, but didn’t.

We stood there in silence, me leaning against the counter, her by the table, hugging herself, wine glass clutched in her bony fingers.

She spoke first. “I know this isn’t a good time, but…”

“But what?”

She shrugged and nodded toward the blueprints.

“You’ve got to be kidding.” My head wanted to explode.

“I know it’s hard. It’s hard for me too. But we had an agreement.”

“I can’t think about that now. To be honest, I don’t know if I even want to move back to the city anymore. “

Her grip around herself tightened and her shoulders lifted.

“I was thinking, I don’t know…”

“You were thinking what?” Her eyes burned and her lips were pressed tight.

“I like this house. It’s our house. And it’s all I have left of my grandfather. I don’t want to leave. I know we had this agreement, but… I’m sorry. That’s how I feel.”

She just stood there, looking at me. I waited for the explosion. Melissa was burning up with anger and disappointment; I could smell it, like a cast-iron pan overheating on the stove. But she said nothing. After a moment, she let out a deep sigh, took a deep breath and sighed again. If she was crying, she hid it well.

“That’s fine,” she said. “That’s fine.” She turned and rolled up the blueprints. She shoved them back into their tube.

“I’m sorry. Look, we can be happy here, we can…”

“Don’t. Please.”


“I need some time.” She sat at the kitchen table, her back to me, and poured more wine into her glass.

I went upstairs and lay on the bed, puzzling over Melissa’s reaction. She just seemed disappointed. This couldn’t be over.

I must’ve dozed off because when I opened my eyes, the room was twilight dark and Melissa was calling from the bottom of the stairs. My dinner was getting cold. As I came down, she was zipping up her coat.

“Your plate’s in the oven. I already ate.”

“Where are you going? Can we talk about this?”

“Maybe later. I need some air.”

Without looking at me, she left. I stood there like a dummy until her gravel footsteps faded away.

The plate in the oven was partially congealed beef stew. I ate as much as I could, washing it down with beer. Time passed slowly and after two hours, she still hadn’t returned. My stomach tightened with sour juices as wild fantasies flickered in my head. She’d gone to her sister’s in the city, or fallen victim to a psycho killer. Part of me wanted her to die, to drive off the road into a tree; it would make things so easy, while all the rest of me was repulsed by the fact that I could even think such a thing. I went into the kitchen and chewed some antacid. It didn’t help much.

Finally she came home and I was relieved. She didn’t look at me, but at least she was home. There was hope.

We went through our bed-time rituals like mutually oblivious ghosts. In bed we both lay as still as possible, lest we accidentally touch. I chewed another antacid and fell asleep, thinking things would look better in the morning. Things always look better in the morning.

In the middle of the night, I jumped awake from a candy-colored nightmare, my stomach a knot of squirming pain. When I got out of bed, I was dizzy, walking on legs ten feet tall. I made it to the toilet and held onto the sink as if it were the only solid thing in the world.

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah, it’s just my stomach. I’ll be all right. Go back to sleep.”

She appeared in the doorway, rubbing her eyes, her hair all tumbled in a way that reminded me of a camping trip we’d once taken in the Adirondacks. Before we were married. She’d come out of the tent all mussed up in the same sexy way. I snapped a photo and she came after the camera, chasing me around the metal fire ring until I let her catch me.

“Your stomach? Let me get something for you.”

“There’s antacid on my nightstand.”

When I opened my eyes again, Melissa was standing before me, a glass of water in one hand, tablets in the other.

“That’s not antacid.”

“It’s okay. It’s just something to make you feel better.”

At that moment, my bowels gave way. I peered into the bowl to see what the hell was in such a rush to get out. All I could see was bright yellow, the color of brand new tennis balls.


Andrew O. Dugas’s fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in LITNIMAGE,
Instant City, Flatmancrooked, and The SOMA Literary Review. A regular
reader at local literary events, he’s currently shopping around
SLEEPWALKING IN PARADISE – A San Francisco Novel about Old Money, the
New Economy, and the Second Coming. Follow his Daily Haiku at


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