Free Story

The Poodle Next Door

 

 

There was poop on the carpet.

 

Paul’s dog Pal moved through the darkened apartment easily.  He stopped to casually sniff at the turds he had placed a good two feet from the newspaper his master had thoughtfully left out for him.  The television was on, but of course, for Pal it had no meaning.  He stuck his muzzle into a long-ago congealed bowl of Gravy Train with no real enthusiasm.  Finally, he moved to the window sill, where, if he stood on his hind legs, and put his front paws on the sill, he could watch the parking lot for his master.

 

Paul Kenney staggered into his apartment just after 4 a.m. The tequila shots had been flowing freely, as had the Tangueray and tonic.  He looked at the clock, and realized that in just three and a half short hours, he would have to get up and go to work, hung over again.  Hung over?  He would likely still be drunk.  Groaning as he threw his overcoat onto a chair, he narrowly missed planting his left foot in a pile of dogshit that was placed in the exact center of his living room.  He glanced up just in time to see the perpetrator of the indiscretion stroll sleepily into the room.

 

Paul saw his dog take in every aspect of the situation, and then throw back his head in a huge yawn; his comment on the whole mess. “What an easy life he has,” Paul thought, “sleeping, eating and shitting on my carpet. I give that little fucker so much, too bad I can’t share my hangover with him.”  In his current state, the thought struck him as particularly funny, and he stumbled his way to bed smiling.

 

When his clock radio buzzed into life at 7:30 the next morning, Paul swatted it off, and cautiously opened his eyes, expecting the all-too familiar pounding in his head that made his hapless eyeballs wish to leap from their sockets.  This morning, however, was a mystery; he felt fine.  Slowly, he sat up in bed, turning his head gingerly back and forth, waiting for some pain as penance for the night’s festivities.  There was none.  Even his stomach felt solid, without the slightest queasiness.

 

“Well, there’s a bonus!”  he thought.  “Maybe I’m getting my old college tolerance back!”  That would never be a fair exchange for the thinning hair and pot belly he was developing, but a gift was a gift.

 

As he reached for his robe, he absently bent to give Pal his morning pat.  Feeling nothing but empty air, Paul frowned and looked for the dog.  Pal was not in his usual place at the foot of the bed, nor was he anywhere to be found in the bedroom.

 

Now Paul really frowned.  Pal always slept on the floor beside the bed.  God knows, he had stepped on the animal enough times getting up in the middle of the night.  Where was he?

 

“Pal?” he called, coming out of the hallway into the living room, where he once again barely missed colliding with the congealed turds.  Cleaning up could wait; he was beginning to get seriously worried about Pal.  Sure as the dog always went out of his way to poop on the carpet instead of the paper, he always came running when Paul called.

 

Paul turned the corner into the dinky kitchen, and there was Pal, lying on his side by the stove.  At first Paul thought he was dead, but on closer examination, he saw the dog’s sides moving slowly in weak respiration.  Then he noticed the kitchen floor was covered with vomit.

 

“Shit!”  he exclaimed, and rushed over to the animal, and knelt down by the furry head. “Pal?  What’s wrong, buddy?  Did you get into something bad in the trash?”  Paul looked, but the garbage can was undisturbed.  He lightly patted the dog’s head, and even though the muzzle was a crusty mess of dried vomit, Paul was still glad when Pal licked his hand weakly.  “Don’t worry, buddy,”  he said soothingly, “I’ll get you to the vet and we’ll see what’s wrong.”  Paul wondered what the hell was wrong — Pal was an extremely healthy dog, and didn’t eat junk off the floor and out of the trash like a lot of other dogs he knew.  He sure hoped this wasn’t serious.  Pal was a good dog.

 

“As soon as I call work and clean this mess up, we’ll go to the vet, OK, buddy?”  he asked, but Pal looked as if he were asleep.  As Paul used paper towels to mop up the floor, he swore he smelled the distinct odor of gin, and it occurred to him to be grateful that he wasn’t hung over.

 

*****

 

Dr. Brunner had been Pal’s veterinarian since Pal’s puppyhood, and despite the yearly shots and the finger inserted into his rectum, Pal didn’t seem to mind him.  Dr. Brunner, for his part, reciprocated the feeling, and extended it to Paul. Over the years they had established a fine relationship based on a mutual love of dogs.  Therefore, Paul was caught completely off-guard when Dr. Brunner angrily called him into the consulting room.

 

“Paul, how long have you been coming here?”

 

“I dunno, quite a few years, I guess.”  He was confused, because he could sense the doctor’s anger, but he had no idea what was going on.

 

“Quite a few years.   Hmmmm.”  Dr. Brunner paused to remove his glasses and begin polishing them with the hem of his lab coat. In the past, Paul had always found this habit comical, but now it struck him as somewhat menacing.  “Well, in that time I thought I had you pegged as a responsible pet owner.  In fact, I even liked the way you took such good care of Pal here.  It really gets my goat to be so wrong about somebody.”

 

“I don’t understand what you’re talking about,”  Paul said,  feeling vaguely guilty like he always did when somebody in authority chastised him, even if he was completely innocent.

 

The doctor let out a disgusted sigh.  “Right.  I suppose you’re going to tell me the dog poured himself his own drinks?”

 

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Paul repeated lamely.

 

Dr. Brunner looked at him for a long time.  “Okay, fine.”  He said coldly.  “Whatever you say, but listen to me.  Your dog Pal is a fine animal, and you almost killed him yesterday.  If you are going to give him alcohol again, don’t bring him back here, because I don’t want to see it.  Do I make myself clear?”

 

Paul stopped himself short of saying “I don’t know what you’re talking about”  for a record-breaking third consecutive time, and simply blurted out, “But I didn’t give him anything.”

 

The vet, however, was already around his desk. “Whatever.  Personally, I don’t want to know what happened. All I am saying is that if you want to poison your animal, I don’t want to be a part of it.”

 

Paul numbly followed him into the examining room, where Pal was sprawled out on the stainless steel table, looking incredibly ill.  He raised his head when they came in, but the effort was clearly too much, and he laid it back down with a soft and reproachful “thump” on the metal.

 

“One more thing,”  Dr. Brunner said to him as Paul was leaving with Pal bundled in his arms. “Try not to jiggle the car too much on the ride home, and keep the radio low.”

 

When Paul only looked at him uncomprehendingly, he added curtly, “Your dog has one hell of a hangover.”

 

 

*****

 

Paul sat in the bar, waiting for his friends.  He was already on his fifth cocktail. And happy hour wasn’t even over yet.  His restless brain picked and picked at the incredibly awful day he was finishing up in a haze of alcohol.  After the debacle at Dr. Brunner’s office, things had gone steadily downhill at a remarkable pace.  Pal had thrown up twice on the Toyota’s interior before Paul could get him back to the apartment.  Then, after he had changed and finally made it to work, he had stupidly told one of his office cronies of the morning’s events, and by the time 3 o’clock rolled around, everyone was laughing at him for being too hung over to come into work on time and trying to blame it on his dog.  Now, to top it all off, it looked like his friends weren’t even going to show up tonight.

 

Dimly, he thought, “I better stop knocking em down so fast.”  If he kept up at this pace, he’d be really hungover tomorrow, and that was exactly just what he didn’t need.

 

To take his mind off the drink in front of him, Paul thought about what Dr. Brunner had said.  He thought about the nauseating smell of gin in the kitchen.  He could figure out no explanation for either of the two. There was no liquor in his house, save for a dusty old bottle of wine which was only to be used in the unlikely event of surprise female company.  Even if he had booze in the apartment, he certainly wouldn’t have let Pal have any.  What, then, did that leave?  Someone who broke into his house for the express purpose of sending his dog off on a bender?  Doubtful.  Pal a closet alcoholic?  He shook his head. Some things you just don’t want to think about too much.  Paul looked at his watch and motioned to the bartender,  “I’ll have another – better make it a double.”

 

*****

 

The next day, Paul awoke refreshed, and Pal was sick again. Paul did not go out for three days, and Pal got better.  The weekend came, and, predictably, Pal almost died.  Sunday, Paul decided he would try and curtail his drinking. Partly because he certainly cared for his dog, but also because he could swear he was starting to read blame in Pal’s bloodshot brown eyes.

 

*****

 

Paul was sleeping, dreaming of the secretarial pool, when a tickling in his nose awoke him. For a minute, the pleasant remains of the dream, and the warm fur in his face had him confused, but then he realized it was only Pal, curled up on the pillow next to his head.

 

This made him think of another of the strange and seemingly inexplicable events which had begun with Pal’s hangovers and now grew stranger each day.  Pal had always slept by the foot of the bed, but about two weeks ago, Paul had awoke in the middle of the night with the uncomfortable feeling of being watched.  He looked around, and there was Pal, sitting in the middle of the bedroom floor, simply staring at him.

 

“What is it, boy?”  he had said sleepily, “You gotta go out?”

 

Pal had not responded to the magic “out” word, and his look wasn’t the one of expectancy.  Instead, Pal kept looking at him with that very un-doglike expression of clinical detachment.

 

It was almost creepy.

 

“Whatever,” Paul had muttered, and rolled over and gone back to sleep.

 

After several nights of this, Pal had begun sharing his bed, starting at the foot and gradually moving up.  Paul, who cared for his dog, assumed that Pal had lost too many brain cells to liquor, and had experienced a  breakdown of some sort.  He sure couldn’t ask Dr. Brunner.

 

However, enough was enough.  He would tolerate poop on the carpet, vomit on the kitchen floor, and he was even willing to share his bed; but he drew the line at giving up his pillow.  Sitting up, he began to gently push at Pal.

 

“Come on, buddy, wake up.  Come on, get down.  If the foot of the bed isn’t good enough for you, I’ll tell you what…you can have the whole floor.”  Pal opened his eyes, and, for the first time in his life, Paul saw his dog bear its fangs at him.

 

“What the fuck is that?”  he yelled, and yanked the pillow unceremoniously out from under Pal.  Pal responded by snapping at him, his long sharp teeth clicking together like castanets. Paul hauled off and punched him one in the jaw, and then drove him off the bed with a flurry of vicious kicks.

 

“Come on!”  he snarled, “I’ll kick your ass!”   He meant it, too.

 

Pal apparently also saw this, and left the room with his tail tucked between his legs.  In the morning, Paul found him sleeping on the couch.

 

In addition to his obviously deranged dog, Paul was starting to worry about his own sanity, and his work suffered.  It was no relief to come home, though.   He had just about reached the point of finding another vet in the yellow pages to put Pal to sleep, no questions asked, when things returned more or less to normal.  He was even going out drinking again, and Pal wasn’t getting so sick anymore. Things had just gotten a little sketchy for awhile, but that was behind them now.

 

Besides, Paul had another reason to be in high spirits.  He had finally persuaded the gorgeous blonde whose balcony faced his to invite him over for a drink that night.  As he let himself into his apartment, whistling at his good fortune, he heard talking coming from the living room.

 

Striding quizzically into the apartment, he also noticed that Pal hadn’t come to give him the usual greeting.  Puzzled, he walked into the living room and saw Pal on the couch, sitting in front of the television.  That was strange, he didn’t remember leaving the t.v. on this morning.  Paul was usually running so late that he didn’t have time to turn on the tube.

 

“Whatever,” he said, picking up the remote and switching off the news in favor of “Wheel of Fortune.”   “You shouldn’t watch all that murder and crime, Pal,” he said merrily, “it’ll rot your brain.”  He laughed at his own joke.

 

“How you doin’, buddy? “  he said to Pal.  “How about I make us some dinner, and you set the table?”  Again, his own humorous remarks  overwhelmed him, and he went into the kitchen laughing, to reheat yesterday’s mac and cheese for himself, and dish up some Gravy Train for Pal.  “Hey Pal,” he called into the living room, “you know that big date I have tonight?  Well, it’s with the lady who has the good-looking poodle I always catch you scoping from the balcony.  Be nice to me, and I might set you up on a double-date.” He dissolved in giggles again. “Man,”  Paul thought, “I am ON tonight!”

 

As the mac and cheese popped and gurgled in the microwave, Paul stirred the Gravy Train.  Suddenly, he was struck by the thought that his dog’s dinner looked so much more appetizing than his own.  Here he was, working his ass off while the dog stayed home all day – watching t.v. apparently – and he got leftover noodles, while the dog got meat and gravy.  That sure didn’t seem fair.

 

Without even thinking, he threw a spoonful of Gravy Train in his mouth.

 

It was pretty good.  More spoonfuls followed, and Paul stuffed himself on dog food.  When it finally occurred to him exactly what it was he was doing, he threw down the spoon, mortified.  Here he was, a date in less than two hours, and he had Gravy Train smeared all over his face.

 

“I’m losing it,”  he thought, “I really am losing it.”

 

There wasn’t any dog food left in the bowl for Pal, and he really didn’t feel like making any more, so instead he brought out the mac and cheese and placed it on a t.v. tray in front of the couch.  Pal didn’t seem to mind, and Paul was so bemused from his dinner selection that he failed to notice the news was back on.

 

The date was a disaster.  Paul was uncomfortable from the moment he walked into the woman’s apartment.  He spent the first hour trying to devise a way to get the woman – Becky – to close her curtains, because he was haunted by the absolute certainty Pal was spying on him.

 

For her part, Becky seemed quite interested in him at first. But, the combination of his stilted conversation – apparently he had used up his supply of jokes at home with Pal – and the obvious discomfort he was experiencing with the knowledge his dog was sitting at the window observing his behavior with the opposite sex must have put her off.

 

Worse still, Becky’s poodle – Muffins – was much more insistent in her displays of affection for Paul.  As if rubbing and moaning against his leg (“I don’t know why she’s acting like that, she NEVER does this”), the little dog with the pink ribbons in each ear knelt in front of his seat on the couch and presented him with her hindquarters in a highly suggestive and embarrassing manner which only served to dampen whatever spark had been kindled between Paul and her mistress.

 

To cap off the entire evening, Pal had been sleeping on the bed when Paul returned home, and his snapping fangs and menacing growls served notice Pal had absolutely no intention of letting Paul anywhere near the bed.  Instead of pressing the argument, Paul slept on the floor, by the foot of the bed.  Better not to think about it.

 

There were lots of things he didn’t think about.  The extra miles on the car’s odometer.  The charges to his credit cards to the home shopping channel.  Why he rarely went to work anymore, and never answered the telephone.  What day he stopped wearing clothes.

 

 

*****

 

There was poop on the carpet.

 

He moved easily through the darkened apartment, stopping only to sniff at the feces he had carefully placed two feet from the newspaper.  The television was on, but of course it had no meaning for him.  By jumping up on the bed, and standing up, he could look out the window and await the return of his master, all the while looking into the bedroom of the apartment across the way, where a small white poodle stared intently at its mistress’ sleeping back.

©1999, 2017 Bill Breedlove