The Joys of Watching a Dog Fall Apart

Matt Farrell

My dog is losing fur and it distresses me. There is no more bounce to his step. The wag of his solid tail is no longer like the wallop of a baseball bat against my leg but more like a toddler poking at me with an inch-long finger trying to get my attention. No more thump thump thump against my knees when I've made him his turkey sandwich. Turkey is his favorite deli meat. Our walks—evening walks when the heat is fading and the breeze quickens—have lost their pizzazz. He doesn't tug at the leash anymore, charging up to sniff at some other dog's piss or a flower. I have to yank him down the street. It's like he no longer enjoys my company. Plus, I'm sure my wife is cheating on me.

Which is why I need my dog's help. His name's Fiore. Fiore means "flower" in Italian. My wife's father is Italian. My wife's mother is dead. My wife is cheating on me.

I try to follow Linda when she runs her daily errands, but Fiore has become a lackluster seeing-eye dog. He gets distracted by car horns or screaming children or the smell of his own breath, and sometimes he just sits down and doesn't move. I shove him to get a move on, give him a giddy-up slap, and a clump of fur detaches into my hand. Fur is tough to get off your hands, especially the stringy, greasy hair of a decaying animal. So then I'm standing there, rubbing dog hair onto my shirt, not sure whether the street light is green or red, while Linda escapes down the block to go buy a new colorful dress or have sex with a man who can take her to the movies or read her a bed-time story.

I drag Fiore the two blocks back to our house and lie down on our bed. Birds chirp and squirrels scamper along the bark of the sycamores. I get up for a glass of water and step in a pile of dog shit on the carpet. The shit and carpet threads squeeze up through my toes. Fiore has lost bowel control.

I wasn't born blind. Approximately eight hundred and forty-two days ago, a year after I married Linda, we were driving home from a night at the movies, happy and in love and all that. At the corner of 39th and H, a possum darted into the road and froze, its eyes set to glowing by our headlights. Linda yanked the wheel to the left, sending our car skidding sideways into the other lane, where a Lincoln Navigator was making its way along at forty miles per hour, according to the police report. The Navigator's grille smashed into the passenger-side window. I happened to be the passenger. The door crumbled, the window shattered, my head bounced against hard objects like a pinball, and my skull fractured. Before they could get me to the hospital, which was less than a block away, blood inside my skull had spilled over my occipital lobe, burning the tissue like acid. So now, my perfectly good eyes send signals through a perfectly good optic nerve to a perfectly defective occipital lobe, which, as I found out quickly enough, means I can't see.

That turned out to be a terrible day.

Because, number one, I was a movie critic for The Sacramento Bee. A regular recipient of fan mail. And number two, I learned my wife cares more about a possum than me. But life goes on. Now I'm living off my disability checks from the state, most of which I spend on lottery tickets because I've always believed that if you have bad luck in one area, you'll be rewarded with good luck in another.

In bed, I used to read my wife stories I'd written. She rested her head on my chest and laughed when she was supposed to laugh. I wanted to be a famous writer, to bring joy and meaning to others through my work. Now I can't see what I'm typing and I can't read Braille and I think my wife is cheating on me and even if she's not cheating on me she's definitely put on some pounds in the last couple years.

"What do you care what I eat, John?" she says. "You can't even see what I look like."

"I have hands, don't I?"

I reason that my wife's hostility toward me is due to her overwhelming feelings of guilt for having ruined my life.

Just when I thought everything had gone to hell, I was outfitted with my guide dog Fiore, a black lab with thick fur, a mature dog of five years, not some annoying puppy. We did everything together, Fiore and I, because we needed each other. Not like two people in love think they need each other. We needed each other to go on living, to survive. During walks on summer nights, the breeze shaking the day of its stale heat, I realized I could still function. I was still alive.

But after a couple years, as these things go, Fiore began to collapse both mentally and physically. Soggy fur everywhere—clumps on the kitchen floor that I slip on trying to get to the refrigerator, clumps in my bed, in my sheets, clumps that somehow make their way into my mouth during sleep. The shit on the carpet is no piece of cake, either. Linda hates Fiore. Her first dog was a Jack Russell Terrier named Fiore and every time she hears the name she remembers a time when she wasn't married to an ex-movie-critic-failed-writer-blind-man. Fiore seems to hate me now, too. I feel like a nagging husband as I drag the son-of-a-bitch down the street while he leaks a constant drip drip of urine.

So, my purpose in life has been whittled down to finding out if my wife is cheating on me. I've tried everything. I began by sniffing her dirty laundry—her blouses, her underpants, her bras—for any hint of male cologne. But unlike what the fairy tales led me to believe, going blind didn't improve my sense of smell, so that was a dead end. I switched tactics. When she went out on foot to buy milk and somehow managed to take three hours, I followed her using Fiore, who found every way to fail. He stopped to pee. He scampered up to my wife and gave us away. He tugged in one direction so I thought I was hot on her trail for ten blocks, but no, we were chasing a cat.

How many times do I have to tell you, Fiore? Follow my wife and follow only my wife and follow her at a safe distance.

In response, Fiore would lick himself and lie down, meaning, What the hell do I care?

When my wife took the car and disappeared at night, I ordered cabs to follow her, but this wasn't the movies and cab drivers didn't want to get involved in domestic dispute stuff. An extra twenty bucks changed some attitudes, and we would zip along in hot pursuit until the driver threw me out because Fiore shat on the seat.

So I turned to my friends for help. Like James, that little shit, the guy who was my subordinate and who now subjects my fan base to inferior movie reviews. I hired him to tail my wife, a hundred dollars a night for two weeks, but he'd return with stories about how she stayed at her sister's place for the weekend or how she was delayed because she got in a fight with the cashier over the milk's expiration date. All of which led me to believe he's the one she's sexing up.

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