Kim Chinquee

Buster

She set the oven to three-fifty, sprin­kling some with pep­per­oni, some with­out, keep­ing them sep­a­rate. “These are for me,” she told her boyfriend Rex, point­ing to the cheese ones. She took the dough and rolled them, each, as he sat there eat­ing the stale Chex Mix that her moth­er had made for them at Christmas, feed­ing some to the Cocker Spaniel that he’d bought for her that day, bring­ing him in with a bow on his col­lar. “Ruff, ruff,” Rex had said, and she kissed him, then the pup­py. That was days before and they were still try­ing to find a name that seemed to suit, one day call­ing the pup Beep, since, when he whined, he sound­ed like a car horn. But the next day, she said he didn’t look like a beep and what kind of name is that, for somebody’s pup­py?

The pup­py was like the one with her ex-hus­band, anoth­er all black Cocker that left trails of blood on the car­pet, that the vet had said might make it—she’d shot syringes of Pedialite into this mouth—then at two a.m., she sensed some­thing was wrong, and she got up and held him. Buster, she’d said, Buster, how she watched him twitch and fin­ish. How, in her arms, dead, he didn’t feel much dif­fer­ent, how that had sur­prised her, how she’d stayed there, rock­ing.

Pretzel, she said.

Rex was feed­ing the dog a pret­zel.

We could call him Pretzel.

He said he didn’t look like a pret­zel.

She put in the pin­wheels she was mak­ing, slid­ing the sheet in. The pup­py barked.

I shouldn’t be feed­ing him pret­zels, Rex said. He always fed his own dog–a Golden Doodle named Moo who lived with his ex-wife on the weekday–stuff like pop­corn, piz­za.

He tossed the pup­py a stuffed pen­guin with a squeaky. The dog bit, pawed, tear­ing an ear off.

She sat on Rex’s lap, remind­ing him that soon she’d have to leave him.

He said she’d be busy with the puppy–and she thought about going home again, the dri­ve across six states, where she taught his­to­ry at a col­lege. He said to focus on the next time, in two months—they’d be sea­side and sip­ping.

She remem­bered the dog, Buster, how he’d chewed up shoes and wal­lets, how he’d peed on papers, how her hus­band had bought her the dog to keep her com­pa­ny when, she final­ly learned, he was busy with his mis­tress.

When the oven alarmed, she got up, and this guy said she was cute, she was sweet, she was some­thing. She’d heard that once, twice, a mil­lion times from a guy back in Chicago, a guy who she slept with when he won­dered where his wife was.

The dog barked. She said the man was wrong. He held her from behind, and she said it was noth­ing.

~

Kim Chinquee is the author of the col­lec­tions Pretty and Oh Baby. She
is an asso­ciate pro­fes­sor of English at Buffalo State College.