My visit with Laura was already going badly when I killed her dog.
She was asleep when I got back to her apartment, and I didn't want to wake her.
I left the dog's body in the front yard, a short note on the kitchen table. I
had enough time to pack my bag and catch the Amtrak express from Boston to New
York. My brother was going to his friend Sondra's reading in the East Village.
Sondra ran the reading series, and though we'd never met, she once offered to
look over my stories.
Laura had brought the dog with her to the airport. They were waiting for me
on a bench outside the baggage carousel. Maggie was eleven months old, mainly
black lab, and recently adopted from the Humane Society.
"I'm a wreck," Laura said.
I was glad to see her hair was long again, blond and straight and unbrushed.
She gone through the mandatory period short hair cut that always looked wrong
and came out looking like Laura again. Maggie was draped across her lap,
panting. We smiled shyly over the dog. I had been so surprised she invited me
that I had actually come.
"She pees every time I leave the apartment," Laura said, standing
up, shaking the dog off her. "Yesterday, when I let her out of the crate to
give her a bath, she jumped on me, and so I'm covered, too. Then after her bath,
I ran down to the basement to start the laundry, and I fell down the stairs. By
the time I got back upstairs, she'd peed again."
Laura pulled back the sleeve of her sweater, displaying a bruised forearm and
a three- inch, jagged scrape that started at her elbow.
"I'm not sleeping," she said.
I slung my bag over my shoulder, and we began walking through the parking lot
to her car, an enormous red Ford Explorer. "She's a good dog. Aren't you,
Maggie? Well, she will be. You should have seen us a week ago."
My first night in Cambridge, I watched Laura teach Maggie "drop
it." They practiced with a stuffed Fred Flintstone doll. Every time Maggie
dropped the doll, Laura broke off a piece of dog biscuit and fed it to her on
the palm of her hand. I sat back at the kitchen table. Laura was a veterinarian.
Only days ago, she'd resigned from her second practice in a year because her
boss wasn't nice to her. I didn't think you could quit a professional job for
something so small. My head hurt.
"Drop it, Maggie," Laura said. "Drop it. Maggie, drop
The dog watched, doll in its mouth, head cocked to the side, as Laura's voice
grew loud and shrill. I found a pint of Häagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream in the
freezer, and that helped.
"I said drop it."
We bought turkey sandwiches from a kosher deli on the way back from the
airport. But since then, every moment had been consumed by the dog. Laura tried.
She asked about my writing, but Maggie ran out of the spare bedroom with my
favorite black cotton sweater in her mouth.
Ideally, I would have loved Laura's dog. Ideally, I would still love Laura.
We'd been friends for nine years. It had always been a strained friendship.
Including the two years when I had gone out with her one male, heterosexual
friend, dumped him for another man, and then, six months later, decided to miss
him. There was the series of long- distance hang-up calls I'd placed that he
eventually told Laura about, that we'd never talked about. There was Laura's
crush on me that we'd stopped talking about long ago. My crush on Laura that had
never been acknowledged.
Laura had joined a women's reading group. Her phone rang constantly. We sat
in the living room, reading, listening to the messages as her friends spoke to
her answering machine. Three different women from the reading group called, all
inviting her to a women's comedy night. An old girlfriend invited her over for
The woman Laura liked, Ruth, didn't call.
The mean vet called to say they had found a replacement and Laura would not
need to come back. Her father called to see how she was feeling. Her mother
wanted to hear about the dog. They invited her to come home to their Connecticut
beach house for the weekend. Her younger sister wanted to go shopping in Harvard
Square. They were all worried about Laura.
"Oh, God," Laura said, lying facedown on the floor. Maggie walked
over her head. "What do you want to do?"
The good thing about unsuccessful visits with friends is that it turns your
sad, miserable life into something you might want to go back to. That's worth
the cost of a plane ticket alone.
"I'd like to go to a movie," I said.
The next morning, while Laura showered, I washed the dishes and scrubbed the
kitchen sink. The chaos in the apartment was dreadful. The floor was coated with
black dog hairs. The place smelled of dog. The kitchen table was covered with
newspapers, sandwich plates, ice cream bowls, Maggie's leash, a pair of Laura's
gray sweatpants, pamphlets about obedience school.
While Laura returned phone calls in her bedroom, I swept the hallways and the
kitchen floor and then I vacuumed the area rug in the living room. When Laura
didn't get off the phone, I read the arts section of the paper. Picked a movie,
found the theater where it was playing, looked up the time of the next matinee.
"I'm sorry," Laura said, when she emerged from her room. By then I
was on the couch, flipping through the next book for her reading group, a
collection of poems and prose pieces by Native American women writers, and
Maggie was sitting on the couch next to me, gnawing on a rawhide chew. A happy
domestic picture. I was trying. I patted Maggie's head and Laura grinned.
"I've got to walk Maggie," Laura said. "And mail some forms so
I get licensed to practice in Connecticut. Then we can do something. Whatever
It was great just to get out of the apartment, and in the park with Laura and
her dog, I felt a glimmer of how it felt when we were first friends. It was May.
Pink blossoms flowering on trees, velvety petals covering the trails. Maggie ran
in mad circles and we chased her round and round. In college, we'd once gone to
a pro-choice rally together in the springtime, walked the green in front of the
Lincoln Memorial, swinging hands, two people alone in a crowd of strangers.
Then a loose German shepherd entered the playing arena. The dogs were
circling each other. Sniffing.
"Maggie, come," Laura screamed.
"It's all right," I said. "They're just playing."
Laura's jaw twitched. "Come." She pounded her small foot on the
grass. "She doesn't play well with dogs."
Maggie didn't come. What happened instead was the German shepherd lost
interest in Maggie, and then Maggie decided to wander back our way. Her paws
were caked in mud. Laura snapped on the leash. "She needs another
bath," she said. "I need to get to the post office before it
"It's okay," I said.
"I need to call Ruth," Laura said.
"Okay," I said.
"And I need to drop by the library," Laura said. "My library
books are overdue."
"That's fine, too," I said.
On the way back, Laura insisted that Maggie walk properly. Maggie didn't
heel, pulling hard on the leash, and Laura pulled back, at one point nearly
flipping the dog. With every battle, Laura made Maggie sit, and then we started
again. When Maggie picked up a dead bird from the street, I almost started to
laugh. "Drop it," Laura said. "Drop it." But a dead bird is
no Fred Flintstone doll, and before Laura could prove her mastery, I bent down
and tugged at the bird, won. Maggie growled at me, bared her teeth.
"Screw you, too," I said.
I threw the bird into the bushes.
Laura said thanks.
We also stopped at every street corner. If that meant missing an entire
traffic light, meant missing the afternoon movie to stand on the corner of a
busy intersection until Maggie behaved, well, we stood and waited.
Ruth had agreed to meet us at the movie theater.
Laura had baked chicken drumsticks in orange juice. By the time it was ready,
we had to leave, which was fine with me. I'd wanted to eat out, but we couldn't
leave the dog alone for dinner and a movie. I'd already given up on having
things the way I wanted. New York, my brother reminded me when I called during
one of Laura's naps, was only four hours away and his friend Sondra had asked
about me. But I had begun my campaign of not snapping at Laura, trying to save
one of the few remaining friendships I had left in the world.
On our way to the T-station, we heard Maggie howl. Three blocks away, her
cries still echoed in the street.
"It sounds like I beat her," Laura said. "She should be over
this by now."
I shrugged. "Tell me about Ruth," I said.
There had been four dates, two hugs, a leg brushing against a leg at a party.
Laura had determined that Ruth wanted a committed relationship, wanted to raise
a child with a partner--the essentials.
"You can't just fool around?" I said.
I slept with men before I knew if I liked them. The last one, I found out
later, had been a Republican. He played golf and kept a gun in the bedside
table. I made mistakes sometimes that I don't tell people about. "Kiss
first, then plan the family?" I said, but Laura shook her head.
"That's what straight people do," she said.
The movie was sold out. Ruth was waiting for us.
"I didn't know if I should get tickets," she said, giving Laura a
careful hug, a kiss on the cheek. Laura seemed pleased, but I was alarmed by
Ruth. She was at least a decade older. She wore round, plastic glasses years out
of style, a bulky leather jacket, beige leather walking shoes, purple socks.
Short hair that had no shine. Laura used to date cute girls. With Ruth, I
detected body odor. I didn't want to picture Laura touching her.
We went back to Laura's apartment and ate the baked orange chicken
drumsticks. I probably should have excused myself and gone to bed, but I was
Laura's old friend from out of town, and I stayed with them in the living room
until three in the morning, when Ruth said she had to go home.
Maggie barked in her crate.
When I checked on Laura, she lay flat on the bed, staring at the ceiling.
"I'm going to take Maggie for a walk," I said.
"I already took her out an hour ago," Laura said, talking to the
ceiling. "It's eight in the morning and I just fell asleep. All I need is
one night of good sleep."
I nodded. "I'll take her to the park."
"Don't let her off the leash," Laura said. She turned onto her
side. "I'm sorry. You've been wonderful. We'll go out for brunch when you
get back. I promise. We can drop Maggie off with my parents and drive on to the
coast if you want."
Maggie tugged at the leash, pulled me through crosswalks. I didn't bother
with heeling. She picked up a wooden Popsicle stick along the way, and that was
fine with me. The sun shined on my arms. I walked with my eyes closed. In the
park, Maggie found a tennis ball. She wagged her tail, and I imagined myself
falling in love with Laura's dog. I pictured Maggie chasing down balls, rolling
in flower petals, I saw a plate of French toast, fresh-squeezed orange juice,
steaming hot coffee. I pulled the tennis ball from Maggie's mouth, ready to
play. I'd never met a dog before I couldn't love.
Maggie's tail wagged back and forth, expectant. I let her off the leash. She
took off to the gate at the park's edge, and then stood watching me.
"Maggie, come," I said. "Come."
When I started to run after her, Maggie tore out of the park and into the
street. She stopped again, waiting to see what I would do.
"Maggie, come," I screamed. "Come." When I stepped
forward to grab her, Maggie ran, ran without stopping, ran straight for Laura's
apartment, five blocks away. I heard a man in the street yelling "Maggie,
come," and then I ran past him. Maggie dashed in front of a motorcycle and
a gray car and made it, still running.