Ok, so everything was paradise, but all I did was
complain. Lance, my boyfriend, said it often enough that I was beginning to
believe it. I had a great job in video-game sales and I represented a hot
seller. It's a game where you get to kill ballerinas and all sorts of ballet
dancers with a deadly leg hold called the skullcracker.
The game's called Slaughterina.
At level ten, you're after Barishnykov and Nureyev. They're hard to catch,
always leaping around, pirouetting and grand jete-ing,
but in the first, beginning level, it's easy; Nijinsky just lies there, on his
scarf, like a wounded deer. It's a cool game. Failed dancers love it. Fat people
love it, and let's face it, that's most of us. Hey, it's even educational. Kids
learn something about an art form.
Well, anyway, I was on the road a lot, and Lance stayed
in my house and watched my three cats, even though they did seem to hiss quite a
bit around him. He didn't charge me or anything, because I had cable TV, all of
the movie channels, and some cool new video-game samples, and all I had to do
was go out to Sam's Club and buy him one of those large, restaurant-size jars of
spaghetti sauce and a big package of noodles. He says he can eat it every day
for two weeks and not get bored.
But this one time I got back from my sales trip and
Lance was waiting there for me and something seemed wrong. He's dancing all over
me and giving me his glad-to-see-you paws, but the three cats were gone.
I walked around the house like a fool calling,
"Here Furry. Here Frisky. Here Frito." You can tell that Lance named
Frito. Lance said naming was kind of a Native American thing with him. The first
thing he saw after seeing something that needed a name was going to be the
Lance said, "Hold it, honey. Forget the
cats," and explained how someone must have left the door open and how he
searched for days, putting up those lost cat posters, and couldn't find them.
It was only later when I went to a local sales party
and saw Frito, now named Anastasia, at a co-worker's home that it all got out of
the bag. The animal shelter confirmed that, on the very same day I left, Lance
had dropped the cats off, saying to the attendant that we could no longer keep
them. The attendant claimed that all three had found good homes, but I was still
mad, and, for a moment, I imagined my thick legs wrapped around his head in the
skullcracker position and his yellow insect brains squirting out like a cerebral
Instead, I called Lance right up on the shelter's
phone. He swore it was for the best. He said he was developing allergies, he
said in the future we would worry about the cats killing our babies, and, even
though I liked the idea of his thinking that we would have a family, I somehow
knew it was the fact that he just couldn't bring himself to scoop out the litter
box. After seeing the bathroom in his small apartment once, I knew that cleaning
was not his thing.
So, OK, I thought, I'll get a dog, because men like
dogs. I read in an on-line magazine that if you want to meet men you just need
to get a dog. It's the ultimate, single-woman pet, the article said. And the
shelter had this darling Springer Spaniel mix, almost a year old, and it was
medium-size and affectionate, and it didn't seem like a baby-killer type of dog.
I waited until I got home to name it with Lance, and he
came up right away with the name Beer; I guess, since the car had been hot on
the way home and Beer, the dog, was foaming a bit at the mouth, even more so
when he started barking at Lance. Beer
was the first word Lance saw after seeing the dog.
The next out-of-town sales trip for me became Lance's
character test. I asked him to pick up a dog cake for Beer at the Waggin' Tails
Pet Shop before he got me at the airport. The dog cake was more like a cute,
little meat pie filled with Spam and all kinds of tasty dog treats. The day I
returned would be, by my estimate, Beer's first birthday and I wanted a party.
So I get off the plane and I'm not feeling too good. It
had been a bumpy flight on a plane chock-full of toddlers, and, me being sort of
a full-figure gal, the seat was uncomfortable. Oh, there was no meal service,
either, and all I'd eaten was a tiny package of fat-free pretzels and a Diet
Finally, I saw Lance's truck. He's out front of the
airport in a Do-Not-Park space, honking his horn for me. I got in. He drove off.
And I was thinking, this is good, at least he didn't forget to pick me up, when
I looked down at the white box sitting between us. It was a big box that read
Safeway Grocery Store Bakery. I asked, "What's this?"
And Lance said, "It's the cake."
I opened the box and saw it was one of those big
chocolate birthday cakes, all decorated with candles and a plastic crown, that
the grocery store baker has sitting in the freezer case for idiots that forgot
to order them on time. And I really, physically shivered like I had seen some
Lance just looked at me and said, "Don't start.
The pet shop was closed. I got the best I could. It's just a dog. Holy St.
Francis...." He wanted to say more, but it was my turn.
"You could've killed Beer with that cake. Don't
you know dogs can't eat chocolate?" I had just read about it in a dog
fancier's magazine while waiting for Beer's vaccinations at the vet's.
"It's an enzyme thing."
Then I did it. I hurled the cake out of the truck
Lance was so mad that he just kept driving. He didn't
say another word. I got out at my house, and he peeled off down the street.
Inside, I was surprised. Beer was still there to meet
me. It showed Lance's good side. I thought back about the three cats. If Lance
had been a mean person he would have just dumped them in the woods.
I got in my car and drove towards Lance's apartment.
I'm going after my man, I thought. I felt like I was in a movie or something.
When I passed the place in the road where I threw out
the cake, there was Lance, my boyfriend, down on all fours, like that cake was
drawing him to it, his face inches away from the chocolate icing.
I pulled over. He didn't see me. He was completely
focused. He was eating that dog cake with all the ecstasy the canine world could
I thought of that old saying a girlfriend used to
repeat to me every time I let an ex-boyfriend come back to me, "Only a dog
returns to its own vomit." But he was so cute licking away at that ruined
And, yes, I thought, he is eating way too fast. I
always told him that. But there's something about him. Then it came to me, all
magical like. Lance was the ideal pet for me, not a cat or a dog or, even, an
iguana. With Lance, I could leave my house for weeks at a time and not worry
about feeding him. He could make a noise if a burglar entered the house, and,
sometimes, he even acted like he was house-trained.
I wondered if there was a new name I could call him.
This time, I would get to name him. I liked names that started with an F, but,
maybe, Lance was right, and I'd call him the first thing I saw. I looked at him
real hard and whispered, "Doggie? Lance-Dog?" I paused, and then I had
I sat there for the longest time and watched him
happily eating. It was getting dark. The moon was full. A street light switched
I'd heard it said that there weren't a lot of good men
left. Some people blamed it on TV and video games. The violence made men less
than human. They ended up in jail for beating their wives or worse. Then I
thought, there sure was plenty of that cake left. It looked good, too, and, you
know, I hadn't eaten much that day. I climbed out of my car.
Lance's eyes glowed up at me in the artificial light.
The white of his teeth smiled through his chocolate encrusted lips like hope,
denying all hurt. His hand, luminous and bursting forth with more cake than my
mouth could hold, offered me a bite.
latest collection of stories is called Saved By
Mr. F.Scott Fitzgerald. His short stories have
appeared in scores of anthologies and magazines, including Flash
Fiction (Continued), eScene,
and Story. He
teaches creative writing at Northern Arizona University.