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Allen Woodman

Dog Cake

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 thing's name.

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 fountain.

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 Coke.

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 bad thing.

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 window.

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 muster.

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 dessert.

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 it. "Dog-Cakes."

I sat there for the longest time and watched him happily eating. It was getting dark. The moon was full. A street light switched on overhead.

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.


Allen Woodman's 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, Micro Fiction, Sudden Fiction (Continued), eScene, and Story. He teaches creative writing at Northern Arizona University.

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