voices came from the bathroom. Water splashing, then a banging noise
like something heavy dropping against hard surface. Sit, commanded a
voice. Nan took a seat on her black faux-leather couch, wondering
whether they were taking good care of Lucy, making sure shampoo didn’t
get into her eyes.
A sudden pang in her lower belly that felt like the worst case of menstrual
cramps paralyzed her. Though similar, the degree of the pain was alarming.
The pain was relentless and became so intense that she thought she could actually
hear a scream coming from inside of her. But she knew that was impossible.
It was too late. After a while the pain settled but did not leave. She tried
to find something to distract herself, and again turned her attention to the
noises coming from the bathroom.
The tub was now half-full, Nan was sure, because the water didn’t sound
as harsh as it did when she had first walked in. She could see Lucy’s
leash spread across the carpet over her black boots, chewed and twisted. One
forceful tug, she thought, would do it. She went to the kitchen to get a glass
of water. “Orange juice, coffee, bread,” she read from a piece
of paper stuck to the freezer door under a decorative magnet. She scribbled leash on
the bottom of the shopping list. Get a longer and thicker one, she
added in parentheses, then put the paper back under the magnet.
The magnet was a souvenir Nan and Don picked up during their honeymoon in Canada,
a bear on a sled wearing a wry smile and a red scarf. She noticed for the first
time that she hated the way the bear looked at her. It was one of those faces
that changed when you stared at it long enough. The smile turned into a frown,
then softened into a smirk. Nan began to wonder if she had ever noticed this
before, and remembered the occasional discomfort she could not define whenever
she opened and closed the refrigerator door. It was a fleeting moment of utter
despair that flashed rapidly like a broken turn signal. But now something seemed
different. She realized that the familiar uneasiness had sneaked into her stomach
as she left the kitchen and completely forgot about the water, the list, and
the magnet. She even forgot her dry throat, which was the reason she went to
the kitchen in the first place.
Settling back on the couch she saw through the sliding window of her living
room Liz, the cheerful old widow next door, walking her dog. Other dogs
in the neighborhood were perfect, too; they all trailed a step behind
or ahead of their owners looking proud. Nan hated taking Lucy for walks.
The dog was stubborn and had even failed obedience school as a pup. It
made her feel helpless, the simple fact that she could not control her
own dog, and her hands would become slippery with sweat whenever she took
Lucy outside. Each day, the dog dragged her around the neighborhood and
refused to come inside. Lucy would stop in front of the door, pulling
her neck back in firm resistance as Nan pulled the leash with all her
strength. “The beautiful thing,” Nan
would think despite her increasing frustration, “it does have a mind
of its own.” Still, she felt resentful and tired. So tired that she had
asked her friend Joyce to come over and watch her dog while she secretly went
to the clinic get the procedure done. When she returned she was surprised to
hear their voices entwined with Lucy’s whimpering in the bathroom.
Joyce, Don, Lucy. Joyce, Don, Lucy. For some reason Nan could not help repeating
the names inside her head.
Nan was grateful that Joyce and Don would help her with her own dog. She
imagine being solely responsible for a life other than her own, which is
why she decided to put off having a baby until both her and Don were secure
enough in their careers to afford extra help without putting a strain
on their finances. It was not a decision she struggled with because the
answer was clear from the beginning of the marriage. They had both agreed
to wait. She tried not to think about it, as the nurse from the clinic
had advised during the brief counseling session before she led her into
the other room, but now she could not help resenting her own body. She
felt betrayed by it. She felt the betrayal most harshly when her legs
parted against her will in front of a stranger.
Nan gave up long ago trying to teach it anything and her constant struggle
trying to control it made her sick often, but still, she could not bring herself
to give Lucy away. Don never cared for animals and ignored Lucy most of the
time. He would show a reaction only when Lucy made the mistake of relieving
herself inside. He usually yelled and struck the coffee table hard with a fly
swatter to scare the dog. For fear of this, Nan was always in a hurry to take
Lucy outside each morning. It pained her more than anything to see her pet
trembling and blinking helplessly in front of her raging husband, though fundamentally
the fact that Lucy was ten years old and untrained was what sucked all the
hope out of her. On the other hand, as her impatience grew, so did her ability
to make quick, permanent decisions. She no longer regretted the past or blamed
people. She knew Lucy had something to do with this.
Now, she wanted to join them and do her part. “Lucy,” Nan stated
as though she had something important to discuss with the dog. Just as she
entered the hallway, her husband’s sudden laughter followed by her friend’s
cheerful gasps reached her ears like a string of sirens in the middle of
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