I had taken shrooms and something or other, and found myself in the little cubby underneath the kitchen counter, next to the dog. It was a square opening, perfect for the size of a relatively large dog mattress that was perfect for a relatively large dog. I had squeezed myself in there next to him, in the dandruffy darkness, and sat listening to our panting.
The dog—Gus, his name was—had recently taken up growling and snapping at strangers. So everybody who saw me crawl into the space held their breaths like I had crawled into my death wish.
“You’re a good boy, you know that?” I buried my fingers in his soft fur, and shivers ran through me from the shock of the smooth texture. He turned his head towards me.
“But that’s stupid to say, you probably hear that all the time.” I was speaking to the dog in Russian, just how I grew up speaking to my animals I suppose.
I looked into his eyes and he raised his brows. (That’s ballsy, looking into a dog’s eyes, ya know? Dogs, they see that as a challenge. If Gus was really going to use me as a chew toy, he would have decided to do it then.)
“I want you to know that you’re growling at all the right people,” I whispered. “A lot of these people, they’re no good. No good for your boy over there.”
I jerked my head over to his owner, Tommy. He was someone I had loved years ago. I leaned in closer to Gus. “And your secret, it’s safe with me. That you growl at all the new people, the ones you and I both know are no good.”
Gus looked wary of me now, like I was getting too close. I backed away to give both of us some breathing room. “But you remember me, don’t you? You know I’m a good one.”
I started brushing my hand through his fur again, staring out into the kitchen beyond the cubby.
“Anybody seen Sasha?” It was Tommy. Gus picked up his head at the sound of his owner’s voice, wiggled his tail.
“Weird blonde girl? Yeah, she’s under there, chillin’ with Gus.” I heard the laughter hidden in the undertone of the response.
“She’s what?” His head popped up suddenly in the cubby. “What the fuck are you doing?”
Gus started to growl, anxious at the confrontation. “Go away, you’re making him nervous.”
Tommy rolled his eyes but backed off. All I could see now were his legs. “I’m not making him nervous, I live with him. I told you he doesn’t like people as much as he used to.”
“Yeah, it’s because you bring assholes into the house now.” I said it under my breath, hoping the people in the kitchen around Tommy wouldn’t hear. They were the kind of assholes that were stupid enough to get caught carrying weed at a Wal-Mart.
“Come out of there.”
“Sash, come out of there. He’s going to fucking bite you or some shit.”
“We have an understanding.”
I felt more than heard his exasperated sigh as he chose to walk away. There was a low, “I don’t know dude, just leave her,” as his friends stopped him to ask what was up.
After a few moments, I turned to Gus again. My hands were in my lap, itching again to pet the reddish-brown fur with the grey tips. Gus was getting old. “You know, I left him. I left him a couple times, actually.”
I was still speaking in Russian. Liking the roll of the words on my tongue better than English. “I always regret it. Leaving people.”
Inexplicably, I felt a tear. I hadn’t known I was even producing it, and I was confused when I felt my cheek get wet. “Do you think, Gus, that he still loves me? That maybe that’s why he invited me here.”
Just the breathing filled the space. “That’d be nice.”
We’d just started talking again, Tommy and I, out of the blue. How things go, I guess: when someone is horny and lonely, they just text the other. I just don’t remember who the horny and lonely one was that particular time. Could have been both of us.
I don’t know how long I spent there, like that. But at some point Tommy came by, standing at a safe distance with a friend, one who I knew spoke Russian. I had been introduced to him earlier, when he pulled himself up long enough from a bong to wheeze “Zdrastvoyte.” His face had acne pits in it, and they were scarred from where he had dragged his razor over them to shave a scraggly beard that was growing back.
“I don’t know dude, should I get her out of there?”
“She looks pretty comfortable.”
I grinned at Gus. In Russian: “Look Gus, an interloper. Your boy has brought someone to spy on us.”
I could hear Tommy’s friend translating.
“Okay Sash, do what you want. I’m going upstairs to bed, and people are leaving. You’re welcome to stay in there with Gus.”
When the translator walked away, I said to Gus: “Jealous that I’m staying the night with you, huh?”
I patted the dog’s cheeks. Sat in silence for a few beats. “Tolko dlya choostvo tyelo. Ne mazgee, ne emotsiye. Tolko tyelo.” Just for the feeling of skin. Not for the brains, not for the emotions. Just skin. “Eto fsyo.” That’s it. All he wants.
I watched legs pass me by for a little longer. Either nobody noticed me, or nobody wanted to.
Eventually, I stretched, looked at Gus, said: “Thank you.”
I leaned in slowly, kissed him on the nose. His ears went back a little. “Don’t question my love. Maybe we’ll meet again.”
I enveloped him in a hug, and began to back out of the cubby.
I went upstairs, bee-lined for the bathroom. Kneeled at the toilet to throw up.
A knock on the door. “You okay?”
“Yes, I’m fine.”
I washed my hands, washed my mouth, opened the door to Tommy. “You feelin’ sick?”
I walked past him into his room.
“No, not particularly.”
I sat down on the bed and after a couple seconds of him staring, started undressing, socks first, then shirt. “Don’t worry, I washed everything.”
Tommy had a thing about human things: eating, peeing, puking. He didn’t like to even think about it. I saw him nod in the darkness, and he approached the bed and sat down and started getting undressed too.
When he was naked he looked at me, sitting on the edge of the bed with my arms around my torso, naked too. “You have a good time?”
“Yes, I did. Thank you for inviting me.”
“Gus was very glad to have you.” He laughed. “He wasn’t as vicious tonight as he usually is, actually.”
“He was very nice to me.” I smiled. “A perfect gentleman. And I’m glad,” I said, “I made it easier on your guests.”
Tommy started peppering my neck with kisses. “He likes you,” he muttered.
“He did, yeah.”
Rebecca Rozenberg is a Junior WLP major and a product of the Soviet Union. She likes her men long-haired and skinny and her cats fat and hairless.