I do not love my dog.
She is weak-limbed, arthritic, and has a mucus-blue eye. She is disagreeable. She hates riding in the car. She won’t chase a stick. She ignores Frisbees and tennis balls and other stock attempts at human-canine interaction. She eats grass. Even slimy grass. Which she then pukes. In front of everyone else in the park. As if the pedigree-brand dog food I buy is beneath her. As if gravy bones give her a pain.
I come home from work to a new level of odour. She has made a mess and left it. In the guest room. On the freshly steam-cleaned carpet.
I press my lips and feel the familiar surge of resistance that comes when action seems called for. What to do?
A dog on the premises reduces house insurance premiums. Burglars think twice, as do hawkers.
At night, my dog rests her head on my knee. I sit on the couch and read a book or watch the television. She sits on the floor and watches me a while then closes her eyes. I stroke her head, her presence a warm breath.
She came from Animal Rescue and was fully grown when I took her. Her name’s Garbo, of all things. Garbo.
When I first laid eyes on her, she had jammed herself up in the back corner of the compound. She was bigger than I thought when they finally brought her out, but by then it was too late to renege. Neglect? Ridicule? Abandonment? Abuse? What horrors has she seen that I will never imagine?
And what do I do that contributes to her private pain?
Does she intuit my frustration at my too-small life? Does she take my worries on herself? I feed her and tend to her physical needs but admittedly, sometimes I’m gruff. Still, she gazes at me adoringly through her single good eye. Shuffles up to greet me when I come through the door. That way she has: lifting her golden-brown head before I’ve even said her name. As if she knows I’m thinking of her. Or not thinking of her. As if, no matter what I’m thinking of, she’s thinking of me.
Maybe I do love my dog.
It’s clear she holds me in her heart. She gives me time and attention. Patient, affectionate, she takes me as I am without judgement or condition.
The mess that is me. The ugliness. The failings. The doubt.
I do love my dog. I’ve loved her all along. I see it now. The dog is not the problem.
I do not love my husband.
Suzanne Verrall lives in Adelaide, South Australia. Her flash fiction, essays, and poetry appear or are forthcoming in Flash Frontier, Archer Magazine, Lip Magazine, Poetry NZ Yearbook, and The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts.