Five-year-old female Japanese spitz, “Mitzy”. Free to a good home with no children or other pets.
It wasn’t until she’d brought the dog home that Jill noticed it.
She’d poured herself a glass of pinot grigio. Mitzy had jumped up next to her on the couch and rested her snout on Jill’s thigh. You’re mine, Jill thought, stroking her soft ears, I’m going to look after you. Her weekends would now be long sunny walks, chats with neighbours, not just Law & Order: SVU reruns. Mitzy had looked at her from the corner of her eye and Jill had shudder-jerked, sloshing her drink over the rim. The look in her eye. Disapproving. Critical. The resemblance was uncanny.
Then Mitzy had rolled onto her back and exposed her belly and looked like a dog again.
The next morning Jill woke to a clickety-clack sound. Her mother’s brown leather sandals. Her mum used to slip her feet into them in the morning so she wouldn’t walk straight on the cold kitchen floor, the dangling undone buckles clicking against the tiles. They’d eat porridge with microwaved blueberries and talk about their plans for the day.
But the sound wasn’t her mum’s sandals. Of course it wasn’t. It was Mitzy’s claws clicking against the floorboards.
Jill tickled her chin and said in the baby voice she always hated, “You’re just a little dog, aren’t you? You’re just a little fluffy dog.”
At the park Mitzy strained on the lead. Jill unclipped it and Mitzy ran straight to another dog, a black Labrador twice her size, and began to bark. Jill froze. The bark. It sounded identical to her mother’s cough. Identical. The cough she’d had later, after she’d been in the hospital a while and got pneumonia.
Jill had rubbed her mum’s back as she coughed. Her mum had looked at her from the corner of her eye and Jill had stopped rubbing because her mother’s dark eyes had looked so different.
You’re getting fat.
What? Her mother had never spoken to her like that before. Never.
“Can you restrain your dog?” A woman in magenta sportswear had her hands on her hips.
Jill tried to get a hold of Mitzy’s collar. “Sorry. I’m so sorry. I just got her.”
From then on, Jill walked Mitzy before the sun rose. Mitzy waited at the door for her every night when she traipsed home from work, exhausted. Jill would try not to look at her.
On Friday, Jill had a date. She didn’t often have dates. She couldn’t bear having the same conversations about what you did, about past holidays, about what you were planning to cook on Sunday and then portion for the week’s lunches. But this one seemed to have potential. In the pictures he seemed to have nice stubble. He said his name was Patrick.
They went to a tapas restaurant. Jill tried not to drink too much. He talked about himself and some of it was interesting.
Back at her apartment, they kissed on the couch. He’d squeezed his fingers into her bra and they’d become stuck there, clamped between flesh and underwire. He kept kissing her like they weren’t. She was starting to worry that maybe his fingers were going blue when she heard the noise. Her mother clearing her throat.
She pulled away, looked around. Mitzy was there, growling. But it didn’t sound like a growl.
“I don’t think your dog likes me.”
“No. No, it’s fine.”
But Mitzy growled louder, bearing her teeth.
“Stop. Mum, stop it.”
She hadn’t meant to say it. The guy left pretty soon after that.
All weekend she thought about getting rid of Mitzy. Jill fed Mitzy, walked her, and Mitzy was silent. She sat on the couch with Jill, her head on a throw cushion, looking at her from the corner of her eye every time Jill took a sip of wine. Towards the end her mother had told Jill she could smell the stink of booze on her breath when she’d visit the hospital.
Jill had a bad day at work on Monday, came home irritated. Mitzy followed her around the apartment for hours, staring up at her with her mother’s brown eyes. Eventually Jill relented, took the leash off the hook near the door.
It was pitch black; the lights around the park were all off. But as she approached she heard laughing, sarcastic slurrings. A boy and girl. Young, maybe 13, and smoking. The lead jerked and Mitzy started barking.
“Stop it, Mitzy! No!”
Her mother had always done this. When she passed someone smoking she’d cough loudly, fanning her hand in front of her nose. Even when Jill had taken her out in her wheelchair from the hospital she’d done it with her new deep pneumonia hack, glaring at the man smoking at the tram stop.
“Your dog looks like a marshmallow!”
She pulled Mitzy along behind her, charged around the path. Her nose was going numb with cold. She shouldn’t have got a dog.
“Oi. Don’t turn around.”
A cold edge pressed into Jill’s back. She stopped walking.
“Give us your wallet, alright?”
“I didn’t bring it.” It was in her pocket.
Mitzy cleared her throat.
“Then give us the marshmallow.”
She held out the lead and it was snatched from her hand. The kids ran. Jill watched them go, wanting to smile.
Mitzy was straining on the lead, tripping, looking back.
They locked eyes.
That was her dog.
Panic prickled her fingertips.
Jill started to jog, and then ran as Mitzy was dragged into the darkness. She heard the scream before she reached them. Mitzy had her teeth deep in the boy’s calf, blood gushing everywhere. Mitzy didn’t look like her mum right then at all.
“Get it off!”
The girl went to kick Mitzy. Jill grabbed her skinny arm and bit down too. The muscle squeaked under her jaw.
When Jill got home she ran them a bath. With her fur all wet, Mitzy was barely bigger than a chihuahua. Jill was gentle as she wiped her face, kept going even after all the red was gone.
“You’re a good dog. I’ll look after you now, alright? You look after me and I’ll look after you.”
Mitzy wagged her tail, making little ripples in the pink water.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on October 9, 2021 as "Mitzy".
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