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Doggy-Dog World

Doggy-Dog World

Hilary Leichter

I know this couple in a casual way. A neighborly way. They went to the adoption place to adopt a cute friend. Something soft and sweet, something to love. We want something to love, they said, and I said, besides each other? They said, in addition to. We want something waiting for us by the door. A fan, a witness, this is our wish.                        

By my front door, I have an antique mirror so I can be my own fan, my own witness. The first puppy didn't work out. The first puppy was sick and needed people with experience. This couple had a lot of experience, but not the right kind. They cried about the first puppy. I made them an interesting blend of tea and stroked their hair until they felt better.

The second puppy was as tiny as you can imagine. Whatever you're imagining is correct. Perpetually bouncing, like it could blow away any second, just float up in the air like a cute flying cartoon sort of creature. She was a dear little friend and they loved her very much. They let her sleep in their bed and eat out of their bowls and make messes as long as the messes were on the tile and not the carpet.

One thing: This couple was not super perceptive. They were not the kind of people who noticed other people. There was the time I cut my hair and they did not see that the hairs were cut. Or the time I was in a car accident and walked on crutches for weeks. After a month, the couple said, hey, what's with the crutches? There was the time I was in love with this couple, both as a couple and as individuals, loved them in a visible way, an embarrassing way, for years. Then the feelings expired and I felt relaxed, easy. It is sometimes good to go unnoticed.

My point is, when the puppy turned into a human baby, it took them a while to catch on.

 

First, the sounds coming from her puppy mouth were baby sounds. Then the paws on her puppy legs were baby paws, which are just called feet, I guess. Maybe it was hours before the couple noticed. Maybe it was a whole afternoon. She had maybe already been a baby for a few days before the couple said, oh, my god.  

Everyone around town was talking. The first thing I personally do in situations like these is make myself mindful of precedent. Consider the frog who turns into the prince, and the beast who turns into the prince, and consider all of those princes sprung from the bodies of beasts. Now, consider the puppy who turns into a child and what sort of suburban spell could have put her in such a difficult spot. I volunteered as babysitter and helped care for her, this very special baby. She was not as bouncy as her former incarnation. She was not a creature who could fly away—in fact, she wouldn’t. When describing her, the word that came to mind was responsible. I looked into her eyes and found a steadiness I could relate to.

The couple converted their office into a nursery with an air of, okay, this is what we're doing now! They replaced the puppy toys with baby toys, the puppy bed with a baby crib. They replaced the dog park with the playground and the poop scoop with a closet full of diapers. They transitioned so naturally from puppy to baby that there was no trace of the puppy I once knew, not at all. The puppy things were in garbage bags in the basement, tucked away in a far corner.

This is the part of the story where the couple started calling themselves the family.

 

I should start calling them that too, but I won’t because of what happened to the couple next.

It was at the restaurant across town, the one that serves pieces of toast topped with fancy foods. The couple was on a date, and I was watching their child. The woman from the restaurant who called on the phone said it happened during the third course of the meal, the dessert toasts. The couple started bickering, but their bickers turned to barks. Their faces went furry and small. They tried to pick up their slabs of bread, but they had dog paws instead of human paws, which are just called hands, I guess. The couple was a couple of hounds, noses sniffing plates of expensive carbohydrates.    

I strapped the baby to my chest and fetched the couple from their date. I brought some of the old puppy leashes and leashed them up, walked them home. I brought the rest of the puppy things up from their basement and over to my house. I stroked their fur and made them an interesting blend of dried foods to eat, since they had missed their dinner.  

I set the two doggie beds near the front door, under my antique mirror. I look at myself when I leave for work, adjust my collar, adjust my skirt. Adjust the stroller and adjust the baby tucked in the stroller. I look at my dogs. I look at my family, all together. I adjust my face, make sure it looks normal, for I too have sprung from unexpected things.



Hilary Leichter's writing has appeared in Tin House, n+1, American Short Fiction, The Southern Review, and elsewhere. She is the recipient of a 2015 fellowship in fiction from the New York Foundation of the Arts. You can find her at hilaryleichter.com.
 

Illustration by Alexander Fukui

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