When my wife and I separated, we decided to split the dog half-n-half. Lengthwise, so each of us could enjoy at least half his little face, and have only half as much shit to deal with.
My wife is a skilled surgeon—one of the reasons I was attracted to her in the first place. On our first date, she gave me superficial sutures, like kids do to their fingers in Home Ec, tacked my arms to my sides, sewed my legs together like the Fiji mermaid, and pleasured herself on me for hours, while I sweated and tried to think tantric.
So after she bone-sawed him and we got him all cleaned up, grafted him with a sort of heavy-duty medical cellophane to keep his inner parts in place, and pumped him full of antibiotics left over from his bladder infection last May, we had two nearly perfect dogs for the price of one. My wife and I made love one last time, we were so pleased with ourselves—quickly, in the shower, while the two half-dogs rested on the bathroom tiles.
My wife took her half, whom she continued to call Hippocrates, and kept the house, and I took my half and moved to the rocky beach of Waldron Island, where the seawater would be good for both of us, but without the danger of the dog getting sand inside him. I called my half Demi-Dog, or just Dog, because he’d always responded to that anyway. It didn’t take long for him to learn to walk again— especially impressive because he only had the right hemisphere of his brain now, which meant that parts of him couldn’t communicate to other parts; he’d move his mouth like barking and perk his ear like listening at the same time. But I’d take him to the shore and he’d teeter-totter back and forth on his two legs like a tin toy horse, tongue and tail flopping toward one another so playfully he could have been on a box of Milkbones. From the right side anyway.
Sometimes, in the midst of his twelve-to-eighteen sleeping-hours a day, I’d stretch out next to him and peer into the cellophane window in his side. I’d watch his lung fill and unfill, his stomach release its juices and turn his kibble to mush, and the mush squeeze from sphincter to sphincter. Then I’d see that his bowels were full and I’d open the back door, and he’d wake up, stretch, and teeter out to do his business.
Our split was amicable, of course—my wife and I—she found that her sexual desires were more than a one-man marriage could accommodate, and I hated how rarely she showered, and how she’d come home singing power ballads at five in the morning when her shift ended. She said she got tired of washing because she had to scrub to the elbows every day, so many times that her cuticles bled, and if she didn’t sing on the drive home she’d fall asleep at the wheel, and I worked from home anyway so what difference did it make if my sleep cycle skipped off track for a few bars of “Come Sail Away” every 48 hours? I should be glad to see her, and appreciate how a woman of science could so closely mimic the vocal stylings of Dennis DeYoung, that most men would kill for that, men she went to college with, women too, straight women even. So for a while I tried falling asleep to her records, and woke to amazing, fist-pumping, hair swinging, power ballad bouts in bed, but then she entered a Reba McEntire phase, and that was the beginning of the end.
For the first four months after the spilt, I found myself writing to my wife late at night, asking how her half was doing, and asking her advice on Demi-Dog’s low energy—she had the half with the spleen. Dog’s rerouted heart seemed to beat a lot faster than normal, and maybe that was normal, but what did she think, and was she working too much, and would she send me my copy of Cooking for Overweight Pets, unless she wasn’t finished with it, in which case she should keep it and I could photocopy it later. I told her about how my half of the dog loved to swim, and I’d loosen his cellophane and let the seawater leak in and clean him out. He’d wade into the water a little way, and then sort of squat until he began to float. The cellophane would bubble up and make him almost weightless, the dog side of him underwater like the belly of a boat, his little nostril poking out like a blowhole, or the top of a periscope. He’d lie like that for hours if I let him. Back in the city, he’d chew the fur off his tail if you left him alone for too long, but here, I’d have to fish him out after twenty minutes, so he wouldn’t go hypothermic, and he’d wink his eye slowly, dreamily, gazing through me into the distance, like he was just, almost, about to solve something.
That was the part I hated most about all of this: his brain. Right there, at the surface, for consideration. I would wait with my face on the quilt until he began to whimper in his sleep, his legs faintly kicking after half rabbits, and I would bring out my magnifying glass, a big antique thing that came with my dictionary, and I would examine the brain for signs of activity. The little half-heart pumped purple blood to all his parts, so I knew he was in working order, but how could one know what the brain was doing? Shouldn’t it spark or sizzle? What if something went wrong? Where should I touch to fix it? And if he dreams he’s whole again, will his body go into shock? What about when he wakes up? What if he’s plagued by phantom fleas who gnaw his departed skin, and he tries to call upon his missing leg to pivot up and scratch, only to feel nothing hit nothing and grow dizzy from the spinning? Like the loose, impotent propeller on a cheap toy plane. Like a dream one has about a shadowy woman, running just down the alley in front of you, and you chase her, but your legs are heavy and slow, like running in water.
I guess that’s how we ended up back in the city. I laid towels down on the backseat and loaded Demi-Dog in with a rawhide and a water bowl, rolled the window down and reinforced his cellophane with adhesive bandages—like one might replace a broken wing window with duct tape and tarp. By the time we got near home, the dog had a lace of crushed bugs splattered all over his cellophane head, but he didn’t seem to mind, just held his nostril high in the air and flared it in and out like a real whole dog, hot on a trail.
They barked at first, Hippocrates at the front window and his other half on the walk, and when I let us into the house, they circled each other like seeing themselves in a round, infinite, funhouse mirror. It occurred to me in that instant that they might go for one another’s soft parts, like hyenas, at the smell of blood and bile, but they just sniffed intimately at one another’s assholes (little bisected suns) and wagged their wiry tails in wonderment at utterly unthreatening urine. After some playful pogoing, their lone lungs grew weary, and they folded into one other, head to tail, tail to head, like an Uroboros of guts and fur.
I watched them sleep. I took my clothes off and stepped into the shower. I opened my mouth into the stream and gargled musically, as loud as I could, imagined that the woman from my dream stepped into the bathroom, naked and singing at the top of her lungs, and we gargled in orgasm as the dogs barked in perfect harmony.
Then I turned the water off, took my wife’s towel and rubbed it all over my body— scrubbed her smell into me, let her long red hairs cling to my skin. I hung the towel on her hook, took a felt-tip pen from the bedside table, stood in front of the full-length mirror where she used to watch herself toss her hair around.
At the tip of my widow’s peak, I drew a tiny line, the length of a fingernail; then another, and another, down the bridge of my nose, philtrum, chin, throat, down through my navel, and so on. When I was finished, I put Styx on the turntable, full-blast, laid down on the floor, and waited. I closed my eyes—first one, then the other—and imagined I was two little boats, sailing out to sea.
All rights reserved to Maggie Ryan Sandford. Maggie writes about science and researches how humans learn about science. Also, she has produced work for TV and radio and writes fiction. More specifically…Her writing appears in Smithsonian magazine, on Slate.com, ComedyCentral.com, the Onion/A.V. Club, mental_floss, National Public Radio’s All Things Considered, and was recently included in McSweeney’s Book of Politics and Musicals. She works as a researcher and evaluator at the Science Museum of Minnesota. (So it’s kind of like she does science about science.)
Illustrated by Kylo Moonguts.
Originally published in Paper Darts Magazine Volume Three