The bulldog kept the woman alive, but the woman didn’t know that. She had other problems on her mind, such as where did she put her keys, and what was her car doing in Florida when she’d parked it in Tennessee?
The bulldog got very still when the woman started shoving her fingers into bowls. He figured he could make the earth spin a little slower if he were sitting on its axis, so he’d quiet his panting. He’d look straight ahead, neither left nor right. The woman would trip on him, wince at him for being in her way, then lean down and palm the top of his head, thus assuring him they were in their correct positions to one another, and they’d get through one more day.
After she loaded the dishes in the dishwasher, the woman headed to her recliner every night. It was always a bit of a production. First the blanket went over the legs, then the cushion went behind her neck, and once she settled in, the bulldog commenced his stunning leap and landed in her lap. The woman always told herself she was watching her favorite program, but she was inevitably sound asleep before the first commercial. And inside the warm nest of the lap, the bulldog began his work, which was to calm the woman while the woman dreamt of lost things. It took great work to be her purifying organ, but he always felt better when he did so. It gave him the illusion of aliveness even if it made him tremble, even if he had to play dumb and weak in order to get the tenderness he craved.
What was the woman thinking when she looked at him as if he were an intruder? Her eyes went wild that day; her hands flew up. But there was a quiet in her too that took away any desire he had to speak. He didn’t go out to pee as he usually did but let go right there on the rug, by the umbrella stand. And when he tried to leap on the woman’s lap, his nails snagged in her afghan. Gone was her old face of curiosity and concern. In its place was something more remote. Her face might have been made of granite, which wouldn’t have been so bad if granite hadn’t smiled.
When she could no longer tell the difference between the phone and the channel changer, the woman faced the front door. She stood there a few minutes more before she was guided by two strangers to a car outside. How new she looked to the bulldog. Though she could barely put one foot in front of the next, she might have been walking into the world for the very first time, learning to make it through a day all over again. And in taking that in, the bulldog’s face went completely white in an instant, as if someone had taken a match to it.
He never saw the woman’s face again. The apartment grew dirty, he took to whatever was left in the cabinets: raisins, mice, the bristles of an old brush. It might have been years, it might have been days. And when he grew tired of living the life of the saint, he squeaked out through a crack of light beside the door, and lived longer than he’d ever predicted.
About Paul: Paul Lisicky is the author of Lawnboy, Famous Builder, The Burning House, and two forthcoming books: Unbuilt Projects (Four Way Books, 2012) and The Narrow Door (Graywolf Press, 2014). His work appears in recent issues of The Iowa Review, Black Warrior Press, The Rumpus, Story Quarterly, and Lo-Ball. He is the New Voices Professor in the MFA Program at Rutgers-Camden.