I’m not a dog person. Shoot me.
Dogs might be the model for the phrase, “puppy eyes”, but what can I say? I’m strong-willed. After the one time I got an asthmatic cold from letting my friend’s Golden Retriever lie next to me at a sleepover, I can say with absolute certainty that puppy eyes do not work on me. Allergies over empathy.
…I’m a hypocrite. Shoot me.
There’s a dog outside my door right now, and I live in the middle of nowhere. Why? Because I’m not a people person. Spending day after day with people did that to me. I’d be exhausted by the end of each day. Trees and the lake? Well, there’s a source of energy. But now there’s this dog. A young German shepherd, I think. It’s staring up at me through the glass of my back door, and I’m looking right back at it because I’ve seen myself in its eyes. Dammit.
I walk away for a moment, staying in the secluded safety of my small home. It’s the cutest damn thing you’ve ever seen. Wood-burning fireplace. Lots of hand-sewn rugs—not by my hand, of course. An assortment of chairs from this and that antique shop. A bouquet of flowers on every table that’d fit one. Figurines that mean nothing, and some that mean something. Paintings of nothing in particular. By my hand, of course.
The kitchen’s small, stocked precisely to my liking, and no one else’s. The Saturday farmer’s market, five miles out, is my weekly exposure to people. A sacrifice to have fresh food without having to live off the land like some kind of pioneer. I was born a city girl.
It’s Friday. The stock’s running low. Certainly, I’m not sacrificing the last bit of meat for that… I look behind me at the pooch. Its wet nose is pressed against the glass pane, fogging it with each breath. It knows how to put on a show. I reevaluate the meat drawer in my refrigerator. I suppose I could go without, just until tomorrow. But geez, when’s the last time I’ve had to “go without” just to please someone else? Something else? Nah, “someone”, more like. It’s a dog, not a rock. I’m not that cold, am I?
I grab the bacon like it’d done something to offend me. Glass jars rattle as I let the refrigerator door swing closed. I let the bag hang down at the dog’s eye level, the door still between us. Its ears perk up, tongue lolls out. It settles back on its legs, shifting eagerly.
I’m thinking back to the reason I left people behind. The neediness. My friends, my family, my colleagues, my neighbors, my grocery-store acquaintances, my same-time-of-day gym-goers, they all needed something. And now this gorgeous, incredibly patient fur baby sits at my mercy, and it wants my bacon. It needs my bacon. And I’m going to give it my bacon, because that’s who I am and that’s why I left town in favor of the lake.
I give an indecently loud sigh, a perk of living in the middle of nowhere. I throw the bag of bacon on the ground at my feet, with the door still closed. The dog’s eyes and head droop with it, and it looks massively disappointed. But I can put on a show, too. I go to my bedroom and evaluate my wall of scarves. Yes, I have that many scarves. A hundred, at least. The wall is arranged by color, but there is a noticeable absence of yellow, because the bright shade discomfits the cynic in me. No, I won’t be putting on a fashion show for Puppy Eyes. I grab a blue scarf and tie it around my nose and mouth. This dog can take my bacon, but it won’t doom me to twenty-four hours of sneezing if I can help it.
When I’m back in the dog’s view, it tilts its head quizzically. Then it tilts its head the other way. It perks up when I retrieve the bacon bag from the floor, and my hand lands on the door handle. It backs up several steps, wetting its tongue. Yeah, yeah, we all love bacon, boy. Or girl.
I let it in. Definitely a stupid choice, but I’m not going to psychoanalyze this right now. I have to cook some bacon.
With the dog comes the smell of must and nature, and I don’t mind it. I love the smell of dirt and lake water, and whatever else might waft up my nose during my long walks along the wooded lake shore. Thanks to my scarf, there will be no dog dander wafting up my nose today. She—I think—follows me to the stove, barely an inch from my heels. She can’t contain her excitement when I finally get the bacon on the pan, and the mouthwatering scent begins to fill the small room. I can’t imagine what it’s like to smell bacon with a dog’s sense of smell. It must be as bad as driving home with a freshly baked pizza in your car. My guest is definitely not sitting still, and her tail is wagging at an impressive speed. I flip the bacon, and she almost loses it. She barks. She’d been quiet this whole time. The bark makes me cringe. She’s ruined the silence of my cute little secluded cozy house. The muscles in my forehead tense in pre-rage, reminiscent of so many interactions with the people of my past. I breathe in through my nose, letting the bacon and dog must calm me. She’s just a dog. She just wants bacon. You’re so naive, said the voice I’d been trying to suppress. Bacon is just the beginning. She wants so much more.
I put the cooked bacon on a plastic plate, and I let that voice take me outside, with the dog following at my heels like before. I walk down the steps of my deck, and into the thicket of trees that separates my house from the lake. I don’t stop walking for a long time, and the dog barks, understandably, because the bacon is probably cold by now. I keep going. She keeps barking, but she stays polite about it. They’re always polite when they want things. The voice stops me, about five minutes later, and the dog is excited again. She’s too trusting.
“Okay, girl,” I tell her. The first words I’ve spoken aloud since last Saturday, at the Farmer’s market. “Fetch.” And I throw the bacon into the lake and watch it float away. The voice is satisfied by the cruelty of the deprivation.
The dog whines, once, and looks between me and the floating bacon like this must be a joke. It’s not. I won’t do this again. I won’t get dragged down again, even if she’s not a person, even if she’s only a dog. Finally, she understands, and she hangs her head. Her tail goes noticeably still. I put the plate on the ground and walk away. My uninvited guest immediately starts gobbling up the two slices of bacon I left for her. I don’t know what I’ll do when she comes back tomorrow, and my fridge is restocked with more than just a few slices of bacon. Maybe I’ll feed her a full dog meal, and we’ll have dinner together. Maybe I’ll restore the previous owner’s dog house. Maybe I’ll buy her a bed. Maybe I’ll name her. Maybe I’ll go broke for her. Because she will come back. They always do.