Thursday, February 15, 2007


by Gabrielle Noel

Before he even stepped into the quiet apartment, Jonathan could hear her. The living room was still as he entered, but not far off were the scratching, thumping, panting—the sounds of something trying to escape. He removed his sneakers and frowned, knowing that Mitsy was getting restless in her captivity.

Mitsy belonged to Sally-Anne Reynolds, his father's new wife. It had been just a month since the wedding, and all the changes were wearing on him. In addition to Mitsy, there was a fish tank in the living room with a filter that buzzed so loud, he couldn’t sleep. There was the “art” that now graced the walls—paintings of boats or seascapes or whatever other random thing someone had thought worthy of putting on paper. Jonathan missed the way the walls had once been bare except for an enormous clock that had been forced into storage.

Still, these additions were nothing compared to Mitsy. She was a loud, seemingly carnivorous Irish terrier, full of energy. It was as if someone had mixed Red Bull with her Purina. She could never sit still and her favorite greeting involved massive amounts of doggie spit. Jonathan hated her and felt nothing but resentment as she tried to claw her way into the living room.

When he came home, it was easy to ignore the buzzing fish tank, the so-called art on the walls. It was easy to pretend his father had taken a liking to fish and paintings. But the dog was hard to imagine away. His father had always hated dogs; it was impossible to pretend he'd changed his mind. As long as Mitsy, loud and irritating, lived in the apartment, Jonathan would always be reminded that things were no longer simple.

Once upon a time, his father would come home alone, pizza box in hand. Now he arrived with his new wife in tow, a woman who always insisted on cooking elaborate meals that took hours to prepare. Jonathan missed eating on the couch and flipping to ESPN to enjoy a football game with his dad. He missed using paper plates.

Now, the three of them would sit at the kitchen table, eating dishes Jonathan could barely pronounce—Bruschetta, Braciole, Garganelli—and eating off the plates Jonathan had once considered “fine china.” Now, the television had to be off, so they could “fully enjoy each other's company.” Now, Jonathan was miserable.

He took his time walking in the direction of his father's room, where Mitsy was being held prisoner. He knew that the second he let her out, she would bounce around, panting and looking like she'd just won the puppy lottery. She was always so happy to see him, and she'd only known him for a month. He massaged his temples, took a deep breath, and pushed the door open.

Within seconds, she was on him. Her paws were on his stomach, pushing him back as her tongue hung from her mouth. Her tail wagged excitedly. She was so happy to see him.

"God, Mitsy, down," he said. "Down!" He swatted her away and she eventually settled for circling him, tail still swishing. She barked happily and licked his toes. Jonathan wished he could've left her to rot in his father's room, but Sally-Anne had specifically told him to let her run around once he was home, to baby-sit her, to make sure she didn't chew on the couch. He knew his father would be unhappy if he ignored Sally-Anne's request. It was like she'd become his mom in only a month.

Jonathan's mother had died three years before, and she needed no replacement. Her presence could still be felt all over the apartment. Often times, Jonathan swore he heard her faint snores as he tried to fall asleep, the same ones he used to complain about. As far as he was concerned, she wasn't really gone.

Who was Sally-Anne to complicate his existence? Jonathan's mother had let him watch ESPN during dinner. She'd been perfectly fine with pizza seven nights a week. She'd been perfectly happy rooting for the Giants with him. Who was Sally-Anne to turn up her nose at football? Who was Sally-Anne to decide that the way things had always been was no longer right?

Mitsy rubbed her nose against the side of Jonathan's leg, begging for food. Sally-Anne had asked him to put out dog food for her as well. He approached the kitchen. The cabinet that had once held all their plates was now filled with puppy chow, puppy treats, puppy everything. The plates had a new place—the dish drainer, since they were finally being put to use—and so the cabinet had become Mitsy's. Jonathan pulled down some Purina Puppy Chow, poured it into Mitsy's bowl, and watched her happily lap it up.

He'd spent the majority of the last month moping around, so it was strange to be around someone as incurably peppy as Mitsy. Jonathan wondered what would happen if he made an attempt at liking her. He'd heard the buzz about dogs being “man's best friend,” and he'd wanted to know if it were true. Now, he had a dog, but he'd treated her like the plague since day one. He reached down as she took her last bite and pet her head. She wagged her tail, all the more excited, and he smiled, even though he didn't particularly want to, even though it felt like losing.

He took her bowl to the sink and started to wash it. His mother had often whistled as she washed the dishes, he recalled, not that there had been many dishes to wash. He closed his eyes, remembering the way she'd tapped her feet to her own song. If he thought hard enough, it almost became real. If he whistled, maybe it would be like she was whistling with him.

He wondered what his mother would've thought of Mitsy. She'd never wanted to take care of dogs, but she'd always loved them. He remembered how great she’d been, on the rare occasion she'd been able to play with one. She would have liked Mitsy, he decided. Mitsy was just the kind of dog to make her laugh.