02 March 2011


She would fit in a shoebox, so it was hard enough to recall a time when Mitzie, our Shih Tzu, was noticeably smaller. But she was positively microscopic when we first brought her into our house about six years ago. She liked to hide in impossible spaces (if only because she could): between the fridge and the china cabinet, behind the open front door (flanking the umbrellas), under the coffee table, behind the sofa, her hairs ruining the bejesus out of the living room carpet. She hid under everything. My brother Josemaria would give her a bath, which she sometimes loved and usually tolerated, and afterwards she’d come back in to dry off and we’d have a towel running all over the place. Mitzie must have thought it was a cape.

She stopped hiding when it was time to eat. “Tzie! Tzie!” we sang after lunch or after dinner, and here was this cotton-haired, short-muzzled, marble-eyed, caramel-colored dog, in a sort of mad, funny rush to get some food, her mouth wide open, tongue sticking out, leaping to catch a shred of barbecue or a pathetic chicken bone in the air. I’d kill myself to watch this in slow motion. Mitzie didn’t like her food in a bowl; didn’t like it on the floor. When she was younger, she ate without manners and left the scraps of what she didn’t eat right where the housekeepers had just swept and mopped and polished. Years went by and floor mats became her dinner table. We have other dogs — ugly, disrespectful shits with eye discharge who live at the garage and bark all day, all looking like some sort of science experiment on sewer rats and warthogs gone wrong — but I only ever gave food to Mitzie. Feeding her made me feel — well, I don’t know, I guess it made me feel a little more human.

Mitzie became a mother about three years ago. It was a long wait. In her presence we used to feign utter despair over this impossible search for a mate. We joked about her being the forty-year-old virgin. She’d been ready for a long time. Left blood stains on the floor. Whenever someone came through the door she’d act like a nymphomaniac, raping human feet and lying on her back to showcase her nipples, which slightly swelled. For a time all she did was hump Nikes, Pumas, Islanders, Havaianas, Fred Perrys, Beachwalks. The one that eventually gave her babies was Brutus, a hideous dog who looks as rough as his name. He must have sneaked in and taken advantage of Mitzie while we’d all been away. The bastard. When Mitzie finally gave birth, I was there with father and Josemaria, and we made use of old newspapers. It was a quiet event and I almost threw up. From then on I felt even more sympathetic towards the dog.

I placed Mitzie on my lap the night before we learned she had pyometra, which I’d never heard of. It was the last night she ever stayed in our house. It was a reassuringly ordinary night, one that now seems farther back than a year ago. I was up late, working. She stayed up with me. She watched me make coffee and fill and refill my cup with hot water from the dispenser. She sighed when I told her to get off the Welcome mat. I’d told her other things on other nights, too, things I’d never tell anyone else, and she’d looked at me the way I was supposed to be looked at: like a dumb fool. If anyone made me feel as though I was taking my disenchantments way too seriously, it was Mitzie. Even when we visited her two nights later at the vet’s, she seemed to be taking everything in stride, no matter that the whites of her eyes had by then turned to yellow. Even her skin was jaundiced. It was like looking through cellophane.

She died the next morning. When we went to pick her up, she was already in a carton box. She fit well enough all right. Came wrapped in a sort of black garbage bag. I poked her body, hoping it wouldn’t lie just motionless like that, hoping the damned dog would come back to life. Poor little Mitzie. It kind of tore me up that she had to die surrounded by people she didn’t know, because a world without strangers is where she had always lived in, and what she’d always made our home.

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