portion of the artwork for Rachel McKibbens's story

The Doghouse
Rachel McKibbens

This neighborhood is going down the toilet, Sally screamed, then she spit onto her burger to underline her point. A poodle had sauntered past our kitchen window wearing expensive high heels and a diamond tiara. Sally was a simple woman; she wore sweater sets and slacks without zippers. The poodle enraged her. I tried my damnedest not to look interested. I ate my dinner and washed the dishes. Sally fell asleep on the couch watching a movie about a big tan man who saves a woman from a wild group of assassins. In the end, the woman turns out to be an assassin herself, and she blows up a school bus full of nuns. I covered her with a blanket and crept upstairs. I took off my clothes and stared at myself in the mirror. You are a good man, I said. Then I slid off my wedding ring and hid it in my dresser drawer. I put on my navy-blue church suit. The one that makes me look like a magic principal. I slapped on some cologne and brushed my teeth.

The doghouse was at the end of the cul-de-sac so I didn’t need the car. As I approached the house, I could see there was a line of men coming out of the front door. It wrapped around the house, twice. I took my place in line, careful not to make eye contact with any of the other men. A small chihuahua came out of the doggy door. Now, I don’t like to judge people, but he had the air of an outright scoundrel. Plus, his ears and penis were pierced, so when he hopped down the porch steps, he sounded like a dinner bell. He had a food dish in his paw. The men emptied their wallets into it as he made his way down the line. One man asked if they accept Visa. The chihuahua yelped, Don’t be a wise ass, buddy! and bit the man on the ankle. The man fell to the ground in pain, then crawled off into the darkness. I pulled two fifty-dollar bills from my wallet and dropped them into the dish. Good boy, said the chihuahua, and I stood up straighter, feeling very proud of myself.

I waited in line for three hours. When I finally got inside, I was instructed by a massive German shepherd to take off all my clothes and leave them with the coat-check bitch. I was led to the room by an old Rottweiler who walked with a cane. He opened the door, then pointed to the chair beside the bed: Sit down over there. Buster will be right with you. As I waited, I could hear the moans of men from down the hall mixed with a chorus of ghostly howls. It was hard to concentrate with all that racket. A velvet painting of men playing hopscotch was hanging next to the door. I had a feeling, despite her initial reaction to this place, that Sally would really appreciate the painting’s overall message. After ten more minutes went by, I began to feel self-conscious. I had forgotten to floss my teeth after dinner, and my fingernails were still dirty from planting rhododendrons in the front yard. Just as I decided to leave, Buster walked into the room.

He undid his tie and tossed it onto the dresser. Hey there, he said, and every muscle inside me became a bowl of hot soup.

He licked my face and shoulders, then picked me up and carried me to the bed. We got under the covers and held each other. I told him about the son I haven’t seen in six years. I confessed that it was me who stole that birthday cake from the rec room last month and let my friend, Mike the Janitor, get fired for it. I admitted I never went to Harvard. Explained how I was too drunk to remember the birth of my daughters, that it's me who prank calls my wife at work all the time. As I pressed my face against Buster's chest and wept for my father who died thinking I was a war hero, Buster tilted his head back and released a howl that seemed to want to escape the heat of itself, like a house held together by emptiness. Like a raging kettle, full of sorrows.

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FRiGG: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry | Issue 28 | Spring 2010