deed z the pup n me
by Lisa Piazza
Tonight I drive around the lake twice before I find a place near enough Deed’s to park. The water holds flat and still in the cold air. White lights glare off the surface and I know anything bright is only a reflection—still the illusion of light is something, waving its way from one side to the other.
I haven’t been to the tables since Zach was born, but that doesn’t matter. I’m still shufflin’ sorry on Deed’s doorstep, careful not to kick up any steam. Tonight Deed blocks me with her body, round from the baby but solid and mean, not soft like she is with Z.
“Shit—I’ve only been to the shop, Deed,” I say.
“Swear. Bevin has a new engine in.”
She narrows her eyes, purses her lips. I could kiss her if she turned just right, spared us yesterday’s fight—today’s—tomorrow’s. I used to live here. I only come back to get a glimpse of my kid. And because I’m supposed to love my wife. And because I do.
“At least tell me how’s Z?” I ask. The baby is out of my sight, but not hers. I take a step forward.
“Jesus, Eric. Figure it out.”
Deed’s words slice into me, she cuts and doubles down—playing the same hand over and over—still, she scowls hard to say something else. That crooked mouth half dares me to stay, half begs me to try.
“Come on, Deed.”
She eases up and I let it go, walk through the doorway to my baby, slump into the bean bag with him, pull him close, grab a chunky picture book from the pile beside us. It’s wordless so I gotta make it up. When I’m real tired I just point out the obvious: pear, apple, bike, bear but tonight I am on. A bear rides a bike to pick apples, eats the juiciest pear in the world.
“Okay, I gotta put him to bed,” Deed says from the doorway. I look at Z’s eyes – blue like mine — and put my head close to his. He is all smile and softness, red lips wet with drool and cheeks chubby full. I’ll be back tomorrow and Deed knows it. She takes him from me and wipes his chin. “He’s teething – can’t you tell?” she says. When I leave she is too busy with Z to wave goodbye.
The race shop is mostly workspace, with a loft in the corner. There is a scratchy, plaid two-cushion couch and a yellow padded kitchen chair. I roll out the futon mattress and drink four Coronas from Bevin’s fridge and shut my eyes to get Deed’s heat off my back. Our love opens like a cut unwilling to heal.
In the dark early morning I rinse my mouth, splash my face, smooth back my hair in the sink downstairs. I think of Deed’s hands in this hair, her fingers soothing the knots, saying you, you, you. A whining cry makes me think of Z. I turn from the sink and look out in the fenced yard around the backside of the shop. It’s a pup, small and tan. His eyes lock onto mine and don’t let go.
“Hey, you.” I pick him up. He shivers. “You okay?” He lets me bring him in. I feed him half a carnitas burrito from the fridge and hold him ’til his body stops shaking, ’til Bevin comes in at eight and sees us together.
“Here again last night?” he asks but doesn’t wait for an answer. “A pit? Sure, Eric. Keep him.”
It feels like the first gift in a long time.
For weeks, while Deed cools off and I stay at the shop, it’s just Pup and me. I listen for the click, click of his nails on the cement floor behind me. At night he snorts next to me. Bevin says, “Look at the two of you,” and laughs. “He’s your dog, alright. Like he was meant for you.” Bevin took me in to work with him five years ago. I cut school to sweep out the shop. He tells me: “You can have this place when I get sick of it, Eric. But this shit’ll make you old.” Deep down he loves it. It’s a no fuss gig most days—no fuss and easy, like the Pup and me.
When Deed concedes, I move back in. She glares at Pup, but lets him stay, tells me to keep “that thing” on a tight leash. But I see her sometimes stroke Pup’s muzzle even if she refuses to call him by name. We are trying for three decent months together at the apartment, Deed, Z, the pup and me. But I don’t get too comfortable. I hold the baby, study him like religion before Deed changes her mind about me.
The pup tugs and tackles, growls at my ankles. When he gets bigger he’s gonna need more room. Already he’s torn up one of Z’s toys good as gone. I have to stash the baby’s favorites up high else Pup will chew right through. He about got me good when I nabbed Z’s stuffed yellow duck from him last night but who can blame him? He doesn’t know any different—grab or get grabbed— that’s how it is on the street. He’ll come around.
“You gonna save this one?” Deed asks, not unkindly, about Pup. I have told her too many of my dog stories. None end just right. She points at Pup asleep at my feet. “He’s lucky,” she says, then turns away so I can’t see her crooked smile.
Tuesday, Deed has me watch Z while she clocks her workshop hours. After another ten months she will be trained in massage therapy and acupressure. I tell her my body is so full of knots I can barely move but she just looks down at her hands and says she’s late enough as it is.
We walk Deed out to the car. She kisses Zach and pulls the zipper on his sweatshirt up to the top. “Put the hood on,” she says and smiles, almost thankfully, at me.
“Awww, my little family,” she says as she opens the car door. Then, pointing to Pup: “You know he’s got to go.”
“What do you mean?”
“With the baby. It makes me nervous. Especially if you’re not around.”
“I am around. I want to be around,” I tell Deed.
“Well, Patty says no dogs. Absolutely. No dogs.” We’re living in the lower left corner apartment of a fourplex owned by Deed’s sister Patty. We rent for half the price and some months we don’t make even that.
“Can we talk about it later?” I ask, but Deed’s face is closed. I put Z in the stroller and head down to the lake. I have Pup on a leash. He is a gentle pit; they only get mean if you raise ’em that way. Deed doesn’t have to worry. Past the columns I sit on a bench and feed Zach. We’re on the bench with Pup upright, next to me. I give his leash a little slack. Together the three of us watch the glare from the midmorning sun bob across the water. I give Z a bottle and when it is empty I recline the seat so he can nap.
I close my eyes same as he does, push his stroller forward and back. The wheels crunch on the gravel path. The winter sun is hot directly on my face. The wind blows and it’s a little like floating. Pup sits all the way down on the ground next to me. I can tell by the tension in his leash he is attentive but relaxed. We sleep.
Zach screams awake. Pup is a flash of brown on the grassy slant. He tackles a grey whippet: all bones, no flesh. The dog’s owner, a woman with a high blond ponytail and painted nails, screams through her fingers. Two joggers stop to part the dogs. One guy grabs a stick.
“Shit!” I push Z’s stroller up the bank. “Pup! Come! Pup!” I see his vicious snarl, the way his body makes a heavy half-circle of hate. I leave Z and run forward. “Pup! Shit. Get off!”
The shorter jogger leers at me. “Is he yours?”
The dogs wrestle. The blond cries; I look back at Z on the bank, screaming in concert. The jogger with the stick whacks the pit hard in the side. Pup yelps, letting go. The whippet’s owner swoops in to cradle her dog, then moves off under an oak.
The jogger turns to me. “You shouldn’t bring that dog out, you know. You’d better get it before something worse…” he shakes his head without finishing, nods at Z, then takes off. Down on the bank Zach cries desperate heaves. When I pick him up he burrows his face into my neck. Pup is hunched on the bank; another man’s dog entirely, eyes burning red, un-looking at me. His mouth churns a bitter scowl. Before I can reach him, he jets toward the road, vanishing entirely into the Grand Avenue traffic.
“Is your dog okay?” I ask, pointing to the shaking whippet.
“I don’t know. I don’t know.”
“I’m really sorry. Shit. I had no idea.”
“You can’t just let that dog run off. You don’t know what he’ll do.”
“I’ll get him,” I say, but I don’t see him anywhere.
She cradles her dog and murmurs in its soft, floppy ear, “You okay? You okay, baby?”
Patty is at the kitchen table when I get back. It is afternoon. I have kept Zach out longer than usual, walking the lake in a futile search for Pup. She has her iPhone out but puts it away when she sees me.
“Honestly, Eric. A pitbull? A fucking pitbull?”
“Hey, Patty. Make yourself at home.” I laugh to make things easier. She smirks, scoffs, and says, “Jesus. You are clueless. I told Dee. I knew this, no, you were a bad idea.” She walks past me to check on the baby as if her interest in Z is more vital than mine.
I don’t respond. This family lashes, but it will pass. It always does. I go to the cupboard to see if we have any of the good coffee Bevin gave us with the electric grinder he was getting rid of.
“Eric? He can’t stay,” she pauses, gets softer, “And if he does, they’re coming with me. You do know that, right?” I slam around in the cupboard, desperate to find the beans and grinder. I knock over tuna cans and cream of mushroom soup. I let my arms thrash around to avoid facing Patty and whatever she thinks she’s talking about. My hand crashes over one of Z’s glass bottles and it falls, breaking into four jagged pieces.
“What are you doing? God, Eric. Stop. Just stop,” Patty says.
I bend to pick up the glass; a piece cuts my finger. Deed comes in at this exact moment. She stands in the doorway holding Zach, taking note of Patty, me, the broken glass and blood.
“Where’s the dog?” she asks, as if Pup is somehow responsible. I throw the broken pieces of glass down again, shattering them into tiny bits.
“What the hell!” Patty yells.
“Go! Get out!” Deed points to the door.
I could take hold of Zach. I could take Deed’s face in my hands, scream and yell or kiss her madly on the lips. I could ask if she and Zach are leaving. If it’s over again. But I push past her, open the front door and slam it hard behind me. I sit in my car, revving up the engine as if we can solve this with sounds.
I drive real slow around Harrison sucking the blood on my finger. I pass the dolled up Boat House and Scottish Rite Temple. I look out the front window, out the side, down on the asphalt. Cars honk, slow then speed up around me.
I park near Children’s Fairyland and walk toward the new Cathedral made entirely of glass. I sit on the bank across the inlet and arrange small pebbles into piles. I pick up a handful and aim one after the other at the thousand glittering panes. But I am too far to shatter anything. Back on the trail I see a tan lump ahead of me and swallow hard. It is only an old overcoat. I nudge it with my toe and there he is. His body is limp and bloody and his head is twisted the wrong way but he is not dead yet. I use the jacket to wrap him and drop him at the emergency vet on Telegraph near the shop.
At the shop I drink two beers and pull the blanket up over my head. I don’t feel like thinking or feeling or fucking or talking or eating or dying or living or breathing or being.
“You can have him,” I shout. “Have him!”
Three hours later I hear a squeal. When I remember Pup is gone I close my eyes. I dream of fingers in my hair, on my shoulders, hands searching out hands to hold. It is Deed. For real. She has Zach in her arms. They sit down on the mattress.
“I know,” she whispers.
“You do?” I am thinking she knows it all—everything—the entire contents of my self, how full to bursting I was for her, for our son. How now, when I see her, there’s nothing but particles, unattached and aimless, drifting like dust in the dark with no light to pull them into glistening view.
“The vet. They want to operate.”
“I’m sure Bevin will help you pay.” There is a tenderness to her voice that could make it all OK. But clinging to the shards of her kindness only ever gets me cut. “I wanted to come tell you. But even if he makes it, he can’t live with us. It’s not safe. Here.” She hands me the baby. “I wanted you to have Zach to hold.” To her, Pup is already gone. “I’m sorry about your dog.”
“I can’t let him die. I’m not going to do that.”
We are on the bed together, sitting real close. I can smell the day’s massages on her hands: cloves and lavender, tea tree and citrus. Other people’s sweat and skin.
“Deed. He’s my dog.” I tell her. “I mean, you. The baby.” Each word is a weight too heavy to lift. I look at her the way Pup once looked at me: all eyes and sorrow. I offer my finger to Zach’s tiny hand. He takes it. We look at each other with the same eyes, searching for a way through. Z won’t remember any of this. Well, good. When he is old enough to be half mine, I’ll tell him: Here is a dog story not about a dog at all. I want him to picture it perfectly, that night at the shop with his mother and dad curled up around him, tangled like pups in a circle, bound by a ragged goodbye.
About Lisa Piazza
Lisa Piazza‘s fiction has appeared in Cicada, Brain, Child, Cleaver, Prime Number Magazine, and Switchback, among others. She is currently at work on a young adult novel told partially in verse. She lives in Oakland with her two daughters and two cats and teaches writing to young people in the San Francisco Bay Area. For more information, visit http://www.facebook.com/WordplayWorkshop.