by Victoria Forester
I can handle losing my husband to the television for every Monday night of football season, but I’m not giving up my place in his life to a five-hundred-dollar-man-stealer with shit for breath and a habit of rolling in the neighbor’s compost. “Larry,” I say, “I just don’t know if things are working out with Buck.” He gives me this can’t-you-see-it’s-Alex-Trebec-on-the-tube kind of look, but I go on anyways. “I thought it would be good for us, but now he’s driving me nuts. It’s been well over a year and he’s still no good with the neighborhood kids and, well, do I have to bring up the Labrada’s cat again? He doesn’t respect me at all and, frankly, sometimes I get the impression that he’s more important to you than I am.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Kristi, he loves children.”
Can you believe the listening skills at play here? “Buck’s gotta go!” I scream. That’s when Larry gets all teary and defiant and picks up the 95-pounder—right off the floor and into his arms like a new bride—and carries him out the front door, yelling, “I’ll take Buck for five-hundred, Alec! The answer is what the hell is eating her?”
I’m so angry all I can do is vacuum even though I’ve already filled three micro-filter bags with Buck hair this week and that was out of the den alone. I clean the house until dark muttering to myself. Around ten, I pull back the sheets and I have to pluck two fistfuls of Buck hairs off my side of the bed before I can lie down to call Gina.
“It’s me,” I say. “He’s not home yet.”
“He’s in the car, Kris.”
“In the driveway?”
“Yeah, I can see them from my living room. They’re in the back together.”
“You think he’s going to stay there all night?”
“Who knows. Let him. It’ll give him time to think.”
“What am I going to do?” I groan.
“Apologize. Say you were wrong. Lay low for a couple of weeks. Then, drive Buck to New Jersey. Let him out at a playfield. Get back in your car and come home. Tell Larry he ran off on you in Little Neck.”
So, for ten golden days it’s like a honeymoon. I can take a long walk without looking like an epileptic being jerked around by a dog who’s got to pee every two feet like an incontinent. Larry and I do everything together. We make lost dog flyers and take romantic walks around the neighborhood every evening asking if anyone has seen Buck, making new empathetic friends. We go to the movies to get our minds off him and, best of all, Larry really needs my sweet loving these days.
Then one night, we’re all cuddled up watching stupid pet tricks on Letterman and Larry gets a little teary. “When we get Buck back,” he says, “I’m gonna teach him how to do that.”
“Sure, hon,” I say. “That’d be fun.” I stroke his cheek and he scrunches my hair up in his fingers, working it back and forth over my ear. We’re about to kiss when there’s a scratching at the front door.
For the next two weeks it’s Buck the Wonderdog Walks Home. First night, he’s all matted and skinny and reeks of rotten meat and Larry stays up until four in the morning shampooing and conditioning his hair with cupfuls of my expensive Barbour products. It’s like a scene from Out of Africa with my husband pouring the warm water all over Buck’s hair from the white and gold-trimmed Lenox pitcher my mother gave us on our first anniversary. Larry uses his own toothbrush in the dog’s mouth and then uses it again on himself in the morning before he gives me a quick peck on the lips. He’s up early, with only three hours of sleep, singing and cooking eggs and extra bacon for the three of us. Reporters call us all day long and Larry decides to take a week off from work to teach Come Back Buck how to use and flush toilets just like that mutt on Letterman before they’re scheduled to appear on the local cable channel. Then, after an intense period of training, Buck takes a shit in my Louboutins and Larry calls it Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, insisting that he sleep between us in the bed each night. I have to put a pillow over my head because Buck moans when Larry scratches him behind the ears.
“How was I suppose to know he’d come back!” Gina cries into the phone before I hang up. Later, she slips a card in my mail slot for forgiveness and there’s an article clipping inside. Antifreeze Deadly Attraction for Dogs. That Gina, I think, she’s a pretty good friend.
One Sunday, when Larry and I are working in the yard, he starts wrestling with Buck in the leaves. He shrieks like a kid being tickled when the dog licks his face. “Whoa Buck, whoa big fella!” He laughs, then, “Har, har, honey, he just slipped me the tongue!” That afternoon, I go to the corner store and stock up on antifreeze.
When Larry’s in the shower, I show Buck the large blue puddle spreading out from under the car. He sniffs at the sweet liquid and then goes after two kids whipping by on their bikes in the street. I hear them scream until they reach Northern Boulevard and Buck comes trotting back. Larry leans out the front door with a towel wrapped around his hips. “What was that all about?” He asks.
“There are more important things for a dog to know than using a toilet,” I say and push past him. That night, while Larry cuddles with Buck and watches a re-run of Lassie on Nick at Nite, I watch for the involuntary flinching of Buck’s muscles, hoping for a trail of electric blue mucus snaking from his nose. In the morning after Larry leaves for work, I make coffee and look out the window. There are six dead squirrels in the driveway where the car used to be. They lie on their backs with their legs straight up in the air. I put on yellow rubber gloves that come to my elbows and pick them up one by one. I carry them in a triple lined trash bag to the dumpster on Hollis Street and come home to hose down the driveway. Buck growls at me when I come in the kitchen door.
“Blah!” I yell at him and wave my arms. “Go hitch the chuck wagon you shit-for-brains-leg-humping-home-wrecker!” He schleps to the bedroom and I spend a good half an hour at the kitchen sink scrubbing to the elbows with an antibacterial soap.
I call Gina ten minutes before Larry comes home. “I’ve got to make it look like an accident or Larry will start to suspect something. Buck’s already giving him clues.”
“Kristi, you are my vbf, right? That’s why I gotta tell you you’re starting to scare me. You think this dog’s ratting on you?”
“Look, Buck gets all tense around me. When he growls, Larry holds his nose up to his own and says in this weird baby voice, ‘It’s okay, tiger, it’s just mommy.’ It makes me sick.”
“You just have to get rid of this one and do it quick.”
“P.S. I know. I’m gonna put rat poison in his food tonight.”
Buck eats every last drop of his chopped liver and Raidux. I am practically dancing around the kitchen, but then I have to remember to act natural when Larry comes home, so I click on Oprah and cover up with my new cashmere pashmina.
“Hey, hon,” Larry says and kisses me on the top of the head on his way to the kitchen to feed Buck and get himself a beer. I yawn loudly and get up to follow him.
“So, how was your day?” I ask as usual, and Buck scarfs his second dinner like a starving hog. Then he starts regurgitating his food all maniacal demon like. Larry gets down on his knees near him and we are both screaming Oh my God! There’s blood in Buck’s foam and he can’t stop wheezing and heaving just like that Linda Blair from the Exorcist. I see the terror in Larry’s eyes and he holds onto the arm of my shirt like a child, crying, “What should I do, Kris? What should I do?” This is the very moment of my first regret. I swear to you, I feel like I’m falling through the earth, but I am right there on the floor with them. I think, O’Jesus, O’Mary, please stop this. Please don’t let Buck die. I’m sorry. I’m sorry for what I’ve done. Oh, our Lady of Perpetual Hope, forgive me for this sin!
Then, I’m like a woman possessed. “The emergency clinic!” I scream and, in two shakes, Larry, Buck and I are peeling out of the driveway going sixty-five through the streets of Bayside bringing our Bucky to get his stomach pumped for twelve hundred dollars.
Buck shits liquid charcoal for the next three days and I have to be at the ready to usher him out the kitchen door or I find myself cleaning the black soup off the linoleum every couple of hours. Larry spends half a paycheck on a steel and plastic organizing system of boxes and cabinets, shelves and utility pails for the garage. Every potentially hazardous substance is sealed tight. “Our house is baby-proof now,” Larry winks and kisses me through the air, but before I can say ho there, pardner, he’s sprawled out on the floor cradling Buck in his arms.
When Buck’s all better, Larry takes him to the mall to have their portrait done. He fixes a bow tie around Buck’s neck and they sit in front of a faux lake backdrop. Larry gives me the wallet-sized copies for my birthday and reminds me that money’s been a little tight ever since Buck had to have his stomach pumped.
Gina informs me, “If Buck can survive Raidux, he’s got at least ten or twelve more years on him. Maybe fourteen. Fifteen tops. You’d better get used to it, babe. Either that, or hire a professional.”
“What like a hitman?”
“That’s what I’m saying. It’s obvious you’re no Amy Fisher,” she says.
“I wouldn’t even know the first thing about how to find one.”
“You can find anything on the Internet.”
I arrange a three o’clock meeting with Oren Welch at the Blue Moon Motel across town. “I’m losing my husband,” I cry. “I married a different man!”
Welch rolls onto his side on the bed and runs his hand down his enormous belly as I talk.
“Look, I’ve got Buck hair imbedded in all my clothing,” I say and pull my shirt closer to him for inspection. The man takes an eyeful. Welch looks like a guy who would plow his Buick through a whole pack of children at a school crossing. He nods his big mooncrater face and slides his hand into his shirt pocket for a pack of Lucky’s.
“So, what you want?” He asks and lights up.
“What do I want? I want him dead,” I say.
Welch thumbs the wallet-sized portrait I hand him. “This is a fine-looking dog,” he says. “I got a couple of kids who’d love to have a dog like this.”
“Do you want this job or not?”
“Well, how ‘bout I just nap the dog. Christmas is coming.”
“Oren, can I call you Oren? Do you live within a hundred miles of here?”
“This is the dog that walked home from Bayonne.”
“This is Come Back Buck? Oh, I don’t know …”
“I’ll get somebody else.”
“Nah. I’ll do it. It’s just I’m not used to whacking dogs. You know what they say: A dog’s a man’s best friend and all. And this—this Buck—well, he’s the best of the best.”
I start to put my wallet away.
“All right,” Welch says, “you want an accident?”
“Yes, an accident. When both my husband and I are home, so he never suspects me.”
“Fine. You got it.”
“What exactly am I getting?” I ask.
“Dogs get hit by cars all the time. You got yourself a $3000 hit-and-run. $1000 up front for my retainer.”
I sigh and hand him ten crisp one hundreds.
“Lady,” he says. “You should know you’re getting a screaming deal for offing Buck.”
I tell you, I’ve lived all my life by the book. I have never been involved in crime. I never even went through that shoplifting phase all my teenage friends seemed to live for. I am not the criminal type, but that dog has pushed me to limits I never even knew I had and I cannot go on like this for a moment longer. I am to let Buck out the front door at exactly 2:00 p.m. on Sunday just moments after Welch will plant the wounded cat across the street, drive off to loop around the cul-de-sac, and floor it when he sees Buck coming. Welch’s contract guarantees satisfaction.
It’s 1:58 p.m. on Sunday. “Bucky wanna go out?” I ask as I walk to the front door. Larry has been organizing the plastic buckets in the garage, sponging down their surfaces with a biodegradable cleanser. When I open the door, I see Larry heading down the driveway. “Where’re you going?” I call.
“There’s a hurt cat across the road. I think its leg’s broke.” He starts to run.
“No, wait!” I cry, and then Buck tears out the door after Larry. I hear tires screeching down the road. Across the street, the cat pulls its lower body along the ground with its forelegs. I let go of the screen door and, like in slow motion, it careens back and slaps the house. I run to the end of the yard. Then Welch plows his Buick through my husband and the dog.
Anyways, it’s been real busy at the house these days with the papers wanting to do follow up stories to “You’re a Million, Buck” and “A Dog, a Man, and the Woman Behind Them.” Larry even got his picture taken for People with Dana Reeves who told him never to give up hope. So now Larry takes Buck to rehab with him and Bucky’s learning to be a Service Dog. Just between me and you, it’s not what I expected out of life. I’m making interview appointments left and right. Redbook called me to do an exclusive on wives who stand by their men. The National Assistance Dog Service wants me to be the new poster girl for their ad campaigns because, it’s true, I’m what’s known as a looker. We sold the rights to our story to CBS and they’re airing the TV movie, Man’s Best Friend, next Sunday afternoon. We’re having a big party with all our new friends from further out on the Island, but believe you me it’s not all fun and games. Sometimes I have to run out of the house and chase the neighborhood kids away from the yard when I hear them yelling Tripod! Tripod! and rocks come flying over the fence. And then I go back in and Kitty wants me because, even though she’s got this high-tech motion-responsive wheeled cart, she still needs help with the big jobs.
And once in a while, Larry still cries, “Hon, I can’t stop thinking about the scared look on Bucky’s face. He looked even more scared than I was.”
I pull his head to my chest and say, “Shhh, baby, don’t worry yourself. We still got each other and one thing we know for sure: No matter what happens, Buck’ll always be here.”
Victoria Forester’s writing has appeared in or is forthcoming from various literary journals, including Washington Square Review, Spectrum Literary Journal, Funicular Magazine, and Moonchild Magazine. She recently became a doctor, but can only prescribe one insanely powerful sleeping pill in the form of a 300-page dissertation. Follow her on Twitter @DoveVictoria and Instagram @victoria.forester.