We keep the dog corralled in a sheep pen arrangement in one corner of the kitchen near the cat door. It is a tough life even for a dog, I know it. A tough life for a dog who would love nothing more than to spend his time curled up on my lap, or have someone throw bits of wood for him to fetch.
The dog is a ghost from my past, the dog whose tan colour belies the black of his ancestor, Peta, the mongrel who came to visit when I was a child and stayed against my father’s wishes, a dog we named Peta with an ‘a’ hoping that our father would not notice – this dog was a girl.
To think my father might not notice the dog’s gender puzzles me still. Gender sticks out like dogs’ balls, as the saying goes.
But we were little and did not want to notice the way our mother had one baby after another and that the dog, Peta, might do likewise.
The dog in my kitchen, the dog in the corner, who represents my past, stinks today.
‘We’ll take him to the pet shop to get him washed,’ I tell my friend. ‘I’m sorry he smells so bad’.
‘What a bourgeois thing to do,’ she says.
I cringe. Bourgeois? Me? Never. But I cannot take a lump of the past, a dog this time with a tail – not like Peta whose tail was docked – into my bathroom, and wash away the fleas and the stink.
My friend has a dog, a streamlined grey whippet, whose ribs stick out on either side. My friend is a writer, the real McCoy. She has a book to her credit and another on the way, a book like babies.
Our dog will not help to make babies. Our dog is neutered, spayed.
I think the word spayed, and I think of the garden variety, the spade you dig into the ground.
When Peta was little I imagined the vet would take a spade and hit her in the middle somewhere deep inside where she kept her babies, hit her whack, while she was anaesthetised and crush the bits that make the babies, the eggs that girls have and the womb, the place where the eggs are held. The vet might smash the inside bits so that no more babies can be made.
‘This dog is frustrated,’ my friend says. ‘He needs to get out more. He needs exercise.’
But I cannot walk the dog , not today, not with a broken leg.
My friend does not say it to my face, but I can hear her thoughts. They are written in the wrinkle lines on her forehead.
‘You are lazy. You do not deserve a dog. You are the one who stinks, a lazy negligent non-lover of dogs. I should get the RSPCA onto you.’
I show my friend to the door.
Peta flashes across the window of my memory, her insides restored, and all the babies who never were born follow close behind.