“My Wife As a Dog” by John Tarkov

pooltime

Daddy was a man of few words. That’s why the fortune cookie riled me. It said: “A man of few words is a man of few thoughts.” That damn fortune cookie had just called my daddy a moron. So I bit the waiter.

It was destiny.

It all began when I was bitten by my own dog on my eleventh birthday. He got his teeth into my arm real good. Blood oozed from the cratered flesh for three days, blood so thick with germs that it was more black than red. Finally, my daddy gave in to pressure from my mama to take me to the hospital. Then he took me to see Raoul down by the filling station, and Raoul cauterized the holes in my arm with Q-Tips and battery acid.

Although my daddy was a man of few words, on the way home he spoke at length.

“You tell your mama we were at the hospital, you hear?” he said. “And you best mind yourself from now on. Whenever anything bites you, you can turn into whatever it was that bit you. That’s how Lon Chaney turned into the Wolfman.”

“I’m the Wolfman?” I said, frightened and still crying from the battery acid.

“No!” said my daddy. “Pay attention. What bit you?”

“Festus bit me.”

“And what is Festus?”

“He’s our dog?” I said tentatively.

“Damn right, he’s our dog,” said my daddy. “He put dog drool into you. Now you have the gift for being like him and his kind. At any moment, without warning, you can turn into a dog. And that’s a fact.”

“Oh, no!” I said.

“Oh, yes,” my daddy whispered. “From this day on, and for the rest of your life.” Then he fell silent. In fact, I don’t recall that he ever spoke to me again.

Anyhow, I forgot my daddy’s guidance, the way kids do when a parent teaches them something valuable, until I got the band scholarship. I don’t play an instrument myself, but in those days the university had a lot more money, and they gave scholarships to kids who handed out sheet music to the marching band.

The job is not as easy as it sounds.

That’s how I met Heather. She distributed sheet music to the brass section, and I to the artists in percussion.

And on our very first date, I got that damn fortune cookie implying cretinism in my family, and I bit the waiter, and instantly, my daddy’s warning came back to me, and I thought, “Oh, damn, I’ve ruined it all with this girl. I’ve become a dog, just like Daddy said I would.”

Luckily, things happen for a reason. As a child, Heather had been bitten by her Brittany Spaniel while trying to bathe the animal in Dr. Pepper, because her science teacher had said Dr. Pepper was suitable only for small dogs, and she didn’t realize he was being sarcastic.

So when I bit the waiter, it turned Heather on, because she leaned across the table and licked my hand.

I had some rope in my car, which I fashioned into a toy, and Heather and I played tug-of-war in the parking lot, biting down on that rope and snarling and growling and pulling in opposite directions. Then we ruined our teeth some more catching a Frisbee.

By the time I dropped Heather off at her dorm, I was in love. The only downbeat note to the evening happened later. I was driving past a row of cypress trees that smelled interesting to me, and the upshot was: I spent the night in jail for public urination. “Which frat you in, son?” they kept asking. “Which frat?” When they released me, I bit the tires on their squad cars.

That was fifteen years ago. We’re happy. Last week our youngest, Ashley, got bit by Jezebel, the family parrot, while we were trying to teach the bird to say something new. Heather and I believe the child’s future now lies in politics.

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