by Liz Clarke

The dogs started following me again. I thought the therapy had sent the fuckers packing. This time, it happened when I started the agency job at the butchers in the high street. Around the time Ellie mentioned having kids. Ellie’s always said I attract trouble. When we met I was still being hounded by Jim, so I can kind of see where she’s coming from. Jim was insistent and determined, like one of those sleek, entitled dogs, like a Pointer. Always pushing and nudging. Yep, Jim was a Pointer. Back then, Ellie was not doglike at all.

This week, for the agency, I have been a piece of meat. A hotdog. So, strictly speaking, a piece of meat in a bread roll. The butchers have been doing a different promotion each day: 50% off pork on a Tuesday, chicken thighs on Wednesday, BBQ pack Friday, that sort of thing. Of course, they couldn’t afford new costumes each time, so I was stuck as a sausage. Ellie laughed so hard when I told her. Well, she didn’t laugh exactly but she did that thing. That thing she does when she’s holding it in. She does it with yawns too, when I’m talking too much. Holds her lips tight, but still the laugh, or the yawn or whatever, pops right out of her eyes and I can plainly see it. She did that. Tomorrow we visit the GP to find out how to go about starting a family.

 The dogs would just appear, right there in the back room, while I was getting the costume on. I would spot them, or rather, their sketchy outlines, panting behind the burger boxes as I bent over. I swear they were leering.  Other times they’d wait a few hours. Maybe until they could smell the sweat on me or something. Character work gets very hot. People think it’s easy, dressing up as giant objects all day, but as in every job market, competition is tough. At college once, we spent a day in town observing dogs and their owners, then copying how they moved in the street. A whole day. I think that’s what gave me the edge at the interview. Ellie says that I’ve been in training for this job ever since. I think that was her idea of a joke. Tomorrow we visit the GP to talk about getting pregnant. I don’t like visiting the surgery. The receptionists look at me strangely whenever I go there these days.  They don’t say anything, but I know they remember me from before.

When we get pregnant, Ellie will be the one to actually do it. We agreed that early on. She’s always wanted to experience pregnancy. The whole idea of swollen ankles, sickness and having something inside you grosses me out, to be honest. I’m happy doing the provider thing, supporting her and the kid. Ellie says she relies on me.

It was Wednesday when I saw the Great Dane. That was the first time I got concerned about the dogs returning. I mean, you can just imagine the scene, can’t you?  I’m sure you can. It’s been done a thousand times, right? The guy dressed as a burger (it’s always a guy, I’m bucking the trend here), a steak, a sausage – take your pick of comedy meat product –  gets chased down the street by an oversized, badly drawn hungry dog, tongue lolling out of its stupid animated mouth. We’ve all seen that cartoon, right?  Not so funny when you are the meat. So the thing makes straight for me, insistent and forceful, sticks its long leathery snout right where my crotch is. I mean, good aim, even under all this padding. Dogs can sniff out the holes. The man from the stationers next door watched the whole thing and laughed. I mean, with his whole body. Just folded in half with laughing and under the costume, my shame cooks me red like a saveloy. Tomorrow we have the appointment with Dr. Rice. That doctor has always hated me. He thinks I’m hysterical.

On Thursday it was the Chihuahua. That tiny scrawny thing snapped at my heels for half an hour. An oversized rat, it snapped and gnarled and yapped at me. I tried to kick it off but the little rodent kept dodging me and I nearly fell over a few times. Your whole centre of balance is off in one of these costumes. Its slitty little eyes reminded me of Jim. He pursued me for months, but not in a romantic way, more like he’d been reading those vile books about snaring women. I guess you could say it worked and he ground me down. But ughghhh, the sex, all the poking and prodding with his bony chewed-down fingers. The dog gave a pained yelp when I did finally catch it right between its shitty little eyes. That was satisfying. Tomorrow, after the appointment, Ellie wants to go shopping for the nursery.

Friday, it was the Labrador’s time to dog me. Now, I grant you, they are a bit more likable, but still. All that slobber and fawning – gross. You could kick those dogs repeatedly in the face and they’d still not take the hint. Just leave me alone already. Yes, I did get your texts, Jim, now fuck off. That one followed me all day. On my breaks it would wait for me, unabashedly staring, its body moving rhythmically in time with its noisy fetid breaths. Those big moist eyes, that’s why people like them so much, I guess. It’s always the same with those big lumbering dogs; try as you might, you can never really get the smell out of the carpet. Tomorrow, after the appointment, I will cook Ellie carbonara, her favourite. I get a 10% discount on any meat from work.

It was when the dogs started popping up even when I wasn’t working that I started to wonder if it was all starting again. Big dogs, small dogs, hairy dogs, bald dogs. It was like a goddamn kids’ story. The kind that Ellie had now started collecting at home. She reads aloud them every evening as a sort of bedtime story. A real passion killer if you ask me. Ellie says we need to shift our mindset if we’re going to be good parents.

They would wait for me round corners, I swear, and ambush me. The breeds started to get more weird and outlandish too. Beagles, Whippets, those husky type ones that look like mini bears. I mean, that’s when I really started to doubt myself. When was the last time you saw a Norweigan Lunderhund in these parts? All wanting meat. All wanting a piece of me. I would literally have to fight them off. I didn’t complain to the agency though, or tell Ellie. Ellie says we need the money. Ellie’s mind is on having a baby. We’ve even stopped having sex.

By Saturday, my sixth consecutive day dressed as a hotdog, it was as if all the dogs in town had got the memo. I was plagued by them. They followed me home after my shift. I couldn’t take a turning without seeing them. That night I fell uneasily to sleep, thinking about the looming appointment with Dr Rice. The dogs sat in the street outside our flat, twenty or more of them, all the dogs from the week and more –  barking, whining and howling. Suddenly they were in the room. The whole pack, on our bed. Sitting on my chest. I can’t move for the weight of them all. Their stale breath on my face, their drool on my hands as I try to push them away. Their wet snouts all butt at my body entering me everywhere, cunt, mouth, arsehole, even through my skin. One of them had Ellie’s face. I hear the man from the stationers laughing. I woke up sweating and shouting and drink some water. I spent all of Sunday with a headache, hiding from the dogs.

At the appointment, Dr. Rice will look at me over his glasses and ask if I’ve been taking my medication.

Ellie tells me to relax, says I should learn to meditate if I’m going to be a parent, listen to waterfalls and rivers and shit like that. She has no idea. I prefer to keep busy, keep working. I need to keep this job for Ellie, for the baby. As the sun came up this morning, a solitary dalmatian winked at me under the streetlamp, its disneyfied features twisted and lewd.

Today, before our appointment, I think I should tell Ellie about the dogs.

About the author:

Liz Clarke (she/her) is a performance maker and writer. She co-wrote and toured I’m Bitter About Glitter with her 10yr old son, exploring gender identity, queerness and the family, and wrote her One Woman Show Cannonballista with her human cannonballing alter ego- Betty Bruiser. Her writing treads the murky water in the boundaries of reality and dreamscapes, of gender, identity and belonging; with a healthy dose of artifice and ridiculousness. She is working onher first collection of short fiction which so far is all about snackfood. twitter: lgclarke

Header photo by Hannah Lim on Unsplash

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