Living alone in a two-room apartment in Baltimore’s Overlea section, I’d long since given up trying to be normal or decent. A relationship which should have been a one night stand but lasted all of two years had left me penniless and emotionally damaged. I wasn’t sad the relationship ended but being now thirty-five, I realized I’d wasted precious years that I’d never get back. Now I was trying to hold down a job which I hated in a city in which I never planned to live, with people I never spoke to. Of course there were the two exceptions; Chet and Beau.
Chet Landry and Beau Gray, my neighbors of five years were a couple whose comings and goings were my constant entertainment over the years. The day I moved into my building they invited me over for coke, and by coke I mean cocaine. Being from Roland Park I was not surprised by the drug use but I was surprised by the frankness of the invitation. I was relieved when they still let me come over even after I admitted the occasional joint was all the recreational drug use I could stand. With all of us being gainfully employed as of late, Friday nights became our wine and cheese time; wine about our jobs, tell cheesy jokes about the other people who lived in the building.
“If that bitch wears that matted-up ponytail one more time, I’m going to do her hair myself, OKaaaay!” Chet said.
“I can’t tell if she works or what. She’s always on that corner,” I said
“Hm, maybe that is her work. Trez don’t care about no weave as long as there’s a bob.”
“Can we talk about something a little more relevant,” Beau chimed in. He placed a glass of wine in front of me, poured the same for himself and Chet, and sat down at the table.
“We were wondering what you think about us as a couple?”
“As a couple of what?”
“Oh you got jokes? I wasn’t going to mention those last season pumps but you force me. Seriously, “ Chet said. “Do you think we would make good parents?”
“Well, you’ve done an excellent job raising me,” I said, batting my eyelashes. “You want a kid?”
“Not exactly,” Beau said. “Show her.” Chet gets up from the table, goes into the kitchen and returns with a photo of a dog.
“He is so freaking cute. Whose puppy?” The little pooch is perched on a pillow and seems to be looking right at me.
“Well, Chet keeps saying how we need something in our lives to nurture. I was thinking of growing roses or something but then we got to thinking, we may want children someday. Clearly we can’t raise a child given our current nightlife but we could slow down enough to raise a dog.”
“I don’t think raising a dog is like raising a child, I said, drowning the last of my wine.
“That’s not what I’m saying. It is like a starter child, you know; training for the future.
“In that case, you’ll be great. When is the little booger coming?”
“Tomorrow,” Chet answers. “I am going to pick her up and do a little shopping. You wanna come with?”
One way to look at my work situation is as one of hope. I am at the bottom of the pay scale for my job as research analyst. My supervisor couldn’t be more horrible if she tried. My schedule sucks. Clearly things can only get better; or so I thought. When I arrive at my office, my make-up already melting in the Baltimore humidity, my boss is already there.
“Could I see you for a minute?” she mumbles before I can remove my coat. You know that sick feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when you realize something’s gone terribly wrong and you’ve been caught but you don’t know what you’ve been caught doing? That’s what was happening now. I didn’t even sit down my bag. I visually survey my office to figure how fast I can remove all my belongings. Why don’t I keep a fucking box here, I think as I enter the dragon’s den.
“Look, there’s no easy way to put this. The university says we’ve got to cut staff. Your work is fine but we have to keep the more experienced staff in key positions. I’m sorry.”
“Is there a you’re fired in that statement because I think I must have missed it.”
“Sorry. Yes, you are fired. Gosh, and I practiced what I was going to say. Can you believe that,” she laughs. “Take the rest of the day to clean out your office.” I wanted to cry but I also wanted to smack her little bony, bump-it wearing ass with a chair. I knew I should leave gracefully but it suddenly occurred to me; I was not decent and I was not normal.
“Bitch, if they got rid of your non working ass they could hire five of me. You better hope I don’t catch your ass down Mick-O’shea’s one of these days. That’s why everyone says your breath smells like butt crack. Take the rest of the day and buy some mouthwash, skank!” My now ex-boss stood frozen. I’m sure she wanted to reach for the phone but we wouldn’t want to provoked the crazy person, would we. I take the rest of the day to remove any trace of me from my office. I wanted to call someone but there was no one to call. I am estranged from what little family I had and my boyfriend was no longer my boyfriend. I made a mental note to visit Mick-O’shea’s on Friday, kicked over my office chair, and otherwise left quietly.
“Oh my GOD, Chet; it was like she was asking me to remember to water the plants. Yes, you are fired; what a bitch!”
“Well, at least you got to tell her off before you left. It’s the ones that let that shit fester who come back and kill every damn body. You going to be OK?”
“I guess. I already filed for unemployment over the internet and I had vacation time.”
“You need retail therapy.”
“I just lost my job!”
“Oh, you not buying nothing honey; you’re going to help me shop for this dog. Meet me in ten.”
My unemployment check hardly paid my rent. I considered asking the prostitute how hard it would be to break into the business but I detest unshaved privates and I was sure those were the types of men who visited girls like her. No prostitution, yet. I count how many quarters I would have for the wash before I’d need to withdraw money to do laundry. Food wouldn’t be an immediate problem; I live on wine and pretzels. Just as I was figuring how to pay my car payment and my student loan, a knock. It’s Chet and Beau.
“Girl, where you been?” Chet said. He’s carrying a lump of fur and a box.
“Looking for employment.”
Beau said, “Listen, no time for chit-chat. We have tickets to Cirque and someone has to watch Chin-chi. Be a dear?” Chet, not waiting for an answer sits the box on the floor and places the lump of fur in the box.
“I don’t know the first thing about dogs.”
“It’s fine, honey; she sleeps all the time anyway. Just take her outside if she wakes up. We should be home by twelve.”
“No, no, no,” Beau said. “We told Dennis we’d have drinks at Ethel’s.” “OK, can we just get her in the morning? She gets a walk at seven.” Before I can answer, both are headed for the door.
I put in a movie and wait for Chin-chi to wake up. When she hasn’t by ten o’ clock, I decide to wake her. I’m sure there’s a schedule for house breaking a dog. The ball of fur seems quite tiny and is shaking uncontrollably as I lift her to my shoulder. Her underbelly feels so warm on my shoulder. How is it I never had a dog, I think. I and the little pooch go outside and I sit in the grass waiting for her to do her business. She continues to shake and seems quite disinterested in the task at hand.
“You have to try.” The night air is humid; I’m dying to return to my air-conditioned apartment.
“That dog looks sick. You sure its OK?” The prostitute appears from the bushes. She’s still wearing the ponytail.
“I’m sitting. She’s just a puppy. I think it takes a while to train them.” The prostitute and I have never spoken before. I look at her and wonder why she was outside on such a humid evening. She’s beautiful up close. She continues to stare at the dog. I want to ask if she is a prostitute but fearing her response, decide against it.
“That dog is too small to be away from his mamma.”
“Are you a dog trainer,” I say sarcastically.
“No, I’m a ho but I had dogs and I’ve had boyfriends who had dogs and that dog is sick.”
“Well, if you don’t mind, I’ll stick to the plan I was given.”
“Whatever!” The prostitute walks towards the side of the building. I lift Chin-chi from the grass and under her is a spot of dog pooh. It’s runny but at least she’s done. “Good job, Chin-chi,”
Inside the apartment, the dog shakes. Unsure of what to do I cover her in a blanket. Free, I pop in a movie and drift off to sleep.
Instinct wakes me at seven. Duty over. All I have to do is walk the ball of fur and the boys should be home. Still in my clothes from the previous evening, I slip on my slippers and open the shades. I left the dog in the box near the front door as a reminder to walk him but as it turned out, I remembered. Just as I reach the front door, a knock.
“You up,” Chet says through the door. I open up to see Chet in his boxers and a Bob Marley T-shirt.
“I was just about to walk the dog.”
“No problem, I’ll take her. I missed my little girl.” Chet bends down to retrieve the mound of fur and lets out a scream that could only be matched by Mariah Carey.
“She’s dead. You killed my dog. Oh my God! Beau! Beau! He was screaming again.
“I didn’t kill her. I walked her like you said and she went to sleep.” Beau came into the apartment wearing reading glasses and a robe.
“Chin-chi is dead; she’s dead.” Chet starts crying uncontrollably.
“What happened,” Beau asks. He looks like he wants to hit me.
“Nothing. We went outside and the prostitute said she looked sick and kept asking questions about her.” Where am I going with this, I thought.
“You let that trick near my dog?”
“I’m so sorry. I just did what you told me.” As the words leave my mouth, Chet gets off the floor. He storms past and bangs repeatedly on the prostitute’s door. When the door is opened, he grabs her out into the hall. Beau follows. I am frozen, unable to comprehend what has happened to the dog. Chet is screaming obscenities at the prostitute who seems vexed by the entire conversation but is unwilling to let Chet get the better of her. I’m suddenly snapped back to reality by the sound of bodies being thrown against the walls in he stairway.
Chet yells, “Kill that bitch!” Beau snatches the prostitute’s ponytail and uses it to throw the prostitute down the stairs. This continues with Beau getting the better of the prostitute for several minutes. Then suddenly, all is still. The prostitute doesn’t not move. Beau doesn’t move. Chet doesn’t move. I cannot move. The dog will never move again.
I hear the cuffs snap around Beau’s wrist. Chet is inconsolable and a dead dog is stuffed into an evidence bag by a female who stares at me periodically.
“We are probably going to have to ask you some more questions at some point, she said.
“No problem,” I mumble. I return to my apartment and begin counting my quarters as I had the day before. I think briefly of Beau and Chet. They were very good to me when I moved into this building. I think of their excitement at getting the dog. I should send flowers maybe. Then I remember; I gave up being normal and decent a long time ago.