Who do you Love by Kate Thorburn

I was leaving work early. My boss, the mindless idiot that he is, had pulled me up, in front of the whole office, again, for a stupid unimportant little thing. I had forgotten to fill up the copier with toner. His secretary, Sally, had started laughing and soon everybody was. I wanted to die. I had no idea who I was anymore. I felt like the ghost of my former self, I had died long ago, and all that was left was this shell. I hated them all, but I wasn’t about to say anything, nobody would listen and nobody would really care.

I decided I would go to Tesco’s near my home, and get some soup for one, dinner for one, or whiskey for one, or maybe I’d just get the whiskey. I was walking up the back alley, trying to get as far away from the office and from the bad day as quickly as I could. I stopped to light a cigarette, to breath my fury in, when I heard a quiet whining, a soft sound of sadness, coming from a disused doorway. It was a dog. A border collie. He was definitely no one’s.

“Hey Doggy”. I said to him and he looked up at me, but he didn’t move. Didn’t even cock his head in the cute way dogs tend to do. “Hey Doggy, don’t be scared. Come here, I’m not gonna hurt you. Come here. C’mon”

With this gentle nudge, he came out of the doorway. He was grossly underweight, and his entire rib cage was obvious underneath his fur. As he moved forward, I could smell him. The smell was something similar to a build up of shit, and piss and the general smell of grime. However, he began to move forward. I bend down and he came even closer. I stretched out my hand very slowly and he looked at it. Gradually, he began to lick my hand, and he gained pace as if he was going to devour it. I moved my hand away slowly and began to take off my shoelaces. I took them, tied them together and fashioned a very crude, very short lead and collar. The collar fitted easily around his neck and he let me do it. I tied him up to part of the door, and continued on my journey to Tescos.

I went inside, the warmth hit me and I grabbed a basket. I went around the aisles in a frenzy, getting: two packets of beer mince, four steaks, a packet of Cumberland sausages, three packets of pate, a leg of lamb, some coconut shampoo, a beef joint, tomato soup, milk, some thick sliced white bread, smoked salmon, brie, a meat feast pizza, a box of Belgium truffles, and eight packets of the moist expensive dog food.

I paid for it all. It came to 59.34p and I hurried back to the dog. He was lying down, but he got up when he saw my approaching. I put my shopping bags down on the floor and I pulled out the first thing; which was the Belgium truffles. I began to unwrap them, discarding the wrapping onto the floor.

“Here, Doggy”. I said. I held the truffle in my hand, and he greedily ate it. I continued this until he had eaten the entire box. “Hungry huh boy?” I asked him, which seemed a bit pointless and a bit obvious, as I already knew his answer. I decided what I had to do. “Well, I guess we know you’re name. I’m going to call you Truffle”

I untied him and picked my bags back up. I walked him the entire way home, which is a half an hour walk. He never once tired to run away; he always stayed close to my side walking in unison with me.

When we got back to my house, I made him a makeshift bed in the kitchen out of old towels and pillows and let him lie down. I put the shopping away, taking out one of the steaks and feeding him it. He ate the whole thing in two bites. I decided we would take a bath, as he smelt so bad and I’d noticed just how matted his fur really was. I led him upstairs to the bathroom and took my shirt off and ran the bath. It was about three quarters full and I tried to get Truffle to jump in. He just wouldn’t. I think it was because he was so weak. I picked him up, which was as easy as I thought it would be and I placed him in the lukewarm water. He just stood there shaking a little but not too much as I began to rub coconut shampoo into him. I was careful not to get it in his eyes, and every time I would wash his chest or his front paws he would lick my face. Because of how thin he was this entire bath only lasted half an hour and he was ready to get out. His overwhelming stench had been replaced by the smell of coconuts. I picked him up again and placed him gently on the floor.

I towel dried him and he shook himself a little. I got my hairbrush and tried to pull it through his matted fur. Every time I attempted this Truffle would yelp and cry and I would apologise, until the only thing left to do was to get my nail scissors and cut all his fur off. Sometime later, and Truffle was transformed. He looked as emaciated as ever, but his entire body was covered from head to par in scabs. He would winch every time I touched one, so I got my camomile lotion and covered his scabs. We used the entire bottle and afterwards he looked like a reverse Dalmatian. Truffle seemed to be happier. We went back downstairs and I turned the fire on, and made him a pate and dog food sandwich, a bowl of milk with bread in it and I cooked a steak for him. He ate it all, demolishing it. That night, I did not dread my next day at work, and I slept with a smile on my face.

Things continued to be good and well for two weeks. Of course that was all to change when I was a measly ten minutes late for work. My boss as on the warpath for me.
“Joel, my office. Now.”

I followed him like a dog and then I kicked him to the floor, bashing his skull into the carpeted floor, until pieces of his brain, face and skull were embedded in my nails, the cheap carpet. I could hold pieces of him.

“Are you listening Joel? Sit down.” I sat in the chair opposite him. I hated his office, mainly because it was his office. “Joel, here at easy World Productions, we expect the highest from our staff. You, however…well we all know why you’re here don’t we, Stupid Union rules.”

“Speaking of which, shouldn’t my Union rep be here?”

“Don’t be smart. I’m going to offer you a deal; if you quit now, I’ll give you a good reference and a month’s pay. Just take it Joel, do the right thing.”

“No.”

“Why?”

“Why not?”

He repositioned himself. Leaned onto his desk. “Listen, Connelly, I’m trying to do the right thing by you and my existing staff. I know about your past and I’m just trying to say that you are not welcome here. Please just take the offer. My offer. I’ve come across a few ex-cons in my time and you’re all the same. A leopard doesn’t change his spots”

I was listening to an idiot. Only idiots use that phrase

“I was innocent”

“Who cares? You’ve been in jail, and if I could have you out of here, I’d do it in a heartbeat”

I reached across the table at him. Seized his paisley dotted tie and stapled it to the table. He was sweating and screaming at the top of his voice. I removed a pair of scissors from his pencil holder and I began to gore and gouge at his face. I let the blood wash over me, the chunks of his flesh flew at my face and hands, and these parts of his body were still warm when they hit me. He was all over me. I breathed in and I felt calmer.

“Connelly, are you listening to me?”

“No.”

“Take the deal”

“No, I like it here”

“You are pathetic. I don’t want you around and as soon as I get the chance you are gone”

“Everybody’s gotta learn sometime.” I am an idiot.

“Get the hell out. Go back to work now. GO!”

I calmly walked out of his office. I nearly quit but I decided not too, went and sat at my desk and did nothing until half five when I turned off my computer and I left for home.

I got in the house and I could smell the dog shit and piss. I tried to breath in, to calm myself down, but the dirty air was infiltrating my lungs, stagnating and clotting in my nose. I gagged and heaved but wasn’t sick. Truffle came running up to me, wagging his tail. I grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and dragged him upstairs to the bathroom. I locked him in there. I went back downstairs and got some bleach and floor cleaner and began cleaning his mess.

This sordid act took me an entire hour and by the time I finished my knees were red and sore. I had nearly been sick three times. Truffle had what appeared to be dysentery. His foul dirt had been everywhere.

I picked up the bleach; it was still mostly full as the floor cleaner worked better at getting rid of the smell and the stains. I went over to the fridge and pulled out a steak and I crept back up the stairs. I reached the bathroom and I could hear the gentle sounds of truffle breathing. I carefully opened the door. He was sat by the bath and got up when I came in. He wagged his tail. I ignored him and pushed past him, and placed the steak in the sink.

“Now Truffle.” I calmly said to him “We seem to have a problem here don’t we? For two weeks you’ve been very good, obedient, and a quick learner I might add. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed having you around, but, that, was unacceptable, so, you have to pay a price”

I sat down on the floor, cradling the bleach. I pushed Truffle to the floor, and obediently he just lay down. His fur was still short, but it was growing back. The sores, however, were still present. The man at the pet shop said he probably had fleas, and offered me this very expensive medicine but I turned him down. I’d seen no evidence of fleas and the camomile soothed at least. He had also been steadily gaining weight, and he was fast loosing his gaunt frame.

He just lay there, didn’t move at all. I opened up the bleach and I poured it onto him, careful not to get it on his face. I began to rub it in, massaging it in. he yelped and cried, but he didn’t try to get up, as if he knew that he would just have to suffer through his punishment.

“You must learn Truffle. It’s the first rule of business. Trust your partners. Also, one of the first things you realise about love. There can be no love without trust”

We continued this until his skin was burnt bright red and the bleach had run out. His crying had long since ceased. I sat down, pulled a cigarette out of my pocket. Truffle moved over to me, and began licking my hand. I stroked him on his head.

Things continued on in this fashion for a few weeks. Truffle got fatter. A diet of pate, steak and dog food sandwiches warmed up in the microwave, soon sent Truffle overweight. He would waddle around my flat. His sores gradually melted away, as his coat grew back thick and strong. There were a few incidents that resulted in the removal of a claw, some teeth and currently I am in the process of docking his tail with rubber bands that I stole from work.

Everyone avoided me at work. I was given useless tasks to do. I had to re-arrange the stationary cupboard in A to Z order. I had to A to Z the staff kitchen and constantly clean the coffee pot. I was watched and talked about constantly, but nobody said anything to my face. I stopped wearing shirts.

My parole officer came round. We talked about work, how my anger was soothed, seduced by the dog. He liked Truffle. Truffle sat in front of him, greedily eying the rich tea biscuits he was eating. He made a remark about how fat the dog was. I lied, said he was on a diet. In reality, Truffle had not been on a walk in weeks, instead I let him out twice a day. Tying his leash to the back door so he could never walk more than two meters away from the house. The parole officer left, happy, I fed Truffle an omelette of eggs that were three weeks past their sell-by date.

I was in the bathroom at work. My lunch had finished but I decided to sit in the bathroom reading a book about the Third Reich. Tim and Brian, the biggest idiots at work came in. They seemed to know I was in there, slamming and pounding their fists on the door.

“Get the fuck out here Connelly!” Tim shouted.

They started to kick the door in, I cowered, dropped the six hundred page book on the floor. The door burst open, narrowly avoiding my knees. Brian, the bigger and uglier of the two, grabbed me by my jacket. He pulled my out, and pushed me up against the wall.

“We’ve found out what you did. Why you were in prison. You are fucking scum and we do not want you around here anymore”

“You got that? Tim spat at me.

I didn’t say anything, I let Brian punch me in the stomach and watched them walk out from doubled over position. I breathed in. Waited until my stomach stopped hurting. I left my book, left my desk and left the office.

When I got in Truffle waddled to meet me at the door. He wagged his tail. I went into the kitchen and opened up the drawer. I took out a steak knife, a bowl, some aspirin, a bottle of bleach and some rubber bands. I walked upstairs and Truffle faithfully followed me.

I walked into the bathroom and Truffle wouldn’t come in. I went out and grabbed him by the scruff of his neck. He crawled by the toilet, cowering, I turned around and closed the door.

I was walking downstairs covered in blood. I had given Truffle four aspirin locally and he was lying on the floor, blood matting into his fur. I was carrying the bowl. I went into the kitchen and covered it in cling film. I poked holes in the top with a fork. I placed his two skinned testicles in the microwave and set it for high. I watched them steam and bubble. Three minutes later I took them out and removed the cling film.

I carried them back upstairs and Truffle was lying in the same position. Tears dried on his eyes. Later I would pick these off in an act of love. “There, there Truffle” I soothed. “It will be okay”

I placed the bowl in front of him; he moved his snout a little. Lightly, he licked them, not off put by the taste but more the heat. With caution and curiosity he began to bit and eat them, until they were gone and he was licking the bowl.

The next day at work in my bosses’ office: “Mr. Patterson, sir, I have some wonderful news for you.”

“What is it Connelly?”

“I’ve decided to leave, I know your offer is no longer available, but I need to leave. I need a new career.”

“Thank God. Do you mind if I ask, a career in what?”

“I was thinking of working with animals”

“Good, get your things and get out. I’m glad. You’re doing the right thing”

“What about my pay?”

“I’ll send you a cheque. Now get out of here.”

“It’s been a pleasure.”

“Just get out of here Connelly”

I walked through the park on the way home and the sun was shining and the first few days of spring were emerging from winter. Attractive couples were everywhere; people were walking their dogs, entire families were enjoying the park. I was wondering what I would do next, but I was not scared anymore. I felt relief in some small way, as if I had finally found a way to live. That I only been sustaining and now I was finally living.

I arrived home and truffle didn’t come to the door to greet me. He was lying in his makeshift bed, licking his makeshift bandage that I had applied over his wound last night. I knelt down beside him.

Never once did he bark, never once did he growl, never once did he bite. Because he loves me and continues to love me. I stroke him on his head, as I pull out a pair of pliers from my pocket and I casually ask “who do you love?” already knowing his faithful answer.

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