Shady Cat Pet ID: 1027
My hang out: Cincinnati, OH
My mug shots …
Here’s my story … (Fiction) – NSFW Warning (Language, Adult Subject)
John found the mutt in the burgeoning spring of ‘85. It was particularly dreary that day, the whole world soaked in a wet, humid kind of stupor that dampened the lust for summer heat. He found him under a bridge, rummaging through a pile of sticks and mud, perhaps looking for a bag of chips with some crumbs still left in the bottom, or half of a sandwich a hiker had decided he didn’t want and thrown over the bridge into the rocks below. John and Oliver had been walking home after listening to a short lecture that David was giving at the school, it wasn’t a usual route to take, though it was the longer one- meandering around Ridge Point Park instead of cutting straight through the heart of downtown with all of its sweaty people all hung up on loud phone calls, clamoring over the sidewalks like rats in the sewer.
There was no particular reason they had taken the long way that day though, it was a Wednesday, scarcely after three-o’clock and the streets of downtown were bound to be pretty empty. Not empty to walk closely and talk as they did now, but empty enough that Oliver wouldn’t have much to huff or get red in the face about.
Oliver wondered a lot about fate. It seemed silly to believe that everything, every event or person or scrawny mutt sifting through garbage, was all in its exact place, not on its own verition, but because God had put them there. But John had believed it. Maybe that’s why they had ended up keeping that mutt, because John had truly seen it as a gift from God, placed there especially for him.
The mutt was filthy, with short coarse hair that was matted around its eyes and paws that were covered in a thick layer of the mud from last night’s storm. Francis also walked with a bit of a limp for a while, ‘poor thing was probably in a street fight,’ John had said in his baby voice later that evening as he checked the old thing for cuts in his muddy paw. His tongue, which had brown spots at the back, lolled out of his mouth due to the fact that three of his smelly yellow teeth on the left side had been knocked out, and a scar ran up his lip, deep and jagged.
This is where the old mongrel had been christened Francis. John had been reading The Red Dragon by Thomas Harris at the time, and the character in the book, the one that slashed up families and raped the women, Francis Dolarhyde, had a cleft lip and palate. Oliver was skeeved out.
“You’re going to name him after a murderer?” Oliver asked, scratching the back of Francis’ ears “really?”
“Yeah why not,” John said “I love that book.”
“So name him Will.”
“He doesn’t look like a Will though. He’s Francis.”
“I will not have a dog named after a rapist John that’s just weird and… wrong.” Just as with most arguments, though, Oliver lost pretty soon.
That night, Oliver had forgotten to close up the kitchen cabinet as he went to bed, and Francis had gotten in and tore everything up. Cereal boxes littered the floor and a cheerio was still stuck to his slobbery muzzle when Oliver woke up the next morning.
“John!” Oliver had roared, his face a brilliant shade of scarlet “come look at what your filthy fucking mongrel did!” Oliver then turned to the stupid looking thing, “bad dog,” he growled through clenched teeth. The dog didn’t flinch, only wagging his tail a bit harder at the notion that attention was being given to him.
“See?” John had said, handing Oliver his coffee as Oliver tied up a garbage bag filled to the brim with the carnage from that night, “a natural born cereal killer.” And that made Oliver laugh so hard coffee came out of his nose and dribbled down his unshaven chin. So the name had stuck.
Oliver had felt, just a bit, as if maybe this rugged battered look was what really attracted John. One of the first nights John and Oliver had shared together, sitting at the bottom of John’s tiny twin sized bed in a knotted nest of blankets and pillows, John had touched the scars on Oliver’s arm. His fingers slid over the rough and jagged cicatrixes that dotted Oliver’s skin from the juncture of his thumb and forefinger, to his sternum where there was only a few, light, faded dots.
Those scars were old, carried with Oliver through a majority of his life. He had been freshly thirteen when he got them, and the only scars he had then were thin white lines from where he had skinned his knees learning to skateboard. He didn’t know pain then, not really.
Looking back now, Oliver always felt a pang of embarrassment at how naive he had been at that time. He had gotten up for school earlier that day, put on his white polo and khaki pants, and had worried incessantly about his physics test in third period all through breakfast. He had been so worried that he had thrown most of his bacon and eggs away, food seeming bland and thick as he swallowed. How silly, worrying about a stupid test when there were much worse things in the world. Like pans filled with boiling oil.
“I’m leaving for work,” his mother called, combing her fingers through his hair trying to tug the curls into something resembling neatness “please clean up the kitchen before you go,” she said. Oliver had nodded over his pile of physics notes and shot her a halfhearted
In the end, though, it hadn’t been the physics test that had done him in. It was “Bennie and the Jets.” John hated that song, he said it was gimmicky and lazy, and he wouldn’t let Oliver play it in the car. But Oliver fucking loved it, even after what it had done to him.
Oliver’s mom didn’t like it either, incidentally, but that wasn’t because of how lazy it was. It was that fucking fairy Elton John that had rubbed her the wrong way. The ridiculously flamboyant costumes and hideous moon face didn’t help his case either. Oliver only listened to rock at all when his mother wasn’t home because it turned out the distaste didn’t end at Elton John, but David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen, and Queen all seemed to also have contracts with the devil. And it just so happened that the classic rock station on his mom’s old radio that clipped and cut out whenever it felt like it, had played “Bennie and the Jets” that morning. And God did Oliver love “Bennie and the Jets.”
As he began to tidy up, he had begun to dance to it, screaming the lyrics in a queer type of falsetto that his mother would have his head on a platter for, and swinging his hips to the boppy tune. Oliver could dance fairly well, though he’d never admit it, and unlike John who flailed his limbs and jumped about as if his ass were on fire, Oliver moved to the music as if it were ingrained in his bones. Some of that good old Mexican blood, he guessed.
The next part, as all bad parts seem to always do, happened so fast Oliver can scarcely remember it. In one moment, a hand came swinging down on the beat of the chorus ‘She’s got electric boots, a mohair suit. You know I read it in a maga-zah-iine,’ in the next, Oliver was screaming.
His neighbor, Ms. Claiborne had heard him wailing and had called 911. He never did have to take that physics test after all. Turns out, a week in the hospital with severe third degree burns gets one out of quite a bit.
The classic rock station was still playing when Oliver and his mother came home from the hospital that Friday.
“Touch mine,” John had whispered, which Oliver had done, running his own scarred forefinger over the ridges that ran from the space between his shoulder blades to the small of his back. There were a few more bad ones on the backs of his ears, the crooks of his knees, the plushy freckled backs of his arms, and one across his collarbone. There were a few thin ones too, from his right eyebrow to his cheekbone, and across the left of his bottom lip, but to see these you had to be really close up. Oliver had to squint that night, in the dim lighting of John’s bedside lamp, to see them.
They had come from that fateful day in December of course, that day that John seemed to relive every time a loud noise would sound without warning, or even in the dead of night, when his dreams would become so vile that he would scream as if that glass was cutting into his skin right then, blood curdling and desperate. Oliver would wake him, of course, but sometimes the only phrase John could say through his tears and deep gulping gasps would be ‘there was nothing I could do…’ John said that a lot, most of the time over and over, like it was stuck on his tongue. Oliver reached desperately for him, touching his cheek, his arm, his tears, begging John to stop crying, stop making those awful noises, the ones that felt like tearing, like rippling, breaking waves. It never worked. John cried himself to sleep most nights after the dreams, and Oliver would lie beside him, feeling ugly and sick at the bottom of his chest.
“This is all that I am,” John had said, after all of the scars had been touched and coddled and kissed “now there’s nothing between us.”
Even though Oliver had laughed when John said it, he knew that it was true. He had felt more naked having John touch his scars, kiss them, lick them, place his lashes upon them, than he had when undressing in front of John just hours before. Cherishing another’s pain as if it were your own, nurturing it, nursing it, even, was something that seemed to forge a bond more intimate and tender than Oliver could comprehend. He knew, that night, that he had given himself to John, and that that was a fact that wasn’t apt to change.
And perhaps that is what Oliver and John had done to old Francis Dolarhyde The Cereal Killer Dog. Francis wasn’t some purebred hound, with perfectly manicured nails and eyes and ears curated through years and years of careful breeding. Francis had never been loved, not even in the prideful ‘look at this absolute beauty of a dog’ kind of a way. He was scruffy and dirty and feral looking, and maybe John felt as if he understood him in a deeper way because of it. Francis had shown him all that he was, in the same way that Oliver and John had done years ago, and now he was completely theirs. And they, his. Oliver was silly to believe that he could get rid of the old nuisance.
And nuisance he was. Whatever part of dogs that makes them good at following commands seemed to be completely absent in Francis. A day that you could get him to perform sit or even stay was one that warranted writing home about.
Everybody come quick! Francis just learned how not to pee in the house!
John thought that it was probably because he spent so much time as a stray, but Oliver just thought he was stupid. Sometimes he would look at him and wonder if anybody was really home, he always had this dumb dopey empty look about him.
And God did John spoil that stupid old thing. He fed him bacon under the table and bought him this huge plush bed which probably more expensive than John and Oliver’s own and during the day, when John would leave for a gallery show or to teach a class and Oliver would drag himself off to work, John would leave the television on for the stupid cur to watch, on the Animal Planet, so he wouldn’t be lonely.
“Electricity isn’t free John stop being ridiculous,” Oliver complained one night, shutting off the warm television.
“You act you don’t even love him!”
“That’s because I don’t! He’s your stupid annoying runt anyways.”
“Don’t say that!” John said, covering Francis’ floppy ears. Oliver sighed, scrubbing his face with his hands “we may never have kids Ollie, Francis is our baby.”
Oliver scoffed again, groaning at how stupid this whole dog business was. They didn’t have the money to feed the two of them, let alone the greedy tyke. He didn’t know the half of it, because even though John had bought the dog a big fancy bed to sleep in, Francis had proven to not only be fatheaded and disobedient, but also clingy as all get out. He had taken accustom, first, to pushing his way between Oliver and John on the couch, a motion Oliver had strongly protested because firstly, the mutt seemed to reek no matter how many baths you gave him. Once John had bought this dog-grade toothpaste at the petstore and a stupid kiddie toothbrush with cartoons on it, and he had sat on the kitchen floor, brushing the dog’s yellow teeth as it jerked its head around and licked ferociously at the toothbrush through the hole in its red gums, foam curling around John’s fingers, which gripped the maw of the beast. That didn’t really help, for all of the trouble it was worth. Secondly, Francis had an insatiable habit for licking faces. ‘Kisses’ John called them, and they always seemed to land right on the lips, sometimes even while your mouth was open. His tail would thump wildly against the couch as he lunged eagerly at your face, even as you yelled and pushed him away.
Every night Oliver did these things. He got home, ate dinner, watched TV with John on the couch (usually Saturday Night Live, which Oliver adored or The Simpsons, which was John’s favorite) made a kettle of tea for him and John, drank his cup, and stripped for the shower. He
took a hot, brisk shower, and always always spent the last few minutes with the water turned down cold to cool his skin off. He dried off, brushed his teeth, washed John’s retainers with gold Dial and a kiddie toothbrush. He got dressed in a loose t-shirt and a pair of boxers, regardless of whether or not he’d be losing them in a few minutes, and pulled on a pair of compression socks. John called him a freak for that, said only crazy lunatics and serial murderers wore socks to bed. It drove him crazy. But John didn’t work on his feet all day either.
Then Oliver carefully popped the designated container open of his green plastic pill organizer, the days of the week written on the compartments in faded white paint. There was Prozac, Mirtazapine, Trazodone, Zyrtec, fish oil, melatonin, vitamin C and a collagen supplement, which he downed with a full glass of water every night without fail. He combed his ratty hair, and fixed it with a glob of sticky white mousse which Oliver insisted he needed to keep it from looking like a nest for birds. John argued that those kinds of products never did much but make your hair all sticky, and he was never really a fan, but Oliver didn’t budge nonetheless. Then Oliver turned on his white noise machine, set his alarm for tomorrow morning, and clicked on all of the fans. He liked it cool in the room, John didn’t mind. He then climbed into bed next to John, who had made a habit of simply shedding his jeans and flopping into bed, where he would lay down for the daily fuck.
“Alright,” he announced one night, “you’ve got an hour, I’ve got work at 8 tomorrow.” John stared at him blankly “well get to it buster, do me up.”
“Oh come on, Ollie, you’re sucking the fun out of it.”
“What?” Thunder rolled somewhere far off and distant, nothing more than an afterthought against the rain pattering angrily against the bedroom window.
“I mean…” John sighed “our sex is planned down to the hour now? Where did all of that spontaneity go? We’re like old people now. Where’s the heat? Where’s the passion? ”
“Oh I’ll show you heat, you brat,” Oliver growled tackling John down who screamed a bit with laughter. They were both a bit boozed up; Rich had gotten them a fancy new wine for their 5th anniversary and they had had one too many glasses that night. Oliver attacked John with his hands, groping and pulling at his sides and John kissed Oliver back lazily. Suddenly, the bed dipped, the full weight of that stupid dog digging into Oliver’s spleen.
“Fuck! Get him out!”
“Aww!” John cooed, rubbing Francis behind the ears, “He’s scared of the storm Ollie, let him sleep here.”
“He is not scared of the storm, I just left the door open on accident.”
“Come on Ollie!”
“No John! Absolutely not ! He snores, you know he does! And he farts in his sleep!” John broke off into another gasping tirade of screaming laughter, Francis making a valiant attempt at licking his face all the while. Oliver would not kiss John after he’d kissed Francis, that was something he would never budge on. “I’m not having sex in front of the dog.” Oliver added and John laughed a bit more, rubbing softly at the fatty roll of scruff behind Francis’ neck. The poor thing was nearly obese now. “Do you really want to? You pervert!” Oliver said, conceding only a big at John’s signature big dopey take-up-your-whole-face kind of smile. Oliver hated to admit it, of course, but he loved the old fool, a tragic flaw really, and all John really ever had to do was flash that smile and Oliver was gone.
Even more awful to admit, Oliver had a bit of a soft spot for the dog too, he felt bad for it, mostly. Being so stupid couldn’t be easy, he supposed. And, of course, there was the simple fact that John adored him and Oliver couldn’t help but feel a bit favorable to the fat old thing just based on that simple fact. But his sincerity ended there, and the simple pity Francis had managed to gain was very fleeting. Sleeping in the bed was another issue entirely, regardless. Francis had a bed, a damn nice one too, he didn’t need theirs too.
“I hate him I want him gone by tomorrow.” Oliver said with a huff. He was mostly joking. Mostly.
“You do not hate him”
“I do! He’s stupid and gross and I hate him!”
“Stop saying that! You’re hurting his feelings.”
“It’s a dog!” John laughed some more and agreed to scoop Francis off of the bed for the time being, but later that night, when long, booming claps of thunder threatened to shake the house with their force, Francis came bolting in, his tail between his trembling legs. Oliver had been the one to budge and scoop him up, placing him at the foot of the bed, if only to make him stop crying so loud. John still slept as he did it, but Oliver could have sworn he saw a ghost of a smile on his soft round face.
Francis died at the end of summer in ‘87, the world soaked in a dreary, thick, muggy sort of heat that left one with a sweat slickened brow, little wet tufts of hair framing the sweaty faces of children, who played in the streets for almost the last time that summer, school only a blink of an eye away.
Oliver was exhausted that day, the sun beating hard and hot against the back of his tanned neck, his lungs coated with a dense layer of fog and musk which hung low and thick in the air. He had twisted an ankle a week before during a pretty nasty fall, and it was still bothering him, twinging just a bit with every step. Oliver, during all of this, was most of all focused on his neck which was so coiled up with pain and tension that he just knew the burgeoning knot had to be at least the size of a golf ball by now.
The whole walk home, meandering his way through the thick crowds of downtown, he wrapped himself up in his latest favorite daydream. This was one in which he was sitting in a tub of cool, clean water, tucked neatly between John’s legs, a knee framing either shoulder. There would be the classical station playing on the radio, and incense would be burning on the granite countertop. He had even worked it up in his head that tonight, with enough persuading, he could get John away from his newest piece, a bird with huge black eyes and a bloody beak, long enough to make it happen. Maybe he’d even convince John to massage his shoulders, if he was really really good. John was embarrassingly amazing at giving massages and Oliver was one hundred percent sure that was because his hands were so huge. Just one of the damned things could cover Oliver’s whole face, ear to ear, without stretching at all.
Oliver’s keys jingled in his hands as he fumbled with them clumsily, slipping them between his fingers to look for the light blue key with the California state logo printed on it. He shoved it into the lock, which was a bit sticky with rust and age, and wiggled the lock a bit as it turned, the door creaking in the sturdy brass hinges. The air conditioning, minimal as it was, was cool on his face as he stepped in, kicking his shoes off.
“Ollie?” John’s voice came, far and distant from the cool damp walls of the basement. It was cracked, fractured into all of these messy, wobbly fragments, so broken Oliver couldn’t grapple with them, his stomach knotting into a fist, a knot the size of a golf ball in his throat.
“Are you alright?” There was no answer. “John?”
“Ollie.” John said, so strained that Oliver could scarcely hear him. Oliver went into the basement, his bare feet itchy against the old mildewy carpet, which peeled up at the edges where the glue had worn away. John was on the floor, his knees tucked under him and splaying out towards his shoulders. His face was drawn and pale, his hair messy, sticking a little to his drenched cheeks, his eyes and nose pale pink with tears. Francis was lying at his knees, his legs drawn out and his eyes shut. John’s fingers were threaded through his curly hair, petting gently, and if his chest had been moving, Oliver would have assumed him to be asleep.
“Oh God,” Oliver whimpered, his stomach dropping. He felt like screaming “oh god, oh god…what’s wrong with him?”
“Oliver…” John whimpered, tilting his head. Oliver dropped down next to him, petting his chest. It was still warm under his fingers. Thank God, he was still alive.
“What are you doing? Let’s get him to the vet, come on.”
“Oliver, he’s dead,”
“He…” Oliver put his hand on Francis’ nose, it was still wet, still cool, but the steady puff of air was gone. “He was fine just this morning, he ate his breakfast, jumped on my leg and everything. He… there’s no…”
“I know,” John whispered, small wet sobs escaping his throat “I found him just an hour ago, he was… he was barely breathing. I didn’t know what to do. There was nothing I could do. I can’t carry him, and even then, where would I take him? The vet is an hour away on foot and… he died a few minutes later. There was nothing I could do I’m so sorry Ollie. There was nothing I could do.” John sobbed hiccuping, his face red with tears and anger “I’m so sorry Ollie. I’m so sorry.” Oliver ran his hand down Francis’ back, it didn’t feel real, any of it. Just hours ago Francis was fine, and now he was… he was dead? How did that make sense?
The dog had lived with them for five years. The dog had loved them, had kissed them every morning, had licked Oliver’s ankles while he pooped about a hundred times. John had fed him off of the table and Oliver had scolded him from behind his morning paper. The dog had killed a mouse one summer and Oliver had nearly fainted when he found it on the floor of the bedroom. The dog licked toes in the night, and slept on your chest if you weren’t careful to put a pillow there instead, or to turn on your side. He was fat, and annoying and lazy. Oliver hated him, he did. He swore by it. Nothing but a nuisance all of these years.
But God, he had loved him too. He realized it now, petting his sleeping eyes, his soft blonde ears. He had loved the stupid thing, and it had been his. He had been its. It wasn’t voluntary, sure, he hadn’t wanted to love it but it had forced its way into his life in such an integral way that he had choice but. Like the way you learn to love your school, your home, your bed, the stain on the seat of your old car. He was, in a great and awful way, a chunk of Oliver. Just like John, and Richard, and his mother, his sisters, his father. He had made Oliver and Oliver had made him and they had loved each other. He was gone, he was really gone and there was nothing Oliver could do. He was completely powerless to stop his leaving, quick, abrupt and horrible like a trainwreck.
A sob ripped its way out of Oliver’s throat, like hundred clawed beast, raw and tight and sickening. Oliver wanted to hurl, or scream but he couldn’t. He doubled over, screaming as he cried. The tears fell as if they were knocked out of him, his breathing hard and shallow against his tight, awful chest which felt as if it were full of rocks. “Oh my God…” he whimpered, kissing the dog on the forehead as he blubbered, barely aware that he was drooling as he did, snot running down his face. John got up and came behind him, his chest was warm and soft against his back, and his head felt cool and gentle against his shoulder as he shushed him, holding his waist tight. Oliver fell back into him, wanting to be cradled, needing to be held and loved. He was certain he hadn’t cried like this since he was a baby, he couldn’t breathe right, choking over every sob.
Something Oliver has learned, is that you can’t cry forever. Eventually your body gets too tired and has to stop. The tears dry up, and you can breathe again. And when Oliver finally did breathe again, they were left with the awful problem of what to do with the body. Oliver got a blanket from the attic, light blue with purple flowers embroidered on it, and wrapped Francis in it. Oliver could lift him, and John helped opening the front door for Oliver as he carried him out. He was heavy and awful and hot in Oliver’s arms, and he began to cry again, soft pitiful sobs. They brought him across the street, to a nice tree where Francis would lie sometimes. John got a shovel from the grocery store down the street, and they dug a pretty deep hole into the cool moist earth. There was only one other man in the park, who was old and bald and reading a red book that was as thick as his head. He elected to stare at them instead of reading. Oliver gently scooped Francis in, and John put in some things he had collected around the house ‘to help him on his journey.’
There was a jar of peanut butter, the fatty kind that gives you cancer, kibble, his water bowl, which was a white ceramic John had made, engraved with grapes and lavender. Oliver added some crackers, his favorites, with sesame seeds on the outside, his chew toys, and one of Oliver’s shoes that he had torn to shreds, but which Oliver had not elected to throw away.
“Do you want to say some words?” John asked. Oliver shook his head. He was dangerously close to breaking down again. “We love you bud,” John whispered “you may not have felt like anybody’s dog, because you were so alone for so long, but you were ours. You were our friend, one of the best. And we loved you so much…” John coughed, tears falling down his face, “I’m going to miss you every day. I hope that, wherever you’re going, they spoil you as much as we did here. I hope they give you crackers and ear scratches and let you lick their toes. I…” John sobbed shaking his head “I love you.” Oliver grabbed his hand, and kissed him on the forehead, feeling tears well up behind his eyes. His vision was blurry as he filled in the hole. John picked some flowers from nearby, daisies, and laid them on the top of the dirt pile, the roots still sticking out in all different ways.
Oliver went straight home and showered, covered in dirt and a different type of heavy musk that he couldn’t describe. He dressed slowly, took his medicine and went downstairs to check on John. When he found him, he saw that he was standing in the kitchen, his head turned up as he watched water drip from the ceiling, a dirty brown patch flowering out under the crack.
“The pipe burst,” John whimpered, his eyes desperate and sad.
“What did we do to make God hate us so much?” Oliver asked, his throat tight.
It felt naive now, to think that God, or the Universe or whatever controlled fate, had owed them anything. That fate took a second look at you before carrying on its merry way, destroying things. It was so naive, so privileged, to believe that fate was not so immeasurably huge, completely and utterly terrifying, daunting, rolling on its course so sure, so finite that it doesn’t flinch to stop the cities it crushes in its path. It had been naive to worry about the physics test, to think about a nice bath, to believe that the burst pipe and the dead dog was the worst the world could get. It was naive to believe that this was God’s true Test, that every moment of every day was not The Test, that the rapture was only an afterthought. That the real Hell, the real terrifying and unpredictable monster was not the inevitable fiery pits, but the fact that you must face them, every single day.
When Oliver was little, his first grade playmate Suzy got cancer, leukemia. She died the next year, only 7 years old. He had asked his mother why God would let cancer exist. She pulled out her thick black Bible and showed him the story of Job. Oliver could not read at the time, but she had explained that God had taken everything from Job, even though Job had been good. Job could not understand why God did it, but he didn’t have to. Humans can look at an anthill, see that a magpie is pecking at it, and shoo it away. The ants, on the other hand, can only look up, watch as the grains of sandy dirt fall on their heads, and wonder why the pecking had stopped. A few might get crushed under the feet of the human, and the others will mourn, but in the end the human had guided them to safety.. They cannot understand, with their shallow, feeble perspective, what the human is thinking. It is just too far beyond them.
Oliver began to understand God in a real honest way, then. A young boy can take a magnifying glass and fry ants all day long. The ants can pray to him, build temples for him, make rosaries and crosses and confessionals. They can fall upon their knees and beg for him to stop, for him, in his infinite wisdom, to spare them. But the boy could not hear them, and he will do it regardless. Perhaps it is naive of the ants to even think otherwise.
Author: Sydney R.