Damn Dog

Here is a story I wrote for a creative writing class, not particularly good, but I love Berkowitz (The dog).   —PRB

Exhausted from a day that started too early and too many hours before, Ian did not notice the letter on the table despite the fact that he dropped his bag right beside it.

He reached into the refrigerator and pulled out a half-gallon carton of milk.

As vulgar as it was, he knew that there were no clean glasses in the cupboard. The aged dishwasher had gone through its death throes last week and gave up the ghost four days ago.

Dirty dishes overflowed from the sink, which served as the front line in the battle of wills in the ongoing sibling war that was now going into its 6th year. Would this battle be lost out of revulsion or necessity? The microwave had prolonged this skirmish. Heating had replaced cooking entirely.

As a nod to decency, Ian did not place his lips directly on the container, but rather poured the milk into his mouth from about 2 inches above.

A steady beat on his leg caused him to stop pouring and look down.

Ian had rescued the dog from an unsavory acquaintance from High school, who had neglected the poor animal to the point of abuse and  one afternoon Ian heard the pleas of the dog, untied him and walked away a dog owner.

Most pet owners believe their pets can communicate with them, and Ian was no different. But unlike most pet owners, Ian believed that his dog could not only communicate with him, but would, on occasion, actually speak to him, IN ENGLISH. It was a phenomena that no one else had observed, and as it was infrequent and exclusive Berkowitz, the dog, Ian had convinced himself that, while unusual, it was nothing that should concern him or require further investigation.

“You KNOW you can’t have any milk products” He said as he put the milk back. “it give you the winds something awful.”  He reached for his bag and noticed the envelope on the table.

He opened the letter and read.

Dear Mr. Lewis,  

It is with sincere regret that I must inform you that….

“SHIT!” he said. No college acceptance letter has started with that wording. He didn’t bother reading the rest, crumpling it into a ball and throwing it at the wall. One of the finest Art Schools in the East, RISD was one of his top two schools! His disappointment was overwhelming and the speed with which it turned to rage was stunning. The dog sensed this and backed away; tucking its tail low, and attempting to fade into the wall.

Pounding down his foot with each step, as if punishing the ground upon which he walked, Ian stormed up the stairs and pulled down the ladder to his studio, nestled in the attic.

Lining the walls were dozens of his art pieces stacked one in front of the other. Paint stains covered the floor, and at the end, nearest the only window was his easel; old and worn, similarly splattered with paint, a blank canvas waiting for him. He had planned on starting a new landscape of the old town cemetery based on some sketches he had done last fall, but now found that he did not want to create. All he wanted to do was scream! RISD was supposed to understand art and artists! He grabbed the nearest object, a painting knife, and threw it. The point ripped through the canvas and hit the wall behind with a thud. “DAMN IT!” He snatched the canvas, now with a small hole in it, and broke the frame across his knee, then threw it at the stack of paintings along the wall, and turned his attention to the easel and the pallet and brushes it held.

Ready to give into the wrath that had bubbled to the surface he stepped forward when an unfamiliar sound stopped him.

Berkowitz, who had never before even attempted the ladder was now standing at the entrance of the attic, and was howling. Ian had never known Berkowitz to be a vocal dog in the traditional sense. He did not bark, growl, whine, whimper or howl as most dogs did, so this, in Ian’s studio of all places, was shocking.  

“What? It’s mine and I can trash it if I like! What the hell is the point in keeping it if nobody appreciates it, anyway!” The dog was trembling – obviously very upset, glancing between Ian and attics steps, wanting to be anywhere else.  

“Damn dog.” Said Ian. “if you couldn’t get down from here, you shouldn’t have come up!” Despite his tone, he gently lifted the dog and carried him down the attic ladder and then the stairs back to the kitchen, each step sapping his anger.

It didn’t last long.

As he placed the dog down on the floor of the kitchen, his sister Gael walked in from the other room. “What the hell was that crashing upstairs?” she asked.

“None of your damn business, princess.” he said.  

“Jesus! You’re a jackass, you know that?” she said, “and look at this place-why won’t you help clean up this dump? “ For emphasis, she picked up the wadded up letter off of the floor and shook it in his face “We don’t all live to pick up after the incredible Gideon Lewis!”

“Just throw that away” said Ian.

Now curious, Gael unballed the letter and read it.

She looked up at him and said “I’m sorry, Ian. I know what RISD meant to you.”

This was not right. He didn’t want her pity.  

“Sure, you’re sorry. But only because I’m not going anywhere.” He was practically snarling at her. Taking his anger out on her could save him a fortune in art supplies.

“Don’t.” She said.

He wanted to say the most hateful, awful thing he could think of. Something that would cut her soul, something that would make her shed the tears he would not, the most brutal wording of the cruelest comment. Once again, a strange noise emanated from Berkowitz.

The dog stood directly between them, and attempted to look at each of them with one of his eyes. This gave him a more wall-eyed look than normal, which, in conjunction with his barking was very disturbing.

Gael, startled, looked down at him and noticed something on the floor under his paw. She reached down and gently pet the dog as she slipped the paper from under him. Ian seeing the envelope grunted, supposing it was what his earlier letter had come in.

Standing up, Gael looked at it and then at Ian. “It’s from Purchase.” she said.

Purchase was THE art school located in New York, and was Ian’s first choice. Their deliberations process was notoriously long and he hadn’t expected to hear from them for at least another three weeks. The fact that he had received a reply to his application this early was not necessarily good. Probably looked at my portfolio and whipped out the ‘Reject’ stamp right away. he thought.

“Just throw it away.” He said, too tired to fight. “I can only take so much in one day.” He walked toward her and bent down to pet Berkowitz, but he shied away from the hand, and walked around Ian and over to his sister.

Ian noticed long ago that Berkowitz had another quirk. When he wanted you to do something he would stare at the object of his intent with great concentration to the point that you were compelled to look at it too.

Berkowitz was staring at the letter in Gaels hand with that intensity.

“Can I open it?” she asked.

After a pause Ian said “Knock yourself out”

She tore into the envelope and pulled out the letter. “Dear Mr. Lewis, Congr….. Ian, YOU’RE IN!” She handed him the letter, which he began reading to himself. A loud ringing filled his ears. “Congratulations” she said, a broad smile on her face, when he finally looked up.

Ian noticed the dog again, staring, at Gael as she left the room. When she was gone, the dog turned his head, glanced at Ian then pointed his laser focus at the sink. Ian looked there too.

“All Right!” he said. “I’ll do the damn dishes”

Starting the water Ian asked the dog “Is there anything else my conscience would like?”  

“Milk” the dog replied, in English.

Damn Dog.

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