John Butler

John Butler


The whining woke me up at about 3 a.m., and I lay in bed wondering where I was. Through the fug of night and sleep I began to discern the bare walls of my room – 1469 Hayes Street, San Francisco, California, USA. Tuesday night, bed. And what was the feral whimper? Undoubtedly it was was linked to the scraping-at-wood sound beneath it.We were only a mile from Golden Gate Park, and among the vibrant ecosystem of unitarded joggers, Frisbee chasers and acid casualties lived woodland animals like the skunk and the raccoon; sometimes they found their way into the Victorian backyards of the Western Addition to ransack the trash. Whatever this creature was, it was now in the flat. I got out of bed, padded to the door and opened it; before I could step out of the room a dark form scuttled down the corridor and leapt towards me, plunging two claws into my naked frame, its slavering mouth inches from my face.

I had completely forgotten about the presence in our apartment of a beautiful Dalmatian by the name of Blue. Blue belonged to my room-mate Danny and had moved here from Missouri to join his master a few days before. Upon his arrival, Danny vowed that the dog would never leave his side, would sleep with him in his room and would cause his room-mates no problem whatsoever, yet here he was slashing at my torso and licking my neck in the wee hours. I took the beast by the collar and escorted him back to Danny’s room, where I saw the problem. The door had been shut and fresh paint scraped off the panel beneath the handle.

I knocked, and although I could hear the music of Liz Phair issuing from within, there was no answer. Clearly, Danny had fallen asleep drunkenly and forgotten all about his dog. I tried the handle and the door opened a crack. I looked in and there, for the first time in my life, I saw two people having sex. The bed was positioned on the far side of the room, within the bay of the front window. The naked bodies were illuminated by street lights filtering through the cheap blinds. Danny was administering oral pleasure to a girl whose eyes were averted. For a moment I watched, detached. The scene was as alien and as intimidating to me as it would have been to a devout trainee nun.

Blue yelped above the music and tried to push his way in, but I managed to keep him out and shut the door. The dog followed me back to my room and I tried to reason with the facts as they stood. At this point – I was in my early twenties – all of sex was a mystery to me. I had heard about dogs registering embarrasment if a human reacted adversely to their erections, about how it depressed them, caused them to withdraw and become dysfunctional. The mother of a friend of mine used to lock their Border Collie in the broom cupboard whenever he unsheathed his pink-tipped excitement. Being a smart dog, the collie made the association between natural sexual impulse and unnatural shame, and went barking mad. That was the incorrect human response to dog sex, but what about how dogs behaved in the presence of humans going at it? Do you put your canine bedfellow out of the room while you make love? Maybe you do. Should you even have a canine bedfellow? Probably not. How do dogs feel about seeing their masters naked? Do dogs know what clothes are? Does nudity register, and human sexual arousal? After seeing how he had reacted at the bedroom door, I couldn’t imagine Blue passively dreaming about rabbits in the corner while all the action was going on across the room. Blue was a feisty chap. He would have wanted to get involved, in some way.

Back in my room, Blue crawled onto the foot of my bed. I put out the light and joined him, my toes resting on his warm, heaving pelt. Resistance to this new partner was futile. We were two peas in a pod, sexless mutts in a strange new city.


I came to endure the most torrid relationship of my twenties with Blue the Dalmatian dog through a set of circumstances that were entirely of my own making, though not all my fault. Donnacha and Garvan were my best friends from Ireland, we had emigrated together, and after a month of looking for our own three-bed apartment we found a four-bed place in the Western Addition on the first floor of a refurbished house. It pains me to recall that we never once considered sharing it among the three of us.What sort of chance did any fourth wheel stand, living among three Irish men who had attended the same primary and secondary schools and the same university? No chance at all is the answer, but money was far too tight for us each to find another hundred dollars a month. We had not yet learned the price of a false economy.

The Saturday prior to our discovery of the four-bed place, I had worked with a guy called Danny Renfro, moving files from one office to another in a grim office block on Howard Street. Danny had straw-coloured hair cut in a pudding-bowl style above a freckled face, and he wore a patterned woollen jumper – we know them as Christmas jumpers. Beneath the festive top-half, he wore Vans and khaki cut-off shorts, and his speech was midwestern – every sentence began with ‘And so …’, ‘anyway’ became ‘innyway’, ‘tennis’ ‘tinnis’, and so on. Danny smoked cigarettes but not weed, and exuded a sort of wholesomeness. He had a habit of bashfully pulling his jumper sleeves over his hands as he spoke, he loved music and harboured vague ambitions of being a sound engineer that never extended beyond him tweaking the bass and treble buttons on his ghetto-blaster in order to maximize the experience of listening to the The Bends, and all of this combined with a tendency to walk with his feet pointed slightly inwards convinced me of his innocence and general decency. Danny had moved here the previous month from Jefferson City, Missouri, to be with his girlfriend Jolene, and immediately upon his arrival he and Jolene had broken up. He very badly needed a place of his own, and when I introduced him to Donnacha and Garvan, everybody seemed to get along okay.

The stoop at 1469 Hayes Street led up to two lime-green wooden doors with thin windowpanes side by side. The one on the right was ours, and the one on the left led upstairs to the neighbours. A narrow corridor ran the length of our apartment beneath the stairwell on the left-hand side, in the manner of most Victorian conversions. It had been refurbished recently and fitted with a mint-green carpet whose texture – and taste – I would come to know intimately. Immediately on the right upon entering was the largest room in the flat, bedroom number one. Further down on the right were bedroom two, bathroom one, bedroom three and bathroom two. The only deviation from the right-centric layout was bedroom number four on the left, a tiny, dark box-room beneath the stairwell. The hall then opened out onto a large tiled kitchen, beyond which was a dubious-looking storage loft suspended on stilts, and to the right of which lay our living room. On the day when Danny arrived on the doorstep with his wordly belongings (two bags, the ghetto-blaster and a tinnis racquet), we decided to draw straws for bedrooms, with each room’s rent cued to its relative magnificence. Danny drew the largest room, at the front of the house. Garvan got the next best room, I got the third best and Donnacha drew the short straw, the box room under the stairwell. The place might well have been a crack house in a previous life (the neighbours were quick to inform us so), but its tawdry history had been scrubbed, tiled and painted away. It was now a blank canvas, and new tenants were free to make it theirs – to bring in their best one-off furniture pieces and collectable art prints, arrange throws and cushions, store art deco kitchenware, position the comfortable mid-century sofa and add an occasional rococo flourish – an intricately gilded mirror perhaps, or a decadent chaise longue.

Our money went elsewhere. Beds were salvaged from the street and posters of girls opening malt liquor bottles without the use of their hands were tacked crudely to the walls. Clock radios sat marooned on green carpets in the middle of each empty bedroom because we were too broke to put any thing else in there. Pairs of rank trainers were lined up against one wall between a shoebox full of cassettes and a cactus that needed dusting. The fridge remained empty save for a blossoming potato and a bottle of generic vodka, and cupboards were bare beyond tuna cans and a pillow of mouldy Wonder bread. How vile a creature man can be without the civilizing influence of women, or of men who are civilized, and how low he will stoop as an unspoken taunt towards his fellow man. When the 1469 Hayes Street microsociety finally broke down, filth became our way of expressing how much we hated each other and ourselves. But before that, there was a honeymoon period. The four of us would drink whiskey and wine, three of us would smoke weed and we would play ‘asshole’, a card name whose rules I’ve forgotten. The rest of the Irish posse would come over for epic drinking sessions and Danny would gamely attempt to keep up, sharing the use of his ghettoblaster and his bulging folder of CDs.

Everything was working until the mice came. I have heard it said that mice tend to issue forth from beneath the boards of newly refurbished property, regardless of hygiene. In any case, after a couple of weeks our apartment was overrun. These mice were used to sharing a house with crackheads, who tend to be apathetic about hygiene and generally distracted. They couldn’t have expected the Sturm und Drang they got when Donnacha stumbled back from the pub one night to find one in the hallway. I can recall watching my bookish, mild-mannered friend venting on a rodent with a broom handle, and continuing to smash the pancaked corpse for quite a few seconds after it had clearly expired. This assault conveyed exactly how Donnacha felt about the box-room, unemployment and the American interloper in the best bedroom.

Finally, a house meeting was called after which we made a desultory attempt to clean up our rubbish and dumped further bags on top of the first generation rubbish pile. I can’t remember why the first bags were still in the lean-to behind our kitchen and not on the road outside but I suspect it’s because all of us knew that whoever among us acquired a reputation for being unable to stand the filth would then become the cleaner. It was a game of chicken in which the first to hold his nose lost. Some of the rubbish bags split and others were eaten open, and the smell of rotting, foetid scraps began to pervade the back of the house. The occasional mouse was replaced by the occasional rat.

We took to blaming the upstairs neighbours and called the management company to complain about them. They were an easy target – an obese, delinquent family unit, among whom the patriarchal figure resembled a walrus. He would lumber down the stairs wearing a wife-beater above a Speedo at two in the afternoon. He would try to cadge cigarettes from Danny and me or to ‘borrow’ beer until his unemployment cheque arrived. The son and daughter of the family were pasty and unhappy, and ate fried chicken from Popeye’s on our stoop, leaving a small midden of bones behind them. I cursed them for the mice, and for the unwanted perspective.

Then Blue arrived – a full-sized Dalmatian, much bigger than the tiny bundle of joy depicted in Danny’s wallet photo. Danny promised to feed Blue, clean up after him and build adequate housing for him in the back yard. He argued that a dog would even help with the mice, though I struggled to recall any precendent.

Blue was beautiful, stupid like some pure breeds can be and blessed, like all Dalmatians are, with boundless energy. Dogs like him need to run twenty miles a day every single day of the week (including public holidays) in order to be feasible housemates in a mansion. Otherwise, they bounce off the walls, crash into doors, smash glasses and eat from dinner plates that are balanced on couch arms. Within a day of his arrival, Blue did all of these things in our shrinking flat and although Danny walked him often he barely kept a lid on the dog’s unassailable energy levels.

Donnacha soon found a reprieve from this filthy nut-hutch. He began to date a girl from Hackensack, New Jersey, with a taste for Riot Grrrl music, called Robin. Batman began to spend most of his time over at Robin’s, and who could blame him? Garvan was largely absent from 1469 too. His girlfriend was never less than kind and decent but there was a reserve to her that could be interpreted as something other than shyness. From day one, she was attempting to drag her man out of this collegiate environment for his own good. He would argue that upkeep of the flat was not his responsiblity since he was never around, and it was true that he only appeared once a fortnight to do his laundry, then disappear back to civilization in Cole Valley.

Donnacha and Garvan had found full-time, gainful employment too, and as the weeks passed the only person who remained as inert as me was Danny. Tiring of the job hunt, he and I would drive to the pool hall on Battery Street in his black Saab 900 on a Monday afternoon, drink beer in the daytime and tell ourselves we were happy. On another drunken night – possibly a Tuesday – Danny and I tried to drive to Reno and had barely crossed the bay before the booze wore off and we had to turn back. Where would we have stayed in Reno? What would we have done when we got there? What would we do when we got back? Our friendship was borne of mutual desperation; we had nothing in common apart from an abundance of time and a shortage of people with whom to share it. Had I known anything about who I was, I would have gone somewhere to find a friend who was like me, but I was sitting in a dark place and it was only getting darker. I didn’t hate Danny, but I didn’t think I could find anything else from which to choose.

And then there was one. Danny got himself a job – a real five-days-a-week, nine-to-five, in-an-office-downtown job, and though I was happy for him (he was as broke as I was) I can still recall his bemusement when I mentioned that dog management might become a problem. ‘But you don’t mind hanging with Blue during the day, do you?’ came his response. I guess I didn’t mind for a little while because I wasn’t doing much else during the daytime, apart from looking for work. For that first week, Blue and I spent every hour of every day together. On one occasion I was absently stroking the dog while on the phone to a friend in Ireland; when I realized that the skin between my fingers felt particularly soft I turned and saw, with horror, that I was caressing the dog’s testicles. What’s more, Blue had manoeuvred himself into the most advantageous position to receive my friendship.

During that week, Danny would come home from work and relieve me of my responsibilities, taking the dog for a long walk. But the following week, he met a new girlfriend and started spending a lot of time at her place, coming back intermittently to move his car for street cleaning. Blue went un-walked, sometimes he went un-fed, and more than once I caught him drinking out of the toilet bowl and dragged him away, cuffing him on the nose for this horrible practice only to realize that his own bowl had again been left dry by an absentee master. If you put Blue out in the lean-to behind the kitchen he attacked the bin bags that had gathered there. The yard below was small, and we shared it with the family above and the other tenants below. Mice, fruit flies, cockroaches and rats shared the flat with us. Blue’s ribs began to poke through a flea-ridden coat, and his personal habits became ever stranger as the weeks went by. Without love all animals go crazy.


Birds do it, bees do it, even educated fleas do it. Everywhere where you looked in San Francisco, people were exploring their sexual orientation, their subconscious and their bodies, but I avoided self-examination because the possible answers dismayed me too much. In the warehouse nightclubs south of Market Street not that many people were falling in love – no courting couples, no slow set, only a breakdown to give you a breather, and no ‘Can I buy you a drink?’ because everyone was on the water. To invert the Grace Jones lyric, drugs were the love on each of the five floors at Spundae, and in the teeming sweatbox of the EndUp. There was plenty of fraternal affection, plenty of passing around jugs of juice spiked with MDMA and many spontaneous massages, but no love; no scary, separated-from-the-herd, ‘you and me’ love. It was heaven.

One night, a friend and I began talking to a transvestite in 1015 Folsom at the exact moment we each began to peak on Ecstasy. With his blonde, corkscrew perm wig and red lipstick, this man bore a strong resemblance to the lead singer of Twisted Sister. I can’t remember how we came to be sitting beside him, in the rooftop garden where they played the down-tempo tunes and the kids came to grind their jaws into dust and smoke endless cigarettes al fresco. He gave each of us a cigarette and a light and then we got to talking. The man began to explain that he was not a transvestite but a lesbian post-op transsexual.

Clare gripped my leg under the table with her hand, clearly signalling her incredulity. We both laughed, but he wasn’t joking, and when I caught him narrowing his blue-tinted eyelids at me, my fried brain tried to re-compose itself and understand the reasoning behind a man who favoured sex with women undergoing male-to-female surgery the better to enjoy sex as a woman with another woman. I can remember reprimanding myself. By laughing, I had become one of those frat-boy drunks who sit down beside a bum on the sidewalk and share a cigarette with him, shouting across to their friends that this guy is the man, that he has the smarts and that they are now friends for life.

Why was I behaving just like them when for all I knew I had more in common with this guy in front of me, this human being whose cigarettes I was smoking? In all of his confusion, through all his surgery and at every stage of his elaborate costuming and make-up, he was far more self-aware than me. Clare tapped me on the shoulder and I realized my eyes had been closed for all of this time – I was so incredibly high, and struggling with the weight of everything. I raised the cigarette to my lips and drew on it, then Clare and the transsexual laughed. I looked between my fingers – nothing there. Then the transsexual was holding his driver’s licence in front of me, and though I don’t recall asking for it, he insisted on showing us the picture of him as a regular Joe with a neat moustache. The picture bore no relation to the person before me.

He explained how he lived in a hotel in the Tenderloin, and nursed his sick mother in the very same room. I loved my mother to the ends of the earth, too. What made me different? Should I be him? I asked him how he made a living and he told me that in addition to his mother’s monthly disability check he himself was a masseur. Back then I didn’t grasp the core concept of the rub ’n’ tug parlour and the happy ending and I visualized this person collecting his degree in sports physiotherapy and throwing his mortar board into the air with the rest of the class of 1988 at Chico State. He began to say that he hated straight men. He pitied them, he told me. He pitied them because they thought they could have him but they couldn’t have him, even though he was a woman. He told me how men would drive up beside him on Polk Street and roll their windows down, and how they would offer him money for a blowjob. He spat the words out as my attention was dragged once more into focus. ‘They’re so fucking weak.’ I saw that Clare was drinking water. I should probably drink some more water.

He started to repeat a mantra – ‘Do you know what I do to straight men? Do you know what I do to them?’ His tone lowered conspiratorially but Clare was still gripping my leg under the table and I took this as an indication from her that we should listen, that this was one of those life experiences for which we all travel, and that I could do with hearing it. The nerves fed the rush of the drug and I got higher and higher the more scared I became. ‘Do you know what I do to straight men? Do you know what I do to them?’ He was a big guy, and Clare gripped my leg tighter, and from his bag I noticed a can of pepper spray moving up towards me in his right hand. He invited me to move in and I felt the man’s thick left hand gripping me on my other knee – vise-like – as he moved across the table towards me with the can of pepper spray raised.
‘You think you can fuck me but you can’t. I hate you straight men. I’ll show you what I do.’ An incredible rush of something overtook me and now I didn’t know what was going on. I was bundled away, but my eyes were burning hot and I couldn’t see. Clare walked me away and down the stairs past a throng of dancers. Of course she had been gripping my leg to say, ‘Let’s get out of here.’ After washing my face in the ladies’ bathroom I was higher – and lower – than ever.


My sex life was governed by an immutable rule: when a girl said no, I said great. I’m ashamed to think this might have given me the reputation of being a sensitive fellow; I wasn’t sensitive, just a coward. A girl called Karen, whom I met shortly after moving to San Francisco, thought my meekness was cute; she didn’t know that I was a rapidly petrifying virgin. We had eaten lunch a few times, and a few of her friends and a few of my friends were planning to go to the Folsom Street Fair, a notorious bacchanal celebrating alternative lifestyles. The day began in the Mission district, at La Rondalla, where they mixed strawberry daiquiris with a liquid that they stored in large clear plastic barrels under the counter and that may as well have been ethanol. A dealer arrived with some acid because a guy called Colm had arranged it so, and each tiny paper square bore the telltale imprint of a strawberry on the front. I had endured some terrible experiences on the drug before, but Karen insisted that we split one between us. By midday we were out of our minds.

Down the years, the Folsom Street Fair had supplanted both Halloween in the Castro and the Gay Pride march as the place for the flag-waving elements of LGBT lifestyle to let it all hang out. There were men in jeans with the ass cut out of them over which they wore black leather chaps and steel mesh jockstraps. These men were dragging their boyfriends behind them, crawling along on all fours and attached to their master by a leash fastened to a silver studded dog collar. Even on a hit of highly potent LSD, I felt comfortable here. At every intersection, another sight lent weight to my mind’s faint hope that I was in fact heterosexual. The sights bore no relation to the verboten fantasy that un-spooled in my own mind when I was alone, and if I didn’t want to wear a dog collar and be led around on my hands and knees, maybe I wasn’t gay after all.

In one of the bars along the route, I queued to order a round of drinks while in the back yard I could clearly see a man with a thick moustache on his knees giving a blowjob to two men at one time, and distributing hand relief to two others. Given the amount of labour that he was managing to get through, I was entitled to be impatient with the made-up little bartender in his belly top who poured one pint at a time and squealed showily when the Anchor Steam spurted across his hands. Back out on the streets, local gay punk group Pansy Division played a set, and every song was dreadful, yet music to my ears.

At the end of the night, I went home with Karen because she asked me, and we made out in the taxi, even though another person was with us – the aforementioned Colm. Colm was a ladies man with a passing resemblance to Robert Plant, and he was undoubtedly sniffing around her, but it was me who got the girl. Another Pyrrhic victory in the war of playing hard to get. Back at the house Colm crashed on the couch and Karen and I went into her room, which was decorated with dream-catchers and a silk tie-dye sheet tacked over the window. ‘Free Mumia Jamal’ proclaimed a poster, and I wondered whether he might be the Bobby Sands of Berkeley. Karen lit some Nag Champa – the incense with the sweet, woody smell – and took me by the hand. We went over to her bed and sat on the edge of it, and as with every encounter I was led because I wouldn’t let my own instinct guide me. After we kissed and took our tops off Karen rolled me onto my stomach – highly unconventional. I closed my eyes and she padded off. Would there be whips? Dog collars? Then I heard the strains of ‘Déjà vu’ by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, and Karen returned to straddle me, her ass sitting on my ass. Very slowly and surely, she began to give me a deep-tissue massage.

After a long day of drinking, the normal unconscious response to all of this gentle foreplay might reasonably be to fall asleep, but despite her attempts to untangle me I was coiled tight as a spring. I wonder could she tell from the knots? I lay perfectly still, and after what I calculated to be the correct amount of time I rolled over and began to kiss her. We began fumbling, doing things with our hands in a way that, to anyone standing at the door with a Dalmatian dog, would seem to be a natural precursor to sex. Karen was so beautiful and so funny, but I did not permitmyself to hope that any kind of landmark would be reached, and as game time approached it became clear that my pessimism was justified. We separated and only then, once the problem had been exposed to me once again, and now that I had no prospect of doing it for real, could I roll over and begin to fake a good night’s sleep. I felt nauseated. There were so many possibilities. I am drunk, I am high, I am tired, I am sick, I am scared, I am frigid, I am insane …
The following morning I got out of bed at the very moment that Karen woke up. It is true to say that I was due to go to work, but had I wanted, I could have stayed in bed for another twenty minutes, of course I could. Every fake knows the exact moment in their daily life that is most fraught with danger. Many of the best excuses that could reasonably have held the night before no longer hold in the harsh light of morning. If I was sick, was I not now better? If I was drunk, was I not now sober? If I was tired, had I not slept well? But I had learned to avoid this.

A month before, after just such a session of failed morning-after sex, I sat on the front stoop of my female friend’s house, then she joined me and we shared a cigarette in silence, and it was a silence so pregnant with unasked questions that finally I blurted out something about how medical science had proven that brewer’s droop can last for up to twenty-four hours. Even now as I type the phrase ‘medical science’, I’m overcome with fresh hot shame. It actually causes me some physical pain to recall the awkwardness of that cigarette, shared as it was with one of my best friends. But if you can’t, you can’t and that’s that. And I just couldn’t. The most agonizing thought that I had to contend with throughout all of the failures was that any woman might think that it was her and not me.

Thankfully, like most of the women with whom this happened, Karen was lovely and entirely comfortable with herself. The next time we were together, Colm was in the cab with us again, and we were crossing Haight Street heading up Fillmore at around midnight, drunk and en route to a house party of a friend-of-a-friend. Before the days of email, word of these parties would pass like wildfire across the city and gangs of people would show up and crash them, drink the beer from the keg with the pump-handle in the bath, smoke the weed in the living room, play the guitars and leave the next day unsure of who had hosted the event. It was raining as the driver spun us through the intersection at the top of the hill beside the Haight Street projects and promptly sideswiped the tan Cadillac of a gangster. The taxi spun to one side and came to rest at the opposite curb. I smashed my head off the Perspex sheet that separated the driver from us, but other than a bruise to my forehead we were all unharmed. The driver of the Cadillac was a real player, with a red felt Kangol hat and matching trainers. The side panel of his ride was dented, but not badly. Still, he shouted about litigation and jabbed his unlit Phillie Blunt at the face of the Vietnamese driver, who looked fearful for his job, if not his life. Then Karen got out of the cab and immediately the situation was defused, as this willowy white girl effortlessly grabbed the attention of the gangsta, who became positively courtly. She suggested that everybody swap details and he gladly complied. (He went on to call Karen perhaps fifty times in the following weeks.)

Finally, it was agreed that all of us should go to the taxi depot to sign forms, and because we were a little drunk we said yes, this was probably the move, even though there was a party to go to amere ten blocks away. So we convoyed through the city to Hunter’s Point and pulled into a parking lot on 3rd Street, right by Candlestick Park. Details were swapped and the man in the Cadillac left having offered Karen (but neither me nor Colm) a lift back to the city.

Incredibly (considering we were at a cab depot) we had to wait thirty minutes for our ride back to the city and while we did, Karen and Colm began to make out on the bench in the office, while I sat beside themnursingmy bruised forehead. I stepped out to find perspective, in a yard of mangled steel and rubber.

We never did make it to that party. Colm and Karen decided that they were tired so I dropped them off at hers. I finally reached home at 3 a.m., turned the key in the door and walked down the hall into the kitchen. No one else was home and 1469 Hayes had been turned over again by Blue. He had figured out how to scrape open the cupboards with his paws and everything was strewn across the kitchen floor. Milk gathered in a pool, blended with fur, crisps and mouse droppings; bottles were smashed and leaking stale malt liquor. Blue was now standing on the kitchen table devouring a pound of butter from the butter dish on the table. He looked up at me and wagged his tail, seventy-five per cent happy to see someone, the rest of him aware that he might be doing something bad.

Blue was engaging in the age-old activity of the jilted, heartbroken singleton – comfort eating. The poor creature was wolfing it down. Hating him, hating Danny, but hating myself most of all, I dragged that hound off the table and smashed him on the nose three or four times, or maybe even five. Then I yanked him by his collar to the back door, opened the door and kicked him out violently with my foot. He hit the far wall, turned around and bared his teeth at me for the first time, emitting a low growl, his hackles rising to a spike between his shoulders. When it happens, you see a different animal from the domestic pet, and you realize that nothing is harder to deny than the brutal truth of nature. I stood in our living room and through the blinds I watched the poor, skeletal creature whining and biting at the fleas that tortured him.

Why didn’t I call an authority? I still don’t have an answer to that. Of all people it was I who should have come down on Blue’s side. He suffered from the expectation that everyone has of a healthy pet and he tried to be good, yet at the same time his own essence was telling him to dump his useless housemates, bolt into the street, run through the park and down into the woods to commune primally with the other animals. If he had the wit to see that Danny wasn’t the answer to his problem, would he have done something about it? You bet your life he would. Looking down at Blue shivering and pacing the moonlit yard, I saw myself – another lonely animal, only worse. Blue didn’t put himself in a trap of his own making. Only the dumbest beast finds a way to do that – to plot a route around some of the obvious truths of nature and straight into the jaws of unhappiness. I was thicker than an inbred dog.

Read more in The Dublin Review issue No. 37 Winter 2009–10.

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