Marta bites her nails to the quick, discards the slivers of white beneath the couch. It’s a dirty habit, a holdover from childhood: these pieces of her, piled high on the hard wood below. On hands and knees, you’d find a whole landfill down there. Cuticles commingling with dust bunnies commingling with stray hairs commingling with feathers plucked from the down-filled cushions. Sometimes the dog goes nosing through the rubble. Marta makes him throw it all up, or else he does it naturally, unable to digest. “You really ought to get that animal checked,” her sister tells her in that older sister way, and Marta is too embarrassed to say, “No, it’s me, it’s always been me, it’s my own fault he’s sick all the time. I’m a disaster—can’t you see?”
Marta adopted the dog because she couldn’t cope, could barely leave her bed some days. The animal was meant to better her mood. Instead, every day is another chance to let him down. She feeds him, yes, and walks him, yes—she’s responsible for that much. But he wants more than she can give. And now he spends his days pacing the apartment, all six hundred square feet, first to the living room, then to the kitchen, then to the bathroom, investigating whether Marta’s left the toilet lid up again. Then it’s back to the living room, where he consumes the piles beneath the couch, one by one, a monster picking off an entire city. “No,” Marta says. “Bad dog,” Marta says. But the animal won’t listen. He eats and eats, and she wonders what he tastes in that halitotic mouth of his, whether he takes pleasure in consuming the rejected parts of her.
She calls the dog Jez, after an ex, short for Jeremy. She thinks if she associates the name with something she loves, something she cares for, she can rid the brine of it from her brain. Her sister thinks this is bogus, tells her in that older sister way, but Marta insists, “This is how I move on,” and her sister cannot disagree.
When Jez has eaten the latest pile, Marta calls him over. She whistles the way her father taught her, two fingers in the mouth, and the dog comes trotting, nuzzles her hand. “Open up,” Marta says, and it’s a miracle when the dog does—he’s so well-trained!—and Marta does what the vet showed her, until there is vomit all over the floor. Jez dips his snout into the waste—he’s so dumb!—and Marta hooks her fingers beneath his collar and tugs, all while muttering “no no no” and guiding him to the bathroom and shutting the door. She cleans the floor vigorously, fistfuls of paper towels and wet wipes to rid the room of the sour smell. Finally finished, she lets Jez out, and he looks at her like he is seeing her for the first time. Eyes wide, tail wagging. And when he follows her into the living room and licks her feet and hops up on the couch and puts his head on her lap, Marta thinks, Okay, okay, maybe someday I can be like everyone else, maybe someday I will go outside and feel the sun and think the world is fine as wine.
Marta pets Jez. She rolls her shoulders, forward, then back, the crack of bones seismic in her ears. She listens to the tick of the clock and the hum of the refrigerator and the light rail just outside her window, the tram passing by, heading somewhere, anywhere, who knows.