Your neighbor’s the one that starts the whole thing. He’s got a friend at the newspaper, he says, always on the lookout for human interest stories and your dog, he says, would fit the bill.
But the dog’s not human, you protest.
Close enough, your neighbor says. Close enough.
Before you know it, there’s a photographer and a reporter at the door, asking you how your dog got so fat and can we take pictures?
It’s glandular, you say.
Your wife had tried putting the dog on diets and exercising it, but nothing helped, and she died in bed with the dog lying at her feet.
Fatty, fatty, two-by-four, she used to sing to the dog, couldn’t fit through the kitchen door.
The dog would always wag its stubby tail when she sang.
Her death was unexpected, like the reporter at your door.
A brain aneurysm, said the doctor. Sometimes they just… happen.
And you’ve tried, since she’s been gone, getting the dog the same brand of diet food and dragging it round the neighborhood on its leash, but it just gets fatter and fatter.
When the article is published, you show the dog its photograph in the paper and proudly call it fatty, fatty, but its stubby tail doesn’t move. The dog has always liked your wife best and, until it got too fat for the climb, had gone up the special steps your wife had ordered from a catalogue (look, the selling point is For Fat Dogs Especially, and she laughed, and the dog’s stubby tailed wagged), and slept at the foot of the bed. Now, the dog looks at the stairs and looks at you and looks at the stairs again, balefully.
You’re too fat; I can’t lift you, you tell the dog. Besides, she’s gone.
Your neighbor worried about you, all alone after your wife’s death.
I’ll be all right, you assured him. I’ve got the dog.
And now, thanks to your neighbor (bit of a nosy one, isn’t he, your wife always thought), you have the visitors. They’ve come to see your dog, sitting on the front step, stubby tail unmoving.
Aren’t you just so fat? grey-haired old ladies coo admiringly, and teenagers snap photos with their cell phones.
It’s glandular, you say, and someone recommends calling Guinness Book.
He doesn’t like the attention, you tell the visitors, but your dog doesn’t really seem to mind, even when you catch a young couple trying to wrap measuring tape round his belly.
We just wanted to know, they say when you send them off after confiscating their measuring tape, how fat is he really?
Your dog spends the day on the front step, only leaving it to do his business, as your wife used to say, and then waddling in at night, when you open the front door for it. Its belly scrapes against the threshold, and you briefly consider the measuring tape, which you’ve left on the counter, but decide against it.
Your dog putters down the hallway and stands in front of the pet steps for-fat-dogs-especially, and turns its round head to gaze at you.
I was always her favorite, you know, you tell your dog. It isn’t very nice to taunt a dog, especially not a fat one, and it probably can’t even understand anyway. You think of apologizing, but then the doorbell rings.
Someone has called Guinness Book, it turns out, and standing at the door is a representative, wondering if he could see your dog.
Come back tomorrow, you say, and: It’s glandular.
When you’ve finally shooed the Guinness Book representative away, you see the dog has left the bedroom and retreated to its second-best spot, beside your chair at the kitchen table, where your wife would admonish you: Stop feeding him off your plate! He’s fat enough as it is.
You’re not so fat, you say to the dog, still feeling guilty about your earlier mockery, are you? Are you?
Your dog’s stubby little tail jerks up and down several times, just like it did when your wife was still alive, and you’re so moved by the gesture that you put your half-eaten dinner under the dog’s chin before retiring for the night.
In the morning, you’re woken by your neighbor, who has come to apologize for contacting Guinness Book (I get overexcited about these things; you know I do), and you regret giving him a spare key as you wrap yourself in your robe to direct him out.
On your way back through the kitchen, you and your neighbor see your dog, still in the same place you left it last night, plate under its chin, instant mashed potatoes stuck to its nose.
Well, says your neighbor, prodding your dog’s body with the toe of his boot. He died doing what he loved.
Cathy S. Ulrich has a dog whose current favorite hobby is hiding under the bed and waiting for spring. Also, rolling in horrible, horrible things.