The House Ate My Dog

by Melanie Hauser



If you must use the bathroom in my apartment, please abide by the following rules:

First of all, if you have a penis, you can only use one square of toilet paper.  If for some reason you feel this will not suffice, then you must go down the hall to the public restroom, which is not my responsibility.  I know this.  My doctor and I discussed it, and I really, truly believe him when he tells me I don't need to keep running down there to make sure it has enough toilet paper, or soap in the soap dispenser, or paper towels in the paper towel holder.

Second of all, if you do not have a penis, you may use two squares.  But your bottom-to-toilet seat ratio must be approximately two-to-one.  The toilet seat must be two times the width of your bottom; if for some reason your bottom touches too much of the seat, you must, again, go down the hall (and I have some very nice toilet seat covers that I've hidden from Dr. Bloom, just ask and I'll be more than happy to provide you with one).

Third of all, if you meet the above requirements and you have brought your own toilet bowl cleaner and brush (and so far, no one has), you may use my bathroom.  But you must flush twice; you must scrub the bowl with your own brush and cleaner -- you may not use mine, I only get one bottle a month.  You must also make sure there is enough toilet paper left on the holder for the next person and if there is not, you should let me know immediately.  Likewise, soap in the dispenser and clean hand towels.

I don't think this is unreasonable to ask.  My children do, though.  So does my husband.  When they come visit.  Which isn't very often, and it's still uncomfortable when they do, and I'm never quite sure who it's more uncomfortable for, them or me.  Probably them, because of the dog and all.

Dr. Bloom says that it's to be expected, that they're children, after all; and my husband, well, he was only doing what he thought best.  It wasn't his fault.  That's what Dr. Bloom says.

I say, well, I'm not quite sure about that.

After all, he bought the damn house in the first place.


*     *     *


It was a nice house.  It had a two-car garage, attached, heated, with wire shelves that looked like braces.  It had a kitchen with an island and a built-in china cabinet.  It had a laundry room.  It had three bathrooms.

It had stairs, closets, shelves, cabinets; counters, ledges, attics, drawers.  All things that needed to be cared for; all things that needed to be filled.

So we set about trying to fill them.

We bought a nice new set of furniture for the living room.  The couch was too big, so we bought throw-pillows to make it look cozy.  We bought lamps to put on the new end tables, lamp shades to put on the lamps.  We bought picture frames and flower pots and so then we had to buy pictures and flowers.

New china was needed for the china cabinet.  And then new silverware for the china, new glasses, new cups.   Also placemats and napkins.  And napkin rings.

Bigger bedrooms meant bigger beds.  And sheets, comforters, coordinating curtains and shams.  Tiebacks for the new curtains, a new drill to affix the tiebacks to the wall.  Which required new paint. 

Of course we needed a new washer and dryer to launder all these linens.  Then I thought for sure we were done.  It seemed enough; the house seemed satisfied.  It sat with its drawers and closets and cabinets crammed full, the new curtains drawn drowsily over its eyes. 

But then we bought the dog.  Every new house needs a dog, the children pleaded.  Well, it was a cute little thing, a gray and brown terrier about the size of a frozen turkey.   So I said all right.  I went to buy dog food for the dog, also a collar and a bed.  And a leash.

Of course we needed a new fence to keep the dog in the yard, some bushes to hide the fence.  Then a new set of branch trimmers for the bushes. 

Then I started having trouble sleeping at night.

I'd lie awake next to my husband, who snored peacefully, unaware of the needs of this house.  This hungry, hungry house.  This insatiable house.

This house creaked and groaned at night.  It was not "settling," as my husband insisted.  What does that mean, "settling?"  Frames shift, plaster, drywall; foundations sink into the ground, into their final resting place.  This is what "settling" means, according to my husband.

But I knew better.  The creaks and groans -- these were not the arthritic sounds of bones settling.  These were the angry, insistent lurches of an empty stomach growling in the middle of the night. 

Only no one else seemed to hear it but me.  And so I couldn't sleep.

My mind raced, and sometimes so did my body.  I darted from corner to corner, closet to closet, and all I could see was need.  Toilet paper was needed in the linen closet, new toilet paper holders were needed in the bathrooms, and matching scrubbing brushes were needed for the toilets.  And so were cleaners -- shower cleaners, toilet cleaners, mirror cleaners, floor cleaners.  Every surface, every item in the house seemed to demand its own cleaner -- not just one laundry detergent, but laundry detergent for white clothes, laundry detergent for brights; laundry detergent for wool clothes, laundry detergent for cottons.

More clothes were needed for the closets, and I made a mistake and bought too many, and so storage boxes were needed to hold the extras. 

The house was bulimic.  It would gorge itself, and then there would be an enormous regurgitation of trash -- stereo boxes and department store bags and discarded magazines.  So new and bigger trash cans were required to contain the waste.  And then new and bigger trash bags were required for the trash cans, and of course a bigger trash bin for outside.

Food was the worst.  I couldn't keep the pantry shelves full.  People in this house  my family, Dr. Bloom reminds me  ate the food too fast, leaving empty boxes, empty shelves. 

Except for me.  I couldn't bring myself to open a new box of anything.  I couldn't bear to disturb the satisfying spectacle of groaning shelves, full jars, unopened bottles.  My stomach growled at night, too.  Some nights it was like a symphony -- my husband's treble snore, my stomach's basso growl.  The ominous hunger pangs -- like plucked cellos -- of the house.

In an effort (misguided, I am told) to fill up the insatiable shelves of the refrigerator, I began to make daily trips to the grocery store, and there I made another mistake.

I bought too much food.

My husband simply laughed and bought a bigger refrigerator -- stainless steel.  Which meant I had to buy a new cleaner to clean the stainless steel, and then new sponges for the cleaner.  And even after the fourth trip to the grocery store, there were still some small white crevices inside the refrigerator that grinned at me like crooked teeth.  They leered at me.  They mocked me.

So I returned to the grocery store and bought more food, only once again I bought too much.

Naturally, my husband bought a new freezer.  A big white chest freezer.  He put it in the basement and said we could fit a whole side of beef in it.  So I bought a whole side of beef, and yes, it almost filled it up, but still there was one little corner that stood empty, that needed something, that demanded something to fill it up, to make it stop, stop whispering, stop moaning, stop creaking in the night so I could get some sleep, dammit, get some sleep, even the new sleeping mask I bought wasn't helping.  Or the ear plugs, or the anti-snore spray I bought and sprayed down my husband's throat every night, holding his nose and closing my eyes and spritzing it down his empty throat that needed something to fill it, something to fill it to fill it to make it stop moaning and creaking in the middle of the night, his dark gaping throat that grinned at me, like this empty corner of the freezer was grinning at me now, mocking me, daring me to fill it up, fill the corner up, a corner about the size of .

About the size...

Of...

A frozen turkey...

"Sorry Toto."   I grabbed the dog and wedged him in the corner and shut the freezer door and ran upstairs to my bedroom, where I stuck the new earplugs in my ears and fell asleep, every mocking leer finally silenced, every orifice finally stuffed.  Or so I dreamed.

Well...

The children never quite forgave me for it.  Even now, when I ask about their lives, when I make a mistake and inquire about their pets -- two hamsters and a cat -- their faces pinch up.  Their eyes fill with tears and they stare at me as if they've never seen me before. 

And so my husband bundles them up and says they'll come back next week, isn't it nice that we can have unsupervised visits now? 

I smile and nod and ask if they need to go to the bathroom before they leave.  They say no.

Then they leave.  I sit for a moment on my couch -- only two throw pillows.  That's all Dr. Bloom will allow me.  I sit shivering in the middle of this barren couch, absorbing the coldness of it all, the emptiness, the hunger.

Then I go to my refrigerator and open it, wincing at the empty space, the wasted, yawning space.  One gallon of milk.  One carton of eggs.  A package of lunch meat, mustard, a small jar of mayonnaise. 

And three cans of whipped cream lined up on the top shelf.   Only three.  That's all I get, they have to last until my next supervised trip to the grocery store, exactly six days from now.

I pick up a can, run my thumb along the cold hard plastic edge of the top.  I pop it off, hold the top in my left hand while with my right I shoot cold whipped cream straight down my throat, it's cold and then it's hot, it expands and fills my throat and just when I think I can't hold anymore, just when I'm about to gag, the whipped cream melts and starts to trickle down into my belly.  I swallow and swallow, the sweet cream fills me up, stops my creaking, my moaning, stops my gaping.

For now.
TAR
The Adirondack Review
MELANIE HAUSER's story "Prodigy on Ice" won the WBEZ (Chicago's Public Radio Station) Stories on Stage first-ever short story contest.  The story was performed before a live audience, and was broadcast during the fall 2002 season.  In addition, her story, "Queen of the B-Cup," was published in a recent issue of In Posse Review. She is currently working on a short story collection (which includes the above-mentioned stories), and has written a novel called Waiting for Godiva