The months flew by. Leah couldn’t remember what her life was like before the puppy came. A layer of yellow dog hair coated their floors, their furniture, even their clothes. Muddy pawprints tattooed the floors.
“I’d like to hire a housekeeper,” she told Neil one day. “Just for a few hours a week.” He didn’t say no, but he didn’t have to.
“A hundred dollars is a lot of dough.” Then he exhaled louder than the radiator. Neil made the money. It always tilted the scales. That afternoon she walloped the floors with a wet mop and beat the rugs until her arms ached. She swept the dust under the bed. Then she strolled around the house with Neil’s dirty ashtrays looking for just the right spot. His old baseball trophies sat on a shelf in the den. Slowly she poured the cigarette butts inside them.
When she was through, she collapsed on her bed with Ace sprawled beside her. The two of them no longer had any secrets. When Leah and Neil had sex, the puppy always picked up the scent, sniffing the linens, putting her snout in the crotch of Leah’s pants. The day Leah came down with the stomach flu, the dog started throwing up too.
“She must have eaten something bad,” Leah said to Neil. She was on her knees, grabbing the sides of the toilet bowl with both hands. Afraid to bother him at work, Leah had suffered for hours until Neil got home. Ace lay down on the cool white tile beside her. Both of them were exhausted.
“I need to get some Gatorade down her. Could you help?” Then a spasm seized Leah’s body. She turned to retch once more.
Neil took off his suit jacket and slipped it over a hanger. Then he put his dress shoes on a shelf and eased the stretchers into them.
“Your project vomited all over the new couch.” Neil disappeared into the living room. “You know where the upholstery cleaner is?” he shouted from across the hall. “Where do you put the yellow gloves?”
Leah curled like a fetus on the floor. She wrapped her arms around the dog. Waited.
Whatever holes were in their marriage, Ace filled in the gaps. When Christmas rolled around, they bought an eight-foot evergreen. On Valentine’s Day Leah surprised Neil with a red themed meal. Homemade salsa, gazpacho, tomato sauce. All from her garden. And when her birthday neared, Leah decided to treat herself to a big purchase. “It’ll pay for itself,” she reasoned.
She bought a lawnmower online from Sears and was tickled when the FedEx truck dropped the huge box on their doorstep. She loved the strain on her arms, the push and pull of the machine. The neighbors waved to her. She assumed they were being friendly.
When Neil called from work the following week, at first she thought someone had died.
“What is it? Are you okay?” Her heart raced as the words spurt out. He never phoned from the office.
“Carl Brookings told me he saw you cutting the grass,” said Neil.
Leah didn’t know how to respond. She waited for the punch line. Perhaps it was a joke.
“Do I have to spell it out?” he said. “He saw you with the mower.”
Leah let out a laugh. It sounded like she was caught screwing a machine.
“You think this is funny? Do you think Carl Brookings’ wife does her own yard work?”
She wasn’t sure who he wanted her to be and she had her doubts if he even knew. He just kept moving forward and pulling her along. Perhaps, thought Leah, I’m heading in the wrong direction. She hiked with the dog for miles that day. The cues, the signals came easy now.
“Ace, heel.” She stepped off with her left foot while holding the lead with her right hand. When she walked fast, Ace walked quickly. When she slowed down, the puppy paused. They understood each other in seconds. Ace would soon be ready to move on.
She was cooking a roast when Neil startled her. The dog was happily munching on the meat bone by Leah’s feet. Neil grabbed her from behind and put his hands in her apron pockets.
“I want us to get pregnant,” Neil whispered in her ear. “Half the people I know are having babies.” He walked to the calendar on their kitchen wall and started flipping through the pages.
Leah stared with her mouth open. She wondered if he thought parenting was something you just worked into your schedule. Monday the dentist, Tuesday the dry cleaner, Wednesday ovulation.
She pretended not to hear him. “I need to walk the dog,” she replied.
Neil poured himself a glass of Cabernet and sat down at the table. He took out his cell phone and checked his messages. “Hurry up,” he told her.
‘Hurry up’ was Ace’s command to squat. With her tail wagging, she marched up to Neil and circled twice. Neil glanced at the puddle on the floor. A scowl worked its way from one ear to the other.
“Ace!” shouted Leah. She held her knuckle to her lips and looked at her husband. Neil was fuming. He stood up with his fist clenched.
“Aren’t you going to do something?” he screamed.
Ace bared her teeth like she was smiling and then she nuzzled Leah’s feet. Grabbing the car keys and the leash, Leah glanced one last time at Neil. A blur of yellow, the swish of a skirt, and they were gone.