short story    
photo of Arthur Bradford

  Roslyn's Dog

Down the street from me, in a little wood-framed chicken-wire pen lived Roslyn's dog. She was a short-haired mutt with wild eyes and a hyperactive demeanor, which led her to pace back and forth within the small confines of her dirt-lined cage. I passed by Roslyn's dog almost every day as I walked from my house into town. Roslyn had warned me on several occasions not to stick my hand inside that dog's pen.

"She's territorial " explained Roslyn.

"Oh I understand," I said.

But of course this sort of information only served to pique my interest. One evening on my way home I knelt down beside the cage and looked closely at the face of Roslyn's dog. The dog stared back at me in a lonely sort of way and soon I found myself talking to her.

"Hello " I said. "How are you?"

Obviously the dog didn't reply but her passive reaction was enough to make me think that I was welcome there. It occurred to me then that maybe Roslyn's dog had been mistreated in the past and all she needed now was a little warmth and affection. I stuck my fingers through the holes in the chicken wire and was pleased when the little hound licked at them in a friendly way. I reached through with my other hand and patted her soft fur.

"You're a nice dog," I told her.

"Let me out," I heard the dog say.

"What?" I asked her.

Roslyn's dog stared back at me blankly.

"What did you say?" I asked her again.

The dog ran her tongue across her nose and pawed at the dirt front of her.

"Did you just speak to me?" I asked.

But there was no answer from Roslyn's dog. She just looked back at me with a sort of sympathetic confusion.

Well, I thought to myself, maybe it's a good idea.

That cage seemed like a rough place to be locked up all the time and I figured a short supervised recess might be in order. I would return the dog to the cage in just a few minutes.

So I undid the wooden latch and let the dog out. At my urging, she crept forward slowly and peered around at the outside world. Then she walked up to me and sank her teeth deep into my leg.

"Hey!" I yelled.

The little mutt let go of me and ran away. I was shocked, and in no small amount of pain, so I didn't chase after her. I went home and washed out the wound Roslyn's dog had made. There were four small holes, teeth marks, two in my shin and two in the back of my calf. What an ungrateful dog, I thought.

I went back over to Roslyn's house and told her that I had let her dog out by mistake.

"Oh, you shouldn't have done that," said Roslyn.

"I know that now," I said.

We walked the streets for several hours calling out for the dog but it seemed to be a lost cause. She was nowhere to be found. I offered to buy Roslyn a new dog but she said that was okay, there were many more like her at the pound.

"Good night, Roslyn," I finally said.

"See you later," she said to me.

That night, as I lay in bed, I had vivid dreams about Roslyn's dog. She was dressed up in human clothing and walking about on her two hind legs. Sometimes she was wearing simple work clothes, and other times she would be dressed elegantly, in long-flowing formal gowns, as if she were attending a ball. In my dream, the dog wouldn't pay attention to me, even though I kept calling out to her. When at last she did look my way, I gazed right into her dog eyes and that's when I woke up.

It was late in the day and my hurt leg was tingling and a little numb. I stepped out of bed and was very surprised at what I saw now. There was a patch of hair growing on my leg, right where I had been bitten. When I say hair I don't mean simple leg hair, as is commonly found on human beings. I mean fur, like the kind you find on animals. It was thick, and soft, and brown.

I went into the bathroom and took a shower. I found my razor and shaved the fur off my lower leg. It took me a while because the hair was so thick that it clogged up the blades.

"I'd better see a doctor about this," I said to myself.

I got dressed and went outside. I began to walk over to the health clinic and my leg started to itch. I reached down and felt sharp stubble rising out of my skin. The fur was already starting to grow back.

When I got to the health clinic the receptionist asked my to fill out some paper. She gave me a clipboard and I went to the corner of the room to sit and answer their questions. My leg was really itching now. I rolled up my pants leg and saw that my ankle was getting hairy as well. The brown hairs were poking through my sock.

The form which the receptionist had given me said, "Please state the reason for your visit."

Underneath that I wrote, "A dog bit me and now there is fur growing on my leg."

I looked at those words for a few seconds. Then I looked at the back of my hands. They were getting hairy now, too. My whole body began to itch and I dropped the pen and walked quickly out of the clinic, trying not to attract anyone's attention.

I ran back to my neighborhood. I went over to Roslyn's house and knocked on her door, but she wasn't home. I sat down on her porch and waited for her there. A few hours passed by and I fell asleep where I was. It got dark out and still Roslyn did not return.

Then, as I lay there growing hairier and more uncomfortable by the minute, I felt a familiar tongue lick at my fingertips. It was Roslyn's dog.

"Hey," I said to her, "what is going on here?"

I sat up and the hound looked at me carefully. There was a light coating of fur on my face now, like peach fuzz. Roslyn's dog placed her paws on my knees and drew her long snout up close to me. I heard a voice then, just like the one I thought I'd imagined before. It said, "Kiss me."

"Kiss you?" I said.

Roslyn's dog pressed closer and I puckered my lips. We kissed for several minutes, our tongues wrapping awkwardly around one another. I reached up and began to stroke her fur. It came off in clumps in my hands. Great fistfuls of it fell to the floor around us. Roslyn's dog began to grow in my arms. Her bony legs filled with flesh and that long snout receded. Her sharp teeth melted down into small white cubes and her floppy ears shrank into hardened human semicircles.

Soon I was kissing a woman, and that woman pulled away from me. She was naked, and a little hairier than most of the other naked women I've seen, but she was definitely a woman.

She wiped her mouth and coughed a little. "Thank you," she said to me.

I looked down at my hairy hands. They were crumpled up now into big clumsy canine paws. My tongue was so long it barely fit in my mouth. I tried to speak, hardly able to form the words.

"What about me?" I finally said.

The woman nodded and stroked the fur on my head knowingly. Then she placed a collar around my neck. She led me gently down the porch steps -- now I was walking on all fours -- and we made our way across the packed dirt of Roslyn's yard. She led me to the small chicken-wire cage and put me inside. She patted my fur again and said "thank you" a few more times. Then she left me there with bowls of dry kibble and water.

In the morning, Roslyn returned to see me. She refilled my bowl with water and scratched at my ears in a familiar way. I wondered then if she knew who I was. I ran in circles, barking loudly, trying to help her see what had happened while she was away. I jumped in the air and pushed my muddy paws against her legs. It was all that I could do. Roslyn smiled down at me and brushed the dirt off her pants. Was I just the same old dog to her?

"It's good to see you again," she said to me. And then she turned around, shut the door to my pen, and walked back into her house.

She feeds me every day now, and I am always glad to see her come walking down the path my way, just as I would be very glad to see you, should you ever stop by and want to play.

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    Copyright © 2001 by Arthur Bradford. Excerpted by permission of Random House. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.