Arthur hadn’t slept well all week. His neighbor, Jessica Foster, had recently lost her husband to a heart attack. At least that’s what the doctors had told her, because nobody wants to hear that their spouse has died of obesity; an inescapable fast-food-complex; an aversion to exercise and general well-being; incontinence of the self; the natural and inevitable side-effects of being so overweight as to have your own gravitational field. His death should have been no surprise given how unhealthy and out of shape and exteriorily ugly he was, but Jessica was nonetheless devastated and shocked.
Jessica didn’t have any family or friends to turn to in her time of grieving. She was alone. Jessica was an only child, as were both of her deceased parents. Her late husband came from a similar family, only he had an older brother whom he hadn’t seen or heard from since elementary school, and had probably already died himself.
Jessica and Gregory had tried unsuccessfully to have children on three separate occasions. They had somehow avoided making any meaningful relationships with any of the other couples in the neighborhood. At work, Jessica only communicated via email and simple nods and gestures, like some sort of prehistoric robot. Gregory had been the only person Jessica had had any real conversation with in the past five years. Before Gregory’s untimely death, they had been alone together. Now, Jessica was completely and pathetically alone; this time, all by herself. She was a glow-in-the-dark sticker in the deep bowels of a cave and would stop shining and, for all practical purposes, stop existing, if she didn’t find some new source of light to renew her quickly depleting stores of energy. It is under these circumstances that Jessica made arrangements to be the caretaker of a certain Freckles von Hindenburg.
Freckles was a middle-aged chocolate lab, blind in her left eye, and hopelessly stupid. When she was a puppy, Freckles loved to chase sticks, even if all by herself. One day Freckles was running around the yard with a stick clenched tight in her jaw. She took a sharp turn and one end of the stick slammed into the grass while the other found her naively green eye. A sanguine pool of blood gathered on the ground by her paws and was slowly diluted by her tears. After a long operation, the veterinarian was able to save Freckles’ vision. However, she wouldn’t be so lucky the next time when her left eye was re-introduced to the humorless and unforgiving stick.
Jessica had never had a pet before, unless you count the beta goldfish her parents got her for her sixth birthday. Jessica hadn’t realized that she needed to put the fish food in the fish tank to keep her new pet alive. Charles never had a fighting chance. It was on the third day that his dead body rose to the top of the tank. Jessica at first thought that Charles was just sleeping and refused to believe he was dead until she held his lifeless corpse in her hands. Once she touched his wet soulless scales, she was converted into a believer.
Jessica was more responsible with Freckles than she had been with Charles fifty years ago. She not only bought a big bag of dog food but also made sure to feed Freckles both in the morning and in the evening. But this was about the extent of the care that Jessica provided for her new companion. She never took Freckles on walks and thought that leaving her outside all day and night was sufficient. The only time that Jessica actually spent with her visually impaired dog was when she would sit on her stiff orange couch watching TV after she got home from work until she went to sleep at night. And feeding time in the morning. Other than that, Jessica seemed to not even notice that a dog was living with her. Nor did she seem to notice the piles upon piles of dog shit that littered the backyard. But Freckles certainly did.
The problem, though somewhat frustrating at first, was bearable. Freckles had put up with much more abusive behavior in her second home and was thus able to cope under and adapt to less than ideal circumstances. Freckles was not only hopelessly stupid but also stupidly optimistic (as well as optimistically naïve, naively innocent, innocently hopeless, and hopelessly stupid). At least my nitrogen rich feces will help revitalize and give new life to the garden and trees, Freckles thought. For what is life but a constant exchange and renewal of energy between beings? The continuous cycle of give and take as described by the Taoist philosophy of yin and yang? But everybody has a breaking point. And a soul can only stand so much before it starts to push back. And so Freckles began to push back.
The backyard was already too small without every square inch of earth being covered in shit. There was nowhere for Freckles to move, no way for her to get any exercise without trampling through her own fecal matter. And, unlike some dogs, Freckles was averse to solving the problem by eating her way towards greener pastures. She might have been stupid, but she surely wasn’t unsanitary. Freckles understood the devastating effects E. coli can have on the body. So Freckles did what any dog would do to get her owners attention: she barked. I understand that neither of us want to touch my feces, but if you don’t at least clear a path for me to run, my muscles will atrophy and hip dysplasia could set in, crippling me for life!
And she barked and barked and barked and barked and barked. The occasional howl was interspersed in the barking, but mostly, she barked. She barked all day, which didn’t bother anybody because all of the neighbors were at work. She stopped barking when Jessica came home to feed her and watch TV, but continued once she was let out for the night. Roof, roof, roof. Jessica did not seem to notice. And if she did, she simply didn’t care. But it was more than that. Jessica’s post-widowed-depression was tail spinning. Her previously stated metaphorical glow-in-the-dark light was dimming. Freckles was not helping her to recharge, to reconnect, to overcome her loss, to continue her life. Freckles was draining her energy, her money, her soul. And so the more Freckles barked, the more Jessica ignored the barking. And the mountains of shit continued to pile up in the backyard and Freckles continued to bark more and more. A cyclical conundrum in motion tends to stay in motion.
And thus a new problem arose: not everyone in the neighborhood was as dead inside as Jessica so not everyone could ignore Freckles’ barking at night like Jessica could. In particular, the barking bothered Jessica’s neighbor, Arthur. This is what had kept him from sleeping all week.
Arthur worked as an accountant for an investment firm. He was in his early twenties, just out of college, and single. Arthur didn’t have much of a social life and so he spent every night at home, going to bed early and getting up early too. He was also a light sleeper, so the loud barking was exceptionally troubling to him.
Arthur was also very mild mannered and avoided personal confrontation at any cost. Instead of sending back a sandwich with mayo (which Arthur had despised since his father had died choking on a sandwich that contained mayonnaise) when he had explicitly asked the waitress to hold the mayo and she had answered in the affirmative, Arthur cowardly scraped the mayonnaise off of his sandwich with his napkin. Arthur lived a sad life. A sad, lonely, docile life.
But the incessant barking was simply too much. And Arthur hadn’t the spine to even politely ask Jessica to bring her dog in at night or to somehow put an end to the nightly noise injustice. So every night that Freckles barked, Arthur laid awake in his bed. Night after night after night.
A week without sleep can do terrible things to a man. Even the most willful of us all need the proper balance between consciousness and slumber. By day three of no sleep reds looked like burgundy, b’s looked like d’s and d’s looked like b’s. Arthur washed his hair four times that morning because he kept forgetting he had already done so. By the end of the week, Arthur was full on hallucinating. He had a conversation with his mailbox, shook hands with the President (his shower curtain), and bowled a perfect game in his living room (repeatedly threw his toaster at his television).
When the barking started on Saturday night, Arthur was in a dissociative state. “That stupid fucking dog and that stupid fucking barking! It has to stop!” Arthur screamed at the top of his lungs.
Arthur ran down the stairs from his bedroom to the front door. He violently pulled on his jacket as he sprung out the door, leaving it wide open. The barking was even louder now that he was outside. Arthur mumbled nonsense to himself as he sardonically made his way to Jessica’s gate in the back. Roof, roof, roof! Awoooooooooooo! Roof, roof! Arthur’s mind was imploding. All he could hear was barking and all he could see was madness. He kicked down the gate. There was Freckles, only feet away, her left profile facing Arthur, still barking. He stared her down for a moment and then moved forward.
Arthur was waist deep in canine excrement as he trudged his way towards the dog. Freckles couldn’t see him with her blind eye, couldn’t hear him over her own barking, and couldn’t even smell him over the intoxicating stench of her own shit. She never even had a fighting chance.
Arthur leapt at Freckles, arms outstretched, grabbing at her throat. Freckles yelped and Arthur cackled as the two summersaulted over and over, both now covered head to toe in dog shit. Freckles tried to sink her fangs deep in Arthur’s neck, instinctually aiming for his jugular, but Arthur’s grip was too strong. It’s that irresponsible woman he should be after, Freckles thought. How is it that humans never seem to recognize the true sources of their anguish? They’re always so short-sighted and much too reactionary. Oh how much more civilized they could be if only they stopped to think every once in a while. The fight was darkly beautiful and malicious, like a lion taking down a zebra on National Geographic, only this story would be in the papers. As Arthur squeezed harder and harder, Freckles’ body became limper and limper until, finally, it lay motionless on the soiled ground. Arthur collapsed next to Freckles, exhausted, finally asleep.
The next morning, when Freckles didn’t come inside to be fed, Jessica peered into her backyard and saw what had happened, seeing the mountains of shit for the first time. She called the police. Officials and reporters were in and out of her house over the next few days. Her story went national. Most were interested in the shit. Jessica finally had people to talk to. Arthur was finally able to sleep. And Freckles no longer had to put up with other people’s shit.