Don't talk to me about Chihuahuas. A girl I was seeing had one of those. Horrible, yapping little thing -- the dog, not the girl.
The girl's name was Lyndsey. We met in the Head of Steam on a slow Tuesday night. I was the guy with the battered leather jacket and she was the one with the hips and blonde hair.
‘I'm waiting for someone,' she told me when I offered to buy her a drink.
I was young then, and my patter assured, so I slid onto the barstool beside her. ‘It's not right.'
She took the bait. ‘What's not right?'
‘He should be waiting for you.'
"How do you know it's a guy?" She was smiling. I had her.
I looked her up and down, taking in the red dress that hugged her curves like she was a racetrack. "Because you're dressed for something better than this."
We left before her date could arrive.
After sitting at the next-door bar with a couple of glasses of wine, we hit a nightclub where she bought most of the drinks.
She was an assistant nurse. Changed bedpans and peeled fetid sheets off mattresses. That type of thing.
I was on the dole waiting for something worthwhile to come up, something that would make full use of my BA (Hons) in Film Studies. I'd been waiting for two years.
"You know," I told her, "I've always admired the medical professions."
She paid for the cab back to hers.
Stumbling into her one-bedroom flat, I was attacked by a beard with teeth that scurried across the floor to my feet. The Chihuahua. No face, only the teeth, exposed while it growled and yelped in a nerve-fraying falsetto.
"Mr. Sparkles!" Lyndsey clapped her hands together. "He's a pussy cat, really."
Reaching down, I made a peace offering of my fingers.
The yelps, impossibly, went up an octave.
I took back my hand before it became pet food. "Looks like he's not a fan."
"I don't understand it. Mr. Sparkles loves everyone." She gave me a smile to say sorry. Next thing, her high-heels were off, kicked under the sofa. Before I could make a move, she was holding up a leash.
"Kinky," I said.
"I know it's late, but I have to take Mr. Sparkles for his walkies."
"Why don't you just get him a hamster wheel?"
Dog and owner growled in stereo.
I lifted my hands and grinned to let them know what a kidder I was.
Lyndsey slid her bare feet into a pair of running shoes. "There's wine in the kitchen. If you like, you can open a bottle for us."
"You don't want me to come with?"
"It's quicker if I go on my own. Don't worry -- I can take care of myself."
When she returned, the cold steaming off her coat, we drank three bottles of supermarket red between us. I ripped the teddy bears and frilly cushions off her bed and we had sex, me on top. Though she was made beautiful by the booze, I couldn't quite lose myself in the moment. Not with the constant yapping coming from on the other side of the bedroom door.
Three weeks later, I moved in. All my belongings -- a leather hold all and a box of DVDs -- took a single bus trip to transport.
Our first order of business, after rumpling her sheets, was for me and her pet to get along.
Lyndsey handed me the leash. "Make sure he has a number two."
Out under the streetlamps, Mr. Sparkles ran on ahead as if he didn't want to be seen in public with me.
I had to catch up, pin him down and figure out, while he yelped loud as a rape whistle, how to hook the leash around his collar. It was one of those retractable jobs, and once it was attached I let it out as far as it would go. Mr. Sparkles puttered from door to door, stopping every so often to pee. He squatted. Like a girl. Soon there was nothing left in his bladder and his last movement, at the end of the street, produced a mound of smoldering brown pebbles. I had seen dog walkers before, with their plastic bags. Armed with no such convenience, I kicked the droppings into the street and hoped no-one was watching.
"Were you a good boy?" Lyndsey said in a baby voice when she met her dog at the door. She had something in her hand, a biscuit.
Mr. Sparkles reared up and pawed at the air. He barked once, twice, and the biscuit was popped into his mouth.
"What about me?" I unclipped the leash. "Don't I get a treat?"
She grabbed the end of the leash and pulled me into her flat.
I shut the bedroom door behind us. My relationship with Mr. Sparkles may have warmed but there were some things I didn't share with friends.
Life was good for a while. Lyndsey would get up early and make breakfast: toast and tea and for us humans, while Mr. Sparkles preferred tinned stuff that looked like the inside of a wound. Then, when Lyndsey scooted off to work, the dog would curl up on the kitchen floor and I'd crawl back into bed.
At around noon I'd rise, woken by the yapping. Walkies took us on a different route every day. I'd try and vary it. Sometimes we went only as far as the end of the street. Other times we'd explore back alleys, byways, parks and squares. Mr. Sparkles liked to pee everywhere and I enjoyed the attention we got from girls.
"Isn't he cute?" I was asked once by a brunette with a grocery bag. She had maybe five years on me but looked in good nick.
I flashed a smile. "His name is Mr. Sparkles."
"Is he yours?"
"My wife's," I said, improvising. With a sniff, I added, "He's all I have to remind me of her."
The woman lowered her groceries to the pavement and touched my arm. "You poor thing."
But whenever it got to this stage of the conversation -- with her, the lady with the Jack Russell, the girls on the picnic blanket in the park -- Mr. Sparkles would erupt in a yapping fit. A passion killer that made any interested females back right off. As soon as we went on our way, he'd stop barking.
In those days, our walks would take up to an hour, which still left the rest of the afternoon and early evening to fill. I spent this time on the sofa; Mr. Sparkles curled up beside me. I wasn't watching movies. I was studying film.
A key grating in the front door lock would have us both twitch to attention. I'd shoot up and kiss Lyndsey on the cheek before working my way to her lips. Mr. Sparkles would orbit around our feet as if we were Earth and he Laika.
After doing the dishes from the night before, Lyndsey would start cooking, using ingredients bought from some hippy market on the way home from work. She was a vegetarian but both her men ate meat. She made three separate meals.
"How was your day?" I'd ask while she whisked eggs or chopped aubergine.
She'd fly into sickening levels of detail about coughs, weeping sores and broken bones when I had only been making conversation. I didn't want to hear about that kind of stuff before I ate.
"And how was your day?" She'd ask once we were seated at her dining table, the dog, fed, wagging his stub below.
"Fine," I'd say. How could I describe the soul-tingling buzz that Cinema Paradiso gave me? The sugar rush of Shine? The way Citizen Cane grabbed me by the balls of my eyes and didn't let go, though I'd seen it maybe a hundred times, perhaps watched it twice that same afternoon?
I was an aesthete. She changed bed sheets.
The honeymoon ended the night Lyndsey came in stinking of hospital and I didn't get up to meet her. I was trying to concentrate on Man Bites Dog -- tough enough without a Chihuahua yapping at me from the floor.
She threw down her keys. I watched her pet and cuddle the creature that jumped to her fingers like a yo-yo. Then I turned back to the film.
When Lyndsey was done, she swooped between me and TV and crossed her beefy arms. "Why didn't you walk Mr. Sparkles?"
"Lyndsey, you're in the way."
"Did you look for a job this afternoon? Remember? We talked about this."
I didn't remember discussing any such thing. But by then I had developed the ability to block her out. Without wanting to start an argument, I waved for her to move aside. "I'll go tomorrow."
Mr. Sparkles snarled.
Lyndsey had pale skin, but as she stood there listening to her dog get riled up, it darkened. When her face was red and blotchy, and the dog had worked itself into a yapping frenzy, she spun round and grabbed hold of the TV. It was an old-fashioned box. No flat screens on her salary. She ripped the set right off the stand. The plug point sizzled and sparked. Wires tore through the air like octopus arms.
I lifted my hands to defend myself.
With her Chihuahua barking its support, Lyndsey hurled the TV. The smash and the broken glass I can never forget because the set landed only inches from the sofa. Any closer and I would have lost my feet.
Mr. Sparkles went berserk: barking, howling and gritting his sharp incisors at me. His fur stood on end.
"What did you do that for?" I was worried that my DVD would be jammed forever in the player that lay on its side against the wall.
"You." She pointed a finger.
"What about me?"
Her hand was trembling. "I want you to leave."
Rising up, I spread my arms. My hair was long at the time. I probably looked a bit like Jesus. "Where am I supposed to go, baby?"
"Just get out. Leave."
"But you love me."
She shook her head in slow motion. Tears were streaming down her face.
"You don't want me to leave." I stepped over the carcass of the TV, taking care not to land a socked foot on broken glass.
I gazed at her.
She stared down at the mess she had made.
I pulled her close and breathed her in.
"One more night." She was trembling in my arms, just like in a film. "I can't take this anymore. Please."
I wanted to say more, about how special our relationship was and how much she meant to me, but it was impossible to speak, or even think straight, with the dog yapping and snarling in the background.
Mr. Sparkles was to blame, I realized when I woke up, late and alone, on the sofa. He worked her up and brought out the worst in her. He was a bad influence.
In my socks, I picked through the broken glass of the floor and entered the kitchen.
I was greeted with a chainsaw growl. He had been waiting.
We stared at each other for a few moments. I broke eye contact first, peeling off to grab a shower and get changed. I let him think he had won.
When I came back it was with the leash and a bright smile. "Walkies!"
We went on our longest trek yet, up the street, over the main road, through the park and all the way into town.
He led me, as if it was his idea, into the vet. The scents and sounds of all those other animals must have attracted him.
The lady at the front desk checked his tags and verified that he was registered there. "What can we do for him today?"
"It's like this," I said, and told her what the problem was.
She nodded sympathetically, her big eyes fluttering. "Have you tried obedience school?"
"We've tried everything. Even changing his diet. Nothing works. I hate to do this but he's such a bad dog."
Mr. Sparkles growled and snapped at me from the desk below.
"I see what you mean." The receptionist hurried through some paperwork and told me the operation could be done that afternoon.
"I've taken the day off work," I told her, "so I don't mind waiting." I grabbed a week-old newspaper, settled in an armchair and flicked to the film reviews. The TV was broken anyway.
"What's wrong with him?" Lyndsey asked when she came home.
Mr. Sparkles was sitting on the floor, hissing at me.
I looked proudly at my work. "I fixed him."
"You had him spayed?"
"No, I sorted out his voice." I made a scissor-snip with my fingers. "Took him to have his vocal cords cut."
Mr. Sparkles hissed and hissed while Lyndsey's skin went from white to red then back to white -- a shade paler than snow.
"I did it for you," I said. "For us."
Lyndsey rushed to the bathroom. The door slammed and I could hear the tap running. I was beginning to think I'd done the wrong thing when she came out. She was smiling. She said, in a monotone, as if she was the one that was drugged and not Mr. Sparkles, "That was thoughtful of you."
"I knew you'd be happy." I took her hand and led her to her bedroom. I shut the door.
From Mr. Sparkles came not a peep. He'd given up trying to bark.
The next morning we woke bright and early. Lyndsey made her boys breakfast. As soon as she left for work, I went back to bed.
At a little after twelve I took Mr. Sparkles for his walkies. He was a good boy, making not a sound as he puttered head-down along the pavement. Afterwards, we sat on the sofa in front of the TV and waited. I stared at the shattered screen. Mr. Sparkles rested his head on his paws.
When the keys jangled we shot up and raced to the door.
Lyndsey was early. She came in with a leather attaché case that she took through to the kitchen and set down on the counter. She drew her cheek away when I tried to kiss her. Once she'd cuddled her pet, she snapped open the case and from inside withdrew a bone. "Has Mr. Sparkles been a good boy?"
The dog hopped up on his hind legs.
But Lyndsey held the bone above from him, watching while he strained to become taller.
"What are you waiting for?" I asked.
Mr. Sparkles, still on his back legs, hissed at me. If he still had vocal cords, he would have been growling.
Only now was his treat dropped into his mouth. He dragged the bone into the corner and attacked it, hissing as he gnawed.
When I turned back to Lyndsey she had drawn something else from her attaché case, a syringe. She pressed the stopper until liquid bubbled on the needle tip.
I stepped back, my shoulder blades slamming into the fridge. "What's that for?"
"It's your treat." She stabbed me in the arm.
The needle broke off on my skin. Blood streamed down to my hand as I staggered off to the side, scrambling to get away from Lyndsey. The kitchen spun.
I was on the floor. I didn't remember falling.
The overhead light was intense, washing the color out of everything. The cupboards and stove were white. Mr. Sparkles, sniffing around my head, had become grey.
I noticed the burning. By then it was too late. Anesthetic tore through the glands of my neck and into my skull. The last thing I saw before I blacked out was Lyndsey leaning over me. Her white hair framed her white face. A scalpel gleamed in her hand as she lowered it to my mouth.
Don't talk to me about Chihuahuas. I can't answer.