The apartment smelled horrible. I figured that a rat had died somewhere in the walls. I’d been able to smell it for the last day and it was getting stronger. My dog, Mark, would pause near the area of the scent and stick his snout down against the wall, pulling in the stink with powerful snorts. I’d tell him to get away, or to move on, or to fuck off a bit, and he’d stop what he was doing for a moment to regard me. His look was neutral, or at the risk of anthropomorphizing—it had a hint of pity.
I could only suppose that he felt sorry for me, he was able to take advantage of a complex jubilee of stink, where I was stuck smelling the simple sweet ickiness of rotting rat. To Mark my life was grey. I scratched his head and mumbled something about how he shouldn’t pity me. I could see the world in color, I could walk upright, I even have opposable thumbs which come in super handy. Get it? Mark, with his limited capacity for puns would not have understood that. My life was altogether richer than Mark’s—though I still had to smell that dead fucking rat.
We went out for a leisurely stroll around the block, Mark desperately wanted to go to the park but I didn’t have the time for that business. “Around the corner today,” I said with authority. I’m the master after all. Who is he to be leading me around, tugging me off to every fire hydrant and trash bag we pass? Nope, I’m steering this boat. We continued our trek around the block, he tugged toward the butcher shop and I held my ground. I deliberately walked on the other side of the street, though I really should have picked up some bacon. Still, I felt the need to assert my authority. We walked by the cheese shop, which doesn’t allow the likes of Mark inside. The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene might complain or fine them or something. As if dragging my filthy shoes in there from the street doesn’t distribute just as much bacteria as his paws do.
“See?” I said to him, “If you weren’t tagging along, I could jaunt in there and pick up some cheese. Nice cheese, too. Not like at the bodega where they sell cheddar that’s one step up from string cheese. I’m talking about stuff from real cheese making countries.”
I shook my head at Mark and tugged him down the sidewalk, knowing that he wouldn’t understand. He peed four or five times, the last few were entirely unnecessary but I let him get away with it—I figured it was only fair to allow him a few victories.
I meant to go back to the cheese shop after I had dropped Mark off at the apartment, but I was lazy. Also, I was a little high. The marijuana salesman had stopped by earlier that day and delivered a jar of some form of Diesel. Or Kush. Fuck, I never know, I just put it into the pipe and set it on fire. As soon as the television gets interesting I know I’m where I want to be and I kick my feet up. Mark puts his head on my lap and we watch serial dramas with great intensity.
Hunger struck. Never one to leave the house when I’m high, I sat glued to the couch in existential misery. My empty stomach needed some food. Dammit Mark, I said. If it wasn’t for you I’d have cheese right now, my stomach would be full, and I wouldn’t have to sit here pining miserably for some dairy.
Mark looked at me with more pity. He cocked his head and trotted off into the other room. There was rustling.
“What are you doing in there?”
The rustling continued, unabated. Then I smelled something more powerful than the rat, it was a huge smell. Horrid. Like farts or rotten eggs. A Massive flash lit up the apartment and I was blinded, horrified. I’d ripped out the smoke alarms months ago, and I didn’t have a fire extinguisher in the place—Mark must have blown something up and now we were both going to die in a fire. The ringing in my ears faded and I looked around in panic. The sulphur smell had turned into something like socks.
“Mark! Get out here!”
With the pride of a lion, he peeked his head from around the corner. In his mouth, gently, like a labrador with a duck, he held a wheel of cheese. Slowly and deliberately, he walked over to the coffee table and set it down.
I had no words.
“Good boy, Mark.” I scratched him behind the ear, having no idea how to reward him properly. “Would you like something? A biscuit?”
The tail wagged and he sat expectantly. I immediately ran to the kitchen to grab a cheese plate and utensils. Oh, and the biscuit—I’m a man of my word.
Mark wolfed down the biscuit, clearly pleased with himself. I’m not afraid to say that it felt like he was being a bit smug. Still, that cheese . . . it was magnificent. I decided I could forgive the smugness if it meant Mark could summon top quality stilton like some sort of goddamned cheese sorcerer.
I filled my belly with the stilton, only mildly annoyed that Mark’s skill didn’t include the ability to summon water crackers. I thought he was half-assing it and I told him as much. He sighed and cocked his head. “Is that all you can do old boy? Are you limited to stilton? What about goat cheeses? Brie? The ones with little peppers?” I had so many questions, but they all came out a bit slurred. The weed and the cheese had made me sleepy so I gave in and went to bed.
The next morning, I was greeted by a smiling dog face, tongue lolling to one side, eyes bright and bulging. He exhaled his meaty breath over my nose and made small whimpers, demanding that I take him out for a walk. My mouth was covered in a film and I felt a bit blocked, to be honest. A walk would probably do me good as well. A walk and some coffee, if you know what I mean.
I made coffee while Mark glared at me. Seriously, why does he have to be so impatient? I gave him some kibble to chew on while I waited for the percolator. He looked at it cross-eyed. Sometimes I would gussy up his food. I used to date a girl who obsessively cooked for her dog and she guilted me into doing it for a while. He must be so bored of eating the same thing, she would say. So I would put in dollops of greek yogurt or chicken stock or roast sweet potatoes. Mark did enjoy the extra flavor, I’m sure of that, unfortunately he started to expect it. Sometimes he’d leave his bowl there for hours at a time and it would become a contest of wills. His big eyes versus my willingness to ignore them.
I poured the coffee into my carry cup and grabbed Mark’s leash. Let’s go, old boy. Let’s go get you emptied out. He bounced around and did his best to keep his butt on the ground while I clipped the leash on, his tail sweeping the floor in frantic arcs. Snap. We were ready, he lunged and pulled and I held him fast until he calmed down. We went down the stairs, oh how he hates the stairs, and out the front door. Staring off the stoop like a royal falconer, he greeted the morning with some quick snorts. Then we were off; around the block, up the street and to the stoplight.
He lunged toward the crosswalk, and I nearly went along with it. Why not take him to the dog park and let him run off some energy. Unfortunately it was too late, the coffee had begun to do its work, work that our light walking surely contributed to, and I was in dire need of a trip back to the apartment. “Sorry old man, not right now. I can take you later, but daddy’s got some business of his own to attend to.” I didn’t like the tone of his look, but he didn’t put up too much of a fight. We went back to the apartment.
I got out of the bathroom and decided to do a few chores, the house was a mess. The dishes, the floor, whatever. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not some crazy OCD type, it’s just that I’m single now and it’s embarrassing to bring a young lady back to a dirty apartment. “You get that, right Mark?” I asked as I cleared old mail and angry letters from the IRS off of my coffee table.
There’s a trance that you can get in when you start repetitive tasks. I got caught in it. A couple hours passed and I was the lord of a pristine apartment. The papers were filed, the dishes were done, the bathroom—even the fucking bathroom—was clean. I sat down, feeling a bit peckish and then remembered about Mark’s newfound talent.
“Mark! Summon me a cheese!” I commanded him in my best owner voice. He picked himself up from the bone he was gnawing on and cocked his head at me. He paused for a while, and I wondered if he’d lost the knack, but then, after a bit, he sauntered out of the room. The flash, the sulphur, the powerful smell. But there was no whiff of socks this time to bookend the rotten eggs. Maybe he could do different cheeses. I geared myself up for a treat as Mark came into the room with something in his mouth. It was long and round. The air was still a bit thick with that smoke and I rubbed my eyes as he approached.
Clang. He had dropped whatever it was in his mouth and it had made a clang sound. Cheese isn’t supposed to clang. Mark sat there and looked at me, pawing at the ground. He had brought me a can of Cheez-Wiz. “What is this?” I asked. “Why would you even begin to think that a can of plastic, orange cheese is acceptable?”
Mark sat there. His eyes were brimming with contempt, that might sound paranoid, I’ll give you that, but Mark has been my dog for a long time and I know doggy contempt when I see it. “What do you want from me? Why would you think that this is okay?”
He calmly walked over to the door and sat down, turning his head away from me and staring off to the side. A walk. It had been a while, he could probably use another one. Sigh. I got up, clipped on the leash, and once again we were out. We walked down the block and around the corner. When we neared the crosswalk, Mark pulled me toward the butcher’s side of the street. I did sort of need bacon so I gave in. He wagged and pulled and panted, the butcher’s shop was like a candy store. The smell of meats filled the air, Mark sat there with his toothy grin and his floor-sweeping tail going at full velocity.
“One pound of bacon, thanks.” I said to the butcher. He smiled and asked how Mark was doing. “Look at him,” I said, “he’s as happy as a hound can be.” The butcher asked if I wanted a shoulder bone for him.
“It’s your lucky day,” I whispered to Mark as we left the shop with my bacon and his bone. We walked back to the apartment, his hips swaying with a victory strut as we ascended the stairs. I gave him his bone and I sat on the couch, staring at the can of fake American foam-cheese. Then it happened again, the puff of smoke, the flash, and out came Mark with a wheel of something delightful in his mouth.
My boy! My special little boy brought me good cheese! I was ecstatic. I had never had a cheddar so fine and so sharp in my entire life.
It’s a rare day anymore when I don’t bring Mark to the butcher with me, or to the dog park. Sure, it takes up a bit of time. Sure, he’s sort of in charge now, but you know what? It’s totally worth it for the cheese.
Scotty Weeks was born in Cordova, Alaska. He now lives in New York. In between, there were years spent traveling around the continental US. He spent a while behind a bar—and a while longer avoiding being put behind them. In the early aughts, he chased a girl to Sydney, Australia. The girl didn’t last, so he fell in love with the country instead. As a result, he picked up a marsupial adorned passport before heading back to the ‘States. He returned a bit older, a bit wiser, and a bit less likely to be murdered by unruly Fijians. Though he still gives them an A for effort.
He can be reached on his blog for questions, comments, death threats, or if you just want to send him naughty letters. He’s fine with that. Totally fine with that.