I WANNA BE YOUR DOG: An Excerpt from GITANES – Fawzy Zablah
April 22, 2020
“Love is my sin, and thy dear virtue hate, Hate of my sin, grounded on sinful loving:
O! but with mine compare thou thine own state,
And thou shalt find it merits not reproving;”
Shakespeare’s Sonnet 142, first quatrain.
The top two imaginary, gory deaths of Javier Mansour begin with him being dragged into the canal behind his apartment building by an eleven foot alligator. In this first scenario, he is walking his girlfriend Sofia’s dog Barkley along the embankment.
But, before we get ahead of ourselves, it must be stressed that she is not really his “girlfriend.” She is married to someone else. A man named Arie. But they are indeed lovers–Javie and Sofia.
And they’ve had numerous intimate encounters which makes it understandable to see how Javie would consider her his girlfriend despite her marital status: there was their first time in the bathroom at a co-worker’s wedding; various times at his apartment close to their job; in his car; in her car; at his old apartment before he moved closer to work out of convenience for the affair and his commute.
What’s interesting is that these imaginary, gory deaths are like fantasies he entertains but only when taking care of said dog. Why did he have these morbid fantasies? Could it be a mental manifestation of the emotional pain of being in love with a married woman? Perhaps. Self hatred? That’s probable.
The dog, named Barkley by its previous owner, entered their life the same weekend she needed help picking up a couch she found on Craigslist. On Saturdays her husband was usually busy either playing soccer or studying for an MBA. Since Javie lived close to the seller of the couch, Sofia pondered out loud to her hubby that she’d ask her co-worker for help picking up the couch.
“Okay, but give him a heads up, make sure he doesn’t have plans or anything.”
When she asked Javi expecting he might say no (let’s be honest she was pretending for the sake of her husband.) she already knew he’d say yes.
“Of course I can help you!” Said Javie, via text.
Javie learned quickly that the trick to being involved with a married woman is to closely follow the narrative arc she has meticulously built for her husband and the rest of the world. There’s no room for error. Despite his masterful acting skills, our anti-hero is gullible to a fault; in reality he was happy they were spending the day together. Sex was a bonus like a cherry on top or bacon on an already tasty hamburger. He was already in love with her, that was a given. The sex always seemed to happen. The delicious Margaritas (from a recipe he found on YouTube) he prepared when she arrived facilitated the act; everything sprung from that. Then much later, it seemed so innocent when Sofia—a little tipsy and full from the alcohol and Indian buffet they stopped at on the way to pick up the couch—heard the dog barking from inside the Couch Girl’s bathroom.
“Is that a dog!?”
“Yes, that’s Barkley. We’re looking for a home for him as well.”
“Oh my god!? Can I see him?”
The Couch Girl opened the bathroom door and Barkley ran out to Sofia, jumping up and down in doggy happiness. The dog’s happy enthusiasm reminded Sofia of Javie. She did not make a mental note of that, but she would recall the feeling later.
“He’s so cute and fluffy and white. Oh my God, I want him. What kind of dog is it?”
“It’s a Bichon Frise,” the Couch Girl said.
“Oh yes, I want him, oh yes I do, oh yes I do. Wanna come home with me?”
“Don’t forget you already have a cat,” Javie said.
“How much are you asking?”
“You can have him gratis,” Couch Girl said, “I have all the paperwork in the back. They don’t allow dogs where I’m moving to.”
“What about your husband?” asked Javie.
“Let me call him. I’ll FaceTime him.“
The phone rang. The dog licked Sofia’s face as she knelt down to pet him while holding her smartphone up and away. Javie was looking at a tall white lamp and Sofia said if he wanted it he could have it as a gift for helping her.
“Thanks,” he said.
Arie answered the FaceTime call with a question.
“Why are you FaceTiming me?”
“Babe, do you know how much I love you?”
“Oh great, you must want something.”
“Look at this cute doggy babe. His name is Barkley. Say hi Barkley.”
“You want a dog? I don’t know if that’s such a good idea. That’s a lot of responsibility. What about the cat? The cat will not be happy.”
“The cat will have a brother now. Please honey, look at him. Barkley, say hi.”
She put the dog on camera as he jumped up and down, wagging its tail.
“It’s a cute dog but I don’t know. He’ll be your responsibility.”
“Thank you! Love you babe! See you soon!”
“Wait, what happened with the couch?”
She hung up and told the girl they were also taking the dog.
There are many things that people don’t consider when getting a dog. A dog is probably the closest thing you will have to a child. As a matter of fact, a lot of couples consider a dog as a kind of starter baby because it’s almost the exact amount of responsibility. But of course, a dog is not as expensive as a baby. According to statistics easily googled on the internet, the cost of a child from birth through age 17 is $233,610—or as much as almost $14,000 annually, according to the Department of Agriculture. That estimate also depends on where you live as well.
The price of a dog is a lot less at around $15,051 for the life expectancy of a small pooch; a medium dog is about $15,782, and a large dog will cost around $14,480 for its entire life.
The other similarity with a baby, is that a dog cannot be left alone for long. They need to use the bathroom like a baby and be fed at least twice a day. They don’t need to be burped, but they need interaction. Whereas the dog can fend for itself somewhat, the baby is helpless.
But even for weekend trips, you will need a dog sitter. And this is where Javi comes into the picture. Arie and Sofía needed a dog sitter specially for when they went to visit Arie’s parents in Virginia. They could have paid for a dog hotel or something similar, perhaps a kennel but Sofia thought that was dumb since she had Javie her secret lover at her beck and call. It would be like killing two birds with one stone. Arie never wanted a dog and any reason to save money on dog sitting was welcomed.
And that’s how her side guy Javie became their dog sitter. Long weekends spent with a dog that belonged to the married woman of his dreams tended to make Javie’s imagination do cartwheels, coming up with all kinds of funny, loopy, irrational situations. No matter how happy and cute Barkley was, walking him by the canal behind his apartments on sunny days was both sad and painful and forced Javie to fight off feelings of self deprecation. Was she thinking about him? Was she thinking about the dog? What exactly was she doing at this moment that he was thinking of her? Does he really believe that she’s going to leave her husband?
Sometimes she would text him on WhatsApp to ask about the dog. Javie was hoping that since he always took care of the dog she was using that as an excuse to stay in touch with him during these weekend trips. And perhaps that was so. He wanted to believe many things like the dog was his and hers alone and soon enough she would break up with her husband and get a divorce and her and him and Barkley the dog and the cat can finally be a family.
But other times Javie hated himself and what he continuously put up with and those dark overly dramatic suicidal scenarios were a direct result of that.
Standing on the edge of the canal in the back of his apartments as Barkley went and took a doggy poop near a wooden sign that read “Alligators May Be Present” got his imagination going.
Gory, Imaginary Death #1
Javie is letting Barkley chase the ducks away and one of those times the dog gets too close to the water. As Barkley barks at the ducks, Javie looks in the water to see what kind of fish there are and an 11-foot alligator that is thick but agile strikes quickly and powerfully. Before Javie notices the beast, he’s already dragged into the water by his left arm and maybe there’s a little fighting but then a quiet splash and Javie is gone, followed by a solitary bubble. Barkley is left all alone, barking his little heart out at the water. Nobody notices. Nobody sees anything. Even Javie’s phone is in the canal with him. Quick, painful, and now he’s gone. Sofia will send him a message through WhatsApp and he won’t respond. She will find it strange. Arie will also send a message via their group text and still no response.
She doesn’t want to worry but she’s worried for the dog. What if something happened to the dog and Javie doesn’t want to tell me yet? She will call him once they start arriving home and he will not pick up and she will worry even more. When she finally discovers what happened, she will cry but she will also think, “My lover is dead. No one will ever know. I should be a good wife from now on. I will ask for forgiveness; I don’t want to go to Jewish hell.” But she will not. A year later she will start an affair with her next door neighbor–an extremely attractive, but dumb Italian–and it will end badly.
At the funeral Sofia will cry with Javie’s mother; she will remain next to her throughout. She considered bringing Barkley to the service, since he was the last to see Javie alive but thankfully she didn’t.
Javie’s mother will wonder who she is and why she cried so much.
“I worked with your son.”
It will be a closed coffin because they didn’t find much except for the torso. Arie will be sad too, but more about losing a dog sitter. He will think, “That poor dumb guy–I wonder if he had a crush on my wife?”
Gory, Imaginary Death #2
Javie will be walking Barkley along a sidewalk next to a driveway that leads to the entrance of his apartment complex. He will be playing with his smartphone and the happy dog will get away from him to go after a squirrel crossing the street. Javie will chase the dog and a young dude driving a 2002 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am with a 325 HP fuel-injected V8 engine will run him over–causing him to bounce over the hood and that’s not what will kill him–but the landing on his head will. A neck crack that will make his head do a complete 180. Barkley will run back to Javie whimpering. The young driver will freak out calling 911, scared about the victim but also worried about the huge dent on the hood of his car, which was a hand-me down from his late uncle.
Sofia will worry. She’ll WhatsApp Javie and he will not respond. She will call him. A bitter, burned out emergency room doctor will answer Javie’s smartphone and say that unfortunately he’s gone and ask who he’s speaking to—are you family? She will say no, they are not family, they work together and he was taking care of her dog. She will feel bad about it, because the truth is that you just don’t let just any person take care of your dog. It’s always someone you trust. He was more than a dog sitter, but how to explain that to a stranger? Then she will ask about her dog and the doctor will say that the dog is fine and very cute.
She will attend the funeral and bring the dog and perhaps that’s a bad idea but the dog is the last living being to see Javie and that has to mean something, a kind of consolation for the family. She will cry and hug Javie’s brother and mother and sister in law and they will think that she’s gorgeous and smart and funny and too bad Javie didn’t meet her before she got married. They will find her husband tepid and boring–but endearing–and they will ask, ‘wonder how he got her?’ And they will cry.
Also attending the funeral will be Sofia’s boss and friend at the PR agency where both she and Javie work. The boss, an equally adventurous woman, will see right through Sofia’s duplicity because Javie had already told her about the affair during a drunken Happy Hour about three months before he died. She will keep her mouth shut at the funeral while thinking of Sofia in legendary terms from that day on.
Were these ridiculous, horrific fantasies manifestations of the self hatred that was inside him? That’s a plausible theory. Or could these sad one act plays be an expression of how it feels to be in love with a married woman? The type of femme fatale, Dostoyevsky heroine that conflates her love for her side guy with the love for her dog. Maybe, Javie thought, I am the dog.