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  1. 1. I guess it all started in a series of thoughtless moments. Distracted by a long day at work, I forgot that my fridge was empty of anything edible until eleven, that night. My usual grocery store closed for the day, I walked the few extra blocks to a nearby bodega. Distracted by the shelves filled with cheap essentials, I was too busy to notice Sandra until I bumped right into her. When I pried my eyes off the Doritos to apologize, I wondered how the hell I missed her. I don’t remember too many details from that night or how I managed to ask for her number; I seem to be unable to recall things that matter to most people. I remember the way her blonde hair swung around her shoulders, the cold look in her pale eyes when she appraised me and that the brass buttons on her shirt had anchors stamped on them. My recollections consist of insignificant details; I bore people with my stories when I share these visual tokens that I turn over in my mind during periods of nostalgia. My mother, the woman who taught me to duck slippers, the one with a halo of dark frizz and strong arms told me, People like the meat, the juiciness; spices on their own are dry and hard to swallow. I don’t remember much else from that conversation, just the way she smelled like cinnamon and nutmeg. My first date with Sandra went well enough to warrant a second, and a third. Soon enough, we were seeing each other exclusively and I allowed myself to get wrapped up in all her details. She was Lithuanian and her husky voice carried more than just a twinge of Slav. She was not embarrassed when she missed her articles or used a plural when a singular was warranted; Sandra was not the type to get embarrassed at all. She was as frank as her blue eyes and hair so blonde it burned white in the sun. She wore deep blues, royal purples, burnt browns and velvety blacks that washed out her complexion and turned her eyes a cold grey. I liked the way she swung her arms rather than her hips, narrowed her eyes rather than pursed her lips. Her lithe figure was as soft as her dry humor and sharp wit. Even the act of sex was almost sexless – not that she was without passion or did not satisfy my desire but after the act, she lay there with a cold smile that I dared not try to fathom. Whenever she caught me looking, her eyes carried an expression that I could not decipher even if I tried. Instead, I buried my face into the flame of her hair to avoid that frigid gaze. Do not think she was ever cruel to me; she always spoke to me with sincerity, did not belittle or criticize and was never ever late. It was the damn dog that drove me away and it started about two weeks after we started seeing each other. Until then, we always went back to my studio apartment and mussed up the sheets the already made futon. The first time I went over to her apartment, she paused before putting the key in the lock and turned to me. “Listen, I have dog. Big dog. He won’t bite, he will just bark a lot. Just ignore,” and with that, she began undoing a series of locks in her heavy door. I was nervous – I have known women to use their pets as a test to their date’s character. I was not too particularly fond of dogs either; something about their placid eyes and willingness to submit to anyone made me doubt the intelligence that they are so well known for. I heard him before I saw him. He made his presence known with a loud howl that ended with a series of booming barks as he turned the corner into the foyer. Sandra blocked my view
  2. 2. but judging by the soft whines and grunts, I could hear that the animal was happy to see his master after a long day at home alone. When I finally peeked around her, I noted that he was just not just a big dog – he was an enormous dog whose nose was level with my tender naval. I could not distinguish any popular breeds from him; later Sandra told me that he was guessed to be the result of a mating between a Great Dane and a Collie. His dark brindled fur was soft and sleek and his ears carried at a half-flop but he was far from cute. When he turned his yellow-brown eyes on me, I could not help but note the way my heart jumped a little. It was not the gentle love me look of a domesticated animal; I felt like I was staring into the eyes of the humble dog’s ancestor. In a moment of insanity, I thought that I could recall a primordial fire and a slinking figure among the camp’s edges – the creature howled in my imagination and I felt the instinctive fear of being confronted by a predator. To add to the effect, the thing began to form a deep menacing growl in his throat. Sandra broke the spell with a sharp reprimand. Valdovas, no! Mes ne urgzti. Valdovas wilted and threw Sandra a look of hurt at her correction. As she invited me into the next room, I could feel his eyes following me into the next room. She told me his name meant Prince in her language and that he was usually not good with strangers. She assured me that in time, he would warm up to me. She called him Valdo for short and obviously loved the dog. Sandra exhibited a kind of warmth toward the animal that I never felt directed at me – I could not help but feel a sting of resentment when she cooed at him and roughly ran her hands up and down his sides until Valdo dropped his princely guise and was reduced to grunts of glee. After this play, the Prince would prick up his ears, roll out his tongue and look at with me with an expression that was so obviously mocking that it drove me wild. Valdo never warmed up to me; the only thing that heated up between us was our rivalry. After a few encounters like the first, Sandra made it clear with a cuff that I was not to be growled at. It did not help at all; after that, The Prince took pains to only show his aggression whenever his loved one’s back was turned. When she left the room to make us drinks, Valdo would saunter over from his corner and put his head on my lap. When I tried to move, a growl erupted from his throat. When I stayed still, he locked eyes with me, daring me to try again. He obviously enjoyed toying with me and was reluctant to move away when Sandra re-entered the room again. It was the same when she left to go to the bathroom to clean up after a session in her bed; as soon as the door opened, he nosed his way in and took position beside me. When he was sure that he couldn’t hear her, Valdo growled, even when I lay stock still. When Sandra came back, he would nose my limp arm and withdraw, satisfied with another victory. I tried to convince myself that it did not matter; I had a beautiful, level-headed woman that enjoyed my company as much as I did hers. Obviously, her dog’s opinion of me did not matter much to her – whenever Valdo slipped up and bristled at me in her presence, she was unfazed and he sharply reprimanded. Still, I felt something was off, we have been together for months and I was still clearly unwelcome to him. Even the most territorial of animals eventually learn to accept certain figures without hostility if presented often enough. Tired of being hounded, I tried avoiding us going back to her apartment but Sandra was reluctant; her abode
  3. 3. was much nicer than mine and she hated slipping away in the early hours of the morning in order to walk the dog. Even after many successful nights out when I got to lose myself in her vague eyes and childish gait, eventually, one night we would return to her home and her Valdo. I began to suddenly interest my friends; I had a story worth telling them. Confronted with an antagonist, I sought their counsel and they were eager to help. I was reluctant to disclose my usual details in fear of emasculating myself with images of bright slavering fangs and bristling fur. They sympathized and gave me lots of useless advice, the type that friends are so good at giving: You can’t show them that you’re afraid; If you don’t show them who is boss, they’ll walk all over you; Be a dominant alpha male. Maybe if we were talking about a Pomeranian, this advice would have been useful; I could have easily stared down a small rat-dog into submission. The aptly named Valdo however, could easily fit my head into his jaws and crush it if he so wanted. Besides, he had the advantage of asserting his superiority the moment I entered his domain. Eventually, Sandra and I found an apartment and moved in together. I was happy at first. Sandra proved herself to be capable of more warmth than her image suggested – I no longer felt the icy blast of Lithuanian winds when I tried to hold her. She learned what kind of foods I enjoyed most and made sure I never again had to make late-night trips to the bodega ever again. Having absorbed all the details she had to offer me in her own form, I turned my attention to the way she decorated our shared space. I liked her elegant taste; she left the walls white and the furniture almost Spartan. The accent colors she used were muted but the eye did not grow tired looking at them all day. I learned from her that a single lily in a vase diffused a fragrance more subtle and enticing than a whole bouquet of roses. Whenever I noted the flowers beginning to wilt, I would buy her more just to watch her white hands arrange them. I had the pleasure of sitting on opposite sides of the couch with her, pretending to read while she didn’t. I would sneak glances at her white hair, her hands turning the pages and the gentle throb of her pulse on the side of her throat. Obviously and unfortunately, Valdovas had to join us. He nearly took up half the space of our tiny living room floor. Initially, he wasn’t so threatening, this territory was new and he was not sure of his standing in it. I tried to take advantage of this new neutral ground in order to win him over. Bits of my dinner, pieces of hotdogs, cold cuts of turkey, even sizable chunks of steak were thrown in his direction. I made sure to be in clear view of him so that he knew who provided him with such delectable treats. The Prince would cautiously sniff them, maybe give a gentle lick, then shoot me a look of disgust and turn away. He never ate a single one of these offerings. Rather than appreciating my attempts at appeasement, Valdo soon took advantage and began demanding them as tribute. Once, when I was up late eating a sandwich in the kitchen alone, I heard the click click click of the dog’s nails striking the linoleum as he approached. He sat by my side and stared at me with a look of expectation. Confused, I took another bite of my
  4. 4. meal and stared right back. Without warning, Valdo stood up and released a heart-wrenching guttural snarl that shook me down to my very bowels. More than just startled, I dropped my sandwich and Valdo pounced on it. Before I could compose myself, The Prince was carrying it away into another room to eat in peace. Sandra was completely unaware of her prince’s total mastery over me; he only stared when her back was turned, only dared to growl when she was out of earshot. She did not approve of feeding dogs human-food but I was still not safe from his bullying when I ate at the table. During dinner, he would pretend to lie down under the table like a well behaved dog should. Halfway through our meal, he would sit up, put his head on my lap and utter a growl so low, my ears could not register it. I could however, feel his throat rumbling against my leg. If I tried to push his head off, he smacked my hand away with his teeth. I learned that the only way to stop the sinister vibrations that hummed on and between my thighs was to sneakily offer bits of my dinner in retribution. When I satisfied his sadistic appetite, his head gently slipped off my lap and he slunk into a corner of the room where he pretended to nap. Once, I tried to gain some insight from Sandra. We were both on the couch, watching our show before it would be time to tidy up and head to bed. I interrupted the silence between us abruptly, trying to suppress a tremor that was rising in my throat. “Why doesn’t Valdo like me? He just looks at me and I can tell he hates me. Why is that?” Sandra’s eyes flicked between me and the dog whose head lifted at the sound of his name coming from me. She took stock of the way he stared at me then shrugged and laughed. “Baby, it’s a fucking dog, do you want me to ask him?” Understandably, I hope, this began to affect my sanity. I felt unwelcome within my own home. Sometimes, when Sandra fell asleep on my chest when we watched a movie and Valdo took his threatening position by the couch, I wished I had a gun to shoot the dog between the eyes. When I had to walk him, and he dragged me along the sidewalk to torment squirrels, pigeons and most of all, me, I considered letting the leash go and allowing him to weave his way through traffic. I looked up ailments that commonly affected large dog breeds and prayed that hip dysplasia, bloat or heart failure would strike him down. I wanted to tie him up in front of a store for an hour to see if anyone would dare steal him. When a friend asked me about my situation with Valdovas, I laughed nervously and asked him how much I would need to pay him to take the damn thing out of my house and make sure it never came back. I would wake up panting in the middle of the night having dreamt about throttling the beast into whining submission. One day, Sandra was gone for the whole weekend to visit a friend who had gotten into an accident in another city. Despite her pleas to join her, I did not want to intrude and told her that I would stay and take care of Valdo while she was gone. Although she would miss me, she seemed pleased that I offered to take care of the dog that I was clearly – despite my best efforts to hide it
  5. 5. – uncomfortable to be around. She left me a set of feeding instructions and arranged the list of emergency numbers on the fridge, in case something went wrong. The day she left went without incident; Valdovas was too busy anxiously whining and pacing after his lady’s absence to notice me long enough and begin his usual antagonizing. I sat at the table and observed him, relishing a rare moment of vulnerability in my adversary. I allowed myself to notice the way his muscles rippled under his taut hide, the large paws and their blunt claws, the almost comically floppy ears and the way they bounced with each powerful stride. He stalked from room to room, making small noises, sharp eyes roving as if in search of Sandra. Occasionally, he would stop at the front door and bristle, exposing his very white teeth in a grimace of pain. I felt no pity at his distress; in fact, I wished he would drop dead of heartbreak. He was still like this when I settled into bed and fell into the most restful sleep I had in a very long time. The next morning, things had not seemed to change. I found Valdo lying by the front door after I had eaten my breakfast. When he heard my footsteps, The Prince’s head lifted and his gold eyes appraised me as if for the first time. I could tell by the way that his ears pinned back that he did not like my newfound confidence in his presence. He realized too late the mistake of his open display of vulnerability around me; I had witnessed him in a moment of weakness. Trying to instill some fear in me, he slowly stood up and growled. I refused to flinch – this was no ghostly hound of the Baskervilles but a dog that was about to learn what mastery truly was. As he advanced, I stood my ground. Enraged, The Prince lost his composure and his growls twisted into a full out snarl. Equally livid, I threw my head forward, curled my lip in a sneer and let loose a snarl of my own. We stood like this for a while, staring madly into each other’s eyes and bristling, neither wanting to be the first to pounce. Looking back, it’s a wonder the neighbors didn’t report anything – eventually, Valdovas resorted to a frightening mixture of snarls and screams and I into a loud yell that articulated only a profound savagery I never thought I could be reduced to. He feinted and I made a clumsy move to block an anticipated strike. Seeing me caught off balance, he rushed me. I barely was able to stop him with a kick to the head that made his jaws snap close with a satisfying metallic click. I gloated as he snarled and backed away, a new sense of caution beaten into him. I thought that would be the end of it. Valdovas however, was not willing to give up his seat of power so easily. After he sufficiently recovered from the blow, he resumed an offensive position and slunk toward me, invading my space and challenging me to make him leave it. I tried yelling and stomping at him, but he called my bluff and only advanced further. At first, his persistence struck fear into me – I was suddenly humbled by the realization that I was picking a fight with an enormous predator that probably weighed as much as I did. Sensing my hesitation, Valdo leapt without warning, teeth poised for my throat. He would have ripped it open if my hands had not wrapped around his own neck. His weight knocked me over and we continued our fight on the floor, him snarling, thrashing and trying to sink his teeth into me while I tightened and adjusted my grip around his windpipe. He was unbelievably strong and I could barely hold on – I was terrified that he would break my grip
  6. 6. and rip me to pieces. Already, his legs were clawing at my soft underbelly, tearing my clothes into shreds and leaving claw marks in my skin. A few times, he was able to kick me in the face, almost breaking my hold on him. But I held on, tightening my grip on his air supply, shaking him and all the while screaming in terror and rage. Eventually, Valdovas understood that I was not going to let go and that this was becoming a fight for his life. His attack was no longer purposeful in my destruction; he struck wildly and in panic. His snarls were strangled from him and he was soon gasping for air and his struggles became progressively weaker. Wheezing, Valdo soon gave up on fighting me and was trying to just break free. When he could barely move, I let go and shoved the animal as far away from me as I could. Valdovas made no effort to move, he only lay there gasping for air. Lying there on the floor, I felt no victory, only observed the beaten dog whose sides heaved in anguish. I slowly picked myself up, barely noticing the blood that flowed from where Valdovas’ teeth and claws met my arms and stomach. Seeing me stand, The Prince rolled his yellow eyes to meet mine and curled his lip in a wheezing but defiant snarl. I knew then that this would only end in the death of one of us. To be honest, I considered it for a moment; I had the image of bringing down a heavy bookend on his skull while he was still lying defenseless but his continued bristling and snarls told me that it would not be a victory. Valdovas would never submit to me, even under my death blow. My soul would quake in terror at his last snarl and the memory of it all would haunt me forever. I allowed him to recover fully enough to stand and let him go to the kitchen to eat and drink. I sat at the table, clumsily bandaging my wounds. His teeth only left puncture wounds and did not tear at my flesh; his nails however, had left wounds deep enough that they would not stop bleeding. Had the fight gone on longer, I’m sure that he could have disemboweled me. I made sure to never let Valdovas out of my sight; not because I feared another attack but because I was afraid that I had damaged his windpipe enough to cause mortality. When it was clear that he would fully recover, I stopped hounding him and dialed a friend’s number. While he was on his way, I cleaned the blood off of the floor and proceeded to pack a bag with my most essential clothing. Before I left, I scribbled a hasty note and left it on table where we kept our mail in the foyer. Don’t bother trying to call. I can’t take it anymore. He wins. Damn him and you to hell, both.