Everything about him was slender and pointed, he had been bred that way, aerodynamic, a racing dog. Although he did not move slowly, not slowly at all, I had the feeling that I was watching a film in slow motion. No fat, no waste. He suited her, just as everything she owned suited her, from her house to her toothbrush — which I had once noticed, during a dinner party, when I accidentally (accidentally!) went into her bathroom; a toothbrush made of wood in a matching wooden holder.
The dog came when I called him, let me put him on the lead without a fuss. Sometimes I said ‘sit,’ and then he would actually sit. It made me think of the times I had babysat for friends’ children. How I had held them in baby carriers on my own belly, the ease with which the role took me over, took everything over, relieving me of the ambiguities of which I was myself constructed.
I have the urge, after that toothbrush, to describe the rest of her bathroom too. In my mind, I often return there, even though I never went back after that one time. On my way to the park, I pick up the dog, two afternoons a week, she leaves the key under a stone in her front garden. The dog is waiting in the hallway, I put him on the lead, we walk for an hour, I take him back. If there is post, I put it on the table beside the door, but that’s it, that’s as far as I go, I’m not the type to sneak silently around someone else’s house, feeling inside coat pockets, pulling drawers open, drinking from the half-empty bottle of Pinot Grigio in the fridge.
Sometimes she leaves a sticky note on the table beside the door. With thanks and smileys. She calls me ‘angel’ and ‘fairy godmother.’ I write back to say it’s no trouble, that it’s the dog who’s taking me for a walk, et cetera. She is not the world’s most talented rhetorician (admittedly, in the notes I write back to her, I fully surrender to the abundant use of exclamation marks, winking faces and emotional expressions devoid of any originality), but there is something flirtatious about her tone, something cheeky that I like. At night, in bed, I tell my husband about the dog, how attached I’ve become, not so much to the animal itself, but more to our walks together, the natural way we move through the park together, as if we are fastened to the ends of a rubber band that stretches and then springs back together. I don’t tell him anything about her notes, although I occasionally ask if he’s seen her, that day, at work, and he sometimes says yes, but more often no – no, not today.
Of course I fantasise about her. I imagine her stepping into the bath after a long day at work, goose bumps, slowly sinking into the hot water. Her nipples, small and dark, her pubic hair wild, unshaven. Walking naked across her living room, stretching out on the sofa, wet strands of hair down her face and sending him a message, her free hand between her legs (warm, moist, her hand moving absently, and then less and less absently, she becomes wet, smells herself, a scent that excites her, she does not need anyone).
The dog stopped and squatted to poo. Like every other time, I was surprised at the banality of it, surprised that he had innards like every other dog, a digestive system that produced moist, stinking turds. I took a green-coloured eco-friendly poo bag out of the tube dangling from the lead, put my hand into the bag and kneeled down beside the turd.
I kneeled beside the turd of my husband’s mistress’s dog, and I picked it up. The symbolic dimension of this action was not lost on me; in fact, I overdid the kneeling a little, as if it were not a turd that I was reverentially picking up from the ground, but a piece of the foreskin of Jesus himself.
It felt warm in my hand, like a small animal. I squatted there for longer than necessary, I wanted to smell everything — the pungent smell of dog shit, the wet leaves, the perfumed plastic bag, which did not disguise anything but only emphasised the stench. Simone de Beauvoir is known to have opened the door to let Sartre’s mistresses in. Anyone who considers that an act of inconsistency or weakness has an impoverished imagination.
The dog stood waiting a few metres away for us to walk on, his head at an angle, a question on his face. (It is true that I took her toothbrush out of the holder that night and held it up to my nose for a moment. It smelled a bit musty, old toothpaste and stagnant water, she is a woman who loves beautiful things but treats them carelessly, just as – I imagine – she brushes her teeth in a sloppy way, sloppily and full of confidence in herself and her indestructible physical health).
We walked an extra lap of the park. I thought ‘why not?,’ just as you might think ‘why not?’ at four in the morning in a dark nightclub. Sometimes, in fact generally, I had the feeling that the dog knew everything. Not the facts as such, but underlying truths: that you can escape humiliation by digging yourself so deeply into it that all the daylight disappears and the earthworms wrap themselves around your body like jewellery. That jealousy is not so much different from lust, and lust not so much different from aggression, and aggression not so much different from abjection, and abjection not so much different from victory. And that I walk her dog because this is my role, my starring role, a tour de force that looks a lot like love.