Fiction · 03/16/2011

How To Kill Your Neighbor's Dog

Whatever your reason, keep it to yourself. Don’t confront your neighbor about the all-night barking or the yard-shitting or the getting-loose-and-jumping-up-on-your-thighs. If you did, besides later knowing who killed the dog and to which address to direct his retribution, your neighbor would respond, “What the fuck are you going to do about it?” When he said it, standing in his doorway shirtless and narrow-eyed, he would voice the word “you” in a way meant to suggest that a different man could and would do something about it, but that the man that is “you” could not possibly take any action that would prove meaningful to your neighbor or in any way alter the situation, nor would that man do so, not even if we lived in some other universe where tortoiseshell glasses and suede desert boots with crêpe soles signified the same aggressive confidence as, in our own universe at the time and place of your confrontation, do exposed armpit hair and morning breath that smells like whiskey and pussy.

It is also unadvisable to share your feelings with those you might think would take your side. Casual complaints to your wife may seem harmless enough, but it’s a shorter distance than you know from there to putting your fist through a wall at 3 a.m. and the years of couples counseling that follow such behavior. Besides, she likes having the dog around to pet and to play with, since her family always had dogs but she knows you do not want the responsibility.

You have been a good person; you would not kill a dog without reaching your breaking point. When you find yourself working a lint brush in vain across the thighs of your sharkskin suit pants, feel the stress hormones that scorch your capillaries in the absence of the deep, restorative sleep that allows your body to regulate such chemicals. Watch your neighbor walking the dog with his gorgeous girlfriend, allowing her to remind you of the one-night-stand you turned down your senior year in college because you felt sure even then that your future wife, however homely, was the best partner you would find. Scrub angrily at the dog shit you cannot banish from the new canvas Chuck Taylors you bought to help you feel young.

Make a plan. As you haunt the forums, engrossed in the successes and failures of those who have come before you, be tentative and exploratory. Will you poison the dog with macadamia nuts ground into meatballs? Will you wait until some night when it has escaped and then push it into traffic? Will you lure the dog into your car with treats, drive it deep into the Rockies, and offer it to the bears and the cougars and the deep nighttime freezes?

Make your choice, and then, crucially, stay positive. Put the likely consequences out of your mind, replacing them with more desirable outcomes like the police never showing up, your neighbor never breaking your ribs. You might even take the liberty of imagining a consolatory tryst with your neighbor’s girlfriend, who, unlike your wife, would probably let you go down on her. When you envision the affair and masturbate, try not to think about the dog puking all over the yard, the dog crushed under a passing 4Runner, the dog lying in the wilderness, mauled and frozen.

Before you take action, finalize your plan and consider the act in such depth and with such realism that you’re fully prepared for the psychological ramifications. A few weeks of thorough daydreaming should be enough to help you sort out whether you’re prepared to look that idiot dog in the eyes before you dangle a tainted steak over your neighbor’s chain-link fence. You must understand deeply each emotion that will arise: fear of getting caught, guilt about killing, relief at your freedom from the dog’s mindless tyranny, guilt about feeling relieved, anger that your neighbor put you in this position to begin with, perhaps even the temptation to kill again.

Most of all, you must contend in advance with a feeling you will never shake — that you are evil, that you have done evil and cannot take it back. You will no longer be the person you’ve been so proud of, who never drinks to excess, who never asks for raises, who never seriously considers infidelity. Instead, above all and forever, you will be a taker of life. You do not now believe in heaven and hell, but if you ever change your mind, you will have no choice but to consider yourself damned among the living.

If you must prove to yourself that you are capable of such things, that you are man enough, whatever that could mean, carry out your plan. Wait for a business trip to shop for supplies. Pay for the beef and the nuts in cash. One night, when the dog barks and you get up to empty your bladder, quietly open your back door and toss the meatballs over the fence. Bury the empty bag in your kitchen trash can, wash your hands well, and try to get some sleep.

The next day, watch through your window as your neighbor shouts at the police on his porch, likely telling him that they can’t solve the case, having interviewed area residents to no avail. As he carves his furious gestures into the air, wonder if you just saw him pointing to your house.

When you answer the heavy knock at your door and find your neighbor, greet him with condolences. Tell him that no matter what your feelings about the dog, you would never kill him — and be sure to say “him,” even if it feels wrong to use human pronouns for dogs. Your neighbor may drag you from your doorstep and pummel you, unconcerned by any consequences, because of the kind of man he is.

When your wife arrives at the hospital, respond defensively to her gentle question about your involvement in Cracker’s death. Ask her if that’s really all she can think about with you lying in a hospital bed. Ask her if she knows you at all. When she tells you that she feels you’ve been changing for years, that you never want to have sex anymore, that you haven’t really wanted to since your first anniversary, and so no, she doesn’t feel like she knows you as well as she once did, it may be best just to stare at her while you realize that she’s right, that you’re not sure how well you know yourself anymore, or whether you ever knew yourself as well as you thought, for so long, that you did.

A few days after your wife moves out, convince yourself that you are better off, that if she couldn’t be with you through the hard times, she wasn’t the woman you married anyway. As you fall asleep, allow yourself to conceive of the coming years as a reclaiming of your lost youth, never as reckless as it could’ve been. Maybe you will move to Las Vegas. Maybe you will visit a prostitute there. Maybe you will buy a gun for the next neighbor who shows up at your door. Maybe you are that kind of man.

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Devan Goldstein’s writing has appeared in Etchings, On the Premises, The Motley Fool, Bright Lights Film Journal, and elsewhere. He is the Flash Fiction Editor for Flywheel Magazine and lives with his wife in Colorado.