When they asked, I told them I wanted the dog that would take up the most space in my house. They opened a heavy door, went into the back and came out with a giant. He shambled. He was tall and hairy, and his head nodded on his long neck like a horse's. He swung his gaze in my direction. His expression was frank. It said, Get me out of here. One of the attendants said, "Do you [End Page 106] know whose dog this was? That guy who set his wife on fire—his lawyer brought it in here and told us to put it down." I put the dog in my small car. Getting him home was like moving a sofa.
My only experience living with dogs up to this point had been a picture in my mother's house from the Victorian era depicting a hound mourning over the body of a young boy. It was one of several prints hanging staggered in the stairwell. The dead boy was propped up against a piled fishnet, and there was ocean in the background. The dog, with pearls of water rolling off its fur, cast its eyes up to a gaping hole in the clouds ready to receive its master's soul. Sometimes I couldn't bear to look at the picture and rushed past on my way upstairs to bed.
I named the dog Deli, from Fidelity and also because I learned that bologna really perked this animal up. We'd go out in the backyard and I'd throw discs of bologna—slices doubled up so they flew straight—and Deli would jump up and gobble them out of thin air. We did that every day, until the dog started getting fatty lumps the size of marbles under his coat and the vet told me to lay off. Anyway, it probably wasn't right to be throwing meat around like a toy.
I was happy with my dog, and he seemed happy with me. After a few years there was a story in the paper about how the man who'd set his wife on fire had been denied parole. I showed Deli the guy's grainy photo and searched for a glimmer of recognition—a catch in the dog's breath, a tremor in his tail—but there wasn't anything like that. As a matter of fact, he gave me a consoling lick across my entire face.
We lived together in a house next to the railroad tracks. Freight trains went by four or five times a day, and I put felt on the bottom of everything so it wouldn't rattle. Sometimes I'd be eating breakfast before work and Deli would put his chin down on the tabletop and give me a look like, Why [End Page 107] don't you go get a wife? So I would try, and sometimes a woman would live with us for a while, and they loved us in different ways. One liked to put her underwear on the dog's thin hips. Later there was a woman who paused movies on the VCR if the dog left the room and wouldn't resume watching until he came back. After a few months it would always go back to being just the two of us in the house.
One night Deli didn't come in from the backyard, so I went to see what the matter was. It was just about winter, and the sky had a pinkness to it, the way it gets before snow. Deli was sitting like a sphinx in the dried-out grass, and there was a boy lying in front of him. This boy wasn't dead, but he was drunk. He'd been riding the train and hopped off and climbed over my fence when he saw Deli out in the yard. I didn't think you could ride freight trains anymore, and I tried to get some stories out of the kid, but he was too drunk to talk. I brought him inside and opened a can of soup and put on a pot of...