A few years ago Jack adopted an old bulldog called Mr Fine. Mr Fine belonged to people who lived down the street from Jack. When they decided to leave town and dump the dog at the SPCA, Jack offered to take him. Mr Fine didn’t seem to mind. As far as we knew, Mr Fine continued his life from the one day to the next without much of an interruption. It also became clear that he was not an ordinary dog.
“He’s weird,” Jack said when I visited.
Mr Fine sat on the carpet, regarding us patiently. He had bushy eyebrows and large jowls and a pink dewlap. I could picture him in a Chesterfield with a tumbler of brandy. His gaze moved between us as we spoke and he drooled a little.
“How come?” I asked.
“For starters,” Jack said, “he likes espresso.”
At this Mr Fine perked up. He bit the air in a way that sounded as though he’d said yup, and he sat up straight.
“How do you know?”
Jack got up and started to make an espresso at the messy little table that was his kitchen. Mr Fine went over to watch him. He hitchhiked with his stubby tail and said yup every now and then. When the espresso was done, Jack took a sip. Mr Fine gave a loud bark and shook drool around. Jack poured the rest of the espresso into a saucer which Mr Fine attacked and slobbered over until there was nothing left.
“See?” Jack said.
“And how did you find this out?” I asked.
“Well,” Jack said, “he went berserk when I made one. I didn’t teach him that, if that’s what you’re thinking.”
“So you just gave him some espresso?”
“To shut him up?”
We looked at Mr Fine who had taken up his position on the carpet again.
“What stops you from giving him beer?” I asked.
“He prefers stout.”
“I thought so,” I said. “What else?”
“He can spell cheese.”
“Mr Fine,” Jack said, “would you like some C-H-E-E-S-E?”
Mr Fine barked and wheezed and waddled to the fridge. When Jack opened the fridge, Mr Fine tried to climb inside but his size and age prevented that.
“He’ll only stop when I give him a slice,” Jack said and tickled Mr Fine between his ears.
“How did you find this out?”
“Well,” Jack admitted, “I kind of taught him.”
Mr Fine took up his position on the carpet again and regarded us.
“He watches me when I sleep,” Jack said after a few moments.
Mr Fine shifted his feet.
“Yup,” he said.
“How do you know?”
“I wake up for no reason and there he is, staring at me. It’s freaking me out.”
Mr Fine looked out the window as though he knew what we were saying.
“He hates cell phones,” Jack added. “I don’t know why.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
“How do you know?”
“You should see him. Talk on the phone—even look at one—and he nearly shits himself.”
“Yup,” Mr Fine said.
“Which brings me to another problem,” Jack said. “He doesn’t shit.”
Technically, of course, this wasn’t true. Mr Fine caused four-pound turds but the real problem was that we could never prove it. In the nearly two years Mr Fine stayed with Jack before he died, we never saw him take a crap. Jack took Mr Fine for long walks to regulate his bowels, but it didn’t work. Jack pleaded and tried to explain the benefits of being on the clock while Mr Fine sat by the side of the road and stared into the distance. Then, when they got home, Mr Fine shat a foot-long turd in some corner of the house.
“Guess where he’s crapped,” Jack said one day when I went to visit him.
“On my chair.”
Jack coughed and sneezed while I tried not to laugh.
“I’m sick,” he said.
“How’d he get up on the chair?” I asked.
Jack ignored this.
“I’m keeping a record now,” he said and blew his nose. “So far he’s crapped on the floor in every single room of the house, including the pantry and the wine cellar. He’s crapped in a pot plant and in the shower. He’s crapped on Frank Zappa’s face—I left a CD on the carpet. He’s crapped behind the toilet, under my bed and on top of my bed. And now he’s crapped on my chair.”
“He’s moving up in the world,” I said.
In the living room Mr Fine sat in his usual position.
“Coffee?” Jack asked and started toward the kitchen table.
“Yup,” Mr Fine said and joined him.
“He’s crapped again,” Jack said, “but I can’t smell a thing, so I can’t find it.”
“Are you sure he’s crapped?” I asked.
“Yup,” Mr Fine said as he bit the air.
He wanted an espresso but his timing was perfect.
“It could be anywhere,” Jack said. “Be careful.”
We recently talked about Mr Fine again. Jack had only one picture of him and he’d put it up as his desktop background. In the picture, Mr Fine sat on the carpet in his favourite position and regarded the camera with some suspicion.
“He was deeply weird,” Jack said.
He opened another picture.
“His finest turd,” he said.
On the screen was the turd we’d found that day. Jack had been struggling to write an article about the local craft beer industry but the effort had become too documentary, too factual. He had left his notes and a hand-written draft on the floor beside his bed. Across this Mr Fine had draped an editorial turd.
“He was right,” Jack said. “It was a piece of shit.”