The Dog Lover
After the fight, I escaped to the pub. Like most relationship tussles nobody was completely right, or wrong, but there’s always one person who’s more wrong, and on this occasion, that person was definitely me.
Nothing time and a well-worded apology wouldn’t fix. I hoped.
Staring at a football game I didn’t care about, and shuffling around words of contrition in my head like a battle formation, my mind kept wandering to make-up sex. About a 20 per cent chance for tonight, and 80 per cent for tomorrow night, after I handed over the present.
‘Can I buy you a beer?’ asked a well-built and good-looking late twenties man who’d materialised behind me.
Next to him on a table I noticed he’d placed a beer, newspaper, dog lead and a tightly tied plastic bag.
‘Why?’ I asked.
‘Why does there always have to be a why?’
‘Sorry mate.’ I nodded at the screen. ‘I’m just watching that.’
‘Want to play a game?’ He paused. ‘Not that sort of game.’
‘So what sort then?’ I asked, without looking away from the football.
‘It’s pretty simple. I tell a story, and you try to guess when I’m lying. If you’re right, I buy us both shots. If you’re wrong, you buy the drinks.’ He waited, and then added, ‘I promise that I’ll end up buying more shots than you do.’
‘Shots of what?’
‘Okay then,’ I said.
I did a quick safety check. We were in a public place, I was slightly bigger than him, and if he was thinking of sex, he was hiding it exceptionally well. Not that I’ve ever been a good judge, I didn’t even know my wife was interested until she told me.
He returned with a fresh beer for each of us. ‘Okay so I’m 35 and I want kids, and I’m great chat, good looking and sensational in bed,’ he began.
He laughed. ‘I am 35, but I suppose the rest of that one is more opinion than fact.’
So he was a similar age to me, and although he didn’t look it, I’d never let him know. I’d only ever tell a really close friend if he was looking good, and only if he were looking exceptionally good.
The stranger returned with two Tequila shots, without salt or lemon, and we threw them down.
‘The problem is,’ he continued, ‘I’m not a long-term prospect because I’m an actor.’
He stared at me, and I stared back.
‘I am actually an actor,’ he said. ‘And I get enough work, but it’s extremely unlikely that I’m ever going to have enough to afford a house. Or apartment. I mean if I save up, work really hard and then one day, years from now, I might be able to get a caravan. From a hire place. For a week. Maybe.’
He laughed, I smirked, and was content to let him talk even if I did suspect he was lying, as I didn’t want to return home drunk. I couldn’t afford a home by myself either.
‘So to prove my worth as a prospective partner,’ he said, ‘I decided to get a dog. You know, like a practice kid. And if you accidentally kill a dog, well that’s bad, but nowhere near as bad as with a kid.’
I shifted my chair away from him, and closer to the door.
‘I did consider getting a plant,’ he added. ‘But there’s no chance of a plant ever sniffing the butt of another plant, that’s being walked by a cute girl.’ He glared at me. ‘Still nothing?’ he asked.
I shook my head.
‘So first I had to pick out a name, and I wanted it to be something funny because dogs don’t give a shit about their names, but people do. Also it couldn’t be a people name. My name’s Max, and there are too many dogs named Max.’
‘Rubbish,’ I said.
He showed me his licence, and I bought some shots.
‘So sometimes I hear people calling out my name,’ he continued, ‘and they’re waving and I think, “I don’t know this person, but maybe they know me. I have done a bit of TV”.’ He exhaled. ‘There are few things more humiliating than waving back and smiling and walking towards a person, and then having their dog rush past you.’
‘I don’t believe you,’ I said.
‘Okay so that’s never happened, but it might. And I have done some TV.’
He returned with more Tequila, we downed it and I was feeling drunk but didn’t mind. Usually in bars it’s just dead eyed people staring at nothing. Even if this stranger is crazy, he’s at least entertaining.
‘Anyway,’ he said. ‘I decided not to get a dog at all. If you add up all the food and vaccinations and stuff, they’re nearly as expensive as caravans.’
‘But aren’t kids more expensive than dogs and caravans?’ I asked.
‘So how do poor people,’ he replied, ‘always seem to have so many of all three?’
The stranger had been gradually increasing his pace as he became more excited, and now began talking so quickly that each word collided into the next. ‘And just because I didn’t have a dog, that didn’t mean I couldn’t pretend. Also, I’d been reading about how dogs were supposed to be good for you mental health,’ he said, ‘and so was therapy because it’s important to talk about your problems. However I couldn’t afford therapy or a dog, unless I stopped this.’ He held up his beer. ‘Which is never going to happen. Then I had this genius idea to put all that together. In order to get what I really wanted.’
I interrupted him. ‘I’m sorry. What now?’
‘To pretend I had a dog to prove I had relationship potential, to talk about my problems for my mental health, and to combine those two ideas into a plan that would hopefully result in me meeting someone.’
‘Bullshit,’ I said.
‘It’s not, but I’ll get the shots,’ he replied.
‘So I went down to the leash free dog park,’ he continued after he’d returned. ‘And so the other dog owners didn’t think I was a freak, I bought a dog lead, then got a plastic bag and did a shit in it.’
My gaze went straight to the plastic bag on the table, and he caught me staring at it.
‘You’re lying,’ I said.
‘Do you want to check?’
‘So while down at the park, with a leash in one hand and my shit in the other, in order to pretend I had a dog and talk about my problems at the same time, I just started calling out stuff like:
“Get out of it, fear of commitment.”
“Come on, don’t eat that, poor diet.”
“Stay right there, self-loathing. I’m coming over there.”
“Rent Money. Sit. Stay. No. Stay out of the pub. Awww, rent money, where are you going? You just love that pub, don’t you rent money? Cheeky little rent money.”
And my favourite. “Get over here, right now, practice kid”.’
I didn’t know whether to run, or start recording this conversation on my phone. I did neither, as I still had some beer left.
‘Then I did meet a girl,’ said the stranger. ‘And we spent hours together, looking for my dog called “erection problems”. We chatted, and got on really well, so I told her I really liked her, and I admitted that I didn’t actually have a dog. Which she was fine with, but then asked me what was in the plastic bag, how it got there, and why I was still carrying it around, and that was the end of that.’
I desperately wanted to know what was in the plastic bag, but also desperately didn’t.
‘So what do you think? True story? Back in a sec.’
He returned with two more shots, and two more beers.
‘I suppose I hope that it isn’t true,’ I told him. ‘And probably would’ve found it more entertaining if I wasn’t slightly freaked out.’
The stranger laughed. ‘So you’re married.’
‘How did you know?’
‘You just carry this air of… defeated. And your wedding ring.’ He chased his shot with a sip of beer. ‘So don’t bother getting a dog, unless you don’t want to have kids.’
Not for the first time, I wondered if this was some sort of elaborate setup. However, if it was all a trick, it felt like too much effort for not enough of a point. I’m sure at this very moment there were far stranger coincidences occurring all around the world. Which I suppose, is another type of coincidence.
Regardless, the stranger was right, and I wondered if it was already too late to cancel that gift and get a refund. It certainly was going to push things at home in a particular direction. Actually, even if I couldn’t get my money back, I’d let them keep it.
The stranger stood up. ‘I’ve got to go, or I’ll be late for speed dating. Thanks for the practice.’
‘Oh… Well if you’re going to go with that story, make sure you cut that bit about killing the dog. And don’t take the lead or the plastic bag.’
‘Why not? It’s not like you’re going to ever need them.’
He left, with both the lead and the bag.
Xavier Toby is a writer and comedian. His debut comedy book about life on a FIFO mining site ‘Mining My Own Business’ is available now.