sat Chance on the bathroom counter and tipped her head back. Her eyes rolled and showed a sliver of white at the edge like new moons. I poured hydrogen peroxide down her open throat. In seconds she arched her back, opened her mouth, and curled her long tongue. She made a prehurl urp-noise, eyes big now. “Put her in the tub,” Herman yelled from the kitchen. “Once you give her the stuff, put her in the tub.”
I picked her up like a child and carried her to the tub, her mouth working over a silent stammer. I sat on the side of the tub and ran my hand through her fur. My lovely, silky Chance, sweet dark-eyed stray. “You’re OK, baby,” I said, and hoped it was true. Her legs went stiff as a seizure; her nails trembled against the porcelain. She slid into a skittering dog dance. I steadied her with a hand to her belly.
When she opened her mouth again and heaved, her stomach grew small and her ribs barreled out, tight under the fur. What came from her mouth wasn’t liquid but white foam thick as shaving cream, dense as Fix-A-Flat, flecked with the earthy green bits of Herman’s harvest.
Between the gargle of vomit, she chomped her mouth open and closed, open and closed. The whole show was ripe for a ventriloquist act: A clown and a poodle walk into a hash bar…
Herman came from the dark hall and leaned against the bathroom door. He flipped the overhead lights off, turned a small night-light on. “That’s the way,” he said. “That’ll bring a dog down.” He took a bite from a slice of honeydew in one hand, and held a fresh cigarette in the other. Melon juice dripped off his fingers. The honeydew melon and the cigarette, the clean taste of fruit spoiled by ashes—that was exactly the way Herman had always been, why we once got together and why I broke us up; he was all contradictions.
Chance filled the tub with pot-spiked meringue, her stoner snowdrifts. I ran a hand over her shivering back. “Hang in there, sweets,” I said, quietly.
“So, Nita,” Herman said. “Where you been, anyway? Looking a little ravished.” He took a drag on his smoke, his best friend and pacifier.
I kept my eyes on shivering Chance. “I’m sure you mean ravishing.” It wasn’t Herman’s business where I slept, even when I slept at the hospital.
“Yeah, that’s right. Clown date?” Herman said.
Nadia came up behind him in the doorway, a barbell in one hand, a half-eaten banana in the other.
“Funny, I could ask you the same thing,” I said. I turned on the water to wash away white drifts of vomit. Chance scrambled to the far end of the tub. She slipped. I caught her.
A gentle world. Nice. A safety net, that’s what my baby dog and I needed.
Instead, Chance was a Christmas tree flocked in her own fake snow. Behind Herman, Nadia-Italia raised the barbell with one hand and looked over his shoulder. “Ought to save that stuff. Recycle the drugs, right?” she said.
If I had Italia’s muscles, I’d be a clown extraordinaire. I’d defeat physics by defying gravity, no doubt. Italia only used her muscles to build more muscles, until she was made of knotted lumps of stone.
My plan was to get out of there.
The clown money was my ticket out of Herman’s house and down to San Francisco, to Rex. I’d leave Baloneytown in the dust. Maybe I’d go to Clown College too. Then I’d sleep in the master bedroom, not the mudroom, right? Ta da!
House Rules would be our rules, Rex’s and mine. I’d have my own family again, not a makeshift sideshow.
When Chance slowed her vomit production to nil, I wrapped her in a towel and carried her against my shoulder like a colicky baby. On the way to my room, I stopped to plug the phone back into the wall.
“Hey—who’re you calling?” Herman said. “The dog’s good as new.”
She was droopy and wild-eyed, hardly new . “Rex,” I said. “Or is Clown College one more joint in the long arm of the law?” Like, the long rubber arm. I pushed past Herman and closed the
Gabriel García Márquez, Edith Grossman