hen I saw it, the word gravity came to mind, then perhaps void or hole. Anything but dog, a word that had nothing to do with the mass of fur and muscle sitting there motionless as we approached, its twin black eyes inspecting us as if the thing had been awaiting our arrival since the birth of the universe.
“I want that one,” my wife said.
I said nothing. For months we’d been like this—like polite strangers observing each other’s odd behavior but afraid to question it for fear of offense. I, for example, hadn’t been to bed in several weeks, preferring instead to stay up night after night gazing through my telescope in our upstairs office. I’d brought in a sleeping bag and pillows so I could nap under my desk, this massive oak thing that weighs a ton. Sleeping there was like being buried, comforting in a way. My wife, on the other hand, had taken to eating uncooked macaroni. I worried about her teeth but said nothing. What was there to say? Six months ago our only child had been born dead. The earth had shifted, wobbled on its axis and this was the result. Nothing could surprise me anymore, not even this pet store with its fluorescent green bunnies, a pig that lactated silk and a snake with human hands.
“How about one of these horned hamsters?” I asked.
“I want the dog,” my wife repeated and looked at the store owner, a man so white he glowed. I wanted to warn her that the thing, the dog, could swallow us both. But as the man opened the cage and handed her the leash, I thought maybe this was what we needed: something so enormous we could think of nothing else—something to make it impossible to go on as we had been, living as if we were made of sand and one wrong move or question would cause us both to collapse. A dog this size would knock us over and require that we rebuild, stronger this time.
As we left the building I examined the dog for missed signs of freakishness, an extra head we hadn’t seen or a pair of bat wings hidden in the thick fur, but the only unusual trait was how noiselessly it moved, as if it absorbed not only light but sound as well. On the drive home I studied the rearview mirror where the beast blacked out everything behind us.
“Do you think it’s rather large?” I asked.
“Large is a matter of perspective,” my wife replied.
I considered this point, thinking how I always felt too big until I met her. She was far shorter than me and beautiful, though in an awkward way, like a penguin. Her wide, dark eyes were too large for her face and her thick hips and torso made her arms and legs appear dwarfish. Everyone thought she was foreign, maybe Russian or Greek. She once had that charisma, too—the sparkle of the exotic—a magnetism that attracted me and, despite how I towered over her, made me feel small. It was strange and I liked it. But the past few months had been one long eclipse of her former self and the both of us were still readjusting to this new gravity.
The dog’s head wedged between the seats and a vine of drool like egg whites plopped onto the back of my hand.
“I hope it’s not a puppy,” I said.
We stopped to buy dog food and pet supplies then returned to Sun Blessed Homes, a place with plenty of sun, few blessings and mostly unfinished homes. Ours had been one of the first, so while the few nearby houses were complete, most of the subdivision remained piles of sand that only somewhat blocked views of the surrounding desert. The ongoing construction once gave me a sense of hope, a promise that the world were undergoing a marvelous transformation. Now the place felt like a bomb site, with the half-buried foundations marking the spots where houses died.
In the twilight the dog looked like a black hole. A dog hole, I thought and chuckled. My wife didn’t notice. She led the animal into the house where it invited itself around, its paws clicking on the hardwood floors. It stopped only to sniff the long cylinder of my telescope upstairs before returning to the living room where it sat so still and silent it looked stuffed.
“It matches the furniture,” I noted.
“Yes,” my wife said and stroked her chin as she did when assessing the design of a thing.
The dog truly did fit the décor, the black leather geometric chairs and tables my wife adored. I never much liked living in a place that looked like an art gallery, but it suited her so well, these white walls and hard, right angles. To see her tucked into a corner of the Eames sofa, I understood what she meant about the balance of asymmetry.
I then noticed the dog’s boxy head inching toward the ceiling.
“Is the dog growing?” I asked.
“Of course he’s growing.”
“No—I mean, I can see it growing.”
“Maybe you’re shrinking,” she said and nuzzled her face into the dog’s neck, murmuring to it the way she once spoke to her womb.
By morning the dog was up to my chest. My wife fed it a bucket of kibble, then poured herself a bowl of macaroni. I hid behind the morning paper, read about a woman who gave birth to septuplets and named them after days of the week, and occasionally glanced over at the animal sitting quietly by the kitchen.
“Something wrong?” my wife asked, not looking up from her bowl of elbows.
“Just spacing out.”
At work, I looked for clues on the Internet, researched information about aberrant metabolism, mutant expansion and other examples of abnormal bigness. I found little besides facts about the growth surges of zygotes and tadpoles, so I asked the other technician what he knew about sudden growth spurts.
“Infants or teenagers?” He positioned a patient in the mammogram unit, then returned behind the shield and commenced zapping her breast with rays.
“Not that. I mean, have you ever heard of an animal, say a cat, growing way beyond its normal size?”
“Like a cat that’s part saber-toothed tiger?”
I was stunned. “That can happen?”
We stared at the black monitor as a snowy dome of veins appeared. “Oh, sure,” he said. “Junk DNA. Genetic leftovers from millions of years of evolution? That stuff doesn’t just disappear. If you knew how to trigger it, you could grow tentacles and a tail if you wanted to.”
That evening, I asked my wife, “What if the dog’s part mastodon?”
She reclined upon the Le Corbusier chaise lounge, the animal at her feet. She didn’t look at me or respond, only sat up to take its cube head in her hands and study its eyes, round and promising as eggs.
“It could be some experiment, something dangerous. Did you see the goldfish at that place? They had blonde hair and breasts.”
“You don’t love him,” she said, speaking to the dog.
“That’s not it. I like it, I really do.” I sat across the room in the Wassily chair, my least favorite, the sling-like one that made me sink too far back, and for a moment I felt as though I were spying on the two of them through my telescope. There had once been a time when I could lie on the sofa there with her, circle around her like a shell. But that was back when our bodies still had complementary shapes and functions—mine the hard exoskeleton, hers the soft tissue beneath.
“Why do you keep calling him an it? He’s not an it; he’s a him.”
I hadn’t noticed. “I don’t know. It’s just so huge. I don’t want to imagine that thing reproducing. The world couldn’t take it.” I didn’t mean to criticize the animal. I did like it, I couldn’t help it. The dog was something. But there remained something not-quite-right about it. “I’m going to call a vet. This growth isn’t natural.”
“Natural is for the birds,” she answered, then mounted the dog and trotted off to the family room.
The animal would no longer fit into the car, so I found a vet who did house calls. She was a bulky, horse-faced woman. When she arrived, she took one look at the beast and whistled.
“That’s a whale of a dog there,” she said, then proceeded to check the dog’s vital signs and peered into the inky eyes with a light, revealing a cosmos of veins and vessels within. During the examination, I realized the creature was no longer growing visibly and had the strange sense it could turn this feature off and on at will.
“Don’t you think its size is a bit unusual?” I asked.
“I’ve seen frogs big as suitcases,” she replied. “It’s the heat. The world’s burning up, you know. Things are changing.”
I wanted to ask her about my junk DNA hypothesis, but my wife watched from the top of the stairs, so I said nothing, just paid the vet and she left. I stood there for a while, my wife hovering in silence above, the dog panting primeval breath in my face.
Its presence marked a new era in our lives: A.D.—After Dog. There was no space to think about the time before. Dog, now, was all. By week’s end, it stood tall as me on legs thick as young pines. Still, it never made a sound; it never barked nor growled, only ate, drank from kiddie pools in the kitchen and left pyramids of poop around the neighborhood behind the unfinished houses. What fascinated me most was its bizarre grace, the way it moved without knocking anything over, even the fragile crystal vase on the Noguchi table. More than a few nights when I stayed up peering through my telescope, I would turn to find it suddenly behind me so camouflaged by darkness I could sense it only by the glistening outline of a nose, the warm, wet breath on my neck.
One evening, while my wife and I were at the dining table and the dog had its head in a sack of food the size of a child, I asked, “Don’t you think fifty pounds of food a day is a lot?”
My wife studied the creature as it licked its chops with a prehensile tongue. She crunched macaroni and nodded slowly, though I knew it wasn’t in answer to my question, but because she had decided something.
“There’s some stuff we need to get rid of,” she replied but didn’t elaborate.
The next day she went into the garage and pulled out boxes of junk—old clothes and shoes, knickknacks, holiday decorations, outdated magazines, and the unused serving ware we received at our wedding. She brought them into the house and tossed the items one by one into the dog’s enormous maw which swallowed everything like so many biscuits. I feared protesting as my wife might get angry or worse yet, sad—so sad she could crumble in grief and recede into bed where she once lived for weeks, though maybe this time she would disappear forever. Her manner and voice were so different these days it was impossible to predict what might occur. So I watched, fascinated, until I realized what the equation could add up to.
“In another week, you’ll be feeding it a husband,” I joked.
“He won’t eat family,” she said and kissed the creature’s paw, big as a manhole cover.
After she’d gone to bed, the creature and I went for a walk. Midnight strolls were our few moments alone, it and I, and on moonless nights like that one, I would point out the stars. My first love had always been astronomy and I liked to invent my own constellations, ones I named after cartoon characters and dinosaurs and the grainy, black-and-white ultrasound print I still kept in my wallet. The dog seemed interested in these discussions, frequently lifting its great head to the sky and nodding, as if picking up a good scent.
I began to worry we would run out of things for the dog to eat, but my wife found no end to the possibilities. She cleared out the basement and garage and even hacked apart my rusty 12-speed bike, which the dog devoured before licking up an old car battery.
“What’s it going to eat now?” I asked.
“There’s still some junk upstairs,” she said, patting the creature’s furry belly.
I returned from work the next day to the sound of eating. I dashed upstairs, afraid that the dog had taken to my telescope but instead found my wife feeding it the nursery. It had been months since either of us had entered the room, and I froze in amazement at the shock of all that stuff: the clean diapers and baby socks, stuffed toys, stacks of size one pajamas, teething rings, breast pumps and nipple shields, bottles, bibs, comforters, baby books and bags, vitamin supplements, bottle warmers, clean wipes, breast creams and nursing bras. All this and more—the rocking chair, crib, changing table, stroller and bookshelf—disappeared, piece by piece, into the dog’s mouth. The way the creature sucked it down was oddly fascinating, like time lapse photography—a life over in moments. Through it all, my wife’s face remained unchanged but for the sharp squint of her eyes as she spotted each successive item for the creature’s ready jaws. She didn’t even notice me standing there.
“We should talk about this,” I said, surprising us both.
The dog slurped the last of the burp towels.
“About what?” she asked.
The strange magnetism between me and her shifted again, pushing and pulling in disorienting ways. I sensed the threat of imminent upheaval like a mole smelling an approaching earthquake and could offer nothing but a plea—“Just don’t let it eat my telescope.”
By this time I was thoroughly frightened. I had seen into the dog’s eyes, knew of its infinite capacity. It was a matter of time before it would take the furniture, then the house itself, and then what? I imagined its progression, pictured it wading through oceans, swallowing continents. I dreamed of its stomach x-rays and my own skeleton there under the ruins of cities.
The following morning, I gathered my nerve. I said:
“We can’t keep a two-ton dog. We should bring it somewhere, a circus maybe. Or a research lab. I’ll get a good reference.”
She stood with her back to me. Her black hair trailed to her knees as she stared up at the dog. She wouldn’t answer. I grew desperate. “Don’t you think this is a little absurd?”
“Yes,” she replied and looked at me. I barely recognized her; her dark eyes were alien. I sensed she was peering into me and found nothing but bones and shadows. In the mirror over her head, I could see that I, too, looked terrible: my hairline now receded to the top of my head revealing acres of skin, white and waxy, stretched thin over the hard planes of my skull. Next to the solid figure of my wife and the dense presence of dog, I looked like a subterranean creature, something blind and wormlike suddenly brought to the surface.
So I left. I drove through the desert where the enormous plagued me everywhere: a cheeseburger filling a billboard; a diplodocus guarding a gas station; a loaf of bread the size of a trailer passing by on the side of a truck. I parked at a motel shaped like a giant sombrero and stared at the limitless expanse of sagebrush and sand out the window. When I closed my eyes, I saw snowy mountains with milky veins and distant stars clustering like cells.
Upon returning, I found the house empty but for my telescope in the upstairs office. I went back to the sombrero and rented a room where I saw my wife and dog on the nightly news. They were at a stadium somewhere, maybe Vegas, on a raised platform, buoyant amid heads and cameras. My wife wore a brilliant, sequined suit, the dog laying behind her like a blimp. She spoke to a crowd of reporters. They asked what she did for a living.
“I feed my dog,” she said. Everyone laughed.
Within days, the pair were everywhere on every frequency across the globe. The dog could eat anything—cars, trees, fighter jets—and did it for an audience of millions. I kept tabs on them, and each time my wife’s face appeared on the screen or in print, I felt the pull of a rapidly increasing gravity. I had to see them. So before one of the dog’s final feats, I drove for hours through the desert until I reached the site where the creature was set to eat a ballistic missile. The area stood on an ancient salt lake, a stretch of hard, flat earth lit up bright as the Oscars. Security nearly threw me out, but the dog, now the size of a rocket ship, caught my scent and wagged its gargantuan tail. The wind current it produced knocked down the press corps and in the melee and confusion, I ran to my wife. There was too much to say. I only had a moment so I said it:
“He’s in the sky. Our son—I see him every night in the sky.”
She studied my face for a very long time. Finally she said, “Who?”
I blinked. “Our son.” Once I said it, I couldn’t stop saying it—“Our son, our son, our son—” and she kept asking “Who? Who? Who? Who?” Then the dog inhaled the missile and suddenly my wife, too—snatched her up with a whip of its tongue and after that me, and after that I, and after that everyone, after that everyone, A.D.—after dog, after everything, A.E., C.E., A.D., B.C, 0, 1, after son, after sun, after god, good god, after dog, good dog, after son, god, her, me, you, it—