No For An Answer - flash fiction by Gloria Frym
To listen to this story read by the author, click the play button above.
I once knew a woman of a certain age who loved her last dog like she loved her last boyfriend. I say last, because her age played a big part in these relationships. At this stage in her life it was unlikely that she get another dog nor another man. She might get another car but it too could be the final one. Who knew?
As a culmination to a long love life, she loved her last boyfriend as friend and companion. But she did not love him deeply or passionately or madly, and she was content with that type of love, at her age. He was not. He wanted more affection than she could offer. The last dog she would have was a bit like the man. He was the most friendly dog in the world which did not sit right with her. His discriminatory powers seemed to be missing. He loved every dog he encountered and every person. Unless another dog bared his teeth, he was ready to play. Even then, he would try and try again to gain the teeth-baring dog’s attention only to be foiled each time. When they were alone, he was full of kisses for her and when they sat on the couch together at night in the same spot where she once sat with her former man, the dog would lick her arms, even her pants, and move as close as he could to be next to her. If he could have held hands throughout a movie, he would have. This rather diluted her love for him. Also, he was a creature who constantly wanted to do something, rolling around on the floor barking as if to say, What’s next!, wanting to go outside in the most inclement weather, ringing the chimes that hung from the back door handle. He would paw the bells endlessly whether or not he actually needed to go out. He would not take no for an answer. If she did not respond to this signal, true or false, he would cry mournfully until she let him out.
It chagrined her that she did not love this dog as much as her previous dog who was independent, even standoffish. He was more like a cat. He could, as someone said, take care of his needs. He never kissed or licked her. She got used to the understanding between them, she adored him more than some friends, and attended to his modest requirements in exchange for his close presence. He never had a destructive period when he was a puppy, whereas this last dog chewed up the wand to the DVD player; macerated her expensive prescription glasses; ate up several covers of the Paris Review; dug up the newly planted and chomped the irrigation system; fileted several of his plush toys; unraveled two oriental rugs, etc. She often screamed No! at him and spanked him several times with the destroyed object, contrary to the advice of dog trainers. She wondered if her reaction to his early destructive tendencies left an enduring mark on either of them. But no, he remained intractably loving; she was a forgiving person. She had forgiven the men whose infidelities had once caused her unbearable anguish. She had forgiven or forgotten anger toward other persons who had diminished her. No, it was this ultra loving dog. She could not love him fully because his love took up more space than she had for dog love. He was excessive, as though he were sent to her to make up for all the partial loves she had experienced, even the lukewarm love from her children. She almost hated him for exceeding her limits. Though she would often say to him, I love you, as she did to her last boyfriend.
Gloria Frym lives in Berkeley. Her most recent book is How Proust Ruined My Life & Other Essays (BlazeVOX, 2020). The True Patriot, a collection of proses, came out from Spuyten Duyvil. She is the author of the short story collections--Distance No Object (City Lights Books), and How I Learned (Coffee House Press)--as well as many volumes of poetry. Her book Homeless at Home received an American Book Award. She is professor in the MFA Writing Program and the Writing & Literature Program at California College of the Arts.
Editor’s note: When I started Fiction Attic in 2005, I put out a call to friends and colleagues whose work I admired, asking if they would be so kind as to send me something. Frym sent me the flash fiction More Lies, which you can read in the wayback machine on our original website. As with every story Frym writes, I was hooked by the first line: “Rumor has it, this woman goes through dogs,”
Frym remains one of my favorite writers to this day, and I’m honored to be able to publish her work once again. I highly recommend her 2020 essay collection How Proust Ruined My Life. You will find two more stories by Frym in the coming weeks. M.R.