“Sorry. Stinky, get down. He’s got this chemical stuff all over him, you know, the flea stuff. Look, I’m sorry.”
The paws receded. The little dog’s wet, searching muzzle let out a puff of warm air on my hand with the shock of being yanked backwards off my lap. His owner, a skinny woman with hair blacker than her tiny, worn, leather jacket, and a bright metal ball dotting the skin above her lip, pushed two finger’s under the dog’s collar and crooked them there.
“Mummy’s trying to get you money. Oh, he’s so hungry. Stinky – no. You stink.” She slurred, her larynx plugged by a permanent coating of cigarette smoke and a thick layer of mucus.
The dog pulled away from her, his target a sandwich that someone had abandoned at the bus stop. The woman saw me glance down at him and assumed that I wanted him away. She pulled him back again, so hard that I lifted a hand to my own throat on instinct. He whined, licked his chops, tried to pull away from his owner again.
“What’s his name?” I reached down to touch him. I didn’t meet the woman’s eyes. If his name was Stinky, I wanted her to admit it.
“Simo. Es-eye-em-oh. Si-mo.”
“He’s cute. Is he eating enough?”
“I’m trying, I’m trying, but he’s…” She stopped in the middle of her sentence. “I’m just waiting for someone.” This was something she’d been repeating for a while. I’d stopped believing it. But this time – “There you are.”
A man came up behind her, clutching a bottle of amber liquid to his chest. He looked as clean and young as she did, equally as emaciated. They looked healthy until I took in the small sores at the corners of their mouths, the bruised knuckles, the too-bright eyes and distended cheeks. The man reeked of stronger liquor than the woman. And she thought the chemical smell coming off her dog was bad.
She picked up a black duffle bag from the corner of the bus stop and curved all to the right with its weight. She pulled Simo’s leash again. I kept my eyes on the dog. Animals are easier than people.
“Are you feeding him enough?” This was a different question than my previous one. I felt justified, righteous, and nauseous. The woman, with her pale, sweaty face, stared at me with her mouth open, and I could see that her tongue was a bit pointy. The man tugged on the back of her jacket, urging her to get going.
“Are you feeding him enough?” I asked him.
“Ask her, he’s hers.” He giggled, and hugged, actually hugged, his bottle. I stared. He kept giggling.
“Come with us, you’ll see,” the woman said, jutting her chin up, pulling the dog’s head closer to her every time he tried to move. She was hurting him. “He eats better’n I do.” She didn’t emphasize any words; just spoke in a flat, dead tone. I met her eyes and thought about my last alcoholic. She hadn’t been like this. Not when I knew her.
I shook my head. “Wait here.”
“I’m going to get you money.”
I thought they’d wait. But when I came out of Tesco with the can of dog food, they were gone.