When I lived in Los Angeles I was broke and so were all my friends. One of the many people I know named Mary rented a room from someone with a house on the Westside. The other occupants of the house were the owner, her boyfriend, and a dog.
The owner was successsful enough to have the house but not quite enough to afford it, so her boyfriend paid rent too. It was difficult to keep the household going but the dog was very important to her, and the dog’s comfort required a yard. So sacrifices were made.
Increasingly it was apparent that the boyfriend himself was one of the sacrifices. The owner of the house preferred solitude to companionship generally and was also clearly fed up with her boyfriend in particular. She was distant and chilly with him, and made frequent references to his flaws. She was a driven person, locked on to career success and work, and he was pleasantly ineffectual and not a big earner. A general lack of respect for him prevailed. He kept trying to win her affection in a puppyish way without effect.
The dog herself was aged and arthritic. She was a friendly if suspicious black Lab who mostly sat on her dog bed or ambled slowly around the yard barking at butterflies. Her hip sometimes dislocated and it was clear she was usually in pain, but she seemed to be enjoying life as much as possible under the circumstances. She ate with gusto and would happiliy lie with her head on someone’s lap if ear-skritching seemed possible.
Mary figured out the dynamics of the household after a few weeks. The house’s owner could barely afford the place even with a paying boyfriend and a roomer. She longed to dump the thing and move into a small apartment on her own so she could save, and do so on her own. Her boyfriend was an annoyance, and his presence and sexual attentions weren’t a pleasure. But she couldn’t leave the house. She owed it to her dog to maintain a pleasant environment at the end of life.
So everything depended on the old retriever. When the dog’s life became obviously unsatisfactory, she would go. And with her the need for the house. And with that the “relationship,” since the only reason for the boyfriend’s presence was the few hundred dollars a month he paid. Watching the boyfriend pet and feed the dog and talk in encouraging ways about her health, you could feel desperation in the air. Good girl. Doing so well. Oh, wagging tail, I like to see that.
Mary moved out before the denouement, so the story remains frozen at that point. My father wanted to write a short story about it but asked my permission and I was terrified that they’d read it. He would have published it in the short story collection that came out later that year, and these people were exactly the type who would find out. He very courteously chose other topics. Would have been a great story, though.
I still have a visual memory of the dog in the kitchen of that place, walking a bit painfully but looking around in that friendly expectant way dogs have in kitchens, and the sad useless boyfriend feeding her a treat of some kind while his girlfriend told him he was behind on his chores.