FLEAS by KATE ARDEN MCMULLEN
The dog had fleas. There was nothing we could do about this. It had already happened. We kept it off the furniture and we sprayed the house with stuff from a bottle everyday. We were diligent. We scratched the little red bites on each other’s arms and legs and waited for the fleas to die.
The vet gave us pills to feed the dog. We folded slices of cheese around them to fool the dog. Sometimes this worked. Sometimes we sat on the floor beside the dog and opened its mouth to drop the pills in. We had to get our hand just right around the muzzle to open the mouth and get the pills between the teeth. The dog never seemed to mind this, but we kept on with the cheese. It seemed more dignified.
The fleas left the dog but not the house. There was no pill to kill the couch and carpet fleas. We searched the Internet to confirm this. We spent as much time out of the house with the dog as possible. This turned out to be good for us. We found a new dog park by the river. We found a pet-friendly coffee shop were we could read and write and talk together. People came up to pet the dog. We said its name and breed. We let children touch its wet nose.
We let the fleas live in the house. We hoped they hadn’t laid eggs and that those eggs hadn’t hatched. Then we stopped thinking about it. We visited both our parents. We took camping trips. The dog put its head out the window, and we stopped bothering with the cheese. We gave it all the pills, and it stopped scratching, and we stopped too. Our bites healed, our skin smoothed. The flea eggs settled into our hardwood floors.
In the summer we returned. We had forgotten about the fleas in all we learned about each other, and the people we had met. On the second day in the house the flea eggs hatched, and we woke itching in the night, and yelled at each other while we sprinkled pink chemicals we bought at the pet store, and the smell trapped itself in the corners of the house and gave us gnawing headaches and made the dog’s eyes water, and we grew pale and horny and tired and lonely.
The pink chemicals worked. The smell eventually dissipated. We bought a new cordless vacuum cleaner, one we saw on television. We held hands at parties and the dog slept between us at night.
We went on camping trips in the fall and wished the whole time we were home. When we were home, we wished we were somewhere else. The dog needed teeth pulled but neither of us had the money.
We lived in the house and the fleas came with the seasons. They took part in our arguments and our lovemaking, in our together and aloneness, in our hair and skin. The chemicals lived in our lungs for the length of their half-lives. We could never stop thinking of each other, of the bites on our knees.
KATE ARDEN MCMULLEN received her MFA in fiction from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. Her work has appeared in Paper Darts and The Boiler, is forthcoming from Foglifter, and was featured as an honorable mention in the Randall Library Annual Flash Fiction Anthology in 2016 and 2017. Her short story chapbook The Girls of Indigo Flats and Other Stories was the 2015 recipient of the Colbert Chapbook Award. She lives in Spartanburg, SC and is the assistant director of Hub City Press.