For the Dogs

By Katie Flynn

The pool party had already begun by the time Tricia arrived, dressed in jeans and a giant sweater. She slunk along the fence looking for her father. Billionaire Jim, her father’s friend and tenant, stood shirtless by the pool, looking rich and round around the middle. He was twenty-eight, two years older than Tricia, and lived in her childhood bedroom even though he had recently won a large sum of money in a work-related lawsuit. Sometimes Tricia wondered if he had sex there, in her old bed, while she fell asleep on a friend’s couch, in an apartment three hours away.

“Go!” Jim yelled and threw the fetching rings into the pool. They floated, yellow, green and pink, on the surface, as women waded by in bikinis and sun visors. “I said go!” He looked impatiently at the four dogs, begging at the buffet table. They were fat black dogs of indefinable breed. The smallest of the four, Pepe, jumped onto a chair and began to eat the edge of a marble cake. Jim laughed and elbowed a woman next to him. The woman looked on, horrified, as he whispered something in her ear.

“Jim,” Tricia said, from behind him.

He turned and eyed her from head to loafers then did something like a snicker before saying, “What are you doing here?”

Tricia rolled her eyes. “I’m looking for myfather,” she said. She couldn’t help herself. She felt it necessary to remind him, with every visit, that she was the true owner of her father’s heart.

“Oh, Tricia!” Phyllis called from the kitchen doorway and waved for her to come over. Phyllis wore a sundress, too small to be flattering on her rounded figure. She was a large woman, much larger than Tricia’s mother, who lived in the desert, alone.

“Gosh. Who are all these people?” Tricia asked her father’s new wife. Huddled around the pool was a crowd of pale and pink Scandinavians. Tricia waved to the Olsons as they clung to a raft, kicking their way across the pool. They were old friends, from when her parents were still married. But the rest were new and young and strangely comfortable dancing around the kidney-shaped pool.

“Friends of ours, friends of Jim’s,” Phyllis sang. She pulled celery from a plastic bag and washed it vigorously under hot water.

“But they seem so young.” Tricia pointed at the group of girls dangling their legs into the pool. They noticed Tricia looking and stared back at her. This is my house, Tricia wanted to hiss at them. But she watched as Jim walked over to them, rubbing the shoulders of the thinnest, and knew that they, at least, had been invited.

“Tricia, you know Jim can’t work anymore. And people his age have day jobs,” Phyllis said, turning to look at Tricia. “Some of these kids are good friends. True blue. But others.” She turned back to the running faucet. With a violent twist of her wrist, Phyllis removed the heads of two celery stalks. “Well, some of the others are just here to take a little from us, from Jim. It’s not hard to tell the difference.”

Tricia didn’t say anything. She took up a knife and sliced an onion on the cutting board.

“Anyway,” Phyllis said. “It’s good to see you.”

“I need money,” Tricia said, mixing the onion into a bowl of diced pickle. “I need a large sum of money.” She wanted to say that it was not for drugs, that she had not fallen in heavy with a dealer or a gambling circuit, as Phyllis, with her Lifetime movie mentality might imagine. No, it was nothing so dramatic. She needed money because she had none. She needed a place of her own, at least a room.

Phyllis sighed and leaned on the rim of the sink. She said nothing when Tricia left the kitchen.

Don, Tricia’s father, was dancing with a young girl wearing a backwards baseball cap. The girl moved at a different pace than Don, faster, shaking her behind in cutoff jean shorts. Don waved to Tricia and the girl, noticing, wrapped her arms around his neck.

Tricia stood at the buffet table, trying to figure out a way to look occupied. She knelt to pet one of the dogs but it growled at her, showing its chocolaty teeth. Tricia pulled her hand away. Pepe had bitten her before.

“Shake a leg!” Don yelled at her. Tricia obliged, shaking her leg, while jumping up and down on the other. Pepe dove under the buffet table and barked at her. Tricia continued like this until the music stopped, as someone switched records, and Don leaned forward, laughing and wheezing. Tricia wondered about the pacemaker there, under his tank top. Did it tick like a clock? She had laid her head there once, in the hospital’s recovery ward, wondering that same thing. But she had heard only the familiar, lazy thumping of her father’s old heart.

The girl in cutoffs patted him on the back. Tricia watched him stand, his face red and wet, a blotch of sun block across his nose.

“My daughter,” Don said, crossing the pool deck barefoot. He picked Tricia up and, with a groan, carried her to the pool’s edge.

“What are you doing, Dad?” she asked, struggling a little. Her father was laughing and she did not really care to get away. He tried to throw her into the water, but when she proved too heavy, he merely dropped her. Tricia gasped as she fell into the pool. When she bobbed to the surface, her jeans yanking her downward, Don was leaning over the edge of the pool, examining her for a reaction.

“Well that was fun,” Tricia said, trying – really trying – not to sound sarcastic. Her father liked practical jokes. He liked crank calls and stink bombs. He would lay fake poop out by the newspaper for Phyllis to angrily step around.

The fetching rings floated towards Tricia, like discards to a drain, and she gathered them, tossing each onto the lawn in turn.

“It’s been too long, honey!” her father said, reaching into the pool for Tricia’s hand. She gave it to him and he yanked her up, out of the water.

“Yes,” she said. “I need your assistance, Dad.” Tricia jumped up and down, her head tilted to the side, trying to free the water that had gotten into her ear.

“Here,” Don said, handing her a towel from a tall stack.

Tricia removed her brown loafers. They were ancient looking things – the soles practically worn through. Tricia stepped onto them and watched the water squeeze out at the seams. She had worn them since high school. Oh God, she thought, high school. Tricia fluctuated between being in love with her flexible position in the greater scheme of things and flipping the bird at the future.

Holding the towel under her chin, Tricia peeled her wet jeans off. She ignored the three men, huddled around the smoking barbecue, watching her.

Phyllis met them at the sliding glass door. “Here you go, dear.” She handed Tricia a bathing suit cover up. It was a long, white t-shirt. Along the front of it was the life-sized figure of a tanned woman in a pink bikini. Tricia looked at it.

“You’re kidding, right?” Tricia said holding the thing up to the light. She wished she had tongs. She felt older just touching it.

“Beggars can’t be choosers,” Phyllis said.

Tricia put the t-shirt on and looked down at the woman’s figure, covering her own. It could be worse, she told herself. She could be staring down at her own breasts.

“Come on,” Don yelled, heading down the dark hall.

“You look sharp,” he said, in the office, pulling out his checkbook. “So, how much?”

Tricia sat down. A sales tag dangled from the desk and the room smelled of paint. On the wall was a mounted fish Don had caught on one of his fishing expeditions with Jim. It was an ugly thing, its tail bent as if frozen in an epileptic fit, but it was the only thing she recognized. “Daddy? Is Jim going to move out now that you won him his settlement?” Tricia asked this hopefully, her mind’s hands posed in prayer.

Don looked sideways, out the window. “How much did you say you needed?” he asked.

“I mean he’s rich now, right? He can buy his own house.” He has everything I need, Tricia thinks. He has money, my room, my father’s devotion.

“Jim’s like family to us, honey,” Don said, without looking away from the window. “We like having him around.”

Tricia took a mint from a bowl on Don’s desk. She bit into it and swallowed the pieces.

“Well before I tell you how much,” she said, “don’t you want to know what it’s for?” She crossed her arms over the t-shirt’s breasts, hunching her shoulders.

“All right,” Don said. He leaned back in his chair and lifted the window blinds. Sighing, he looked out at the party. Tricia watched too, straining in her seat. Jim was coaxing a couple of girls into the Jacuzzi. The girls removed their jewelry and placed it in his palm. He dropped the things into the pocket of Phyllis’ apron, as she stood smiling at the young people.

Gross, Tricia thought, shaking her head. She looked at her father and smiled. “It’s a donation,” she said, “I’m running a marathon for charity.”

Don nodded, doodling on a legal pad.

“It’s for breast cancer,” she said. “And the environment.”

“How much?” Don asked again.

“And I think some of the money goes towards orphans and retarded children.”

“Honey, please,” Don said, pinching the bridge of his nose.

“Whatever you feel comfortable with,” Tricia said, then looked at the law books covering two of the office walls. They were red leather bound and battered.

Don leaned over his desk, his tongue poking out between his lips, and wrote out a check. He signed his name and threw the pen into the fireplace. “That’s for good luck,” he said.

“I wish you could be there,” Tricia said, “when I cross the finish line.” She imagined herself toned and tan, in little running shorts. She saw the number card safety pinned to her back. If she could give that to her father, if she could have it for herself, she would.

Her father pulled the blinds up again and looked out at Jim and the girls in the Jacuzzi. They were taking turns diving underwater, photographing each other with a disposable camera coated in plastic.

Then Phyllis came into the room. She went around the desk and sat in her husband’s lap, placing a hand on his red, wrinkled forehead.

“Can you believe the babe I married?” Tricia’s father asked. Tricia and Phyllis looked at each other. It was like a staring contest and Tricia was the first to look down, at the woman’s pink bikini bottoms on her t-shirt.

When Tricia did not respond, Don looked at her coldly. “Well, can you?”

“Stop pestering her,” Phyllis said and gave him a peck on the cheek. His face relaxed and he smiled at his wife.

He looked back at Tricia. “Well, I wish I could be there too, honey. I wish we could all be there together. Hell, maybe I should join you. I wasn’t a bad runner when I was a teenager. Maybe Jim can join us too.” He looked up at his wife.

“No,” Phyllis said. “Don’t be silly, Silly.” She blew on his eye and he batted his eyelashes at her.

“That’s not a good idea.” Tricia stood. She grabbed at her chair, as it nearly toppled. “I’ve been training for six months. I doubt you could get into shape on such short notice. And,” she looked to Phyllis, eyes begging.

“And this, Don,” Phyllis said easily, with authority, tapping her chest. She swiveled in Don’s lap, looking at him, and shook her head. Tricia observed them together – her knowing look, his quick agreement. It was strange and beautiful and made Tricia want to throw up.

“Six months. Did you hear that Phyllis? That’s dedication.” Tricia’s father squeezed Phyllis tightly around the waist, than pushed her gently to stand. “She got that from me,” he said.

Don stood up and bent at the hips, groaning as he reached for his toes. “Now maybe you’ve got endurance, little girl. But speed, I’ve got you beat on that.” He stretched up, towards the ceiling, bending backwards. His tank top rose to reveal a pinking swell of belly.

“What are you up to?” Phyllis asked him. Her arms were crossed over her stomach.

“I’m not going to race you, Dad,” Tricia said. She stood next to her stepmother, aligned for a change. She almost liked it, although she did not – would not ever – like Phyllis. Don clapped his hands and did several jumping jacks, watching himself in the mirror above the newly installed wet bar.

“Oh yes you are!” he said. Don placed the check into the pocket of his swim trunks. “This transaction is not complete.”

“It’s not fair to tease,” Phyllis said. Don jogged past his wife, pausing to kiss her on the cheek, and out into the yard. The two women watched him from the window.

“That man,” Phyllis said, sounding annoyed. But when Tricia looked at her, she was smiling.

Tricia stretched her quads on the long lawn. Looking at the flat rectangle of grass, the large, bean-shaped pool, Tricia thought of the neighborhood she was staying in. The old houses were being divided into apartments and the new ones were pressed up against each other like irritated passengers on a packed train. Living there felt like entering the jam-packed future and Tricia didn’t like it one bit.

She met her father at the fence, and Jim walked to the other end of the lawn to indicate the finish line. Tricia raised a hand to her brow, trying to block out the sun. She watched Jim wrap his arm around Phyllis, pull her tightly to him. Tricia felt a strange sense of jealousy, watching. She did not like either of them, but her father did. Her father loved them both and lived with them.

The visitors gathered around Jim and Phyllis, their skin puckering as the temperature began its rapid, daily descent. They wrapped towels around each other and yawned, bored, as if this sort of thing were only too common. Everyone gathered on the lawn except for the Olsons, still dangling from their raft in the pool. They stared out at the crowd, looking bewildered and sunburnt.

“You’ve got a lot to learn, little girl,” Don said, his hands buried in the grass as he got into a sprinter’s stance. “The world does not belong to the young.”

Jim raised a tie-dyed bandana above his head and the guests quieted. “Go!” he yelled, and threw the thing to the ground.

Tricia smiled as she broke into a sprint. Her legs seemed to remember running the way she thought of asking her father for help – as a last resort.

She ran hard, her father huffing at her side and then behind her and then not at all. She ran past Jim and through the crowd, her arms raised in victory. She turned to look at her stepmother. Tricia watched as a woman leaned into Phyllis, saying, not quietly, “She is quite spirited, isn’t she?” And Phyllis rolled her eyes and shrugged.

When the race was over and Don lay on the lawn, his arms flung out at his sides, the party guests began to gather their things.

“Is it over?” Don asked. Phyllis and Jim hovered over him, begging him to stay put. Tricia watched, close enough to hear, far enough away to stand alone. “Oh, I hope your dogs haven’t done their business here, Jim,” Don said.

Jim looked around nervously. He ran the length of the yard, calling his dogs, as if they had escaped the party and found a new owner to love. Tricia spotted the dogs lying under the buffet table, ignoring Jim. A pail of ice chips had spilled there and the dogs licked and nibbled at the melting ice like treats.

“Look at that,” Tricia said, pointing. “They act like the party’s for them.” She laughed, snorting a little.

“Well, it is,” Phyllis said. “It’s Pepe’s birthday. You’d know that if you’d received an invitation.”

Tricia turned to look at Phyllis. Was she the love of her father’s life?

“Children, don’t fight,” Don said. He raised an arm and Tricia took his hand, pulling him to his feet. The long grass below him was flattened, so that the shape of his body remained there, like a footprint in wet cement.

Phyllis wiped gently at the grass that had collected on his shirt and bare arms. And when that seemed not to work, she plucked each blade of grass off individually.

Don handed Tricia the damp check. She took it, not looking at it, or her father, as if keeping the value secret from them both.

“See that, Phyllis?” he said. “Dedication, money and a father who loves her. My little girl’s got it.”

Tricia looked away, at Jim, scolding his dogs. They would not come out from under the buffet table. They were home, and Tricia had a three-hour drive ahead of her. She held the limp check in her hand. It was what she had come for; it was what she had needed. But it had been nothing to ask for it; it was something else to pay it back.

Don grabbed Tricia’s face in his hands. “See? My little girl’s got it all.”

Phyllis looked irritated as she studied Tricia.

“Do you see?” her father demanded of them both. And when neither answered, he stepped closer to Tricia. “Well, do you?”

Tricia wanted to believe this, to take her father’s word for it. But, that was just it, he was her father and he had to love her and the others – well – the others had earned it, had paid for it by loving him back. Tricia nodded her head at her father and pocketed the check and looked down at her old shoes. She would buy new ones because she had the money and it was time.