Contributors Archives

Tom Bissell

Love Story, with Cocaine

Maarit’s father had given her a dog because he hoped it would provide her with something to do. It was true that Maarit did not have much to do, though she always felt busy, which was, perhaps, a natural consequence of waking up daily at 3:00 P.M. Most of her activities involved spending her father’s money. That her father’s solution to this would mean Maarit necessarily spending more of his money (on dog food, on dog toys, on dog hospitals and dog vacations) was typical of him. Equally typical was Maarit’s decision not to say so. She was his youngest, most glamorous, and most difficult daughter, and she knew that a large part of her father’s toleration of her lifestyle depended on her maintaining its hair’s-width acceptability.

The dog, a greyhound Maarit instantly named Mimu, came to her fully grown, or nearly so. He moved with snakelike grace, his coat was a rich thunderhead gray, and his eyes were little expressive bogs of brown. There was, however, no way around the fact that there was something plainly wrong with Mimu. He shivered constantly, for one thing, and was a reflexive biter of such determination that Maarit removed Mimu’s muzzle only when serving him supper. Soon Mimu’s most spectacular behavioral quirk emerged: attacking strangers.

His first victim was an old Russian woman, whose mauling occurred within Toompark only a week after Maarit first laid her hand upon the hard, skully part of Mimu’s brow. The old Russian woman, in Maarit’s mind, sort of asked for it by dint of attempting to pet Mimu as she passed by. One might think that a leashed, muzzled dog would be incapable of inflicting much damage. But Mimu’s previous custodian had not thought to trim his nails in some time–if, indeed, ever. By the time Mimu had the old woman on the ground (Maarit pulling back on the leash with every one of her 105 pounds), he was raking her chest and arms with a catlike avidity. It was a cloudy weekday evening; the park was virtually empty. Taking note of this, Maarit helped up the speechless and pretty badly bleeding old woman and without another word allowed Mimu to drag her back to her apartment in the Old Town. For several days she stayed away from Toompark.

The second attack was trickier, emotionally speaking, in that it involved a child who was walking with his mother along Toompark’s edge. Again it was early evening, the champagne-colored sun dissolving behind some trees. Mimu just bolted at the sight of the boy. The leash in Maarit’s hand went from a dense fabric cool to searingly hot in the space of half a second. Maarit let go, endured the endless seconds in which Mimu approached his target, and watched with fascinated horror as Mimu launched himself at the boy like a gorgeously living torpedo. Mimu was muzzled and Maarit got him under control quickly enough; crystal-eyed shock seemed to be worst of the boy’s injuries. When Maarit tried to slip away, the boy’s hysterical mother followed her. When Maarit began to run, so did the mother. Maarit surrendered to her fate, and–nodding, apologizing–gave the boy’s mother a fake cell phone number and fake address.

Unbeknownst to Maarit, the woman knew who she was: Maarit’s father, a businessman whose business he chose to describe publicly only as “business,” was often in the tabloids. The next day the woman showed up at her apartment–another gift from her father–with two frowning policemen. (The woman had been provided with Maarit’s address by a dry cleaner they both shared, a breach of trust so severe that Maarit seriously considered taking legal action.) When Maarit was asked by the policemen if Mimu had had anything to do with an attack on a Russian woman a few days before, she hesitated a moment too long. They seemed to know her eventual, emotionally riveting denial was a lie, and there was some vague talk of putting Mimu down. Her father, who had key allies among the city’s constabulary, took care of the matter, and even gave Maarit money for a dogwalker. Maarit hated this taciturn flunky, and after a few weeks paid the dogwalker twice what her father was paying him (three times what her father was paying him, actually, given that it was all his money) to stay away from her. From there she went back to walking Mimu on her own.

The next person Mimu attacked was also in Toompark, this time in the middle of the afternoon. The only reason it happened was because Maarit allowed herself to be distracted by the wolf whistle of three Russian men evidently enjoying a midday vodka blowout. (Maarit, who was not Russian, would have sooner slept with Mimu than a Russian.) When Maarit, whose post-independence command of Russian had faded to a few lush profanities, turned to tell the men to go fuck their mothers with a broken broomstick, Mimu bolted. His victim this time, thank God, was a man. By the time Maarit had Mimu under control (a very relative concept with Mimu, true), the man was, somehow, laughing as he got to his feet.

He was an American, around thirty years old, and had long and shinily unclean brown hair: the haircut of someone who did not worry about haircuts. His face, though, was clean-shaven and kind, if not particularly remarkable. He was wearing a black V-neck sweater (which had spared his arms the brunt of Mimu’s claws) and jeans whose knees where, thanks to Mimu, whorled with Milky Way-shaped grass stains. Maarit, who lived for a time in Cambridge before flunking out, had always been fascinated by the masculinity gap between the English words “guy” and “man.” Before her was a guy. To her frequent emotional sorrow, Maarit was most often attracted to guys. She was not attracted to this guy. She did, however, like the fact that he was daring enough to pet Mimu, whose down-turned head was so narrow that his dark black nose resembled the dot beneath an exclamation point. To Maarit’s surprise, Mimu did not resist the American’s touch or even growl.

“What name?” he asked Maarit in her language, which he obviously spoke only in brain-damaged form.

She told him, in English.

“What does it mean?”

“Nothing,” she said. “It’s his name.”

He lowered into a squat to look Mimu in the eye. “Mimu the mean,” he said. Apparently this gratified Mimu, who seemed to relax a little, even going so far as to sit, his head lifting in that arrogant greyhound way. The guy looked up at Maarit, squinting. “And what’s your name?”

She told him.

He smiled. “All the girls’ names here are so pretty.”

“Do you want something?” Maarit was annoyed now.

He shrugged. “Everything I want, I’ve got.”

At this, Maarit tried not to smile. Displays of confidence, even when boldly affected, were one of her weaknesses. “You talk like an idiot.”

“I’m not a tourist,” he said. “I know who you are. We actually live three doors away from each other.”

She did not respond. If this was a line, Maarit would give him nothing.

“I’m in eight Rataskaevu. Top floor. You’re twelve. No idea what floor you live on.”

“Top floor.”

“Aren’t we both fancy?”

She started away; the guy stood. “Hey,” he said, keeping pace beside her, “your dog attacked me. The least you can do is join me for a drink. My name’s Ken.”

“You want to drink in the afternoon?”

“I often drink in the afternoon.”

She looked at him. Her decision wheel spun around inside her and stopped, decisively. “Where?”

“Eight Rataskaevu happens to have an excellent bar.”

She laughed. “I am not going to your apartment.”

“I’ve got other things there. Fun things. Fun things for fancy people.”

She said nothing, slightly and suddenly afraid of him now.

He sighed, picked a piece of grass from his sweater, rolled it into a ball, and flicked it away. “Look. You’re friends with Jaanus Kask, right?” He looked around, as though invoking this name had been potentially unwise. “I know him, too.”

Jaanus Kask was someone Maarit saw fairly frequently, though he was hardly her favorite person on this earth. She liked very much what he was able to get for her, though.

“I don’t like doing coke alone,” he said.

Funny thing: neither did Maarit.

Posted in Latest Issue | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment