From the author: It is not the size of the dog in the fight.
The other night was Bridge Night. Amada showed her fat lady friends the picture of me sleeping in the teacup when I was little. Hilarious.
Their laughing hurt my ears, and I wanted to tell all those perfume-drenched women, "Stop laughing! I was a puppy! You’re fat."
"Teacup Chihuahua" isn’t even a real breed, it’s just a made-up thing. I’m a registered smooth-coat.
I grew up, and I fill a big soup mug now. But they love the teacup picture, and they think it’s hilarious Amada named me Chamomile.
So, it was my birthday today. I’m supposed to be goddamn happy about that. More days behind me than in front of me. Ten years. So ten is old for a Chihuahua, so what?
I knew Amada was planning a party. Because she loves parties, but also because she chattered about it while she was giving me a bath, and besides, she and Vicente had talked about it when they went in the bedroom for mating.
I even knew there’d be a cake. She’d said the word "cake" fifteen times. I didn’t salivate once. I’m not a puppy anymore, I don’t need a bunch of sugar to keep from going into hypoglycemic shock. Jesus, woman.
I grumbled up at Amada, who laughed and held me up so she could blow on my tummy. "Grumble, grumble, Chamomile! Oh, you’re so angry, Chamomile! Oh, my little strongman, mi palomito! How Amada loves her little man!"
(Seriously, what the fuck is wrong with her? But I like her laugh; it’s soft and low. And she never forgets to put in my eye drops.)
You got to remember where your food comes from. So I crooned for her, and wiggled, and let her treat me like an infant. No one can say I don’t give her what she needs.
No one except Vicente. I didn’t like him. He used to say, "Chingada, that’s not a dog, that’s a rat! My dick is bigger than that thing. You need a man in the house, not a rat-dog." Vicente was skinny as a stick himself.
He first walked in a month ago. That was a few weeks after Papito left us.
He was a red-shouldered macaw that used to live with us. Lively, playful, described himself as a pretty bird about eighty times a day. Affectionate in his way--but he practically split my skull open with his tinsnip beak while I was napping on my hypoallergenic pillow. Macaws are supposed to be smart, but this one mistook my head for a walnut.
Two stitches at the vet, an itchy scar and that stupid cone on my head for a week--no big deal. But then he took a piece out of my ear; hell of a way to wake up. I don’t mind a little rough-house, but the bird had no restraint and I had to do something.
Papito loved his pumpkin seeds, and couldn’t resist a big mound of them on the sofa. Then as it happened, Amada’s big knit cushion with the crocheted image of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe fell over on him, and I took a three-hour nap on top of it. Amada found him later, peacefully expired.
I liked Papito, I really did. Bird might have lived to be 50. But Papito wouldn’t learn, so Papito went down for the dirt nap.
Birds have two legs. They bear watching. Of course it's nowhere as simple as "Four legs good, two legs bad." A Labrador tried to eat me once: four legs and no brain. And some bipeds are okay.
Like Angel. Bass player, apprentice carpenter. Liked to smoke his weed, but he made Amada happy, and he always carried snacks. He went all over her big house, replacing the old wainscoting.
You think you know your house? So describe it from the floor to six inches up. That wainscoting was in bad shape, especially where I wrenched a piece out once when I smelled a rat. (Ten hours of effort: worth it.)
I tagged along to watch, and Angel talked to me while he worked. He just called me Dog; that’s fine. After we took care of the wainscoting, he helped install the new Jacuzzi, even wired up the whole thing. Maybe he wasn't technically licensed, but he did pretty good.
He even built a shelf over the Jacuzzi and a set of little steps so I could get up there and be close to Amada. Polished cedar; I always liked the smell. Angel was okay.
But the good males don’t stick around. Angel took off on the road with a fusion band called Plato Caliente; never came back.
Amada gets lonely. She misses her dead husband. I never knew him, but I know his scent. He kept his cigars in a fancy wooden box. The cigars are gone, but the box smells good and I like to get in it. Amada says that when Death comes and gets me, she’ll put me in that box with one of her silk powder puffs under my head. Nice.
Anyway, couple months after Angel, here came Vicente. Amada came home from the market, and he was right behind her, carrying her bags, walking in like he lived there. Young, smooth-looking. She likes them young. They like the way she spends money, and the well-furnished house her husband left her.
They came bustling in, yackety yack, Amada leading him to the kitchen, walking right past me. No belly-rub. Her eyes were shining, her face rosy under the powder, like always at the beginning of one of her flings.
She’d be ignoring me for a while, I knew. I might as well be the toy bobble-head dog that sits in the back window of the car. (His head no longer bobbles. I keep it under the loveseat.)
I followed them to listen. From the conversation I learned that he had simply walked up to her at the market and smooth-talked his way into her car and now her home. The woman cannot resist male attention.
Right off, Vicente didn’t smell right. For one thing, there was weed on his hands but not on his breath. That said "dealer."
In five minutes she was giving him a tour of the house, showing him this vase from her great-grandmother, that lamp from her father’s side.
She asked him about where his "people" came from and with no hesitation he started spinning off stories about great-grandfathers. She likes it if they know who their ancestors in Europe were. Some of the boyfriends, she knew more about their breeding than about mine.
I don’t know why she doesn’t just date Anglos, because she likes the most European-looking Latino men she can find. Hell, Angel was blond.
Vicente probably made up the ancestors. He was a liar.
He kept up his flirty chatter with Amada, smiling, talking loudly because she’s hard of hearing (even for a human). But his eyes swept each room as he talked, resting for a second on every little delicate polished item in its display case or nook. I think he was figuring dollar amounts in his head.
Then Amada showed him the paintings in the parlor, and his smile took on a predatory slant. Trust me.
Amada doesn’t know anything about art, but Vicente did. Or at least he knew when something was worth money. (I like the pictures. There are interesting smells in the old paints and the varnished frames.)
Vicente took a good hard look at all the paintings, but when Amada held up the smallest one, sweat broke out under his arms.
It was just a little picture of a woman washing herself, in a teak frame. She held it up to the light. "Look how tiny the brushstrokes are!" she said. "And you can’t even see the grain of the canvas."
He murmured, "That’s because it’s vellum." She didn’t hear him, though. When she set the picture back down, he let out his breath.
Then Vicente really got on her good side by cooking dinner. (Got to admit he cooked a good dinner, but he wouldn’t let me eat in my special chair at the table, so fuck him.)
Then they spent time on the sofa and then both got in the Jacuzzi. I got up on the shelf to continue taking stock of Vicente. I didn’t see anything to change my opinion. Amada seemed to like him just fine, though.
He spoke into her ear: "Hey, mi amor, does the mutt have to be in here? I don’t like the way he looks at me."
She laughed. "Here, watch him do his trick. Chamomile! Chamomile! Musica!" I can’t pretend the name has no effect on me. Anybody can be conditioned. Ears up, tail switching. Fine, I’ll do the trick.
I stepped over to the CD player that was Velcroed to the shelf, and flipped its big front switch with my paw. The red light came on and Amada’s favorite Frank Sinatra CD started up. She’d actually bought that model of stereo in the hopes of teaching me the trick. (Also it was loud enough for her to hear over the Jacuzzi.)
Vicente wasn’t impressed. "That’s no kind of trick."
For the first time, we locked eyes. He looked away and said, "That damn dog has to go! He looks at me with my grandmother’s eyes!"
Amada stroked his face. "Ah, maybe your abuela has come back to us!"
Vicente snorted. "I hope not! Hey, I don’t like that dog looking at me naked."
She laughed, but shooed me away and I was locked out at bath time after that.
It was the start of a month of vigilance for me. I kept an eye on Vicente. Every time he walked in, his eyes would drift toward the parlor; every chance he got he would look at the paintings.
And my evenings with Amada were shot. I used to get an hour a night of just being petted in her lap. Vicente treated her lap like he goddamn owned it.
It must have been a frustrating time for him. Amada had one ironclad rule, probably the only thing that had kept her from being ripped off by any of her previous boyfriends: they never spent the night, and never stayed in the house without her. She was generous with her body and her money, but guarded her house like a virgin daughter. I think she felt it still belonged to her husband.
Vicente was over almost every day, though, usually right at five in the evening, pulling up in the convertible she’d "loaned" him. (More than one of her boyfriends took a car with him when it ended.) He would stroll in with a smile and a single rose, and she would ignore me for the rest of the evening.
After they spent a whole day shopping, he started showing up in a silk or white linen suit instead of scruffy jeans and vaquero boots. He always had a story about his day, but he was a liar, so they were probably lies. Somehow the stories always ended with him needing a small loan, which she handed over with no questions.
Then dinner, then he’d try to hump her into a coma. But she would always rouse herself enough to see him out. He did take advantage of any five-minute period when she was in the bathroom, though; during that month he studied each painting intently with a lens, checking details against a paper he pulled from his pocket.
He kept coming back to the miniature. Every time he rechecked it, he would shake his head and mutter, "Stupid woman’s got no idea. Worth the whole house."
God knows what Amada saw in him besides a pretty face, but within the month, he’d gotten deeper into her life than any previous boyfriend. That became clear when they started talking about my party.
Every year, my birthday party had been with Amada and her Bridge Night friends along with the current boyfriend. I’d wear the stupid hat, they’d pass me around for cuddling, and I’d play my part, crooning and licking the ladies’ powdered faces. There’d be wine and music, and Amada would be happy in the middle of it.
My birthday with Angel, he danced with all the ladies, holding me in the crook of his arm. It was nice.
But this time it was to be just the three of us; that was how Vicente wanted it. For the first time, there were raised voices. She was close to tears, but Vicente got his way.
He said he had a special day planned. "And a special night, Amante," he said. Amada’s face, flushed from holding back tears, brightened a little. What I saw there was fear of being left yet again. She wears her heart on her sleeve, as they say. Vicente didn’t wear his heart anywhere, if you ask me.
So I knew there’d be a cake. Vicente said he knew a special bakery for dogs. "Leave it to me, Mamacita." (She likes being called that. She should have been a mother. But she has me, so she’s okay.)
Vicente joked about getting "a little Pomeranian puta" to jump out of the cake and surprise me. (What surprise? Did he think I wouldn’t scent a Pomeranian bitch inside a cake?) Then he bent down and looked at me and said, "You wouldn’t know what to do with her, would you, Little Man?"
Fuck your mother, Pendejo. I tried to communicate that sentiment with my eyes. He turned away first. That’s right.
When I was three or four, Amada’s then-boyfriend Rolando used to arrange stud visits for me through his pet store. He called me the Little Brown Love Machine. He even got me a sweater that said Love Machine in glitter.
Rolando was okay. Also one of the few males who kept in touch with her after they were done mating.
On his way out that night, Vicente stopped to wink at me as I glared at him from my pillow. He whispered, "You, Little Man. You’re the Achilles heel."
Hell if I know what that meant. But the sooner Vicente took a hike like his predecessors, the better.
I could give a shit about my birthday, but it’s a big deal for Amada, start to finish.
When I got up, she gave me steak, chopped up small, in a fancy glass bowl with my supplements mixed in. Can’t complain about that. She put down about a pound of sirloin. That’s half my body weight, but fuck it, I dove in there and went to town.
Totally worth the diarrhea. That’s why we have my little door in the big door.
I was outside eating bugs when Vicente showed up, driving a plain van instead of the convertible. He put it in the garage instead of parking in the driveway like he usually did.
Early afternoon was time for the party. This time it was a little cowboy hat she put on me instead of the usual cone. She had the round mahogany table covered with a lace cloth, and Vicente had come through with the cake. Ten candles. He turned and smiled at Amada, and said, "Let’s go ahead and serve my little friend, I hear his tummy growling."
I’d just come in from squeezing out my bowels, so I was feeling a little empty. But Amada said, "Presents first, always!" She doesn’t have a lot of rules, but she’s firm about traditions. Like the special stew she always makes; I could smell the beef and peppers cooking in the pot.
There was a courier envelope with a ribbon around it. She made a big deal of opening it, and read me the card inside. Apparently I was supposed to have a "dog-gone good birthday." It showed dogs playing cards, which makes no sense. But I liked it, because it was from Angel. I barked when she read the name; she laughed. "He remembers!"
Vicente’s smile didn’t waver. He was probably a good poker player. Dogs don’t play poker. (I still don’t get that.)
There was a CD with the card. When she saw it her face lit up. "Plato Caliente! It’s their first album." She showed me the disc: the label made it look like a little hot plate of carne asada. Now my stomach really was growling.
She handed the CD to Vicente, and said "Baby, go put this in the stereo in the bathroom, okay?"
He squeezed her ass, which made her blush. "I’ll do more than that, I’ll get the Jacuzzi going. For later." When he turned away, his smile vanished and showed something hard and cold. My hackles went up. (You bipeds don’t have hackles. I have hackles.)
Hey! Somebody was coming up the walk. I knew those footsteps--Rolando! I ran to the door and barked, and then the door chime rang; Amada smiled at me and said, "Who is it? Who is it, Chamomile?" I was up on my hind feet and dancing around when she opened the door.
Rolando didn’t come empty-handed: he was holding a big thing covered with a cloth. I could smell what was under the cloth. Another bird had come into our home.
Amada hugged him, kissed him on the cheek. Behind us I heard Vicente coming back down the stairs; his steps paused before the bottom. I looked back at him and caught him glaring flatly at the two of them before they both looked up. Then the smooth white-toothed smile was back.
He already didn’t like the reminder of Angel; now Rolando was in the house. Vicente was peeved, and I was liking it.
Vicente made a show of shaking the other man’s hand and acting like an instant best friend. When Rolando and Amada headed for the birthday table, Vicente glared down at me. He whispered, "This changes nothing!" He held my stare for a few seconds. "You never even growl. Chingada, mutt, just growl!"
I don’t growl. A growl is a warning, which strikes me as indecisive.
The new bird was a budgie. Gray on the back, with a gray head shading to a gray chest. He already had a name, Cicero, and--this really was a surprise--Rolando had taught him to say "Chamomile!" Over and over. Just kept doing it.
Amada doesn’t believe in keeping birds caged up. (Too bad for Papito.) She coaxed Cicero onto her finger and let him nuzzle her face.
With Cicero on his perch stand, Amada took Rolando in the kitchen to taste the stew, leaving Vicente glowering at their backs. He turned and looked intently--at the cake. Then at me. I gave his stare back. You don’t like that? Good.
He looked at the cake again, suddenly picked up the knife and cut a slice, put it on a paper plate and set it down in front of me. He spoke through his teeth: "You eat up, Little Man. Eat your damn cake, right?" Without looking at me, he turned and stamped into the kitchen.
"Chamomile! Chamomile! Chamomile!" Cicero certainly had my name down. I ignored him and gave the cake a sniff. Seemed harmless enough. Wheat flour, peanut butter, honey, bananas, cinnamon. And I really was hungry.
Cicero suddenly fluttered off his perch and onto the table. What the hell, if he could eat on the table, so could I. I got onto the chair, then up onto the table. Cicero was already head-deep into the cake, pulling the crunchy bits out of the chunky peanut butter. I came closer for a taste. Cicero turned and rubbed his beak against my head.
Hmm. Much smaller than a macaw’s beak; not a scratch. This bird might die of old age. "Chamomile! Chamomile!" I was starting to like Cicero.
Then he froze in mid-word, and fell over without a sound.
I don’t believe in coincidences. Vicente knew what a good eater I am; Amada was always praising me for cleaning my bowl. He put something in that stupid cake. If it dropped a one-ounce bird with one bite, my normal gut-stuffing feed would surely take care of a two-pound dog.
I poked Cicero with my snout; no response. Goddamn Vicente. He hadn’t counted on Rolando bringing the bird into the house. Rolando! He’d know if Cicero was poisoned.
I started barking furiously. A Chihuahua can make plenty of noise when he wants to. Vicente was first out the kitchen door --- he came to a halt when he saw me still on my feet and Cicero fallen. He looked at the plate on the floor with its untouched slice. Rolando came out behind Vicente and darted around him.
"Cicero?" Rolando picked up the limp bird.
By now Amada was at the kitchen door, her hand to her mouth, her eyes wide. "My God, why can’t I keep a bird alive?"
"It’s not your fault." Rolando was holding Cicero to his ear. "He’s still alive. I don’t know, it’s like poison. What did he --" He saw the gouge in the cake. Rolando stared at Vicente. "Hey, Man, what’s the story with this cake?"
Vicente thought fast, I’ll give him that. "I don’t know, my sister-in-law got it for me! Oh, no, Chamomile--I saw him eat it too!" Which was a lie. Amada gave a little gasping cry.
Rolando made up his mind. "We take them both to my vet. He’ll know what to do."
In a minute we were all in Amada’s big car, Cicero and I together in the padded basket next to Vicente in the back. Then Vicente jumped out. "The stew's gonna burn! You take the animals, I’ll turn off the stove!" His timing was perfect; with Rolando’s foot already touching the gas pedal and Amada close to panic, they didn’t wait to argue, but pulled out of the driveway.
I jumped up in the back, next to the headless bobble-head dog, and looked back. I saw Vicente smile before he turned and disappeared back toward the house.
This was what he wanted. My whole birthday party was a setup. But Vicente must know I hadn’t eaten the cake. If he wanted me dead--no! What he wanted was for everybody to leave. He had the house to himself now! Amada had broken her own rule.
I turned and looked to the front. We’d stopped at a red light. I had to get out. The windows? Rolled up.
One uses the resources available. My gigantic gut-bomb of raw beef that morning was still having an effect. I’d never once shit where I wasn’t supposed to, not since I was that puppy in the teacup.
But we do what is necessary. I let it go on the soft leather back seat.
"Ai!" She turned to look. "Oh, no, Chamomile! He must be sick, Rolando, he never does that!" Rolando didn’t answer; holding his breath, he pushed the buttons to lower all the windows.
Good luck and good timing. The windows came down, the light turned green, Rolando pressed the gas and Amada turned to face front again. I was out the window, onto the grass between the curb and sidewalk, and then speeding back home. I heard the car receding behind me; they weren’t stopping.
Good. This I must do alone.
I got back to the house and stopped to catch my breath. Years since I ran that far. I was starting to tremble--hypoglycemia. Fuck it. In through my little door.
The door through the kitchen to the garage was open. Where was Vicente? The parlor!
From under a chair I watched Vicente taking down a painting from the wall. He slid it into a big metal case on a dolly. The case had slots to hold the paintings separately; several slots were already full, and the wall was looking bare.
He held up the miniature painting that fascinated him so much. There was a metal box on the table, already open and ready for it. He stared at the picture for a moment, holding his breath as he held it close to his face.
I’ve always had a temper. Now I was shaking with anger as well as low blood sugar. This is our house. You don’t come in here!
I charged ahead through a red haze, and I got across the room and just went crazy on Vicente’s ankle, gnawing at his Achilles tendon. "Jesus Christ!" He dropped the miniature painting. "Fuck!"
He tried to shake me off, but I was climbing his skinny calf like a tree inside the leg of his loose, expensive linen suit. He tried to kick at his own leg as I made it up to his knee and sank my teeth into the soft flesh at the back. He overbalanced and went down, yelling and cursing.
My world went dark: he was rolling over to try and crush me under his weight. Suddenly I missed Papito. Sorry, bird.
No! I wouldn’t go down like this. I closed my eyes tight and scrambled around to the front of Vicente’s thigh, and kept scrambling, digging in with my claws. Something struck my hindquarters: a fist. It struck again, but I kept clawing at his flesh until I’d pushed myself head first into the crotch of his pants.
No shorts; classy. Oh, Vicente. You lied about that dick.
With a clear target for biting in front of me, I wasted no time.
Now his yelling turned to screaming, high like a six-year-old girl. With bloody testes in my teeth and my heart pounding fast in my ears, I thought, this is it. I kept biting, waiting for what was to come, enjoying Vicente’s little-girl shrieks, when suddenly there was light and air. He’d somehow kept it together enough to unzip his fly.
Maybe it was adrenaline, or hypoglycemia. I experienced a moment of great clarity. I knew what to do.
Now! I leapt out of his pants even as he clawed at his own bloody crotch, trying to grab me. In front of me--the miniature! I picked it up, clamping down on the wooden frame. I’d left a tooth in Vicente’s balls.
I looked back. He was sitting up now, his hands cradling his shredded wreck of a nutsack, his teeth clenched and eyes squeezed shut. He opened an eye and saw what I was holding. "No!"
I was off, heading for the stairs. Something not right with my leg. Behind me I heard Vicente, moving as fast as he could while vomiting on himself. Neither of us was in great shape. Every stair step felt like a mountain.
He crawled behind me, trailing blood, and made it to the second floor as I limped into the main bathroom. Good: Vicente really had started the Jacuzzi. Up the steps--thanks, Angel. Up onto the shelf. There.
Now I didn’t want to wait. Shaking hard, exhausted. I set the miniature down on the shelf and barked, calling my enemy to me, stopping between barks to pant.
Finally Vicente was there. He pushed himself up, leaning against the doorframe, holding his crotch. Blood soaking his nice pants, dripping on the floor. Tears, snot, and vomit smearing his pretty face.
He spotted me, saw me holding the miniature. Saw me lean out and drop it into the Jacuzzi.
"No!" He lurched forward, stumbled on the fuzzy rug and pitched headlong into the tub. He came up coughing, with the miniature in his hand, and lay there in the water, squinting at the painting and blowing on it. Dark blood spread in the water around him. He moaned and he wept like a child. "That dog, that fucking little dog. Look what he did."
Musica. I flipped the switch on the stereo. The debut album of Plato Caliente started up loud, opening with their signature song, "Corazón Criminal."
Vicente’s head snapped toward the sound; he stared up at me, eyes and mouth wide. In a hoarse whisper he said, "Dog, who are you?"
There was just enough space behind the stereo for me. I put my back against the wall and used all my legs and put the last of my strength into pushing the box. It moved, tilted--it peeled up from the Velcro and dropped into the water.
Vicente didn’t make a sound, but there was a sizzling pop and a mighty white flash. The lights went out, the water jets stopped. It was quiet and dark and I could lie down and sleep.
* * *
I didn’t wake up when Rolando and Amada came back to the house. I woke up here at the vet when they were popping my leg back in the socket. They gave me glucose, stitched me up and said I’d get better, and Amada has been holding me in her lap for the last hour, petting me like she used to.
It is not bad, I must say.
I can hear the bird's voice from another room: "Chamomile! Chamomile!" So Cicero made it. We both did, this time. Good enough.
Someday soon, I’ll hear footsteps up the walk, and I’ll know it’s Death coming for me. I’m not afraid. I’ll be waiting. "Remember me, Death? Señor Muerte? I sent Vicente to you!"
And he’ll call me by my name, and take me for a walk.
Who am I to expect the attention of such a busy person as Señor Muerte? You think Death's got no time for a Chihuahua?
He’s got time. He knows me.
Who am I? Chingada, Man.
Mi nombre es Chamomile.
This story originally appeared in First Line Fiction.