January 12, 2016 | by Sadie Stein
Back when our family dog was not dead, he would vacation at the home of a woman named Janet. Hank was a pound mutt with shepherd coloring and terrier brains and a sensitive, Mr. Chips–like face that spoke of past sufferings. He and my dad were inseparable, which made his visits to Janet’s a big deal.
Hank adored my father; they frequently duetted on renditions of “Memory,” and the dog spent hours sitting in my dad’s office while he worked. My dad never minded his mange or his foul breath. The only other star in Hank’s universe was a former baby toy of mine, a truly revolting specimen known as Bear, which one tried to avoid touching as much as possible.
We did, occasionally, need to board Hank, and the local kennel was vaguely disreputable. Thus, Janet. How had my parents found her? Probably in the local paper, which came out once a week and served the two surrounding villages, as well as ours. (They were actually called “villages”; I’m not being precious.) It was largely given over to classifieds, and perhaps she advertised her services as a dog boarder—although if so, that makes what happens next even stranger.
The first time my dad brought Hank to board with her, she greeted the dog rapturously. Janet said she loved dogs, but could not bear to see another die; the ashes of her previous pets were prominently displayed on her mantel. All was going well. Hank and Bear seemed settled; my dad had handed over the rather exorbitant fee. And then a car pulled into Janet’s driveway.
“It’s my husband!” hissed Janet, in a panic. “You’re Mr. Mantarian!”
Before my dad could ask what this meant and assert that he was not, in fact, Mr. Mantarian, the husband in question appeared.
“Bob!” said Janet. “This is Mr. Mantarian. You remember—Dr. Mantarian’s son? We’re watching his dog for a week?”
When my dad got home, he told us he thought Janet was mentally ill. Even so, from that time on, Hank stayed at Janet’s house whenever we went away. That is, until one day “Mr. Mantarian” dropped the dog off in a snowstorm and accidentally backed into a lamp in their driveway. This, so far as Bob was concerned, was apparently the last straw. Besides, Hank was becoming incontinent, which was awkward.
In some ways, though, the Mr. Mantarian subterfuge wasn’t even the oddest part. Whenever Hank returned from Janet’s house, the revolting, malodorous, saliva-encrusted Bear was sporting a blue velvet ribbon around his neck. “Bear’s all duded up again,” my dad would say. A part of me admired it; it was sort of like Mother Teresa going among the lepers or something. But at the same time, that bow seemed the truest sign of madness.
Hank died a long time ago—and I do mean died, it’s not a euphemism for putting down, because it was sudden. My mom liked to say that he was waiting for my dad to go away for a few days before he could let himself go. She buried him behind the house, Bear at his side. Now he lives on in the picture on my dad’s bedside table, and possibly—in a very hard rain—in the yard of the house’s new owners. I wonder what is left of Bear, who was loved so well.
Sadie Stein is contributing editor of The Paris Review, and the Daily’s correspondent.