Chicago Portrait no. 17

Image for post
Image for post

Linda overfed her dog liverwurst, biscuits, cookies, scraps of whatever she had cooked, small treats shaped like little acorns, meat from tins, etc.

She had precise eating times metered out, every hour or so, and if she was going out of the house for a job interview or to sell tea sachets to pricey upscale salons, she would leave me deliberate instructions about what the dog was to be given and when.

The dog was dark with brown spots on his feet and ears. Square and big with heavy, dense fat, the dog looked like a cartoon truck that had bred with an animal some time eons ago in its evolutionary history. Walking was laborious for the dog, at times, because of size and age.

The woman, not the dog, was named Linda. She was 47 years old and two and a half years prior she had been fired from a sales job up in Evanston. This was in 2008 or so, and the economy had not recovered since then, and she was collecting a pension or unemployment or something. She had lost her fancy condominium, her life up north, and the routines that had probably kept her neroses in check. Or maybe not. Maybe they were always so bad.

Every day she woke up at 6 am and began blaring some generic, mom-friendly “Top 40 and Today’s Hits” radio station that didn’t play hip-hop or rap, while she spent hours dressing and curling her hair. Her hair was long and blonde and artificial looking, trailing down her back.

She weighed 95 pounds, she told me, and she wore tight flare-legged jeans and tiny white shirts from Aeropostale or someplace else where teenagers shopped. Her chest was often emblazoned with sparkles spelling out something inane. All of that would have been fine if she’d had a pleasant personality, but on her these details curdled and became something grotesque.

Linda had moved into this sublet about the same time as me. The original leaseholder had been Anna, a Greek Orthodox woman with grey-brown hair, fuzzy slippers, and a quiet voice. She’d shared the space with two friends, both of whom left when the economy tanked. Then Anna lost her job, too. Then she needed sublessors, which somehow became Linda, a 47 year old unemployed and very unhappy woman, and me, a 22 year old graduate student and very unhappy woman.

Linda asserted herself into the large bedroom with the private bath; Anna and I had to share. Linda gave her dog the couch. Linda gave her many appliances and supplies all the kitchen cabinets. Linda gave her vast array of baby-sized clothes the laundry room and the insides of the washer and the dryer. Linda gave me an icy look when my boyfriend stayed the night once, and stomped around with the force of someone three times her size, and asked if he would be paying rent. Linda said I was allowed to have someone over two nights per week and no more.

I never saw Linda eat, but one night in the wee-est hours she stomped down the hall and banged on my door to scream at me because my sister, who was visiting, had used a splash of milk. She made us march outside and down the street to the bodega to buy a whole new gallon.

I never saw Linda cook, but I had her email me and scream at me for not cleaning a lone bowl out of the sink overnight.

I never saw Linda clean, but I had her long lists of demands about scrubbing the floorboards and wiping down the shower scum, in a shower she didn’t even use and had no business looking had.

I never saw Linda clean out the washing machine or allow anyone else to use it, but I felt her lingering behind me, tapping her toes and huffing and rolling her eyes and asking me if I was done as I pulled my one load from the dryer.

I sometimes saw Linda take her dog out for a moment, a process that was long and tiresome because the dog was so immobilized, but that did not stop her dog from leaving a gloppy, greasy shit on the carpet of my room. And I took relish in making a loud, clattering noise in the middle of the night, swearing as I feigned trying to clean it up, until Linda rose and screamed at me “WHAT IS GOING ON?” and I screamed back, “YOUR DOG SHIT IN MY ROOM”. And I stood over her pleased like I hadn’t been in months as I watched her mop the smears of shit up.

I never saw Linda say a kind word or show any positivity, but one time she did share with me a few packets of her expensive, Oprah-branded tea, which she sold to salons for pocket money. It had bits of blueberry and carob inside its opalescent, pyramid-shaped bag. We stood in the kitchen drinking it together. It was delicious.

I never saw Linda eat, but I saw her dog filled to the brim with food. I saw her yell at the pooch to make it eat, shoving a spoon of meat or congealed cooking, not letting it back slowly, painfully away from her forced love.

I never talked much with Linda, but that one time with the tea she told me that her mother was a compulsive over-feeder of dogs. She said this with light-hearted mocking, the way I might say my mom loved Snoopy or didn’t like driving on busy Chicago streets. Linda said her mom had some kind of food issue, so sad, but that she dealt with it by giving her massive chihuahua food constantly, her main and favorite way of dispensing affection.

What happened to that dog?

Its heart exploded, she said.

Originally published at

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store