This story is by Ava Mauriello and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“It’s really sad, she was an abused lab animal. We’re calling her Esmeralda right now. She reminds me of a scared gypsy,” the shelter employee spat out with a slight southern drawl. I could tell she was trying to make light of a bad situation. It was refreshing to see an employee who really seemed to care on a deep level about these animals.
When I look into its little eyes, I feel a shiver up my spine.
“No, I need a cute puppy, not this hideous little rat dog,” I blurt out.
I rush out of that rickety old shelter as if it were on fire.
Back at my immaculate condo, I feel like a goddess looking through my posts in bed. Being a top Instagram model, I have quite the following. I make up to $5,000 per post and that’s just the beginning. It’s getting late, but I want my fans to know that I care. Some of my most recent comments on my latest bikini picture read: “Ur so gorgeous Theresa! It’s not fair!”, “OMG (with a heart eyes emoji)” or simply just “Hot” (with three flame emojis). A smile spreads across my face, it feels so gratifying to emulate beauty. As I reply to them, my eyes begin to get heavy and before I know it, I’m asleep.
Erratic barking wakes me out of a sound sleep. The world isn’t quite as colorful. I’m in a cage! Only a bark comes out of my mouth. As I look down, I see furry little paws. Then, I spot my reflection, it’s that of the gypsy dog, Esmeralda.
Shit! How is this possible? Maybe I’m just dreaming. I have to be, this is impossible. I’ll just wake myself up! I fling myself into the side of the cage as hard as I can, but I merely injure my back.
Dozens of people pass me by, commenting on how ugly I am. After being rejected continuously for the first time in my life I feel even worse, not only am I a dog but I’m an ugly dog that no one wants.
A man accompanied by a shelter employee make their way towards my cage. As he scoops me into his hands, I recoil from his black empty eyes. Bags carved into his ageing, sagging face, of a fat middle aged man. Get your grubby, disgusting hands off of me! I try to holler, but to no avail, nothing comes out except meek barks.
“Finally, an ugly dog that needs some love, just like me,” the pudgy man stammers.
The door of his “modest” apartment appears to be the size of a dorm room; wrappers, papers, food and clothes cover the floor.
“Come here girl, you’re a good girl! You’re going to be so happy here with me. I need you!” He says as he presses my petite body against his soft fatty midsection. As he presses me down onto his lap while he pets me, I no longer feel like a goddess, I feel like a slave. His phone rings. He leaps forward, tossing me off of his lap.
“Yes, I’m late with the alimony, I just put it in the mail… Oh Craig you’re so irresponsible,” He says impersonating her poorly. “Maybe all the other men you’re sleeping with can help you out in the meantime… All right, I’m sorry… I shouldn’t have said that, that was cruel… I’m sorry darling… I know! I know! I won’t call you darling anymore. It’s just a habit since I’ve been doing it for almost thirty years!” he yells. Then nothing, she hung up on him.
He opens the fridge door, but he can’t find a beer other than the discarded Coors bottles decorating the floor.
Horrified, I creep into a corner while looking around the room. I notice a picture of a nearly nude woman pinned on his wall. I gasp! It’s me! He’s one of my followers!
Will I be trapped in this disgusting apartment all day? Why is this happening to me? This can’t be real. I can’t talk. I’m like the little mermaid without beautiful legs or a prince. Instead I’m a mangy mutt with a fat man. Maybe I’m having a psychotic break, maybe I’m schizophrenic. I want my phone! I miss my followers. I bet they’re saying sweet things. I’m not even cute! I can’t live in this pig sty. How does this man live like this? I see why his wife left him. If he thinks he owns me he’s got another thing coming, but what am I going to do? I don’t want to be alone forever. Maybe I’ll be myself again tomorrow. I hope so. If I can be myself again, I’ll do anything. I’ll be a better person. This is the longest day of my life. I need my phone. I want to go home. I hope he feeds me. I don’t want to eat dog food. I want chocolate, usually I can’t eat it because of my strict diet. I don’t care if dogs can’t eat chocolate, I’ll eat it all up!
Thoughts like this creep through my mind all day long…
Craig comes back bearing gifts. He drops a dog toy on the floor. I have no interest in the toy, so I just plop on the couch ignoring Craig. Craig gives up and turns on the TV.
Finally, Craig’s eating steak. I stand by him looking at the meat longingly.
“You want some steak, girl?” He asks. I finally feel some satisfaction and, reluctantly, let him pet me.
“I’m sorry I had to leave you in here all day. Want to play fetch? I love you,” Craig pled.
I don’t want to look at him. He throws the ball. I jump onto the couch ignoring him.
“You must have been through a lot, but you’re safe now. I will love you and take care of you forever, sweet girl, even though you’re ugly,” he says as he laughs.
Obviously, I don’t like this. Don’t call me ugly. I’m a model. I feel so demoralized.
There is a knock at the door. It’s a scantily clad woman who has a similar figure to my human body.
“Is your ugly little dog going to watch us the whole time?” the woman mocks.
Suddenly I am put into a crate where I sit listening to depraved moans. I have to use my little paws to cover my ears. I also close my eyes to black out the slasher film playing out in front of me.
As the prostitute gets up to leave, Craig blocks the doorway.
“No, you’re not done! Give me my money’s worth and just know that in a few years you won’t be able to get a fraction of what I’m paying you now,” he spits out.
Those words make me shake in dread. And to make things worse I see him look at my photo on the wall a few times. I want to puke.
The way he treated the escort was worse than the way he treats me as a dog. Both me and the prostitute are commodities, but he reminded the escort of the fact that in a few years she would be worthless. I can’t help but play that back in my mind over and over again. Is that how people have felt about my human body? Will I ever get to see my family again? Why haven’t I gotten married? If I had a husband now, he would care that I was missing. Does anyone miss me? My followers do, don’t they? Don’t these followers worship every Instagram model? Am I that replaceable? Maybe me and this dog aren’t that different. Maybe I’ve been a caged animal, trapped as an image for others viewing pleasure, like a spectacle in a virtual zoo. No, I created this image, but is that who I am? Who am I really?
I fall asleep alone; Craig doesn’t come home until late.
With a splitting headache I awake in Craig’s bed. I’m not a dog anymore! I look down at my svelte tan legs, more thankful than ever. I scan the room for Craig, but I can’t find him. The dog is in the room, formerly me. He runs towards some beer cans on the floor. He knocks one over and starts slurping up the beer.
“Craig! Craig!” I can speak again!
The dog runs over to me. Then it dawns on me that Craig must be trapped in the dog’s body now, like I was.
I carry the pup back to the shelter where we had met for the first time.
“I would like to admit this dog to the shelter.” I hesitate, then ask: “Also, are you hiring?”
When I get home, I immediately open the Instagram app. I am bombarded with thousands of comments and likes. I feel disgusted. I delete my Instagram account.