Beasts of Tarr by Kathleen Davies

Do you remember when we went to Chicago for John Tarranzarro’s wedding? We’d been together a year or two by then. John and the other guys attending were your old classmates from the College of the Holy Cross. We all stayed at his mother’s, where chaos and the smell of dog urine reigned. Those great white beasts, more lupine than canine, nameless and wild, ran the place while Mrs. Tarr, as you called her, Mrs. Tarr (emphasizing the rs, as if it were some private joke, hinting of the bizarre) lived in her own world of benign insanity.

The minute we walked in, I was knocked over by the stench. Mrs. Tarr apparently didn’t have time or inclination to clean much or to let the dogs out, so she put newspaper down on the floor, freeing the dogs to piss whenever and wherever they liked, except when confined, which they were on occasion, in a large steel cage in the front hall. I would later wonder if they were capable of escaping at will.

Dried urine stains dotted the newspaper trails throughout the house, and the stink of urine saturated the air all the way up to the second floor where we were to sleep, no doubt with the sheets pulled up over our noses. I was tempted to suggest that charging a room on my credit card might be worth it.  But you abhorred debt of any kind and wanted to be with the other guys anyway. Besides, the plans had already been made; how could we risk offending Mrs. Tarr?  Might as well submit and consider it an adventure.

The front window and living room walls were banked with pillows and stuffed animals, calling to mind a padded cell. Fitted to the minutest detail, a doll house—her pride and joy—stood in the center of the room. There was even a tiny red plastic suitcase. When I remarked on it, her eyes lit up.

“I thought the mother might like to go on vacation every once in a while, to get away,” Mrs. Tarr confided like a child, eyes blinking innocently behind her glasses yet also wistful, identifying with the mother herself.

The tour continued.

The kitchen looked dusty, as if it hadn’t been used very often. A cabinet door or two stood haphazardly ajar. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of an orange marmalade cat sleeping on the stovetop, its color melting into the faded autumn gold of the stove.  It was a very bony and ancient cat.

“She’s twenty years old,” Mrs. Tarr told me.

“Not many cats live so long,” I responded. The tabby slept noiseless and still like death warming itself.

Out back, the small yard had been replaced with brick, a stray weed escaping through the cracks here and there.

“Easier than mowing,” Mrs. Tarr explained.

Mr. Tarr was virtually invisible, a mere shadow hovering in some corner, blending in with the pillows and stuffed animals.

John, too, never seemed to be present, his room a mysterious dark place with the door shut at the top of the stairs.

When we finally made it to the second floor, Mrs. Tarr showed us the bathroom, which displayed yet more evidence of her whimsy. Here, three small plastic knights in mail congregated on a shelf, casually guarding the bathtub and toilet.

“You have an active imagination,” I said to Mrs. Tarr after the tour.

And as if her true calling had been understood and acknowledged at last, she beamed a smile of gratitude and relief.

We stowed our stuff in the bedroom where we were to sleep and took off for the rehearsal and dinner afterward.

          *

While we were out, a nose nudged open the bedroom door. Two white brutes plunged into an orgy of nosing and gnashing and gnawing into private things, having the time of their lives. Large teeth ripped through the bottom of a soft flannel bag, held down by claws on a massive paw. The top of a bottle of Clinque Porcelain Beige was stabbed with incisors, a tube of Crest toothpaste punctured clear through, the indentation of teeth left distinctly visible in its pliable skin of soft plastic. For good measure, a piss here and there on the carpet to mark their territory. Then, bored and far from exhausted, malicious glee romped on to sniff out other conquests.

Upon returning to Chez Tarr later that evening, I noticed the door to our room was ajar.  With dread, I pushed the door open and entered. There on the floor, the purple Royal Crown bag that I used to hold my makeup. The gold braid drawstrings still pulled tight, but the bottom torn out, purple threads fraying around the edges of the hole.  What the hell . . . ?  Nearby, riddled with teeth marks, the plastic silver top of Porcelain Beige foundation, the tube of Crest. “Just look at this!” I cried. You shook your head, went on to other things. But I was appalled, dumbfounded. Why would they do such a thing? Even if the foundation itself was uncontaminated, how could I face those teeth marks every time I wanted to rub the stuff onto my face? How could we possibly brush our teeth with toothpaste, much less dog slobber, oozing out of the holes with every squeeze? Should I take my complaints to our host? “Mrs. Tarr, your, uh, dogs viciously stabbed and mutilated my toiletries.” “Did they, Dear? Those playful devils.”  Clearly, there would be no point in that. Oh, where were the brave knights of the bathroom when one needed them? I went to look for them, along with a trash can.

Do you remember how, later that night, the night before the wedding, you and your buddies from Holy Cross sequestered yourselves in John’s dark closet of a room to snort cocaine?  With a tinge of danger in your voice, you had said that John had “connections.” Across the hall, I lay in bed nervous, sheets pulled up over my nose, trying desperately, futilely to escape the pissy stench of the house, unable to sleep. This was a turn of events. You had been the little pot smoker from California, have bong will travel, deceptively mellow, a few hits here and there on the pipe to calm the beast within. You had your ganja, I my cigarettes, no questions asked, a neat little bargain. This was different. Coke was serious, dangerous. Worrying, I lay there for hours, feeling all alone, just wanting to go home.

Then, noiselessly, you snuck into the room, closing the door behind you. Slipping off your clothes, you slid into bed next to me. “I’m awake,” I whispered in the darkness, and without a word, you straddled me for a round of energetic sex. Fast, hard-driving, piston-pumping sex.  Something in me felt vaguely uneasy for the boon. “Oh, just go for it,” urged an impatient voice from within. “You haven’t had sex this good since you two first got together.” And so I obeyed the urge, and on we went. But we never did discuss it. Nor did we discuss not discussing it, as was my wont.

Do you remember the wedding itself? Of that, I remember nothing, nothing at all. Only the thought that it seemed a futile gesture of escape.

About the Author:

Kathleen Davies has taught English and women’s and gender studies at Ohio University and Ohio State. Her creative nonfiction has been published in the South Loop Review.