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The Frau emerges step by step, descends the flight of steps one by one, from the outset dragged by the white poodle that has her in tow, as guide dogs lead the blind. She is not blind. She is old. Not very old but a smoker and asthmatic. She smokes and coughs, coughs and smokes, fingers stained yellow, sucking on the cigarette and coughing with every step. But she doesn’t give up, neither the clothes nor the make-up nor the dog. If she gave up all this she would be surrendering to death, she says, and this is not something she has in mind to do. Not at all.
The dog is still small. Who is going to take responsibility for her? To whom do they plan to surrender her? No, no, the little doggie is not going to wake up one morning, to want to go on its walk, to want to do its business, to be hungry and to have its mistress helpless in bed or, even worse, lifeless, dead. It can’t cause her this kind of worry. The little doggie, she says, is her family. She is the husband the Frau never had, the children she never bore. She is more than mere family because her hypothetical husband could have died; the children could have abandoned her, smoker that she is, and asthmatic that she has become from so much smoking, and the doggie never forsakes her: it stays with her and never shouts at her as an entire family would do, if she had one, which fortunately she does not. And it is for this little dog that she rises in the morning, puts the rollers in her hair, applies her make-up, dresses, dons her bracelets and her pearl necklaces, picks up her umbrella and leaves the apartment.
They go shopping, for doggie food and for her own food. She would never go out just for her food; only for cigarettes and to play Lotto. She chases fortune, for as long as she has her little dog to take care of. She chases it in the hope that it may smile on her, not for her own sake because she herself, again, is a smoker and asthmatic and at death’s door and however many times she might score a win on Lotto, it won’t either get her off the cigarettes or cure her asthma or add years to her life. No – for the sake of the doggie, to secure a better life for the doggie after her own death, so that she might be able to leave her something: acceptance into an institution, a respectable owner, and to obtain for her, when her own time comes, a respectable funeral, at one of those pet cemeteries, or – if she is suffering, if she is elderly and suffering – to pay for euthanasia.
The cemetery and euthanasia cost over a thousand euros. She was given this information by the friend she meets with every day on her afternoon walk, in the Sudermannplatz. The Frau smokes, each time sucking in the smoke, fingers yellowed, and the friend drinks, gulping her beer and licking her blackened fingers when every now and then she spills a drop of beer. Just as you, she says, don’t want to miss a single puff of your cigarette so I don’t want to lose a single drop of my beer. They sit side by side with their dogs at their feet and think of their dogs’ future. They burst into tears, in tandem, wondering what will become of their doggies without them, where the thousand euros is to be found, to ensure a respectable death for their pets when they themselves die, as if they were in a position – if their dogs should fall ill – to secure a respectable death for them now, but all their anguish and all their concern is for the dogs’ prospects after their own death.
The Frau plays the Lotto and tells Rosa “it is for you and Bodo, both of you, and may God help us win this time”, and Rosa wags her tail as if she understands everything. After that they go to Urban, where everything costs one euro: this is where the Frau shops. She renews her wardrobe, buys eye shadow, dye for her hair, lipstick. Every day she buys something else, along with her cigarettes, something small, a scarf, a belt; or perhaps something bigger: skirts, blouses, slacks, so as to be well-dressed. She does all this for Rosa, she says, for a beautiful dog must be accompanied by a beautiful, elegant lady, so that it does not feel shame for its mamma, she says, and they will be the most stunning when they walk in the square or go to the shops and meet with her friends with their own dogs, and Rosa and she will be prettier and cleaner and smarter than anyone else, and not be like Bodo, who has never had a bath in his life, neither he nor his mother. Rosa and she live respectably, in warmth and comfort, not in the streets, not in the cold and the rain. And she asks the salesgirl, yet again, “When are you bringing the raincoats for dogs?”
“I told you before,” says the girl, “we don’t sell them,” and the Frau hurls abuse at her and slams the door and Rosa starts barking threateningly.
“Calm down, says the Frau, “mamma will sew you one. I will take one of my own and cut it down to your size.”
They arrive at the supermarket, where Rosa must stay outside. The Frau ties her up and makes her way in, shouting at both customers and staff that dogs are not allowed in while humans are. She abuses those responsible, she abuses the legislators and everyone else who hates animals and hates Rosa, and threatens them that if anything happens she will strangle them all with her own hands. And she fills up her trolley with goodies for Rosa: tender meat and dog biscuits and crackers with vitamins to promote strong teeth and a shiny coat. And she opens her purse and makes the calculations, so much for Rosa, so much for the Lotto, so much for the cigarettes, and what is left is five euros. Five whole euros to buy cans for herself. Five days, five cans. One can a day.