by K. Blair
Apple Strudel needs two peach Bellini’s before she’ll even think of going out there. Best in utility is chump change compared to this. She’s not favoured to win. All the odds tip in favour of the Equinox Retriever. Everybody loves the Equinox Retriever.
The television presenter keeps repeating the word apricot in reference to Apple Strudel’s coat. The television presenter says apricot like her mouth is full of them. It begs the question why Apple Strudel is called Apple Strudel if she’s apricot coloured. She has a third peach Bellini, laps it from her custom made silver bowl with all the delicacy of a deer seen by a lake at dawn.
This is not Apple Strudel’s first showing. She’s been shown from the Milky Way to the Pisco Nebula. Her first showing was Westminster; a real star-studded competition. A competition with history. A distinct lineage. That was when breeds from Pluto were still denied entry to the Galactic Kennel Club. Back when an Equinox Retriever wouldn’t have been allowed entry to the atmosphere, let alone the threshold of the Westminster Dog Show. Such is the changing times, the recategorization of species. Having poisonous barbs protruding from your spine is now seen as being exemplary of the breed.
Apple Strudel’s handler is brushing her fur as a nervous reflex. Apple Strudel finds the nerves of humans highly irritating. If Apple Strudel was allowed to enter the ring alone she would. Her real owner is some mining tycoon out in Pisco. Apple Strudel has never seen them. She’s an asset, not a pet, and the mining tycoon wants to see some return on that investment. Apple Strudel overheard the conversation this morning while she was sunning herself on the hotel balcony. Hence the pre-show Bellini’s. Hence the nervous brushing.
Someone nearby is vaping, the cherry-coke scent of it makes Apple Strudel snap around to growl at the perpetrator. Some two-bit newshound from Olney Station rears back, shocked at the volume coming out of a toy breed. If someone says Napoleon complex, Apple Strudel will demonstrate that bite inhibition doesn’t mean lack of sharp teeth.
“Get that outta here,” Apple Strudel’s handler barks, “can’t you see you’re causing her distress?”
At Apple Strudel’s first showing, she came third in utility. For the next two years she couldn’t place above third. It wasn’t until Mars last spring that she managed to break the streak, from then on it’s been a smattering of firsts. Never on Earth though, never on familiar soil. There’s something terribly melancholy about that thought. It circles around her brain like a treat inside an enrichment toy. The third peach Bellini might have been a mistake.
The Galactic Kennel Club Dog Show is sponsored by Taco Bell! Share a Crunchwrap Supreme with your canine best friend, available from the truck near the N7 entrance! Live Más!
The voice over the tannoy has the consistency of grill grease. Apple Strudel is burdened with the sudden knowledge that there is nothing in the world that she wants more at this exact moment than a crunchwrap supreme. Fuck taking a turnabout the arena, that elegant trot designed to show off her form. She should stagger across the convention centre to N7, get some seasoned beef down her gullet. Better yet a volcano burrito, slathered in lava sauce. Apple Strudel has never seen lava but she knows it's hot. This green room is an icebox, someone cranked the AC so the New Moscow Malamute won’t melt into a sad, little puddle.
The announcer is calling all for the competitors to take their places. The handler clips a leather leash to Apple Strudel's collar. Apple Strudel takes a step forward and immediately knows that the call to perform won't beckon sobriety to the forefront. Regret thy name is Apple Strudel.
She totters along, dazzled by the lights, the entrance music, the quiet, polite clapping of the judges and surrounding crowd. Not so dainty now, her gait has all the elegance of a drunken woman leaving a nightclub, wobbling on stilettos with too tiny a heel. Her handler pulls on the leash, yanking the collar up to directly under Apple Strudel's chin. She's feeling distinctly ruffled. The yearning for lava sauce grows.
"Now taking a turn around the arena, first in the utility class, it's Novgorodskoye Nightshade, otherwise known as Apple Strudel, the apricot toy poodle."
At the first showing, nerves had eaten through Apple Strudel like acid rain through copper sheeting. So the handler had given her a few sips of the peach Bellini to calm her nerves. Dutch courage. The safe-for-canines version, which was not made with Earth peaches, but not quite peaches from a planet that grew not quite fruits exclusively in shades of purple. Somehow the safe-for-canines peach Bellini was peach coloured regardless of its purple origins. Apple Strudel had not given much thought to this, did not quite know how she knew it in the first place. Sometimes Apple Strudel had information in her brain that had origins outside of her comprehension.
Colours are not a thing she’s thought about in any great detail, because she cannot technically see them, but she considers their existence as the judge runs his hand along her back and checks the length of her tail. Apricot she supposes might be a nice colour to be. Apricot has lost all meaning as a word. Apricot. A-pri-cot. AAAAAAAPPRRRIIICCCOOOTTT. Apricots in lava sauce. Apricots in lava sauce, this judge does not know how to show a girl a good time. Apple Strudel has known a softer perspicacity.
The judge walks the line, a pondering saunter, a few steps forward, then back, then forward again. Like all competitions once the criteria are met, it all comes down to personal preference. Or vendetta depending on your perspective. Everything has narrowed to the split second before the judge’s hand signal, the bullet time of possibility.
“And the Equinox Retriever takes it! The Galactic Kennel Club Best in Show is Paloma Toasted Cheddar, and truly folks, this is just an outstanding showcasing of the breed.”
Apple Strudel wonders if this is the start of her dwindling golden years; the sad showtime shuffle towards maternity leave and the next generation of potential champions, hungry in a way Apple Strudel can only fathom now she’s six leagues down to plastered and only falling deeper. She can’t tell if this raw ache is from the pain of being pipped to the post once again, or if she’s just famished. She’s lost the ability to discern the difference. Live Más indeed.
For legal reasons, K.Blair (they/she) does not condone getting your dog drunk. She has most recently been published in the Hello, How Can I Help You Today Anthology, Fruit Journal, and HELL IS REAL: A Midwest Gothic Anthology. Their microchap Jesus Loves You, God Hasn’t Decided Yet is available as part of Ghost City Press’s Summer Series 22. They’re lurking on Twitter: @WhattheBlair, Instagram: @urban_barbarian, and their website, www.kblair.co.uk