Some years ago I was living with my girlfriend, Keren, in a tiny apartment in Tel Aviv – if we had a friend over for coffee the place felt crowded but it was cheap and… we were in love so it felt like a palace.
I passed my days writing stories on the balcony while Keren went out to work – and as she was paying most of our rent, I’d make sure she came home to a good meal each night. We couldn’t afford to go out much but we had each other and that was something money couldn’t buy.
I wasn’t sure what I had done to deserve Keren. She was breathtakingly beautiful, a good deal smarter than me and her heart know no boundaries. Her capacity to love amazed, inspired and -. at times – terrified me.
It was late on an October evening when the stifling summer heat that had lingered on into the autumn suddenly broke. We were walking along by the beach when a fresh wind blew in from the Mediterranean and the cotton clothing that had clung to our bodies suddenly seemed quite inadequate. Ominous-looking clouds rolled in and, to our delight, the air filled with rain for the first time in half a year. We could feel the relief that swept the city.
We ran through the streets, laughing and splashing each other as we went, getting soaked to the skin and as we got closer to home and looked forwards to taking a hot bath together, we saw Bubsy. At least that was how Keren decided to name the poor, sniffing creature huddled inside a cardboard box just by our doorway, shivering in the cold.
Generously assuming that my sense of compassion ran as deep as hers, Keren swept Busy up in her arms and carried her up to our apartment. Our guest was placed on a sheep skin rug and Keren rushed off in search of our electric heater and to bring a bowl of warm milk. I looked down at the trembling creature in front of me with an odd sense of ambiguity and felt my stomach stir uneasily. Bubsy seemed to be some kind of puppy though it was hard to be sure – her hair was so overgrown that it covered her face and all I could see was a little dark nose and 2 shiny dark eyes staring out at me. She was easily the most pitiful thing I’d ever come across which made her utterly adorable in Keren’s eyes.
“You… don’t mind, do you, Tommy?” Keren asked me as she returned from the kitchen, reading the doubt in my face. I hastened to assure her that we would find room for our guest somehow. She could sleep in the hall when we folded out our sofa-bed in the living room.
Bubsy, however, had other plans. No sooner had we turned out the lights and begun to kiss in the dark than a high-pitched whining sound filled the apartment.
“The poor thing, she’s lonely.” Keren whispered and I felt the moment of passion fade away. She lay next to me, her body tense in a silent plea.
“Alright, but only for tonight, okay?” Keren kissed me on the cheek and ran off to bring Bubsy into our bed, petting her like a child. Keren claimed not to smell anything but the animal had a musty, slightly fetid smell that drifted up my nostrils no matter which way I turned.
Worse, as I lay there in the dark, listening to the rhythm of Keren’s sleeping breath, I had the unmistakable sensation that I was being watched. I fought against my paranoia for an hour or more until I finally turned on my bedside lamp and confirmed that, there, curled up in Keren’s arms, from behind a veil of mangy hair, Bubsy stared at me fixedly with her beady little eyes.
I made a face at her but she continued to stare back at me with a look of smug triumph. Suddenly a stranger in my own bed, I grabbed a blanket and went off to sleep on the kitchen floor.Instead of the usual good morning kiss, I was awoken with a handwritten page of instructions on how to take care of Bubsy during the day. Keren handed me the list, opened the front door and, as an afterthought, blew me a kiss before she left.
My back hurting from sleeping on the floor, I walked through to the living room and saw that, not only had Keren not folded away the sofa-bed, but that Bubsy still lay in it. I tried to pull her the sheet out from beneath her but a low growl and a flash of sharp white teeth convinced me otherwise.
I stepped back in shock and rubbed my eyes at the realisation that I was no longer looking at a pitiful looking puppy, shivering from the cold – Bubsy seemed to have doubled in size overnight. Perhaps it was a trick of the light but for the first time I didn’t feel entirely safe in my own home. For one thing, I wasn’t quite sure that Bubsy was a dog, after all. Under the messy hair it was hard to make out any distinctive features and I couldn’t see anything that resembled a tail.
I took a photo of the creature from a safe distance using my phone and then took my laptop out onto the balcony to run a google image search. I spent a couple of hours scanning through photos of wolverines, bob cats and Tasmanian Devils – without asking myself how one of those could have ended up in Israel – but couldn’t species that really looked like Bubsy. As a last resort I posted Bubsy’s photo on a Question and Answer site and then ended up dozing off in the afternoon sun.
I awoke a couple of hours later to the sound of dishes clattering in the kitchen.
“Hey, honey,” I called, stepping back into the apartment, “i’ve been trying to work out all afternoon what… species Bubsy might be, she’” and I caught my breath at Keren’s furious expression as she stepped into the room. Bubsy was wrapped around her legs and seemed to smirk.
“Really?” Keren snapped, “So that’s what kept you busy all day. Too busy to work on finishing your book – if you ever do plan to finish it – and too busy, it seems, to bother making some pasta. Or feed Bubsy. It must be nice to think about yourself all the time. In fact, I think I’ll try it. I’ve made dinner for Bubsy and me tonight. If you have any money you might try the new pizzeria around the corner.”
And with that, she fetched 2 plates of stew from the kitchen while, Bubsy, who was already half as tall as Keren, waddled after her.
It won’t come as a surprise to know that I slept on the floor again that night. And for each of the following nights, too. Being an Israeli, Keren wasn’t one to hold grudges. Every now and then she might explode on me but the day after she’d usually smile shyly and bury herself deep in my arms. But when awoke the next morning and thought about creeping into the bed for a conciliatory embrace, I found her hugging Bubsy instead – who now took up more than half the bed. To see the woman I loved curled up lovingly with this rank, ugly beast, her beautiful face buried in a jungle of thick, black, matted hair was more than I could take. I glared down at Bubsy who stared intently right back at me.
“I don’t know where you came from,” I hissed, “Or why Keren loves you so much but you’re not welcome here! Do you hear me?”
“I hear you!” Keren cried, revealing herself not to be asleep at all, “And if you don’t understand why I love her then how can you say that you love me? If she’s not welcome here then neither am I!” Then she burst into tears and plunged her head back into Bubsy’s coarse hair.
I stormed out of the apartment and as I slammed the door shut behind me, I felt something else close in my heart. There was something in what Keren had said – I found myself wondering if I knew her quite as well as I had thought.
I came back later that morning when I was sure Keren would have gone to work and opened the door to the pungent stink with which Bubsy had filled the entire place. Black hairs like bits of old rope lay scattered over the rug in the hallway and my first thought on entering the kitchen was that we had been burgled – the cupboards had been forced open; packets of rice, sugar and cereals were torn open and swimming on the floor in a puddle of milk from the carton Keren must have left on the counter. But then I saw the teethmarks in the refrigerator door and guessed at once who must be responsible.
I marched through to the living room with a rolling pin in my hand, determined to teach our troublesome guest just who was the boss but I discovered to my amazement that Bubsy was now almost as tall as I was and several times fatter. She lay dozing on the bed, covering almost all of the mattress and propped open one lazy eye as I passed by on tiptoe to sit with my laptopon the balcony.
I checked my forum post from the day before and found a whole string of answers. None ventured a scientific opinion as to what species Bubsy might be but I was left in no doubt that my experience was far from unique.
DO NOT LET THIS CREATURE INTO YOUR HOME!
Took over our home and our lives…
Don’t feel sorry for it for a moment! It knows exactly what it’s doing!…
We should never have taken it in…
When Keren came home that evening she found me waiting outside with some sandwiches and a bottle of wine. Reluctantly, she let me drag her to the beach to talk things through. Cautiously, I told her about my discovery on the forum. I reassured her of my love and begged her to see that everything had been fine until Bubsy had come into our lives. Keren listened behind distant eyes that grew colder and colder as I spoke. When I ran out of words there was a long, empty silence until she replied:
“I used to think you loved me for who I am. Now I see that you loved me only for who you wanted me to be. Bubsy needs love just like anyone else – without us she would have died out in the cold and the rain. I never imagined you could be so cold-hearted.”
There was nothing more to say and we walked sadly back to the apartment without exchanging another word. Keren went straight to bed and I laid out my blanket on the kitchen floor, more miserable that i’d ever been, convinced that i’d lost her forever.
But I was wrong.
Halfway through the night I heard a sharp scream followed by a loud thud on the floor. Before I could get up to investigate, Keren came crawling through and climbed into my arms, her whole body trembling as she wept. I stroked her hair and made comforting noises until she was ready to speak.
“I woke up and I couldn’t breathe!” she sobbed, “Bubsy was smothering me! She fills up the whole bed – she fills up our whole lives! What are we going to do?”
I told her not to worry, that we’d think of something and Keren fell asleep in my arms for the first time in many nights. We awoke the next morning and walked hand in hand through to the living room where Bubsy lolled about on the mattress, quite enormous by now and her coarse black hairs scraped the ceiling. Her dark, gleaming eyes fixed upon us and, despite herself, I could feel Keren start to move forwards.
“Don’t,” I said, “She feeds on that.”
Keren nodded and with an obvious effort she gathered some clothes, got changed and headed out to work.
We ate out each of the following nights and when we returned home we made our bed on the kitchen floor and did our best to ignore the whining, whimpering sounds coming from the room next door. I don’t think Keren slept much those nights, her heart struggling to comprehend the choice she was making. More than once I caught her getting up in the early hours and tiptoeing out of the kitchen but when I turned on the light she claimed to only be going to the bathroom.
The change took some time to come but finally, we observed that Bubsy had begun to shrink. Though her foul smell still dominated the apartment, she no longer took up the whole of the bed that she had claimed for her own and, day by day, she could be seen to grow smaller and smaller.
At last, Keren returned home one evening and I took her through to the living room where Bubsy shivered on top of a pile of blankets, once again the pitiful little creature that we had found outside our doorway on that fateful night. I picked up a shoe box to scoop her up but Keren’s hand stopped me and I saw from the expression on her face that it was something she had to do for herself. She carried the wretch out of our apartment, down the stairs and was gone a long time. I had just begun to worry that she might have capitulated when I heard her key in the lock again and she entered quietly, the expression on her face suggesting that for all the world she was a little lost stray herself.
Our lives slowly returned to normal after that for the rest of the time that we were in love. Only the occasional thick, black hair found under the carpet reminded us that there were some things that should never be fed.