This month’s story is from the wonderful Maile Meloy. I’ve been a fan of her stories since I stumbled upon her terrific collection, Both Ways Is The Only Way I Want It. When I opened up my June 23rd New Yorker I was thrilled to see a story from Ms. Meloy.
“Madame Lazarus” is the story of a heavily loaded gift between lovers. A newly retired French gentleman receives the gift of a small dog from his partner. At first the narrator resists the sweet terrier, Cordelia, as he rightfully recognizes her as a first step in his lover’s retreat.
(It is funny how a gesture, like the gift of a puppy, can foretell the end of a relationship. When I was young and unhappy in my first marriage, planning on leaving but not certain how to go about it, I learned how to tune up my car, change the spark plugs, etc… I remember one afternoon, I was washing and vacuuming my Volvo 122s and my husband looked out the window and said, “Your leaving me.” He was right.)
As any dog-loving person would suspect, our French gentleman comes to adore his dog. When he walks Cordelia around Paris he finds that people who might have ignored him before now speak to him. He says of Cordelia, “At first I believed that the appearance of love from a dog is only a strategy, to win protection. Cordelia chose me because I was the one to feed her and to chase away the hawks and the wolves. But after a time we crossed over a line, Cordelia and I. We went out each day to chase the pigeons and smell the piss of other dogs on the trees, and we came home to read the paper.” The story follows the unraveling relationship of the narrator and his lover, the grip Cordelia gains on the narrator’s heart, and the way in which the man and dog age together.