By Nicholas Tecosky
The dog wakes from a dream. She was running through a dark wood, chasing. Shadows ran alongside her, and she knew that she was safe, that these were the shadows of brethren in the midst of a furious primal hunt.
Dust motes float in the beams of sunlight pouring through the window of the cluttered apartment. She listens through the sounds of the city outside, and she hears the sound of the man breathing in the next room. He is alone in bed, the woman having left for work early. He will be awhile waking up, and so she stretches her joints, aching and stiff from sleep.
The dog winds her way through the furniture and into the kitchen. The woman has filled her bowls. She sniffs at the kibble. It smells only vaguely of game, something that she would chase down in the forest. She takes a bite, and the illusion is shattered.
She goes to the door of the bedroom and peeks in. The man is snoring operatically in the tousled sheets. His legs curved just so and and his arm draped over his face. She sighs and flops down in the doorway. She waits for him to wake. She drifts.
She does not get up when he wakes. She is familiar with his morning routine. He pulls himself from the great cast-iron bed. When he walks, he takes slow, heavy steps that cause the wooden floor to shake beneath him. He steps over her and into the bathroom, and the sound of his urination hitting the porcelain bowl and the salty smell of it fill her senses. He, this beast, he is hers, and she loves him and fears his shifts in mood but when he exits the bathroom, he pauses to run his bare foot over her back before continuing on to the kitchen, where he furthers his ritual by pouring the dark, pungent beans into the grinder and boiling water and opening the refrigerator to inspect its contents.
The coffee done, he sits down on the couch and places the steaming mug beside him. He will not drink more than a sip before he lies back and closes his eyes once again.
The man does not move for a great length of time. She cannot tell how long. She does not know minutes or hours. She tracks the sunlight as it shifts across the room and after it has moved from the rug to the coffee table, he sits up and looks to her. They make eye contact.
It is time to go outside.
The dog wakes to the sound of sirens in the distance, and for a moment, she mistakes them for the call of her wild sisters. Before she can stop herself, she raises her head and returns the forlorn howl. It was not something that she was taught and she does not know why she howls, only that she must howl, and a memory that is not hers passes through her mind. She realizes in a moment that these are not the sounds of the Others. She knows that they are only mechanical. This does not stop her from howling. She howls until they are out of earshot, and she stops and listens. Only the sounds of the city, muffled through the thick walls.
To pass the time, she tries to think the saddest thing that she can think. But the only thing that she can think of is being alone, and she is alone right now, she does not know when or if they will return, and it is dreadfully quiet. She tries to think of something else. She cannot. She sighs heavily.
The woman returns before the man. She drops her bag in the chair and she greets the dog in a high tone, and the dog gets up and shakes off and wags her tail to return the greeting. The woman walks back to the door and retrieves the leash hanging on the hook and the dog runs to her and sits on the kitchen floor and she is so excited that she cannot help but shake. The woman hooks the leash to her collar and opens the door. The dog tries to wait, because the woman will be cross if she bounds out the door before being told to do so. But she wants to go through the door so badly. She can smell the outside. She can smell the rain from before and how it intensifies the scents of the world. She waits. The woman gives her the signal, and she rushes toward the world, feeling the pull of the woman on the other end of her tether but not caring for a moment.
She squats to relieve herself, shivering with pleasure at the feeling. She sniffs the air around her. They walk. There are so many smells. They are a history of the world.
All too soon they are reentering the apartment and she does not want to return but takes consolation in knowing that the rest of her pack will be with her inside the small space, that they will eat and sit and stare at the television and if she lies next to the man, he will scratch her behind her ears and when he stops he will lay his foot upon her side and leave it there and they will both find comfort in the contact.
The man and woman take turns being the alpha, depending on who has energy after the long day. She knows her place in the chain, she is Omega, sometimes she wishes otherwise and tries half-heartedly to assert dominance, but they are not fooled and they lay hands on her and press her to the ground until she stills herself. It does not matter. It is a passing fancy. They are not an ideal pack, but they are hers and she theirs, they are all together, for now, in the cavern that they call home, and the smell of the dishes in the sink and the dust that surrounds them in the air and the socks on the floor, those that she has hidden beneath the furniture, and their bodies, their simian bodies, it is all there as it has always been. As it will ever be.
She smells where they have been. The Woman smells of coffee and stale sweat and the Man smells of cigarette smoke but beneath these masks she can smell what they feel. The subtle air of sadness, the sharp tang of anxiety or desperation. She comes to them and tastes them, and they smile and accept her tongue for a moment before calming her with hands on her skull, her neck, her back. She knows she only has so much time to taste, that they will rebuke her sharply if she persists, but she tastes for as long as they will let her.
She feels a kinship with them when they are sad. When they cannot get up off of the couch. They are alone but together. She fears the morning. The morning is when they leave her. She never knows for sure if they will return.
When they are all together, they make voices that they know are supposed to be hers. They speak for her. She knows the tone of it and listens intently, her ears perking up. She understands very little of the language, but it does not matter. They are communing with her. That is all that matters.
When the man lies on the couch in the afternoon, she knows that something is wrong, but can only gauge the severity of the situation when she creeps close and sits beside him, face to face. He does not usually respond well to her face in such close proximity to his. If he snaps at her to go, he is merely tired. If he places his hand gently atop her head and looks into her eyes and whispers to her, something is very wrong. She does not know what it is, except that she feels it too, deeply, without understanding. They are alone, together.
The dog does not entirely understand pack politics. She knows her place in the order, of course, but cannot understand the subtle back-and-forth between the two people. She senses when things are tense, and also the lack of tension when things are easy. The feelings wash like a great tide over her, swelling and receding. She cannot imagine the future. She has never tried. Life is one endless expanse, interrupted by periods of dark and sleep and an occasional meal and a walk through the vast park.
The dog does not know if she is happy and doesn’t ponder it. There is an emotion in her, deep down, that she does not quite comprehend, that came from before her great great great grandmother was born. Sometimes it swells in her chest so much that she can feel it in her throat, and she tenses, barely controlling herself, half-expecting it to burst forth into the small apartment, tear through the walls, escape into the hazy afternoon sunlight outside. She shakes her entire body as if trying to dry herself. She barks into the empty apartment and listens to the echo. Something stirs just outside, in the hallway.
The dog waits.
Something will happen. It always has before.
This story first appeared in Nicholas’ website, Love & Consequences.
Cover Image: “Nightcrawler” by Basheer Tome via Flickr.