Loyalty : dead dog , new trick

by Michael Cain

When Sam awoke he stretched, shook his head and contemplated licking his scrotum. But then he heard his master stirring above in the bed. On his feet in an instant he jumped up on the bed opting instead for the delicious saltiness of his master‟s face, lapping at the soft flesh and getting his ears scratched in return. Sam‟s master was a male, and they lived a simple yet happy life. While the master made water, Sam would jump up on the bed and roll over the warm, redolent sheets, often knocking the master‟s pillow off onto the floor. Next there would be a run in the park. They‟d walk, then break into the run, pulling five or six laps, depending on how quickly they lost interest or energy. Food, was always a beef breakfast burrito, same as the master would have. Then his master would shower, washing away all the delightful smells he‟d worked up. He„d dress in a shirt and tie, and splash on some offensive cologne, something man made and torture to Sam‟s sensitive olfactory senses. The master would give him a pat on the head before racing out the door, perpetually late for whatever it was he did everyday. Whatever it was, it took an awfully long time. Sam spent most of his waking hours yearning for his master‟s return, sniffing around the apartment for stray snacks and doggy bones, digging his long pointed snout down in his master‟s shoes, and usually dozing off for a few hours, dreaming about when his master would come home, and sometimes about chasing something ... something soft and furry. Sooner or later Sam would return to the bed and there he‟d stay, counting his heartbeats, if he could count or even cared to count, until his master came home and made the sounds that called him. The sounds were the word Sam. Then another walk to the park, maybe some hotdogs, maybe some oriental cuisine. Then home, lounging on the couch watching the TV, and usually a pizza delivery, or sometimes cold-cut deli sandwiches delivered by a sweet smelling teenage girl who always gave Sam‟s snout an extra squeeze when she‟d kneel down close and pet him. She owned a cat and a dog, both females. Then the master would sometimes pull a cold glass bottle out of the refrigerator, and drink

the sharp smelling liquid inside. When he would, he‟d pour some in a bowl and set it down for Sam to lap up. Not long after that both Sam and his master would be asleep, Sam breathing noisily in the crook of his master‟s knee, his master making the same noises, his arm hooked over the back of the couch. On those nights, they remained on the couch till morning. But usually they packed it in and wandered back to the bedroom, into peace and solitude on the comfy mattress, and into sleep. ***** But not on that day. The master hadn‟t even gotten to the door to the bathroom when there was a heavy knocking at the front door. Sam beat his master to the door by a mile, sniffing adamantly at the crack of space the mail slot afforded. Quivering with excitement and apprehension, he knew immediately it was another male. The master made the noise that told Sam to step back and plant his backside on the floor and not to jump and pounce and bark. Sam gave a short, plaintiff whine, then made a hasty turn and lopped off a few steps, twirled around and sat down. The master opened the door and immediately made happy sounds -- excited sounds. He reached out, grabbing the man in the doorway and pulling him in, embracing him as Sam had never seen him do to anyone. Sam cocked his head and sniffed the air, trying to get a better sense of things. The two men hooted and rejoiced, and even punched each other in the arm. Sam‟s hind legs were finding it hard to stay still. He wanted in on any fun to be had. The master looked back at Sam and called to him. The “here boy” sounds. Sam needed no further coaxing. He trotted over, making an easy, excited circle around the two men, then jumping up to lift his front legs up on his master‟s leg. The two men exchanged more sounds, and then the other man reached over and stroked Sam‟s ears, not too hard, just hard enough to feel it. This man definitely had a dog of his own. But Sam didn‟t smell anything at all on this man, at least not scent from another dog or cat. But what he did smell was something deeper about this man. He was akin to his master; they shared much of the same scent. They were brothers. But then he felt it; there was sadness in this man‟s touch. And Sam knew why. Passing through the closed metal door as if it weren‟t there was a dead dog. A smaller breed, a

spaniel of some sort, and he made a bee-line for Sam‟s master‟s brother, his bouncy, flickeringly transparent body darting between the man‟s feet and straight for Sam. They sniffed each other, nose to tail, and circled for a few beats. Sam had seen dead dogs before; their scent was weak but attractive, sweet and tangy as death sometimes can be. In their wordless way they exchanged the sounds their masters called them by. The dog was called Lucky. And immediately, as most dead dogs do, he feverishly begged Sam to become his master‟s new dog. Sam pointed his snout up to his own master and conveyed “mine.” But dead dogs are very single minded, as live dogs are. Live dogs want to play and please their masters. The second and only other thing they obsess over is finding a mate for their masters. Dead dogs can‟t please their masters anymore, and this fact is an all-consuming pain for them. So they spend every un-living moment trying to get another dog to take up their master. Usually, once told said dog already had a master they would quickly lose interest. But since Lucky‟s master wasn‟t going anywhere, Sam had to endure over and over again the constant beseeching, “Be my master‟s dog? Be my master‟s dog?” Soon Sam just tuned the dead dog out. But something else peculiar happened. No breakfast burrito, and no run through the park. Instead, the master spent this time barking and howling to his brother, first through the door to the bathroom as the master washed, and then in the bedroom as he dressed, and next, more in the living room. Sam stood by watching, confused and feeling slighted. Then the master grabbed Sam‟s leash. Sam perked right up, and started to dance about in anticipation. But the master handed the red nylon leash to his brother, leaned over and gave Sam a jovial scratch of the ears, and walked right out the door, leaving Sam with the brother and the strange dead dog. ***** Sam sat staring at the door as the brother walked away, leaving the leash behind on the arm of the couch. Sam couldn‟t believe his master had just left him to a stranger, and he listened intently as the downstairs door to the apartment building clamored shut. Sam was still standing there, waiting for a reprieve from his fate when he heard the familiar beeps of the microwave. Sam jogged into the kitchen to find the dead dog wagging what was left of its tail, and the brother pulling out two hot breakfast burritos from the microwave. He unwrapped both burritos and slapped them on paper plates, placing one on the floor for Sam as he started to devour his own. Sam ate, tentatively at first, but soon all out woofing down his food, beating the brother by a good thirty seconds. The dead-dog, Lucky, simply sat and watched, a lonely, sad cast to his features, ears

drooping slightly. Sam suddenly heard the jingle of the metal parts of his leash again, and looked up to find the brother at the door, calling Sam by his name, beckoning him closer. A click of the leash to his collar, a turn of the front door knob, and they were on their way. The brother‟s gait wasn‟t as long as the master‟s, and Sam could already tell by the time they made it outside to the sidewalk that the brother wasn‟t going to be doing any running. He‟d already lit up one of those offensive smoke sticks and stopped to buy a steaming Styrofoam cup of pungent smelling liquid. But they were outside, and still moving, though slowly, towards the park. Right before they made it to the first tree Sam noticed the dead-dog was still with them -- honestly he‟d forgotten, having tuned the thing out almost an hour prior. But the dog raced off towards a cluster of manicured canines, their masters connected by leashes of multiple colors, and all barking to each other. Sam looked once in a while over to where Lucky was, seeing that he was adamantly soliciting each and every dog he saw. Will you be my master‟s dog? Will you be my master‟s dog? The brother let Sam lead him around the park, twisting and turning in no apparent pattern around and about the plethora of hulking trees. Sam marked all these trees, even defecated behind a bush. And as his master always did, the brother just left it there, unlike the other studious humans with their little clear baggies and tiny shovels. Under a large oak tree that had letters carved into its thick bark, the dead-dog finally joined the brother and Sam. He was miserable, distraught, for all the dogs he‟d propositioned already had masters! Defeated, he quickly went from whining to growling and baring his teeth at the other dogs as they passed by. Sam barked at him to settle him -- the brother looked down puzzled, but soon returned to sipping his now half-empty drink. Sam could read the little dog easily, seeing the troubled cant to his ears and the slack in his jaw, the quivering eyes and restless paws. Even his flickering in and out of transparency was getting more acute. Why don‟t you just move on? Sam posed in their wordless way. Master needs a new dog, Lucky returned. Can‟t ... won‟t go anywhere until he has a new dog! ***** The rest of that morning was devoted to lounging on the sofa watching soap operas. The dead dog watched jealousy as Sam and the brother shared the couch, and a bag of ranch-flavored Doritos. Sam enjoyed brother scratching his ears, or when he would let Sam lick the remnants of the Doritos from his fingers. He even tasted like Sam‟s master, which probably lent to how quickly Sam felt himself warm to the brother.

But the dead dog was inconsolable. He‟d pad off into the bedroom and howl, trying desperately to coax stray dogs up to the apartment just by the baleful tone of his voice. But soon he would tire and come back in, circle the couch and try to scratch at his master‟s leg. But that was useless. The brother couldn‟t hear him, and the city had so many noises that a live dog‟s voice wouldn‟t have been heard. The brother made a few phone calls, one during which he whispered softly, shaking his head, and then hung up, the look of him matching that of the dead dog‟s almost exactly. Why don‟t you just lie down? Sam asked. Master needs a new dog! Lucky said, the same obsessed, brittle texture to his thoughts as to his howl. Sam thought to himself that if he didn‟t get Lucky off this subject the dog might drive him to lunacy, so he thought and thought for a way to change the subject. So how did it happen? How did what happen? How did you ... die? Sam felt a terrible shadow move through his chest just thinking about it, about death, and instantly wished he hadn‟t brought it up. The dead dog moved closer to his master, until what might have been his body was flush with the brother‟s calf. A car, his thoughts said, slowly, obviously reliving the memory. The memory still so fresh the little dog started to fade, momentarily vanishing. The master and his mate had been fighting, and they split. One night the mate came back, but only to take boxes out to the car, and was made to leave again. I thought if I ran out and blocked the way ... No further explanation was needed. Sam felt the shadow creep deeper into his chest. He had been born knowing about death, knew that it would come one day, as natural and undeniable as the seasons or the passing of days. But he had gone many years without thinking about it -- and seeing it, hearing it, just made the knowledge more real and too close for comfort. Both dogs fell into silence, both hoping for the cold shadow to pass. ***** Finally, the brother stood up from the couch and stretched his arms far above his head, then

reached for the leash. Sam jumped up in anticipatory glee: a midday outing was an unexpected delight. The dead dog merely treaded slowly to the door and waited. It had just rained and the sun was already out, making everything sparkle anew. The smell, quite fetching, made both dog and man stop for a moment and close their eyes, absorbing the uncommon freshness. The brother bought a foot-long frank and split it, bun and all, with Sam. To Sam‟s delight the park was full of other dogs; he could interact and sniff them, and Lucky would have someone else to pester. But instead of darting about asking the other dogs the usual request, Lucky just sat beside Sam, eyes closed, tail drooping, effectively staving off all the other dogs with the pungent aroma of his weary, haunted presence. Sam wanted to move about, but the brother sat down on a park bench and lit up a smoke stick. Sam swallowed his yearning to run, to play -- after all, he was outside -- and settled instead to sprawl out on the grass by the brother‟s feet, soaking up some of the afternoon sun. Sam didn‟t notice when Lucky moved away, quite literally having dozed off into a gentle slumber, napping in the aromatic grass. But then he heard the voices. Not human, but that of dogs, but not the usual howling or excitement, or the sometimes pained growl, but of a conversation: a plan. Get him up on his feet! came the yap of the little dead dog. Sam opened his eyes and rolled over until he was sitting upright on his haunches. He shook his head, finding the scene traveling towards him comical both in its cast and its improbability of success. In the lead was Lucky, his translucent presence practically glowing from his excitement. Behind him was a much larger dog, a black and white boxer, a male. Attached to the collar of the boxer was a leash and attached to that a young man of about the same age as the brother, he with blond hair and glasses, and a bewildered look on his face. He was obviously being dragged by the boxer to follow Lucky. Sam shook his head. This isn‟t going to work, he thought. This dog has a master already. What is he thinking? GET HIM UP! barked the little dead dog. ON HIS FEET! NOW! It was the conviction of the little dead dog‟s command that finally made Sam rise and lunge forward, pulling the seated brother right off the park bench and tripping him as he clambered behind. He even dropped his empty beverage cup and his half-burnt smoke stick. Neither man saw what was coming, as the two large dogs, Sam and the black and white boxer, crossed paths, then rapidly looped in behind the other‟s leash bearer. In less than three seconds the two men were in each other‟s arms, trying awkwardly to keep themselves

from falling over, and to disentangle themselves from the other. Sam shot Lucky a reproachful look. What was this all supposed to accomplish? Lucky just looked up, his tail wagging with escalating tempo. Wait ... And then the two men stopped moving about, instead both smiling, both laughing and making happy noises, and both starting to blush. Sam immediately smelled it with his next intake of breath. Attraction, lust, maybe even love. Whatever, it was emanating from the brother and the man with the boxer. When Sam turned to congratulate Lucky on finding such a cunning resolution to his master‟s lack of mate and dog, he found the little dead dog had turned and was jogging off into the park, into the rays of the glorious sun. The breeze picked up and the leaves scattered. Then like a flock of moths Lucky‟s shadowy form flitted into the wind, his excited barks trailing off into an echo. He was gone. ***End***