Where are they? They’ve been gone forever. Wait, I know that sound. Oh my gosh, they’re home!
The door opens. Melody bends down to pat me. “Who’s a good boy?” She rolls me over and scratches my belly. She knows just the spot.
I’m too excited to lay still. I struggle to my feet and run over to Ash. I sniff at his cuffs. He’s been in the park. I jump on his thighs. Say hi to me! I’ve been waiting all day!
He pushes me back. “Guess what Buddy, we got you a new friend.” He places a cardboard box on the floor and drops to the ground. “Mel, grab the scissors.”
I lick his ear. Finally he pets me. I contort my head so he gets the back of my neck. I love when he pets me. He’s so good at it.
Melody returns with the scissors and joins us on the floor. She grabs me by the neck, wrestles me back, and rocks me like a baby. “Settle down Buddy, daddy needs space to set up your new toy.”
Ash grumbles. “Friend. It’s not a toy. A toy wouldn’t cost four hundred dollars.”
Melody tenses up. I wriggle out from her embrace.
Ash opens the box. I crawl forward to sniff the inside but he shoos me away. He looks upset. “It’s not ready yet. You’re going to have to wait.” He pulls out a sheet of paper and scratches his head. “This could take awhile.”
I clamber to my feet and head to the kitchen for a drink of water. All the excitement from their return has made me thirsty. I notice an alluring smell under the fridge. I bend down to claw at it. Someone has dropped a Cheerio on the floor.
I stick out my tongue but I can’t reach it. WHIMPER. I swipe with my paw. BARK.
Melody shouts out. “Buddy, you better not be getting into trouble in there.”
She called my name. I run back to the living room. The humans are where I left them.
Melody gives me a hug. “Aw, your goatee is all wet. Did someone have a drink?”
I shake the water from my face. A few drops land on the floor and I lick them. I sniff the area to make sure I haven’t missed any.
Ash shoves me away. “What did she tell you Bud? You need to give me space so I can set up your toy.”
Melody smiles. “Don’t you mean his friend?” She rubs me by the ear. “Isn’t that right Buddy? Aren’t you going to have a new friend?”
They keep saying friend. I know that word. Like Luna, the dog down the hall. Oh, maybe they’re taking me for a walk!
I walk to the entrance and sniff around. I look back to the humans and then nod with my eyes to the door. They ignore me. I walk over to my leash. I nudge it with my snout. It clanks against the door.
Melody hears me. “Not now Buddy.”
Ash grumbles. “I can’t wait until his damn friend is assembled so we don’t have to walk him anymore.”
Melody’s upset. “We’ll still walk him.”
“I didn’t say we wouldn’t. I said we wouldn’t have to.”
I don’t think they’re taking me for a walk. I really need to go. I scoot my bottom across the rug.
Melody spots me. “Buddy, stop that or daddy will be upset.”
I sniff the rug. I look to the humans. BARK. No response. BARK. BARK. BARK.
Ash throws the scissors at me. I slide back to avoid them.
Melody slaps him. “What sort of a jerk throws a pair of scissors at a dog?”
I sniff the scissors. Does he want me to fetch? I prefer my tennis ball.
Ash picks up a screwdriver. “I’m sorry, okay. He’s just too much for me after a long day of work. That’s why I need to assemble this damn…robot.”
Melody’s laughing. “You almost said toy.”
He gives her a dirty look. “Why don’t you and Buddy go in the other room so I can finish? You’re distracting me.”
Melody laughs. “Whatever.” She walks into the kitchen and pours herself a glass of wine.
I follow behind her. I crouch down to my belly on the cool kitchen tiles and swipe out at the Cheerio under the fridge.
Melody grabs me by the collar. “Come on Buddy, let’s go into the bedroom before we get yelled at again.”
She drags me to the bedroom. I sprint towards the bed and leap to the mattress. I sniff around the blanket until I find the perfect spot.
She props pillows against the headboard and lies down. She pulls me in close.
I have to get comfortable again. I stand up and dig into the blanket.
She grabs me by the cheeks. “Listen Buddy, I need you to relax so daddy doesn’t kill you. Do you understand?” She takes a sip of her wine. “I know you’re a bit hyperactive and that’s okay, but if you don’t start behaving, we’re going to have to get rid of you.”
She looks upset. I lick her ear. She smiles. I’m such a good boy.
She pulls me into the crook of her hip and urges me to settle. But I have to poop.
I wriggle out of her arm and walk to the end of the bed. I stare out the window. I look back to Melody and nod to the window. She ignores me. A bird lands on the balcony. I jump from the bed. BARK. BARK. BARK.
Melody screams. “Would you look what you made me do? I spilled wine all over myself.”
She’s standing up. She must be ready to walk. I run over to her, wagging my tail.
“You shouldn’t be happy. You’re bad! Do you understand?”
I climb up onto her thighs. BARK.
Ash appears in the doorway, smiling. “You ready to meet your new friend, Bud?”
Melody throws her arms around him. “You did it?”
I want to join their hug. I jump onto the edge of the bed and then back to their feet. They’re kissing. I want a kiss.
I hear a whirring sound. BARK. I crouch down. Who’s there? Announce yourself. BARK. BARK. BARK.
I spot the intruder. It’s a dark plastic circle and it’s scooting across the carpet.
Ash cheers me on. “Go get it Buddy. Your new friend!”
Melody’s clapping. “What should we name it?”
My new plastic friend slides into the kitchen. When I approach, it pivots and runs back towards me. I love this game! I run circles around the apartment, onto the recliner, through the kitchen, behind the couch.
Melody grabs me around the shoulders and forces me to sit. “Your new friend is for more than just playing, Buddy. Let daddy show you.”
Ash touches his phone. My friend shoots a kibble out of its butt. I run to the kibble. Mmm. liver. I sniff at its butt. Are there more?
Ash’s laughing. “It’s on a timer, Bud. I’m sure the next one will come out soon. You’ll have to follow it’s commands to get them, though.”
I corner it by the window. I tap on its butt so it can’t escape and so it will give up more of its treats.
It doesn’t like being touched. It spins towards me and BARKS.
I don’t understand it’s accent. What is it trying to say?
Melody takes off her wine-stained shirt and soaks it in the kitchen sink. “Buddy, you have to play gently or the robot will scold you.”
Ash laughs. “And if you’re really bad it will zap you.”
Melody slaps him. “Don’t scare the poor dog. Show him what else it can do.”
Ash bends to my level and scratches me behind the ears. His strong hands feel so good. He stops. “Are you listening Bud?”
I look past Ash to my friend. I’m ready to pounce.
Ash grabs hold of me by the shoulders and pins me down. “You have to listen Bud. This new robot is going to take care of you. When you need to go outside, it will take you and make sure you don’t run away.”
Outside? He said outside. This is it!
“No, Bud, you’re not going out now. You need to get more familiar with your friend before it will take you outside.”
Outside! I run to the door. I sniff the rug. My scent is still there. I brush my nose against the leash. It clanks against the door.
Melody sighs. “Maybe we should just take him now.”
Ash shakes his head. “We didn’t spend four hundred dollars to walk our own dog. Let the robot do it.”
“Bertram. We should call the robot Bertram.”
He grabs hold of her. “You are one strange bird. You’re lucky you’re so damn pretty.”
They start kissing. They’re ignoring me. WHIMPER. They make their way to the bedroom and lock me out. I sniff at the base of the door. BARK.
My friend comes up behind me and pokes me in the bum. I jump up. It drops a kibble from its bottom. I snatch it up. Liver!
It releases a puff of air that smells like a bitch in heat. CHASE.
It scoots under the coffee table. I claw at it and it scoots out the other side. I jump over the back of the couch and fly towards it. I smack my head against the wall. Ouch!
I hear it whirring by the front door. I sprint towards it. I’m going to catch it and hump it!
I land on it with my front paws. I have it pinned down.
It shoots a beam of light at my eyes. I jump back. It growls. WHIMPER. It farts a puff of coyote breath. RUN.
I sprint past the kitchen. I hear it chasing after me. I thought it was my friend!
I circle back into the living room. It’s closing in on me. I feel a gurgling in my stomach. I can’t hold it in anymore.
I squat down. POOP. I’m a bad boy. I sniff at the poop. Maybe I should eat it.
The robot appears from under the coffee table. It’s coming right for me.
It runs over my poop and crushes it with its wheels. I try to get away, but it’s right on my heels.
Ash opens the bedroom door, naked. “What did you do?”
Melody’s wearing a bedsheet. “Bertram, no!”
“I am going to kill that dog!”
“The dog? What about the toy?”
Ash growls. “Friend! Or Bertram! Or whatever else you want to call this expensive pile of junk! Its supposed to have sensors to prevent this sort of thing! What did the salesman say?”
Melody uses a deep voice. “It will bag it not drag it.”
I follow the trail of poo across the apartment. I love this game.
Melody grabs hold of me and forces me down. “Buddy, sit still before you make things worse.” She stares at Ash. “I told you we should have taken him out. He was alone all day. What did you expect from him?”
“The damn robot was supposed to do it. That’s why we spent four hundred dollars on it!” He stomps his feet. “I’m going out for a cigarette.”
Out? I run towards him.
Melody yells. “Buddy, stay!”
Ash throws on a long jacket and flip flops and leaves without me. I stand at the door listening to his fading footsteps.
I look back to Melody. She runs a cloth under the sink and carries it to the carpet. She falls to her knees. “How am I ever going to clean all this?”
I lick her ears like I always do when she cries. I’m a good boy.
“Don’t you get it? He’s going to make me get rid of you.”
I hear something clank against my water dish. I recognize it’s whirring.
I sniff the trail of poop. I know it will lead me right to my friend. I’m not just a good boy, I’m a smart boy. BARK. BARK. BARK.
Jared Cappel’s work has appeared or is set to appear in various publications including Literally Stories, City. River. Tree, and Escaped Ink. When he’s not writing, he enjoys creating digital art known for its abstract imagery and vibrant use of colour (https://fineartamerica.com/profiles/jared-cappel). A lover of wordplay, he’s ranked as one of the top 50 Scrabble players in North America.