Gavin walked into the house to hear Brody’s barking, howling and hard breathing. He was probably in heat. He wouldn’t be surprised, even for a neutered hound Brody had to be the most affectionate thing in the room. Like a clingy drunk girlfriend that’s too comfortable in the living room of an Easter Sunday gathering, Brody would see an upright leg and go to town and then some.
Walking through the newly refurbished kitchen, a granite island table with coned lights hovering from the paneled wood ceiling, Gavin heard Brody’s frantic sprint downstairs. Even though the kitchen was different, more modern, Gavin had the queer feeling of traveling back in time to when as an eight-year-old begging to go over to Boujean and Estefania’s to visit the seven-week-old Brody and play with him on the creaky kitchen floor. He half-expected to see his mini-self playing with mini-Brody, running circles around the island table with the chubby puppy trailing behind, should’ve opened the door more quietly.
Boujean and Estefania were always off on a mission trip. Aunt V heard of their impending departure and put a good word in for Gavin. They asked if he wanted to dog-sit Brody for a couple days but he needed to watch Brody since he couldn’t make rent anymore and badly needed some cash. Now of course Gavin would have much rather spent time away from this trove of childhood and adolescent milestones. He always used to watch Brody. He’d bring friends to raid the liquor cabinet, bring girlfriends to make out with on the couch when the owners weren’t home which was all the time. Gav’s parents knew what he was doing. At first they’d wait until the late hours for his return to scold him for sneaking off but after a while they’d just talk about it at breakfast like they were discussing the local town hall meeting no one would go to. So you went to see Brody? Yeah, he gets lonely. They’d accept this answer. Despite the inner shame of not supporting himself and feeling like he drew the card telling him to take four steps back, there was a comfort in walking up that clear spring morning staircase. Every inch held a memory, like on the patio seen through the kitchen’s French door. He remembered that blue wood landing before the steps leading to the patio’s grey stone walkway paralleled by eclectic flower beds where he kissed his first girlfriend for the first time. Gavin smiled as the afternoon shined on the landing’s blue wood paneling and he thought of how their lips were caught in her red hair. He could nearly feel the bump of a canker sore on the inside of her bottom lip.
Stop, they could show up any moment. That dog keeps staring.
I just wanted to kiss you is all.
Gavin hadn’t a clue what happened to her after high school. She might have become a nurse. Nothing went much further than that kiss but he always thought that was when he was at his most honest. Brody shattered the memory as he tripped and faltered down the stairs like a manic wolf wearing banana peel slippers. His loud breathing grew louder and gave the house an unnecessary humidity. Through the small foyer Brody stopped for a moment, to make sure everything was okay. Okay. Brody was a mixed breed and no one was sure what the hell he was. He had ears like a coyote and the physique of a yellow Labrador. Gavin joked he was part otter for having such a boxy face. Brody never liked that comparison. And his color was something of a mystery. Along with a naturally shaggy coat, he had random brown spots up his legs with huge splotches of black mixed in with a creamy white filter. He was an old dog that still thought it was fresh out of the puppy mill. Brody quickly gained the scent of the place for the three millionth time to weigh the situation, if any threats were near. Maybe Gavin was a threat. But that quickly dissipated when he gained the scent of a possible friend and he took off so quickly his back legs slipped again on the hardwood floor.
The front end of his body went forward while his hind legs wiggled around like the shaky wheel on every grocery store shopping cart. Gavin stood up just in case he’d get pounced on and have to feel the uncomfortable and furry humpings of his old companion. Sliding to a sit position on the black and white checkered floor, those big old eyes recognized the figure standing in the kitchen and screamed, Oh my goodness this is wonderful isn’t this wonderful yes another person hurray hurray! Hmm I recognize you what is your name what? Tiny Master? Yes Tiny Master! I thought you died you didn’t come back yippee Tiny Master gotten much bigger. Bigger Master you have fur on your face now too yeah cool I’ve been by myself for so long I thought I was the only one left pet me pet me please pet me!
Gavin gave a short smile, Hello Brody.
And he had to shove the bouncing mutt off his left leg because Brody got a bit too excited. Gavin gave him a pet once he calmed down.
Let’s get you fed, Gavin walked around the island table and it was as if he stepped over a trip wire. Crossing the table to open the cabinet under the sink meant it was food time, food time, food time. Brody’s coyote ears perked all the way up and he started breathing heavily. His otter face wore a smile from end to end with his large tongue hanging to the side. The dog started leaping his legs up and down in continuous false starts and stops. If Brody were in a dog competition, he wouldn’t even come in dead last. He’d chase around the boujee poodles or would ravenously lick the podium judge. It didn’t matter what time, day or night; Brody would start panting and bounding in place once someone circled the island table.
Fed? Fed? You said fed what’s that ohhh fed feed…Food! YES! Food food food food yes a big bowl don’t know the last time I ate but I’m hungry I’m always hungry Bigger Master! Hurry please hurry this could be the last bowl no one else can have it maybe I should put some in the backyard yes by my favorite plot where I wizzed this morning but no I need to eat it all before any others do I don’t trust Buster next door oh boy oh boy food!
Gavin opening the cabinet only made the dog jump up and down with more force and enthusiasm. After that quick fit, Brody hovered over his caretaker. But Gavin saw a note from Estefania on the food container written in perfect English calligraphy.
It’s been so long! You don’t have to feed him today. We gave him his dinner early before we left. Remember, twice a day. Morning and evening. You know the drill. After hearing you were in town, Boujean and I were wondering if you would have liked to join us in providing aid to the people in the Garbage Favela of Lake Titicaca. But we thought you could spend some quality time with Brody. We might venture further down to the Tree Dwellers of Honduras if you’re interested. We’ll scope it out. Think it over. Don’t drink all the beer in the fridge unless you can pay to stock it up. Something tells me you wouldn’t be able to. LOL! Kidding! Drink all you want. Anyway, have fun while you are here and make yourself at home.
P.S. Watch out for the mice. We saw one in the basement a few days ago!
A rush of fearful adrenaline coursed through Gavin’s body. He was deathly afraid of rodents. So much so, the sight of them at the pet store would leave him catatonic by the goldfish. Once his mother, wrapped herself around him as he rocked back and forth when a Petco ferret ran loose through the lizard aisle. The savage beast mutilated three chameleons. Calm, calm, she’d say indifferently.
Gavin gently took off the post-it note and set it down by the sink as he began to experience the withdrawal of adrenal shakes. Standing straight up, he looked back to the spotty shaggy mutt wagging his crooked tail, Where’s the food in n your hand?! No? No food. You’re by the magic water thingy Bigger Master am I thirsty I want to chew the couch leg I’m so hungry where are you going where are we going?!
Brody, you’ve already been fed, Gavin reached in the fridge for two microcraft brews with extra hops for flavor. Boujean and Estefania enjoyed the locally crafted and Gavin took the chance to savor one, two, or six of the finer things.
Brody, Gavin was already exasperated by the dog’s boundless energy, You were fed several hours ago. Stop asking questions. Jesus, you don’t understand a word, do you boy? Well besides food.
Food I heard food where is it you’ve got food buried somewhere but what are you saying you’re making sounds but food I know food huh did you say my name I love you too!
Gavin smacked his forehead and took a long, long gulp of the microbrew triple distilled IPA that was brewed in a log shack in Milford. At least that’s what it said on the bottle. He walked up the stairs and Brody followed him, jumping from time to time when his stiff old hips allowed to see if Gavin had any treats in his free hand. He didn’t, to the dog’s disappointment, every time.
The middle of the night and Gavin decided to put on another movie. Fourth one in a row but there wasn’t else much he could think of doing except play another jittery DVD and drink. Gavin and Brody sat on the big couch and popped in a Fellini. One of his black and white ones, so the dog wouldn’t feel left out not seeing any color. The coffee table Gavin rested his feet on had about nine or ten empty bottles. Milford bilge water was stronger than he realized. With his drooling stare and his ears independently perking up and falling down to the subtlest sounds of the film, Brody looked at Gavin to make sure he was still alive, good, still alive. He was drinking another beer. Brody might as well not have been there. Gavin’s drunkenness made his mind spongy and the flashing images of a poorly English dubbed Italian couple riding bicycles at dusk in their underwear—or maybe there were three or four of them—silkily streamed across the widescreen. Brody sat up on the couch, ready at attention. Gavin didn’t notice. The dog leaned his face close to Gavin’s lap and was pushed away. He couldn’t be bothered. The Italian couple discussed how the dusky moon made the woman’s breasts look beautiful, as they laid on top of each other under a street lamp. Their spotlight. Brody stepped down off the couch.
Gavin thought of the red head who put her head on his shoulder as they walked under the stars of a similar moon. He remembered the smell of snow. It was after he said he couldn’t wait that long and she understood, they kissed out of habit, laying her head on his disappointed, understanding shoulder. Gavin’s mother would say she always had this reserved nature. Brody put his head on Gavin’s lap and started panting with gaze and urgency.
But Bigger Master I feel something coming! Help!
What’s coming, boy…who’s coming? Come on, genius. Tell me what’s coming—
I don’t know what Bigger Master says but it can’t wait it can’t—
And Brody sprinted behind the leather couch. Gavin kept watching the Italians pretend to make love, like sex didn’t have pelvic thrusts in the 60s. Seconds later, he heard what sounded like a light drizzle but smelled entirely different, Goddammit, Brody. In his hurry he knocked over the bottles and they rolled across the hardwood floor, some falling down the stairs leading to the kitchen. Brody was startled and ran downstairs, barking at the chiming empty microbrews. Minutes later, the dog peeked his head over the top step to find Gavin laying down paper towels, spraying cleanser.
Brody stared and said, Sorry Bigger Master…Couldn’t help it I just want to make you happy and me doing that didn’t make you happy I feel bad for what I did I’m sorry…
Just come. Come up here and finish the movie.
And the spotted, otter-faced hyena hybrid obeyed and panted through the fourth brothel scene of the second act.
An echo: Watch out for the rat. Gavin stands on top of the granite island table, blackness all around. He holds a baseball bat in his hands. Their tiny red eyes peep through the darkness. Brody’s festering carcass lies below, decomposition beginning to show his bare ribs. Gavin swings the bat, he feels movement. A great movement, pattering of many, they vibrate the table. Gavin screams but cannot, his voice is lost. He can’t hear himself. He tries to say Get Back but his mouth disappears. A tingling up his leg breaks the muted revelation. Their patchy, mangy bellies rub against his shins as he swings at them. But he only hits his himself. A sharp pain and the rats appear again, this time on his chest and they eat away at him. Through his shirt. Digging into his chest as they pin him to the cold stone. An echo of mother: Gavin the rats are here—And the musophobic woke up in a cold sweat, breathing and screaming. He had slept on the kitchen floor, passing out before he got another beer. Brody sat next to him as the darkness crept back on the cool floor, his panting lulling Gavin to pass out.
The blue wood on the patio had this permanent sheen. A clean finish that made the mornings extra cool even on a hot summer day. Gavin fed Brody who repeatedly told him that it was time to feed him and that he was hungry afterward, especially with every pass by the lonely table. How could he not understand that I heard him the first time, Gavin asked himself as his recovering wobbliness refused to achieve a centerpiece. Brody violently ate his food with a fish oil pill for his stomach lining. He ate it so quickly the bowl moved up and down the kitchen floor. The green morning of the backyard called to Gavin, the fresh air would do him good. Before going outside, he grabbed a morning beer and opened the door. Brody saw this and ran outside licking around his mouth for any morsel left.
Outside outside going outside! Things are outside! Oh my isn’t this wonderful being outside! Are we playing or are we running! Bigger Master you’re holding a sleepy bottle again! Those are nighttime—what’s that smell or that smell and what are those—
Brody sniffed heavily and barked at nothing. Well, not nothing. More the lingering scents from the creatures that wandered the backyard last night. Brody reestablished his territory by barking a perimeter and ran around until he got tired. He laid down on his back and rolled in the sunny green grass under a tree. Gavin observed this daily routine as Brody saw and realized and then forgot and then became overwhelmed by the expansive backyard. It was all his to wander around with all those aromas. Taking a deep, familiar swig, Gavin saw the backyard roll into a pond just beyond the thin line of trees twenty yards from the porch. He’d gotten poison oak there once and his parents scolded him for wandering. The derpy mutt was with him when the itching on his legs turned to burning. Brody knew something was wrong and ran for help. But this wasn’t his and Brody’s backyard to explore any longer, just Brody’s. Gavin had been away for far too long and the smell of him didn’t linger, the remnant of the self he left on that blue porch. When he’d run up those wooden blue stairs pretending he was skipping on a pond, finding Brody waiting by the back door ready to hear about his day at school and how there’s a red head who gave him a note to which he answered ‘maybe.’ What did Brody feel when Gavin didn’t come in the afternoons anymore? He was a stranger but Brody saw Gavin’s shadow and took it as whole. A dog couldn’t know any better. Brody wanted to continue their frolic from years back. Gavin only wanted to be left alone to numb his short lot. His phone rang. A number he didn’t recognize.
Hi there. Glad you picked up, He recognized her voice in the quick breath she took before speaking. The red head, after so long.
Wow. This is a surprise. Didn’t know you kept my number.
She sounded older, A lower octave of life lived beyond their town, I never get rid of anyone’s digits. Always thought, what if they call back?
Sounds like good advice. Maybe I should follow it. what’s up?
A pause. Gavin was a straight-no-bullshitter, Ha, mmm, uh yeah alright, I mean, with you being back in town and me being back in town, don’t you think that we should at least meet up?
I don’t see any reason why not. If I remember correctly, we used to date in high school and thought we were in love for two months.
He imagined her rolling her brown eyes, So magical. I put it down in my diary every day.
Happy to hear you haven’t changed, He smiled, Where do you want to meet?
Hmmm, maybe the Standing Crane. And maybe we could, She let out a fake, playful gasp, Drink alcohol things.
Gasp oh no, you’ve gone down a dark path since we last spoke…Are you still as pretty as I remember?
Hell no, I’m a hideous warlock. Pock marks everywhere and I have a huge mole on the end of my nose.
Gavin tried not to laugh, You got me all hot and bothered I’m on my way right now…So meet up around two or three?
She agreed and he hung up, like they hadn’t even stopped talking. All those years, five of them. He set down his beer to see Brody slowly walking up the porch steps. He was moving unusually slow. The now timid canine looked at Gavin like he pissed off a pack of wolves and they were coming to raid the house. Gavin up and asked, What’s wrong now, Brody?
A quick gag. An unsure, substantive belch and what came out was a thick stream of dark blood.
The kitchen was dark save for an unknown brightness coming off the floor. A polishing that broke through black, Boujean and Estefania were always ones for cleanliness. The patter of Brody’s long paw nails scattered any creature on or under the porch. For an animal so dependent on routine, he was unpredictable, sometimes his spotted vision would find chipmunks taking crumbs from under the table of a springtime potluck and Brody would pass them by. Other times he’d chase Chip and Dale around until the poor things’ hearts exploded. Gavin brought up the rear holding stacks of medical papers. Doggy charts, doggy treats, doggy owner brochures including a sponsored ad for doggy dentures. Brody pawed at the door as Gavin turned on the porch lights so he could have a few beers outside. He let the dog in and Brody started hopping around the house like he hadn’t seen the place in ages.
Oh boy, that was real real real fun we had the car ride then the big room with all the other dogs and cats! Cats! They don’t like me I shouldn’t have humped one of the cats! That was wrong…but there were other doggy dogs! So fun! But then the white white people with the neck things came in and put me on cold table didn’t like that I saw you were right there so it was better you were there, Bigger Master! Why did we go there are we eating yet do you have any more treats I love treats I love you!
Gavin had since sat down on the loveseat leaving half the lights in the kitchen off. A shroud covered his face not in menace but bewilderment. He had to cancel his lunch date.
I still can’t believe they said there was nothing wrong with you.
Huh what you say Bigger Master do you want a stick I can find a big stick let’s go outside!
Master’s love sticks! Or are we eating yet I thought I heard you say food food food!
No, Brody we’re not having any. Man, she sounded bummed. Did she think I was making up an excuse? I hope not.
Sooooooo what’s the next thing we’re doing are we sitting petting sleeping eating running chasing eating sleeping rough-housing eating sleeping petting walking?
The nighttime shroud exhibited by the half-lit kitchen had the cabinetry stare down in a worn, wooden frown. Darker and sadder but Brody’s lack of awareness punctured the mood, his shape moved through the dimness like a cross between a hound and a village idiot. Gavin felt the loveseat where the red head once sat on his lap as the sun went down and Brody fell asleep belly-up by the fireplace, that was the night they first kissed on the blue porch. His father called the house because he knew they were there. I don’t think she has the right attitude for someone like you, her humor concerns me, he said. And Gavin didn’t have anything to say to him, she was just outside the door and he was ready to walk her to her car. Gavin walked out and saw her in the night, how she looked back at him and looked down, a bit shy. When he came back home, father had changed the subject to whether he wanted to heat up some chicken or salmon for a late dinner. Gavin had his hands folded and Brody nudged his nose in between them looking for a rub, the master gave a loud grunt and pushed him away.
God dammit, Brody! Fucking stop it! No! Bad. Dog. Bad Dog!
The dog literally ran away with his tail between his legs to the other side of the kitchen, behind the island table. Brody didn’t know why he was being yelled at. Brody didn’t know much of anything. Gavin let out a self-effacing sigh for having been in this position, to have put himself in the mud where he couldn’t break away. He stood up to see what he could make for dinner. Opening a cabinet his eyes widened to find a long, pink tail hanging over the shelf.
He remained silent and saw next to a box of noodles, a rat. It was the size of his forearm. It turned around and smelled Gavin’s fear and made a snake-like hiss. Gavin got on top of the island table and started rocking back and forth in a fetal manner. He didn’t want it to be real but there it was. Brody circled around the table and saw the rat now on the floor, looking for a dark corner to bide its time.
What! You make Bigger Master afraid! No! Bad! Come here!
Gavin hyperventilated and covered his eyes and tried to cover his ears at the same time. In the midst of the confusion he heard a gnarling bark and responsive hiss. Not soon later there was gnashing and the high-top kitchen chairs got knocked over. Barking and pattering and Gavin’s heavy breathing—Then there was silence. Sitting up straight, still hyperventilating, he saw Brody standing over the mauled rat. The dog looked triumphant and tired at once. His gray mouth highlighted by the light film of rodent blood. Angry that it had to take a life. Proud that it was for his master. He turned around and had a deep cut across his boxy nose. And in those eyes Gavin saw that same look Brody would give him when he was sadly sick, not going to school because he didn’t want to be around anyone and the dog would stare at him while he slept. It was a look telling him he was okay, it was all going to be okay. Gavin descended from the island table, breathing calmly and held Brody’s head in his hands whispering, Good Dog, Good Dog. He lifted his hero up and carried him to his car. The vets were going to get a second visit.