My name is King. It wasn’t a name chosen by my mother; she thought them unnecessary. I miss my mother; I haven’t seen her for a very long time. I also miss those days, before I was King. Days spent exploring the vast outdoors, later napping on the shaded veranda. And snuggling close to my mother’s side and feeding on the sweet juices her warm body provided. Around the time that my mother’s fluids no longer fully satiated me, a young lady and man visited our home.
The lady was called Alison and smelled of the flowers that grew outside the back door. The man, Vic, like the trees that stood tall behind our house. When she picked me up and held me close, I inhaled the same intoxicatingly sweet scent of the small red fruit that grew in our garden. I buried my nose in her hair, which made her laugh but was unable to find where they were hidden.
When she gently entangled me from her long dark hair, held me at arm’s length and looked into my eyes, water pooled then overflowed from her eyes and ran down her cheeks. It was then that I was told my name would be King, and that it was time to say goodbye to my mother.
I sat on Alison’s lap for the longest time in what Vic called a car. While Vic drove, Alison gently stroked my back to soothe my fears. Vic would occasionally stop to allow me to mark our trail in case my mother wished to find me. We chased the sun but never could catch it. It slipped from sight around the same time we reached my new home.
At first, I missed my mother a great deal. But my new family cared for me and fed me a delicious type of food that my mother would never have been able to provide. In my new home, I was allowed to sleep on the large bed between Vic and Alison, each night falling asleep as Alison softly and languidly caressed my ears.
Time passed quickly in my new home, and my daily routines varied little. Vic took me for a walk each morning, and I chased the small animals that showed themselves along the way. Some would scamper up trees, the larger and furrier ones burrowed into the dense bushes found along the trail. I never could understand why they didn’t want to play. At home, I spent most of my days sleeping in the small room that Alison called the closet. I could rest there in the darkness for as long as I wished, inhaling the familiar and comforting scents that hung on the items they draped upon their bodies.
Later in the day, when the need to go outside and relieve myself became strong – I learned long ago, in a very unpleasant manner, that going inside was forbidden – I would peer through the window in the front room and await their arrival. As soon as I spotted the familiar shape of their car, I’d rush to the front door to greet them. I was always sure to put on a good show, knowing how it brought a smile to their faces to see me so excited.
My evening meal was the reward for my performance, followed by a relaxing time on the couch with Vic and Alison. I would snuggle close, content to bask in both their warmth and familiar bouquet, as they lay together and stared at the shape on the wall with moving pictures. Their aromatic scents of the morning had by then faded and been replaced by something more pungent. The taste was salty on my tongue like the sea, which I recalled from days long ago.
The sun had beaten down relentlessly on the day my mother and I visited the large body of water. It was close to our house, and the elderly lady called it the sea. Mother and I cooled our bodies in the shallows and playfully chased the retreating water, until all at once it would rise up, turn and chase us. We had a marvelous time, but I quickly learned from its sharp taste that the sea was not for drinking.
When their eyes began to grow heavy with sleep, Vic would point a small box at the shape on the wall making it dark and silent. I was still allowed to sleep on the bed, but around the same time I learned to jump up on it myself, I was no longer allowed to snuggle between them.
I wasn’t sure exactly when I first noticed a change in Vic and Alison. I do know that I had been fully grown for a long time and had learned that chasing the small furry animals on my walk was a waste of my, now, limited energy. But I felt certain the change was brought on by something I’d done.
I’d always been afraid of loud noises. When water fell heavily from the sky above, and the clouds rumbled their displeasure, I would jump onto Alison’s lap for protection. If I were home alone, I’d scamper to the closet and cower within its dark and comforting cocoon waiting for the calm to return. Even when Vic yelled and screamed at the shape on the wall, I’d clamber upon Alison in a state of fright. They’d both laugh, and she’d tickle my ears and tell me everything was alright, that he was just watching something called “sport.”
Until one day, slowly at first, they began to yell at each other without needing to watch the shape on the wall. As time passed, the yelling became more frequent, and I would quickly scurry off to the closet and hide. They no longer laughed when I jumped onto Alison’s lap. She no longer stroked my ears and told me everything would be alright. My quirky behavior was no longer endearing. I’d lost the ability to make them smile.
I hated this new sport.
The day after Vic made one of Alison’s eyes turn black, she took me for a ride in another car I’d not seen before. The sun soon disappeared, and I slept fitfully on the unfamiliar back seat. I awoke to find that the sun had reappeared and had snuck up behind us. The ground outside was no longer flat and parched, it appeared fresh and alive, and rose up sharply in all directions towards the clouds. Alison parked by a small house surrounded by large trees. An elderly lady greeted us that looked vaguely familiar, like Alison but with a body that had shrunk inside its skin. I had the time of my life that first day exploring the new sights and smells that bombarded my senses. The sun was still shining weakly through the trees when I eventually collapsed with exhaustion on the veranda.
That night, Alison slept restlessly, so I lay close to comfort her. In her sleep water leaked from her eyes and rolled down her cheeks onto the pillow. I gently lapped them up as I had done in the past, but the flavor had changed. I had always equated the water I tasted on her cheeks with happiness, like the day I became King. I wondered if it was because Vic was not lying beside her.
The next morning I lay on the smooth wooden floor as Alison paced back and forth talking into a small object held to her ear. When I heard the raised voices, I nuzzled up close to the elderly lady’s legs as I hadn’t yet found a closet in this new house. Some of the yelling came from Alison, most from the small object in her hand that sounded vaguely like Vic. I pricked up my ears when I heard my name.
“So, what do YOU propose we do with King?” Alison was pacing back and forth.
Then the scratchy voice that sounded like Vic shouted. “I’m not giving him up. He’s half mine too, you know!”
The elderly lady scratched behind my ears as she spoke. “It makes no sense to have him just half of the time, for either of you.”
I didn’t know what I’d done to cause this, or how to make it all better. I didn’t want to be only half a dog to each of them.
I rose slowly and slunk from the room. My paws made a faint clicking sound on the wooden floorboards as I crept away. On the back veranda, I found a door slightly ajar. Using my nose to ease through the opening, I slipped into the cramped space. It was dark inside and smelled faintly of rotted plants and damp earth.
Memories flooded back, of a garden, from long ago. When I lived with my mother. When life was much simpler.
I curled into a ball and shut my eyes.