The Fragility of Life
My eyes open. It’s a morning just like any other. I sigh slightly as I hear Echo lope down the hallway to find Mom, nails clicking on the floor as he goes. Echo always gets Mom up from her bed to let her know that the light outside has appeared to signal the start of the day. I’m not certain how that young ruffian has enough energy for it all. He could wait another little while. I can faintly hear little Teddy getting out of his bed, likely wondering if there is any reason for him to yap and wake the house up. I don’t get up yet. I’m still too tired to stand up, and I already know that I’m going to have a hectic day. Every day is a busy day when you’re the leader of the household.
Dad comes downstairs after getting ready for his day away from home. By now, the room is well-lit, and I figure I should put some effort into getting up. I’m not sure what Dad does when he leaves for the day, but it must be important because sometimes he brings home food and smells strange. My brother, Jacob, comes down next with his big bag. He smiles when he sees me. Jacob is also always doing important things. After all, he smells even stranger than Dad when he gets home! There are so many smells, I really struggle to make them out. I don’t see Jacob as much anymore in the evenings. He’s always upstairs and sometimes, he comes home late. I’m not sure what he’s doing, but I know it’s important. After all, why else would he smell so incredibly strange?
Jacob yawns as he puts his favorite sweater on, and I stretch and plunk down by the door. Just a regular, old, familiar day. My favorite sort of day. I don’t like deviations from routine. Echo is shaking his entire rear end in excitement as Mom pats him, and Teddy is spinning around, dangerously close to finding himself underneath the foot of some clumsy human. I sigh and fall back to rest: still tired.
Finally, Jacob and Dad are ready to leave. They exchange some words with Mom as they go. Jacob pats my head, and I’m forced to open my eyes to look into his. “Love you, Max,” he says. Without further ado, he walks through the door, off to collect smells and probably eat food or patrol the yard. Very important things indeed. I don’t know what “Love you, Max” means but I recognize the sounds. I hear them a lot, and I know they mean something happy because whenever Jacob or the others say them I get food or hugs. Max is my name, of course. It is a very fine name, befitting one of my status in the house. The place wouldn’t run without my guidance. Sometimes the humans just need one good bark to get them moving. Echo and Teddy could learn a lot from me.
I temporarily forget Jacob and Dad as the day rolls on, but I can still smell them everywhere so I’m not worried. I do lots of crucial things during the day: I sit with Mom as she has her coffee, I go outside and roll in the grass, then I patrol the yard to make sure there are no foxes or leaves. I’m very good at patrols. Not a single blade of grass goes untouched. I smell a fox and pee on the spot. I hate foxes. Teddy and Echo don’t have the wisdom to do patrols as I do. It’s down to me to teach them the proper method. Eventually, my joints start to ache, and I plod back to the deck and into the house. Mom gives me a bone and Echo tries to steal it. She reprimands him, but he stares at her, wags his tail, and she hugs him. I give a snort of displeasure.
Later, I have my daily rest on the bed with Mom. I love the bed. It’s soft, and I don’t feel any of the pain in my legs. I have a pleasant dream about those animals that sometimes appear on the glowy rectangle in the living room. Eventually, I wake up, and Mom helps me down from the bed. It’s too hard to get down on my own with my old, sore joints, but I manage with her help. The pain has been getting worse lately. I can vaguely remember a time when it didn’t bother me. Ethan, my second brother, comes downstairs late, as usual, and I greet him as I did with Jacob and Dad. He pats me on the head and the pain is forgotten for a moment.
Lunchtime rolls around right on schedule, just as it should. Echo devours his food. How uncivilized. Teddy tries to steal mine. What a poser. I eat with a lot of poise, chewing my food with care as Echo looks at my bowl longingly, and Teddy tries another attempt at thievery. It’s a good thing I’m around. Somebody has to have some dignity here. Afterwards, I go outside to do another patrol and bark at a suspicious-looking leaf, then it’s time to sleep for the whole afternoon. I feel exhausted. I can vaguely remember a time when I would have wanted to play with one of the many balls that lay across the floor but now, I don’t have the energy. I fall asleep instantly.
The front door opening wakes me up. Dad and Jacob must be home. Shaking, I rise and plod down the hall to greet them. As I expected they smell like they did lots of exciting things during the day and met lots of strange people. After my sleep, I have enough energy to greet them warmly, though I’m not as enthusiastic as Echo. Mom grumbles at Dad about something as he comes in the door, and eventually, all of the humans sit down to eat. Echo whines, wishing he was eating their food too. He runs back and forth between Ethan and Mom, hoping one of them will drop something. Honestly, he has no dignity. I can’t believe that he’s my son some days. Jacob slides him a piece secretly, and he devours it as if he had never eaten a day in his life.
After supper, Jacob goes upstairs. He is quite busy. Maybe he has to bark at a fox or poop or something. I do my after-supper patrol and spot a crow. It looks at me and flies away. Serves it right. Sniffing around, I find three more strange smells to pee over. It’s getting dark now, so I head back inside. I have to bark at the door before someone lets me in. Sometimes these humans aren’t very swift at all. The way they doddle about, you’d almost think that they have the funny idea that they’re in charge. When Dad finally opens the door, I give him a sniff to voice my distaste before going to have another rest.
I lay at the end of the hall on the cool tiles. I love my family, but sometimes I need to have some alone time. Echo is on top of Dad on the couch getting his belly rubbed. Mom and Ethan are both looking at those bright rectangles that smell weird. I hear somebody come towards me, and I raise my eyes. It’s Jacob. He sits down on the tiles with me, shifts a bit to get comfortable, and starts rubbing the top of my head.
It’s a bit surprising to see him; he doesn’t usually come downstairs in the evenings and talk to me like he did when we were smaller. Jacob smells like he had a long day. I raise my head and stare into his eyes. They’re familiar eyes. Jacob stares back and pats my head some more. It feels pretty good. He starts talking, making quiet sounds so that only I can hear. He isn’t barking or anything, so I still can’t understand him, but I hear my name a few times and “I love you” so I’m pretty happy. Jacob looks sad, though. I don’t know how I know this, but I have a feeling. I guess it’s from having to look out for everyone all the time. I can always tell when something is wrong or when I need to cheer someone up.
Jacob comes to me when he’s sad sometimes. He slinks his way downstairs and finds me when I’m alone and starts talking and rubbing my stomach. Sometimes water starts coming out of his eyes when he’s talking, and he has to hug me to make the water stop. I don’t think he does this as much with Mom, nor Dad, nor Ethan, nor Teddy, nor even Echo. He comes to me. I never know what he’s saying, but I know that I have to pay attention and let him spend time with me.
Jacob keeps rubbing my belly and I feel tired, but I can’t lower my head and sleep because I need to help this boy that I’ve grown up knowing. I give a little burp to let him know that I’m still listening, and he laughs. He kisses me on the snout. “I love you, Max. I’m sorry we can’t spend as much time together as we used to. I’m just… so busy, and I don’t even know why. What’s the point if I can’t spend time with my brother, you know?” Jacob stops and thinks for a second. “Anyone who says that a dog can’t be your brother has clearly never grown up with one, Max,” he says, and I can tell that he doesn’t feel quite as sad anymore. I don’t know what the words meant but he said them in a way that made me happy. I heard my name too!
Jacob gives me one last kiss on the snout and squeezes my jowls before leaving once again. I lower my head and give a sigh. It’s hard being as important to the family as I am. I need to be able to help all these pups, but my joints hurt, and I don’t want to stand up anymore. I let myself rest for a moment, and I doze off.
I wake up. It’s late. I can tell because Echo is snoring loudly on the couch on top of Dad and the sky is dark. The glowy rectangle in the living room is making loud noises and Dad is laughing. Legs shaking, I wearily make my way down to the living room and greet Dad. I bark to let him know that it’s patrol time, and he reluctantly lets me outside with a bone for the road. My legs are still sore. I find myself limping, but I can’t let the evening patrol get away from me, you never know when a fox could traipse across my kingdom.
Outside, I pee a couple of times, sniff a dead bee, and eventually retreat indoors once more. The evening wears on, and I fall into a rest once again. Eventually, it’s time for bed. Dad puts Teddy and Echo away with a “goodnight” and comes to pat me on the head. Just before the lights go out, Jacob races down the stairs. He should be more careful. He grabs me by the jowls and gives me a huge kiss on the head. “Thanks, Max”, he whispers. “You really helped me tonight. I love you, and I know the vet will have good news tomorrow.” His voice cracks and he looks worried about something, so I snort in response, and Jacob retreats upstairs. The pain in my legs is gone for the moment. I fall asleep immediately, happy with how the day went.
This time I have a dream. I see Jacob and Ethan when they were small. The thing is, I’m small too! I’m running around in the yard with a ball. I have so much life in me! The scene changes and I’m scared. I’m being taken by strangers. I miss my mother. The only thing helping is that the boy holding me is very gentle. I can’t stop shaking though, and I throw up all over him. The people in the front seat of the car give an “EWWWW” and the boy yelps, but it transitions smoothly into a laugh and a smile. He pats me, and I feel a little better. The dream shifts over and over again, but I always come back to my youth, with my brothers, charging down the hall after a ball with my ears violently flapping as they cheer me on.
This day might repeat itself over and over and over, until it doesn’t.