Cooper, my little straw-coloured pug, was in a funk. I noticed him lying along the back of the couch, staring at the house across the street, a Spanish-style split level with rosebush hedges, for hours. He seemed flat, like the joy had left his body. His tail wasn’t wagging the same. I had to talk to him about it.

“Hey Coop,” I said while making dinner one night.

“Yeah?” He lifted his head and spoke quietly.

 “What’s up? You seem a little off lately.”

 “I don’t know,” he sighed. 

“Come on, man.” I felt a bit nervous. He seemed so intense. “Whatever it is, you can tell me.”

“Okay, if you really want to know…” he looked away from the glistening chunks of beef in his metal dish on the kitchen floor and turned toward me. “I think I’m having some sort of crisis.”

“Oh boy,” I said. “About what?”

“The neighbours.”

“What?”

“The Knutsons. Across the street. Their dog, Misty. I can’t get over her.”

“Over her?” 

“Yeah, when she first moved here we had kind of a serious thing for a while.” 

“When? They moved in like 6 months ago.”

“Six months is a helluva long time to a dog, Geoff!” He looked at me with pain in his eyes. “But she said I was ‘too serious’. I’ve seen this fucking Schnauzer around now with her. I don’t even want to think about it.” 

“Huh, I’d never noticed their dog…”

“I mean, she’s way way too young for me anyhow, and she’s a poodle. They’re so…cold. What did I expect? But she made me feel like a  man, you know?”

“Sure. Sure, buddy.” I went to pet him, but he bristled when I touched his fur.

“It wouldn’t be so bad if they didn’t keep her chained out in the front yard all the damned time. Like what the fuck am I supposed to do? I can’t concentrate on anything.”

“Uh-huh.”

“And that was part of the appeal, I have to be honest, I felt I could help her through some of the trauma of being chained up all the time. She always talked about running away.” 

“That’s tough.” I opened a beer and leaned against the counter.

“What a fool! I’m eight years old, for chrissake. I shouldn’t let her get to me like this.”

He tried to eat, mostly, it seemed, for my benefit. I felt guilty about not talking to him sooner when something was so obviously wrong. I almost offered him a drink. Come on Geoff, I said to myself. Get yourself together. He’s a dog.

I put Cooper out in the backyard. The back neighbours had a cat, so I checked in with him, newly aware of his social sensitivities. He assured me that it was “fine” and that the cat was “actually an okay guy”. I closed the living room blinds and the vet’s office. I told the vet’s assistant about Cooper’s problem and she murmured that she was sorry and rattled off some advice: he shouldn’t be left alone for long periods of time, I wasn’t to introduce him to new dogs right away until he’s had time to sort out his own issues and in under no circumstances was I to encourage him to drink alcohol. Ah, I said, proud of myself, my instincts about this are correct.

I used to have a “no dogs on the bed” rule, but I let Cooper fall asleep at my feet that night. I couldn’t sleep, haunted by the image of Cooper’s little yellow body sprawled on top of the couch, listless and depressed. I turned on my bedside lamp and watched him sleep on top of the duvet, watched his breath leave his body in small warm sighs. I could almost see his little heart struggling to mend itself.

That was all I could stand. I had to do something. I got out of bed. Cooper looked at me, exhausted and flopped his head back down.

“I’ll be right back,” I whispered.

I put my jacket on and went out the front door. It must have been about 1 am. I crossed the street to the neighbours’, walking in the dark between the streetlamps. As I approached the rose bushes, I heard a hoarse little bark from the front yard. I froze. The windows stayed dark. I waited for a beat and walked to the metal gate between the hedges and let myself in. 

I saw her in the corner of the yard, on a short chain next to a wooden dog house. Misty. I used the light from my phone to get a better look at her. Small and white, maybe grey. She barked again and I shushed her. I looked up into the empty windows above us. Nothing stirred.

“Come here girl”, I reached down and put my hand on her tiny skull. She was smaller than I had imagined, than the magnitude of Cooper’s heartbreak. She was shaking. She barked again. It was damp and turning from summer to fall. She shouldn’t have been out here all night like that. Coop had a point about the Knutsons. 

“You are a sweet thing, Misty. I get it.” She sniffed my hand and wagged her tail. “What are we going to do with you?”

I unclipped the chain from her collar and turned my phone light off. I walked backward out of the yard, leaving the gate open between the rose bushes. I watched Misty.

“Come on now, you’re free,” I whispered. I thought about Cooper. Maybe this wasn’t such a great idea. But I was doing it for him. For my buddy.

But Misty just stood there next to her doghouse, shivering in the dark.

 

 

 

 

9 Comments

  1. Bud Smith

    The premise of this is brilliant, the dog being sad with the owner because he is trapped in a house and has to gaze out the window at the poodle who he isn’t good enough for so the owner does his dog a solid and goes over there and gets rid of the poodle, or tries to. That is so fucked up and so sad but so BEAUTIFUL. This is what short stories are for. I loved this. My one suggestion would be maybe to get rid of the dialogue between the dog and the owner or make it even weirder. Like the owner notices that the dog is trying to tell him something by putting his dog food all over the floor in a weird way so the man trains the dog for years and years to speak english and then finally the dog confesses this problem and it’s too late the dog is too old and maybe his balls are gone too anyway by now and then the owner gets rid of the poodle or tries to. Just so there is more complication to this, more bittersweet emotion. Fine work here though all weekend, it was great to read your writing and thank you so very much for taking this class.

    Again, this part killed me!

    “I waited for a beat and walked to the metal gate between the hedges and let myself in.
    I saw her in the corner of the yard, on a short chain next to a wooden dog house. Misty. I used the light from my phone to get a better look at her. Small and white, maybe grey. She barked again and I shushed her. I looked up into the empty windows above us. Nothing stirred.
    “Come here girl”, I reached down and put my hand on her tiny skull. She was smaller than I had imagined, than the magnitude of Cooper’s heartbreak. She was shaking. She barked again. It was damp and turning from summer to fall. She shouldn’t have been out here all night like that. Coop had a point about the Knutsons.
    “You are a sweet thing, Misty. I get it.” She sniffed my hand and wagged her tail. “What are we going to do with you?”
    I unclipped the chain from her collar and turned my phone light off. I walked backward out of the yard, leaving the gate open between the rose bushes. I watched Misty.
    “Come on now, you’re free,” I whispered. I thought about Cooper. Maybe this wasn’t such a great idea. But I was doing it for him. For my buddy.
    But Misty just stood there next to her doghouse, shivering in the dark.”

    • Bud Smith

      There’s something about denying an offer of freedom (as true freedom) that gets me everytime <3

      • Lisa Moore

        Thanks Bud, I like the idea of working the dog up to talking. Thanks for the excellent weekend!

  2. David O'Connor

    I love how the dog takes on human psychology. Hilarious but also says much about the narrator and the dog and life in general. The power of this story is how seriously we take the dog. I’d cut that little aside, “he’s a dog”, as it pulls the reader out and also I’d think about the ending a little more, does the poodle just stand there? Maybe some pov time of the poodle might work… what does she think of Cooper? There is so much here and so many ways to take it, but maintaining the seriousness of the dog, lines like, “Okay, if you really want to know…” he looked away from the glistening chunks of beef in his metal dish on the kitchen floor and turned toward me. “I think I’m having some sort of crisis.” and “He assured me that it was “fine” and that the cat was “actually an okay guy” are golden, so good. Such a great idea!

  3. Janelle Greco

    There is something so perfect and beautiful about the ending of this. I’m dying to know what Misty would say back, but that doesn’t mean you should include it. I kind of love that she doesn’t speak. Making the dog talk and go through all of these typically human emotions isn’t even humorous as you think it would be, but instead you’ve managed to make it a moment full of emotion. That is truly a great feat. I agree with Bud about playing around with the dialogue a bit more. How can we make this an even more absurd or emotional moment than it already is? Just something to think about. Thanks so much for your stories, Lisa. I greatly enjoyed getting to read them! 🙂

  4. Martha Jackson Kaplan

    So, Lisa, this is the first chapter of Dog Sagas? Would love a sequel. Yes, the poodle, her point of view, and more on the neighbors who seem to neglect her– in the next chapter. Resolution in the third? This is such an engaging story. I love the dialogue between man and dog, allowing the dog onto the bed, and preceding that the excellent description of Cooper on the sofa. Just love this piece. Thank you.

  5. Amy Barnes

    What a great way to close out a fast-paced weekend of writing and reading! With a talking dog. 🙂 That is having an existential crisis like a teenager in love.

    Love that the dog is frustrated with himself because “he’s 8 years old” and should know better. And that the cat is an “okay guy.” And that the vet says no drinking or letting Cooper being left alone. There is something so sweet and realistic in that scene and the sleeping on the bed. I have teenagers and dogs and I’m not sure who is more angsty — now I’m going to be wondering if my dogs are in love or needing a therapist. I wonder if you used italics instead of dialogue quotes, we might be left wondering if the dog is talking or not.

    While we can hear the “dialogue” here, I can also visualize this — maybe as an old-timey spindly dog cartoon. There’s something so empathetic and comforting in how the main characters here interact.

  6. Neil Clark

    This is great, Lisa! The concept of the talking animal is great – I was getting Bojak Horseman vibes there. And some really funny lines, especially around the concept of dg years being shorter than human years. The dialogue skips along at a great clip. And the line about the cat being an ok guy made me laugh out loud. This is a longer piece than I’ve been used to reading on this course, but I never felt.

    My favourite part is the ending. As a reader, I was having a discussion with myself about the morals of it all and how wrong it was but at the same time I was rooting for the narrator and for Cooper. That’s tricky to pull off, but you do it so well. Fantastic.

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