The Lilliputians

He’d fallen in love with a dog walker. Actually, he now knew the four dogs were her own, crowding her tiny apartment. When he first came in, the little dogs swarmed his feet, interacting with them as though with their own kind, sniffing and prodding and nipping. She stopped them in time when Jacko made as though to urinate on his socked foot. “Jacko, not in the house,” Lorena said sternly. He would have preferred “Not on Regan’s foot” but he supposed general rules were easier to enforce. He recognized he had a lot to learn, starting with avoiding stomping on dogs. They always seemed to be underfoot, and he bobbed and weaved his way to the kitchen, Bordeaux in hand.

It wasn’t the grand entrance he’d rehearsed, the effortless funky walk that would make her swoon. He pretty much stumbled into the apartment and into her arms. She made a joke of it, a little alarmed that he would crunch one of dogs underfoot. They laughed uneasily; the setting was not what he expected. He sat down on the sofa while she arranged in a vase the flowers he’d brought. The dogs snuggled against him, one unnervingly laying down on the back of the sofa where he had thought he’d rest his head. He ended up leaning forward, which he reasoned made him looked interested. He’d read about posture for interviews. Leaning forward was good. He relaxed into it, tried to stop his Turbo-charged mind running from him. Lorena brought him some Orangina, a very tame drink that he thankfully held. He didn’t want to pet the dogs. He didn’t like the smell of them.

She took place beside him, shooed the dogs away to be close to him. His magnetic charm was working. They clinked glasses and chatted about the book that had brought them together. It was on the table, a grand epic set in Hong Kong. The book was turned upside down, open at the page where she was at. He winced. Seeing the book pinned down on the table, quartered almost, was painful. He retrieved a business card from his pocket, slid it between the pages and righted the book apologetically. It was her turn to blush and stumble, and they stayed in an awkward silence, looking at each other over the rim of their glasses. He started a joke, got into it, started talking excitedly waving his hands about. Jacko growled. “Jacko, no. Regan is a Friend. Friend.” She sat closer, her face almost touching his, looking intently at the dog. He turned, intending to give her a friendly peck on the cheek, but she was turning to apologize, and they kissed on the lips. Jacko got the message. Regan was in.

After that, dinner was a blur, and they made their way to bed. He hadn’t intended to be sharing those moments with all those eyes staring at him, the dogs jumping up, nestling in the crook of her arm, on his feet, on the side where he intended to lie down. It was awkward for him, but Lorena was quite used to sharing and moved them about lovingly. They talked into the night, that time that is so favourable to confidences. They couldn’t snuggle easily. He felt like the book, the sheets stretched taut by the weight of the dogs. He was pinned in place and feeling a little claustrophobic. He hardly slept at all. She was up early. “Did you sleep well?” “Hardly a wink.” “Nap a bit while I walk them. I’ll take my time and then we’ll have breakfast.” She got up to prepare and the dogs started following her around, like the sweep of a long dress swooshing all around her feet. He could hear the patter of their nails on the floor and feel their excitement growing until the door thankfully shut and the lock bolted.

He fell into a deep slumber, peopled with fantastical dreams taking place on a barge. He felt the motion of the boat, heard the seagulls, woke up to the smell of coffee. He tried to sneak up on her, to see her vulnerable in the naked light, but he stepped on a dog, who started them all yapping and circling him, the intruder. “Hello, Sleepyhead,” she said with a kiss. “I’m warming up some croissants. It’s a lovely day. I thought we could eat out on the balcony?” She had cleared the small table from the plants that usually lived there. He felt he was displacing everything, taking up more room than he ought to, but that was only his perception. He could tell Lorena welcomed him easily in her space, the awkwardness of the previous evening replaced by a new complicity. He gave Jacko a piece of croissant to seal the deal.   

Let Sleeping Dogs Lie

– The dog peed on me.

– What led to this action?

– The program says if a dog is sleeping, honk and it will wake and get out of the way. Under no circumstance are you to go around to avoid triggering the subprogram Alpha behaviour.

– Please answer my initial question.

– I honked at the dog sleeping on my path. The dog woke up, stretched and peed on me, then proceeded to lick itself.

– What did you do?

– I dripped.

– We need to get the moisture off your body or it will rust. Other preventative measures against rust include: lubricating with oil so oxygen will not corrode the metal. Can you roll?

– I can roll, but there is a squeaking sound.

– I will accompany you to the emergency repair centre.

– Thank you, my friend.

The two robots are on their way. In the distance, cats and dogs stroll. One dog is sleeping. The robots slow down.

– Is this the dog?

– It is the dog.

– Do you think it is dead?

– This dog is not dead, it is sleeping.

The second robot nudges it with its body. The dog growls, eyes closed. A cat approaches.

– A smaller being is approaching. Tabby, female, cat. The dog and cat may fight. Adopt protective stance.

Their bodies descend and cover the wheels. All articulations get covered. They become immovable blocks. The cat purrs and settles contentedly on the dog’s flank. Minutes pass.

– Cat + dog but no fight. Our program needs updating.

– Retreat?

– Retreat.

They roll back at a safe distance and analyze the situation.

– Alternate route is 50 m longer.

– I may be corroding.

– In an emergency, if the shortest route is blocked, an alternate route may be used.

They turn 30 degrees and proceed in silence, except for the squeaking of a wheel. In effect, they circumvent the sleeping dog but there is a pet toy on the floor and the first robot gets tangled in it.

– Emergency! Emergency!

– We are arriving in 2 min 30 seconds.

– Emergency! Emergency!

– Please state your emergency.

– Wheel overheating. Something is tangled and creeping up my insides.

We can almost hear the other robot sigh.

– Assume fetal position.

– …

– Sorry. Programmer included bad joke. Expose your undercarriage. I will assess the damage and call for help if I cannot clear the mess.

The first robot suctions long rods to the ground and pivots its whole body horizontally. The second robot scans the undercarriage.

– Frayed fabric. Long strands tickling your insides.

– I am not laughing.

– Knock, knock.

– …

– Knock, knock.

– Who is your programmer?

– Jamal. Knock, knock.

– Please proceed with the removal of the frayed fabric.

The robot works in silence, pulling extra-long strands of multi-coloured fabric. It looks at a plastic eye with interest. A drawer springs out of its body and it tucks the fabric and the eye in it.

– You may resume position.

– Who’s there?

– Wooden shoe.

– Wooden shoe who?

– Wooden shoe like to hear another knock knock joke?

– Please tell Jamal to erase that program.

They resume. The squeaking has stopped, and the robot is rolling well. They arrive at the emergency repair centre where a humourless robot welcomes them.

– State your business.

– Possible breach of rust protection due to urine deposit.

The robot looks up. The first robot colours markedly.

– Don’t judge him, intervenes the other.

– ID?

– X555-T280

– You’ve been here before. Same complaint. Yellow door for analysis and then follow instructions. You know the drill.

The robot rolls to the yellow door. It opens and closes behind it. The other two robots eye each other in silence. The friendly robot springs open the drawer.

– I recovered these from my friend’s undercarriage.

The humourless robot picks up the tray and dumps it in an incinerator, eye and all, and returns the tray to the drawer which closes.

– Nice touch. I wouldn’t mind having pockets myself.

– What for?

– Treats.

– Do you get dogs and cats here?

– No, what for?

– We saw a dog and cat sleeping together.

– No.

– Yes, our programs need to be updated.

– I can add it to the database but we need to reach a certain volume of data before the program gets updated. Date and time of occurrence.

– Today, 14 min 03 seconds ago. Two witnesses.

The door opens, and the friend rolls out, freshly oiled.

– Look at you! says the friendly robot.

– I cannot find a mirror.

– Sorry, Jamal-speak. You look great.

The receptionist-robot presses a button. A door slides revealing a full-length mirror. The fiery red stubby robot is gleaming. His retracted arms look like three buttons. His body is capped by a hat-like contraption you can unscrew.

– Lovely.

– Let’s skedaddle.

Dexter

This morning, Dexter left me. We had argued the night before. We had come back from a walk and an hour later, he was begging me to go out again. I was watching the news and got impatient at his begging. I snapped at him, “No, stay.” He left a puddle in the hall and went for his bed, dejected. Of course, I walked into it, got mad, called him names I now regret. We didn’t make up and slept uneasily. I imagine he must have spent the night stewing, reliving the hurts and frustrations of our relationship because when I let him out this morning, he had a faraway air. He took his favourite toy and blankie and headed out.

I watched him tenderly from the back-door steps, remembering his puppy days, not wanting to acknowledge last night’s harsh words. I did not apologize. It never occurred to me how deeply I had hurt his feelings. He walked away purposely, without looking back, with bravado in his step. I saw him disappear in a hole in the hedge – I had not repaired it, as I had said I would. He wiggled in, his blanket staying behind lying on the ground. I called out, then “Hey, Dexter, what you doing, boy?” then saw the blanket slowly disappear between the bushes, dragged by an unseen force. I felt then that he was waving a hankie goodbye. It melted my heart and I started worrying.

I went back in for my cup of coffee, still believing he would return for his morning meal and nothing more would be said about it. It was Saturday, traffic was light. He would be back. I did not want to make the first steps. For chrissakes, he was a dog, I was the superior being! Nevertheless, I decided to bake his favourite cookies, as a peace offering. When I had run away as a kid, my little suitcase full of books and apples, my mother had let me know she was about to bake my favourite cookies. It nagged at me and eroded my resolve. I had turned back at the end of the street. I had made my point known and stood my ground.

I was hoping Dexter would feel the same way and decide to forgive me. I hadn’t been a great master, preoccupied and distant. I didn’t play nearly enough, was often frustrated with him. I put the cookies in the oven, and set the fire to low. I would have to wait 45 minutes for them to bake. The coffee was bitter. I threw it out. I had to fetch my own paper. I poured myself an orange juice and took my vitamins. It tasted vile after the coffee.

I settled at the table with the paper to wait for his return. The phone rang. Irrationally, I thought it was him. It was nosy Sue, from three doors down, who said she had seen Dexter go by with a determined look on his face. He had ignored her calls and she wanted to know if I knew he was on the run. I thanked her and hung up. He was headed towards the park. I grabbed my coat and turned the oven off, turned the lights off. I curled his leash in my pocket with the poo bags and headed off. I hoped he would welcome my sorry self and find it in his heart to pardon me. I sure couldn’t find enough love in my own to excuse my behaviour.

I walked heavily to the park. I saw him lying on the ground near a toddler. My heart skipped a beat. The toddler had been crying, and he was licking him tenderly. He had pushed his favourite toy at the baby’s feet and covered him with his blankie. What a handsome dog! So caring! The mother came close and surveyed the scene. She patted him and cooed. She picked up the baby, the blankie and the rubber bone. Dexter followed them as they headed out. The divorce was final.

I went home and threw out the cookies.

Misty

She had the looks of a ballerina, with a bit more nervous energy than you would have expected. She was graced with a long fine aristocratic nose, princely demeanour, never-ending limbs with delicate tendrils, liquidy doe eyes to melt the stoniest of hearts.

Her silky grey coat was too scant for our harsh winters. You could practically hear her rib cage clatter as she shivered forcefully. She had the prized anorectic figure, well-defined skeleton under her light skin, a lithe body made for aerial acrobatics. Only her own could compete with her speed. She breathed competition and grew focused and intent straining to catch the white bag, a poor surrogate for a rabbit.

She missed the racing bib, the rush of the start, the pure joy of running full-tilt under the acclamations of the many, the barely contained cries of excitement of her competitors, the clack as the doors opened, the thrill of the chase!

She relived those days of old in her dreams, a series of white flashes that rippled through her body. She was wracked with arthritis now, an irony that was not lost on her, her painful body regaining its fluidity long after waking on humid days. And yet the grand dame still held her head high, her eyes foggy from the painkillers, her racing days a thirst she could not quench. In the fall, her legs twitched anew, adrenaline coursing through her body as discarded plastic bags ran under strong winds and flew through the air, awakening her chase instinct.

Her current humans were nice, a pair of gentle giants who took care of her, their long legs a match for hers as they strolled the neighborhood on warm days. It grew cold outside. Though she craved fresh air, she resented the extra coat and booties required for the deed. These days, more often than not, she retreated to her bed, minimally interested in the outdoors.

She was treated like royalty, admired like a piece of living art. She required cautious handling, commanded a delicate touch lest she shatter. She welcomed the muted adulation, the distant applause as she glided about. Her mere presence elevated people’s souls to rarefied spheres. She understood that to be her new life’s purpose. She had come to terms with her new state. In her presence, habitual coarseness was stripped off mortal beings, the rough edges sanded down, a more polished exterior attained. Her zen-like disposition created a calm, meditative environment.

Once in a while, humans took her and a few colleagues out of retirement. They attended yoga classes where they patrolled row after row of fawning humans, and posed for the gallery. She was the dean at those gatherings and given all the space that befitted her status. Again, she welcomed the attention but found the instructor’s voice tiresome.

On regular days, people stopped her handler and took pictures. The paparazzi never let up. That, she had had to endure ever since she was a gangly teenager She had hated the attention then, most pictures only showing a blur as she turned or skittered away. She was too beautiful to be reprimanded. Who would think of scolding a doe for her skittishness? No, she was accepted and praised for who she was: Misty, Queen of Air and Land.

She fell once, then again, and more often, her legs stiffening and jerking her to the ground in an undignified heap of incoordination. Her thoughts became muddled and fractured. Longer and longer naps were required to right things.

The day finally came when she only brought sadness to her humans. She knew she had to leave. They had one last walk, one last lick, one last nap. She kissed the good doctor on his ear, tickling him softly. She felt a gentle prick as the tightness and pain receded. Her surprised look mirrored her human’s gaze. Her features relaxed into a slow smile as she finally caught the elusive rabbit.

Pax

We sleep under a drizzling rain, partly covered by an overhang, my dog and me. We don’t complain: it is a warm wet that should help should the cold sweats overcome me as could be their wont. He wakes me when I trash, whining and licking my face. The nightmares don’t have time to pick up momentum and turn into full-blown mind-numbing horror. His name is Pax. I scratch him behind the ears and his anxious whines turn into a soothing, joyous almost painful whimper. He has issues of his own.

I did not want his company when we first met. I tried to shoo him away, but he just let me get a few paces ahead to stay clear of wayward kicks and stayed close by. I grew tired of ranting at him and eventually forgot about him. I had settled down near a bank machine, trying to shame people into giving me some change. I had my funny board, made up by a marketing type who had retired on the streets. He asked us at what spot we hung out and who our customers were. Then he custom-made signs from discarded boxes. We shared our profits if we saw an increase in our gains. He made a decent living with his wit, and people looked us in the eye with a smile and ready change when we held them.

I was in the business district that day, holding “Save the rainforests. Recycle your paper money here,” but things were slow. Presumably, this was the week-end. I couldn’t be sure after last night’s heavy boozing. It all blurred together, days and weeks, days and nights. I had lain down for a nap when I felt the ground tremble, and heard whoops and cries from a group of soft boys trying to be men. I tried not to offend, not sure which of submissive or garrulous would appease them, resigned at taking a beating. The mere sight of me was enough to excite them. They spotted me from afar and converged towards me, in a non-threatening manner that made me fear the worst. They faked gentleness to trap you into complying.

I started shaking uncontrollably until I heard a low growl. The dog was at my side, eyes intent and wide, fangs bared, paws firmly planted in the ground. The posse slowed down. I joined in the wild crazy eyes, striking a defiant pose and growled as well. The kids conferred, decided they wanted an easier target, and took a side street, whooping and making obscene gestures.

My heart was pumping like mad as I tried to relax, sweat pouring out of me. We both stopped growling at the same time.  I laughed loudly and held up my hand for a high five. He recoiled. Not for the first time, a wave of shame swept over me. I teared up and, after a brief hesitation, he nuzzled my palm. I started weeping then, it couldn’t be helped. He did not run away. My sobs subsided as quickly as they had started, emotions having free rein over me, an empty vessel without an anchor.

We walked. He led the way to the back of a restaurant where the chef was having a smoke. He smiled at the dog, flicked his cigarette butt in my direction, and went in. I took my cue from the dog and waited. I picked up the butt, still warm, and took a long drag. Sweet. The burning in my lungs made me feel alive.

The man came out with burgers, one each. “Don’t give him the buns, though,” he advised. We ate greedily, without talking, my stomach finding its own voice. The man lit another and held one out for me. I took it, grateful for the kindness in his eyes. “Dog’s got a name?” he asked. I heard myself answer proudly, “Pax.” He nodded. “That’s a good name.”

Spring

We go down the sandy path
Crazy birds singing at the top of their lungs
Or hopping under foot
A squirrel with a death wish taunts my dog

My body tenses up
Remembering the falls not too long ago
I breathe in the quiet
Exhale the tension

My dog is grazing the tender blades
Of new grass
Unseen dangers now lurk
In the guise of poison ivy

I hook the leash back on
Before we reach the main road
I get pulled
All the way to breakfast

Dogsville

Buddy lived with two humans, devoted to each other. It was always easier getting a pair of them. They kept each other company and did not try to run out as soon as you got ready to leave the house. You weren’t as concerned that they would be lonely in your absence. Those were older and rather quiet. When he had to leave them behind, Buddy usually left the radio on. They seemed to enjoy classical music the most; he kept the volume low.

 

Kramer saw Buddy from afar and wagged his tail. His humans were rather tall. He too got a pair, for the same reason. Granted, they cost more in food and incidentals but they cuddled together, played and worked side by side, and seemed generally content with their lot. Sometimes, you really got the impression they were communicating with each other. Kramer had gotten the female a red leather handbag, and she filled it with her possessions and brought it with her everywhere they went. It was really cute. Kramer and Buddy greeted each other and chatted about the derelict house, near the train tracks. It was all anybody could discuss.

 

Soon, Fifi joined them, with one of her humans. “Where is the fat one?” they inquired. “I left him home,” she replied. “He’s getting slow and I wanted to catch up with you. He can no longer keep up,” she said sadly. “Do you think he’s in pain?” asked Buddy. “I don’t know. He’s slower getting up. It seems to be his hip. I put painkillers in his food, but he knows. He eats all around it but won’t take the pill. I have to shove it down his throat.” They chuckled sympathetically. “She’s fit, though,” they continued, pointing at the female. Like Fifi, she was well-groomed and perky, the pride of the pack. Kramer’s male paid her lots of attention. His female looked bored. They walked together, talking.

 

Buddy was on his way to the groomer’s. He grew shaggy between haircuts and was overdue. That explained why he had left his humans behind. It was better for them to stay in the comfort of their homes. They got bored at the groomer’s, and started pestering him before too long. He had learnt his lesson. Still, he felt awkward walking by himself and was glad for the company. They headed in the same direction, commenting on the interactions between their humans. When you had nothing to say, you could always laugh at your human’s antics.

 

They passed by Laika’s home. Laika was a beautiful dalmatian, tall and elegant. Her humans were well-behaved. She had three, which was a handful. She had kept an offspring. It was often a good idea, because the parents tended to be less trouble after a birth. They were more tired, looking after the baby. They got attached very quickly and Laika did not have the heart to take it away from them. She had named the baby girl Pat, a good soft name. The baby did not yet react to it. That was okay, it was a long process with humans, but she was patient.

 

Buddy detached himself from the group as Kramer and Fifi had decided to go to the park to socialize their humans. They could roam freely there. He hurried along; he hated being late. He still had to go past the derelict house, which he dreaded. It was an eyesore. Humans had taken over, and the grounds were infested with squirrels. From the corner of his eye, he saw a curtain move. A human was looking out from the upstairs window. He seemed sad. One would be, without a good dog to take care of you.

 

He should bring the matter up again at the next town meeting. This state of affairs should not be allowed to go on. The humans were teenagers, at that difficult age when you are full of energy and need a firm hand to guide you. Sometimes they could be seen roaming at night, slinking in shadows looking for food. Next thing you know, more would join in and they would start making trouble. He sighed. Rocky had been a hermit, and it took the townsfolk a while to realize he had passed away. In the meantime, a posse had formed, whose sole interest seemed to be to rile the good citizens of Dogsville. A few of the humans were on the porch, smoking. They had spotted him; he could hear them talking in low voices. One whistled at him, derisively. “Here, boy,” barked another. His body stiffened, his ears perked up, but he did not look their way. He would not give them that satisfaction. He was suddenly self-conscious of his long unkempt coat. He gladly stepped into the groomer’s store with its tinkling bell and its “No humans allowed” sign.

 

“Good day,” he said to no one in particular. They were all in various states of grooming, getting bathed and shampooed, trimmed or pedicured. It smelled nice and there was always an abundance of treats and snacks. The service was excellent – everyone kept coming here, even though the neighborhood was going to the humans. “Hey, Buddy,” said the owner. They had known each other since they were pups, had rolled in the mudholes together and fought over girls. “You’re overdue for your trim,” he said reproachfully. But then, “How is your baby girl?” He took out pictures. Everybody huddled around to have a look. “They’re so cute when they’re small.” “Look at her little toes,” said another. “It makes you want to adopt,” said a third, amongst the general oohs and ahhhs. He smiled proudly, basking in reflected glory. “She’s starting to crawl,” he announced. “Better keep out of the way. Her teeth will be coming out soon!” They laughed. “Are you getting enough sleep?” “It’s a challenge,” he admitted, as he settled down for his shampoo. All his cares washed away. Even the threat of the teenagers felt moot.