Cooper was in a visible funk. I had noticed him staring across the street at the neighbors’ Spanish-style split level with its rosebush hedges, his chubby pug body inert on the back of the couch. He’d been quieter than usual too, and his curly tail barely twitched when I came home from work at night.
One Sunday it came to a head. I noticed him pushing the canned dog out of his metal dish onto the kitchen floor. I scolded him, pointing to the greasy mess, but he ignored me.
“Okay, Coop,” I said. “What’s going on?”
He nudged the glistening globs of turkey and beef across the linoleum with his nose.
“You seem a little off lately.”
He looked up, his tiny underbite quivering. He hesitated to speak.
“Come on, man. Whatever it is, you can tell me.”
“I think I’m having some sort of crisis.” He exhaled.
“Oh boy,” I said. I crouched down by his bowl. “What’s the problem?”
“Misty, the Knutsons’ dog. Across the street. I can’t get over her.”
“Huh. I’ve never noticed their dog.” I realized then that he’d been shaping the dog food into a capital letter “M” on the floor.
“We had a bit of a serious thing for a while. I should’ve known better. She’s a poodle. We’re from different worlds.”
“What? When? Didn’t they just move in, like, six months ago?”
“Six months is a helluva long time to a dog, Geoff!” His voice took on an injured tone. The miserable look in his eyes made my chest burn. I stood back up.
“But she said I was ‘too serious’. Now she’s with some fucking Schnauzer. I can’t even think about it.”
He sat silent for a moment. His eyelids slid down over his bulging eyes.
“They keep her chained out in the front yard all the damned time. I can’t concentrate on anything,” He said. “She talked about running away. She hates being tied up like that.”
“That’s tough, man.” I opened a beer and leaned against the counter. I felt a wave of guilt go through my body. I should have talked to him sooner. I went to offer him some of my beer but stopped. Come on, Geoff. I thought to myself. Get it together.
I put him out in the backyard. Our back neighbors had a big old tabby cat. Newly aware of his social sensitivities, I checked in with Cooper. He assured me that he was “fine” and that the cat was “actually an okay guy”. I closed the living room blinds and called Dr. Andrews, Coop’s cute veterinarian with freckles and long red hair, but she wasn’t in on the weekend. “Bummer,” I said to her assistant, who sighed and rattled off a quick stream of 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 under no circumstances was I to encourage him to drink alcohol. Ah, I thought. My instincts on this are correct.
I usually have a “no dogs on the bed” rule, but that night I let Cooper rest on top of the covers at my feet. My own sleep was elusive. I was haunted by the image of Cooper’s face staring out the front window at the Knutsons’ house. I turned on my bedside lamp and watched him sleeping, his breath leaving his body in short sighs. I swear I felt his little heart struggling to mend itself inside his chest.
I had to do something. I got out of bed and put my robe on over my boxer shorts. Cooper woke up and looked at me, exhausted and then flopped his head back down on the bed.
“Be right back,” I whispered.
I left the house and crossed the street, walking in the dark patches of asphalt between the streetlamps. As I approached the Knutsons’ rosebush hedges, I heard a high, hoarse bark from somewhere deep in their front yard. I froze. Another bark. My heart raced. But the windows in the house stayed dark. I waited for a beat and walked up to the wrought iron gate and let myself in.
Then I saw her in the corner of the yard, on a short chain next to a wooden dog house. Coop’s Misty. I used the light from my phone to get a better look. She was a shaky little poodle, with curly grey fur, maybe dirty white. She growled and I shushed her. I looked up into the dark windows above us, but they stayed empty.
“Come here, girl.” I reached down and put my hand on her skull. She was tinier than I had imagined, maybe five or six pounds: too small to account for the magnitude of Cooper’s heartbreak. Her round black eyes stared into mine. Her body trembled. I was cold too. It was damp and cool that night as summer turned to fall. She shouldn’t have been out all night like that. Coop had a point about the Knutsons.
“You are a sweet thing, Misty.” I petted her delicate back, her vertebrae rubbing against my palm. “I get it.”
I lifted my hand from her fur and she licked me.
“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.
“Come on, girl.” I stood on the sidewalk. I thought about Cooper, asleep at the end of my bed. Maybe this wasn’t such a great idea. But I was doing it for him. For my buddy.
But Misty just stood next to her doghouse, shivering in the dark.
L M Moore is a Canadian writer and health care provider. Her work has appeared in The Cold Mountain Review, The Daily Drunk, Dream Journal and Dribble Drabble Review.