The alarm buzzed and my eyes popped open. Saturday. I should be sleeping in, but I had forgotten to disable my phone’s alarm. Fumbling for it, I silenced the buzzing in time to cling to the last threads of sleep and began to relax back into unconsciousness.
I heard loud panting, excited and quick, first at the bedroom doorway, then closer. Louder. Shelly shifted to my left and I inwardly cursed our deal a month ago that I would always take the dog out in the mornings. Sure, she got the kids ready and off to school every morning, so it was more than a fair trade, but still. She sleeps in weekends and I shuffle around half-dead in the cold, waiting for Frodo to do his thing.
Fair, but then she stayed at home while I went to the office each day, trying to sell internet contracts over the phone. Not anyone’s dream job, but I seemed to have a knack for talking people into things.
Panting directly on my arm then. Hot, quick bursts across my arm hairs. Seconds to go until drool. Refusing to open my eyes, hoping to find some way to go back to sleep, I lazily pushed Frodo’s head away. The panting stopped. I could imagine him, his big dark eyes looking at me, brows raised in question, head cocked to the side. I prayed he would hear a squirrel at the living room window and go to investigate. Just a few more minutes of warmth and comfort, please.
The panting started up again, closer to my head, heavy dog-breath wafting across my nostrils. I rolled out of reach, letting out what I thought would be a groan but instead came out as a pitiful whine. The panting stopped again, momentarily. I knew the pinched little face he was giving me, waiting to see if motion on the bed would lead to actual waking, and the much-craved walk outside.
Nothing happened. Silence, wonderful silence. If only for a few more moments.
“But dad, I really have to pee!”
The voice was plaintive, pleading, desperate. My eyes burst open and I rolled over to look around. Frodo looked at me expectantly, his brows small arches over his dark eyes, the dachshund coloring around his face making him look more pure than his mutt heritage is.
Nobody in the room but the dog. It hadn’t sounded like Ben, certainly older than his 5-year-old squeak. And Anita wouldn’t get up for hours unless forced. The joys of a tween daughter.
“Dad? We gonna go for a walk now?”
My head snapped back to Frodo. His head cocked further to the side, a punctuation of his stance. My mind scrabbled around inside my skull, checking desperately for any reference to the fact that I have a talking dog. Moments passed, the staredown between man and beast stretched out. My brain came back with the final answer: there is absolutely no record of me having a talking dog.
“Daaaaaaad…” Frodo started. At the same time I heard Shelly shifting again and raised my finger to shush him before he woke her up. Instead of the expected “shhhhhh” sound, what came out was a low whine instead. I was immediately on my feet, boggling at the noise that came from my own throat.
I stumbled out of the bedroom and into the bathroom. Behind me I heard the rustle of bedcovers, and a low moan. Frodo followed me into the bathroom and I shut the door quickly and quietly behind us. As I did, I heard Shelly through the door:
“Jimmy? Wha’s goin’ on?” her voice was slow and thick with sleep.
I intended to say “Nothing, baby. Go back to sleep, just taking Frodo out.”
What came out was very different and very surprising:
“Roop roop, Grrrrraaaar, wroof”
I clamped my hand over my mouth. Frodo looked at me, as if to say “dude, what’s wrong with you?” In actuality, he said:
“Dad? Are you angry?”
I boggled at him. Then quickly reassured him: “wrrrrrrooo…”
“Jim?” Shelly’s voice came from the bedroom, more awake now. “is everything okay?”
shit, I thought, what the hell do I do?
My first thought wasn’t “maybe I should get help” or “wow, Shelly’s gotta see this”. No, it was an instinctual reaction to hide what was horribly, horribly wrong.
I desperately gesticulated at Frodo, pointing at my mouth, then at him, then at the door. He stared with his head cocked to one side, one floppy ear slightly raised. Silently and with greater urgency I pointed with both fingers at the door, willing him to somehow see that we needed to get Shelly to go back to sleep. He needed to say something.
Just say “it’s okay, go back to sleep honey”! It’s not that hard, ya damn dog.
“Fetch?” his voice was high and happy, and I swear I saw a smile spread across his face.
“Jim? Who’s there with you?”
I heard footsteps in the hall and held my breath. Frodo circled me, hoping that would entice me to move toward the door and go for the expected morning walk.
“Jim?” she followed with a knock on the door. “Are you in there? Who are you with?
Frodo went and scratched at the door.
“Why is Frodo in there with you?”
“Dad is gonna take me for a walk!” Frodo answered.
There was a long pause. Then: “Jim, is that Benjamin in there with you? He sounds…”
“Mom! Dad’s gonna take me for a walk!” Frodo started running in circles, wagging happily.
I barked furiously at Frodo, scaring him into stopping still. A small pool of yellow formed beneath him as he cowered.
OrThe door opened, Shelly poked her head in. Her blonde hair was a rat’s nest on her head, and her eyes were still half open as she peered around.
“Jim, what…” she stopped then, seeing Frodo cowering. “Oh for heaven’s sake…”
I whined pitifully. She looked up at me, face full of questions. I could tell she was trying to see if I was making a joke somehow.
“I’m sorry.” Frodo pouted. “I’m so sorry. I’m a bad boy.”
Shelly looked from me to Frodo, then back to me, then back again. Everything was silent for a moment. I reached for her hand, and she looked up at me, apparently unsure whether to laugh, scream, or cry.
I don’t know what’s happening. I tried to say.
“Rooooooooooo” is what came out.
“Daddy won’t take me for a walk.” Frodo said.
Shelly took me by the hand, gave me the leash, and pushed us out the door. Frodo emitted a long string of “ohboy ohboy ohboy” all the way.
Original story prompt:
As my alarm went
off, my dog shoved her face into mine as she does every other morning making
noises to be let out. As I reached for
the snooze, I clearly understood her saying “BUT DAD…I REALLY HAVE TO