“Alright, dogs. Listen up.”
The dogs lie on the kitchen floor in boneless lumps and pay me no attention whatsoever; they cannot be bothered. Jack the Terrier and Persie the Labrador regard me with unfocused eyes and loose faces that seem to suggest their feeling that I rarely say anything of importance, and they doubt this is one of those important times. I speak more severely, “LISTEN TO ME.”
As if on cue, both dogs allow their eyelids to gently close.
“Fine. If I am the only one listening to me, then I am the only one who will hear that there are treats in this cupboard.”
The dogs leap to attention.
I eat from a box of Lucky Charms and stare at the two of them. They bristle with eager ear-perked enrapture. They look like cartoons of dogs paying attention, that’s how attentive they are now.
I sigh and throw them some cereal, “You guys annoy the crap out of me.” I rest the box of cereal on the counter behind me. Both dogs track the box’s movement with every ounce of their beings, and so when I step in front of the box, their attention shifts to me. They both stare at me very hard, as though their superhero treat-seeking heat-vision might bore a bloody tunnel through my torso through which they might then reach paws for treats.
“OK, so listen. Mark and the girls are gone tonight, and so it’s just the three of us. So I’m thinking there’s no need for you guys to sleep locked up in the laundry room tonight. I know how you hate to be locked up at night. You can just sleep with me downstairs in front of the TV.”
Neither dog blinks; blinking would burn holes through their eyelids.
There is no such thing as excessive caution where treat-seeking heat-vision is concerned, apparently.
“Now you might ask why I am going to be sleeping downstairs on the couch instead of upstairs in my comfy bed.”
The dog stare very hard at my midsection . . . Burn through to the treats and we will have treats.
“The reason I will be sleeping downstairs is because of murderers. Murderers always look for you in your bed, and so I will not be in my bed. Now, if you two were normal dogs, I would ask you to protect me from said murderers.”
The dogs get a good chuckle out of that silliness. Jack the Terrier turns to whisper in the Labrador’s ear something about how he has heard that murder tastes like steak. Both dogs wag their tails happily at this delicious thought.
“Whatever, dogs. My point is that I am going to let you sleep with me tonight.”
The dogs have now lost whatever grasp they ever had on the concept of object permanence. They swing their heads to look at one another . . . There was cereal here a few moments ago, right? But now it’s gone. Was it really ever here? Did we imagine the cereal? You saw it, right? We ate some, I think. Didn’t we eat some? Where did it go? How can cereal just disappear like that? Both dogs blink their eyes rapidly . . . I hate when she uses her powers to make our eyes hurt. Serves her right if a murderer comes. Oooh, maybe the murderer will have cereal! That would be awesome. What did she say about where we are sleeping? She’s so bossy. I hate when she gets bossy. Tell me more about this steak thing.
When bedtime comes, I settle on the couch downstairs and call the dogs, “Come down here and snuggle with me!”
Neither dog comes.
I call again and then strain to hear dog movement in the house above me.
There is nothing but snickering.
“STUPID FUCKING DOGS. FINE. I DON’T NEED YOU. GOOD LUCK WITH THE MURDERER!”
Dog-giggles now . . . She’s so silly. Like the murderer would ever think to look in the laundry room.
I lie in the darkened basement and feel sorry for myself, all alone and unsnuggled. I turn on the TV and watch nothing in particular until I fall asleep. Sleep is lovely, even if I am all by myself . . .
Time passes, and then I wake, filled with a sense of dread. I have been having these middle-of-the-night panic attacks recently, and I lie there with my eyes closed and wait to see if that’s what this is. No. Whatever the problem is, whatever this sense of dread is, it’s something new.
I listen to the silence.
I slip in and out of consciousness as I listen, my dread ushering me back and forth between the worlds until all I can feel is terror.
I am about to die.
There’s someone here in the room with me.
There’s someone in my head.
I am about to die.
I push upward through the loose soil of my sleep and gasp for air.
Whatever awaits me, it is just beyond the closure of my eyelids.
I open my eyes to meet my doom.
Both dogs stare at me intently, breathe into my face, burn their thoughts into my mind.
Didn’t someone say something about steak?
We like steak.
Why are you sleeping down here?
Did you know you forgot to lock us in the laundry room?
We like steak.
Didn’t someone say something about how there was going to be steak?