Part 1 of 3: Patches the Well-Bred Dog
The dumb dogs play dumbly. They bark and they run and they sniff and they hump. Their coats get dirty. Their noses search stinky spots.
I talk to my friends. We talk smartly. We are well-bred dogs. Socks says we are very refined. I like refined. Refined is a refined word.
The sky is very blue and the sun is very yellow. In summer, the dog park’s dirt is hot. It is like sand at the beach. In summer, sand at the beach is very hot, too.
The park’s dirt burns my paws, but I do not yip and I do not howl. I am not a dumb dog. I sit very still and I listen to Socks’ story. The ground beneath my paws cools. I am comfortable. I sit very well and very nicely. I am a well-bred dog.
I like my smart friends and Socks is my smartest friend. Socks is old and he is wise. When he was young, his human took him to a trainer and the trainer said, “This is a smart dog. I will teach this dog to read.” Socks says his human said, “Go ahead and try” and his trainer did try and now Socks can read. When Socks is home, he reads famous stories. When he is at the park, he tells us the stories.
My paws are cooler and cooler but the hair on the top of my head is hotter and hotter. It is a very hot day. I pant and I listen to Socks’ story.
“Goodnight comb. And goodnight brush. Goodnight nobody. Goodnight mush. And goodnight to the old lady whispering ‘hush.’”
Socks’ voice is very nice. His O’s have no growl and his G’s have no bark. He is very well-bred.
“Goodnight stars. Goodnight air. Good night noises everywhere.”
What a good story! I tell Socks, “What a good story!” and the other well-bred dogs say it was a very good story, too. The story was good because it was not like the day. The day is hot, but the story felt cold. It made the day feel a little not so hot.
Beneath the awning, the humans talk. My human is very pretty and her hair is very long and her glasses are very dark and I cannot see her eyes I cannot see her eyes I cannot see her eyes. She talks to an ugly man. His dog is a big dumb dog. His dog sniffs butts. He points to his big dumb dog and my human smiles and I cannot see her eyes I cannot see her eyes I cannot see her eyes. Another human steps in front of my human and says “Brownie!”
The humans wear clothes that smell so nice and give us food that tastes so good and drive cars that go so fast. The humans are so very, very smart. Socks is smart too, but Socks is dumber than the dumbest human and my human, she is the smartest human of them all.
The dumb dogs run wildly and the well-bred dogs sit quietly and the humans stand under their awning. It is all where it always is.
A big dumb dog runs too fast and trips and slides in the dirt. A human sits on a bench. Socks says, “Thank you. Do you want to hear another story?”
And the sky!
The yellow sun is gone. Or is it shining?
No, if it is shining it is too big. And it is bigger and bigger and bigger. Dark. The dog park is dark.
I smell the end of a fire. The hair on top of my head is not hot, it is cool. A cool wind blows through it. The dumb dogs howl and the humans yell “Aaah!”
I am howling, too! I am running! Just like a dumb dog! I yip, I smell the breeze, she is there, her scent is in the air, my human, where is she? I run and see the well-bred dogs howl with the dumb dogs. The dirt flies under our feet and our tongues flop. Where is she? Where is my human?
The shining in the sky is a big square. It is darker and darker and darker, with four pointy corners. Behind its edge, the sky is still blue. It blinks.
It is gone.
The sun is there. Yellow and bright.
I hear, “Well bred-dogs!”
The park is hot. The dirt is hot.
I hear, “You are not beasts! You do not howl. You do not run. Stop. Remember yourselves.”
It is a nice voice. It is my friend. Socks stands in the middle of the park, between all the running dogs.
We watch the sky. The humans watch the sky.
My human snaps my leash to my collar. She opens the dog park’s gate. The sidewalk is very hot and my paws hurt.
I ask her, “What was it what was it what was it?”
Her legs are so long and so soft, I press against them and she steps on my paw.
“Sorry, sorry. Give me some room.”
I do not give her room. I press against her and we walk.
“Please please please, what was it what was it?”
She takes her phone out of her purse and taps it with her fingers. Big cars drive fast in the street.
“I don’t know. It doesn’t say. It definitely wasn’t a comet.”
Her skin is so white and her legs brush against me and she feels so good. I press closer.
“What is a comet?”
“A comet is a rock that falls from the sky.”
“Rocks fall from the sky?” That is very scary. I try to smell her ankle and she steps on my paw again.
“Ow! I am hurt.”
“God dammit then, make a little room.” She talks quieter. “I knew it. I knew adopting a well-bred dog was a mistake.”
I look up at her. I love her.
She shakes her head. “Don’t look at me like that.”
“I love you.”
She taps her phone.
If rocks fall from the sky and shining squares live in the sky, I need her to love me so so much. I need to sleep under her bed and I need her to sleep on top of the bed and say, “No, sky! Do not touch my well-bred dog!” I try to walk close to her and she pushes me away with her leg.
She says, “There was some kind of message. Some kind of code inside that square.”
A big car plays loud music, bang, bang, bang. It drives slowly and its windows are dark.
I tell her, “I am scared.”
“Yeah, well. Yeah.”
“Please. I want to be close to you. I am scared.”
I move as near to her as I can and she moves away from me. I walk on the sidewalk and she walks on the grass.
“Please. I am so so scared.”
Her voice is loud and flat. “I thought you were supposed to say cute things. ‘Me likey treaty. Me lovey sleepy.’ Not add to my anxiety. Not ‘I am scared.’ God.”
“I am sorry I am sorry.”
She walks faster and yanks my leash. My neck snaps.
“And I don’t think talking to that old dog helps. He makes you even weirder.”
I run so she does not pull me.
“You know, they say his trainer taught him to read. Ech. A reading dog. What a freak.”
My human opens the dog park’s gate. She takes off my leash and goes to the awning. The ugly man who makes her smile is there. She sees him and she smiles. He sees her and he smiles. The ugly man is not like her. His skin is hairy, not soft. His hair is short, not long. The ugly man is so ugly.
I wait by the gate.
The ugly man’s big dumb dog is between me and the well-bred dogs. The well-bred dogs sit and talk politely. The big dumb dog watches me. It looks into my eyes. I step back.
Its cheeks are too long and hang beneath its chin. Its ears are too short and stick over its head. Its neck is very wide and very strong and very scary.
Oh, I hate the big dumb dog!
“Ruff,” says the big dumb dog. It is so dumb.
“Do not touch me.”
It ruffs again because it does not know what words mean.
“I said do not touch me.”
The big dumb dog moves closer. It steps once, it steps twice, and it sticks its muzzle at me. Its wet nose quivers.
The big dumb dog wants to smell me. It wants to smell my butt.
It stretches its neck toward my tail. I twist away.
It bends its big body. It tries to get my backside.
The big dumb dog is angry now. I cannot run ahead because it blocks me with its hind legs, so I turn and I run the other way. If I follow the fence and circle the park, I will meet my friends. My tongue falls from my mouth and bounces. My paws fly over the dirt. I go as fast as I can.
I hear the big dumb dog behind me. It barks, “Ruff! Ruff!” I turn at the fence’s corner and run faster than I have ever run before.
It pants and I smell its big dumb breath. It smells like a dirty puddle. I twist around the next corner. I see my friends. They wait for me.
But the big dumb dog is too big. It is too fast.
I feel its short snout under my back legs. It raises its head and I flip over. My shoulder slams into the dirt. I slide and I spin. The big dumb dog is right behind me. My legs kick and they land on air.
I spin more slowly. Dirt and dust cover my coat. I try to stand.
No! My butt!
I feel the big dumb dog’s big wet nose. It pushes and it prods and it sucks in air. It quivers and it stays. It stays in my butt.
Beneath the awning, my human stands with the ugly man. He points at me. He points at my butt. My human looks where he points. She looks and she laughs. Her smile is so big. Her laugh is so loud.
My legs kick and kick and kick.
The well-bred dogs run to me. They say sounds the big dumb dog knows, “Ruff! Grrr!” The big dumb dog moves back. I stand up and I turn and I stare at its eyes. I say “grrr” too. We are three well-bred dogs now.
The big dumb dog looks at me and looks at Socks. It sees my friend Brownie. It knows we are together. It is scared. It yelps and it runs away.
But it is too late. It did what it wanted to do.
The big dumb dog smelled my butt.
I walk with my friends. We go to our corner of the dog park. We sit and we do not talk politely. We are quiet.
Well-bred dogs do not bark. They do not growl. Well-bred dogs speak. They say words. They are very smart and they are not animals.
Today, we barked. Today, we growled. I look at the dusty ground. I do not speak. It is best to say nothing. It is best to be quiet.
We sit and the dumb dogs run in circles. They hump their dumb friends. They act very rude. Beneath the awning, the humans talk and look at phones. Their voices are soft. They do not talk very loudly today.
Above the awning, the sky is gray. The sun hides. I want to be like the sun. I want to shine brightly and I want to hide.
Slowly, Socks talks. He says, “Before you came, we discussed the shining square.”
“Oh, yes?” I do not look up from the ground.
“Yes. Did your human tell you about the shining square?”
“She said it was no news for well-bred dogs.”
Socks nods. “Maybe she is right. But it is big news for humans.”
I like Socks’ nice voice. It is soft and it is kind. It is nicer than the dusty dirt. I look up and see his brown muzzle.
I ask, “Did you read a story about the shining square?”
Our friend Brownie listens. He is not as smart as Socks. He is not as smart as me. His head tilts to one side and then to the other side.
“What was the shining square?”
“It was a book. A very big book with very many words and very many numbers.”
Brownie has big black spots all over his white coat. He listens and does not speak.
Socks says, “The newspaper said it was written by people who are not humans.”
“Are they well-bred dogs?”
“No. They are people from very far away.”
“Are they from China?”
“No. Even more far away. They are from a place that is not here and is not like here.”
I am quiet. That does sound very far away!
“The newspaper says the shining square people are even smarter than humans. They are as much smarter than humans as humans are smarter than well-bred dogs.”
Socks sits very nicely. His hind legs are flat against the ground and his front legs are straight up and down. He sits nicely but he speaks wrongly.
“They are not smarter than humans.”
“The newspaper says the words in the shining square told the shining square’s people’s story. The numbers told the shining square people’s math. The newspapers say the humans could only read a small part of the shining square. The rest is too hard. It is too smart for them.”
I want to bark but I do not. “My human is very smart. She is the smartest. The shining square is not smarter than her.”
The gray sky is very gray.
“The newspaper says the smartest well-bred dog is as smart as a six-year old human and the smartest human is as smart as a three-year old shining square person.”
Water falls on my fur. It is a raindrop. It is raining.
My human is in the living room. She sits on the couch. Her long legs are folded beneath her. Her elbow rests on the couch’s arm. It is late and it is night and I am in the living room and she is so pretty. I put my front paws onto the couch’s cushions.
“No,” she picks up the newspaper and slaps my paws. “You know you’re not allowed up here.”
I go down to the carpet. “You are so pretty.”
She puts her newspaper back on her lap. Her robe is so soft and her hair is so long. Her eyes look at one side of the newspaper, and then they look at the other side of the newspaper, and then they go back. She is so good at reading.
“What do you want?”
I look away.
“Come on. What do you want?”
“I want to sit with you.”
“I told you. You’re not allowed on the couch.”
I hang my head.
“But you can sit on the rug if you want to. Okay? You can chill there while I read.”
“Thank you thank you thank you.”
“All right, take it easy.”
I sit very nicely. She pats my head.
“My friend Socks is wrong.”
“Who’s that? That freak reading dog?”
Her pats feel so good. They are so warm and so soft.
“He says the shining square people are smarter than you.”
She moves her hand away and leans into the couch’s cushions. Her knee is close to my nose. I smell it.
“Well, he’s right that they were smarter than us. Were.”
“They are not smarter now? You are smarter now?”
I lick her knee. She moves it away.
“Huh.” She pauses and looks at me. “I guess if Socks is going to tell you anyway, there’s no harm in you hearing it from me. But no. We’re still dumber than them. A hell of a lot dumber, actually. They’re just dead.”
My tail beats against the carpet, again and again. It hits the carpet hard.
“Yeah. They sent us that thing as like a… goodbye message, I guess. Like an interstellar suicide note. Sent to a species they’d never met, filled with life lessons we’re too stupid to understand. It’s odd. It was an odd thing to do.”
My tail hits the carpet harder and harder.
“They are smarter than you? They are dead?”
“Yes and yes.”
She smells like soap. Like soap and flowers. And sweat. When I lick her, her skin tastes so good. She is so much smarter than me and she is so alive. I put my paws on the couch.
She hits me with her paper and I go back down.
“I am sorry I am sorry I am sorry.”
“God, cut it with the sorry shit. You make me feel like I’m a jerk.”
I do not say sorry. I sit like a good dog. My tail hits and hits and hits.
My human knows when I can cross the street. She knows where to buy my food. She knows I cannot eat too much or I get sick. I stretch my neck and stick my muzzle onto the couch’s cushion and try to lick her knee. She moved it too far back. I cannot reach it.
I say, “If they are smarter than you they cannot die. They cannot go away.”
“Seems like smartness was maybe their problem. Too much of a good thing.”
“Are you too smart?”
“Are you like the shining square people?”
She laughs and it hurts.
“Yeah. I guess. We all die, buddy.”
“But will you die before me?”
She leans over and scratches my back. Her chest is close to my muzzle. I reach up and put my head into her robe and lick and lick and lick.
“No way. Not unless I get hit by a bus or something.”
She swings her legs out and her toes touch the carpet. She puts her hand against the couch’s arm and pushes herself up.
“I’ve got to put on my PJs.”
I follow her. I put my snout under her robe and I smell her.
“Will you die if you get hit by a bus?”
“Stay here. I’ll be out in a sec.”
She goes into her room. She shuts the door. I stay. I watch.
She does not come out she does not come out she does not come out.
The newspaper is still on the couch. She left it there. I put my paws on the cushions and reach toward it and bite. It is in my jaw. I drop it on the carpet.
I look at the newspaper as hard as I can.
There is a picture. A picture of the shining square in the sky. Above the picture are big words. Their letters are black and the paper is gray. Around the picture are small words. Their letters are black, too. Is the word “dead” in the letters? Is the word “bus” in the letters? I look and I look and I look.
The letters are circles and the letters are lines and some of the letters are circles and lines. What circles and lines are dead?
I do not hear her bedroom door open. I do hear her.
“Are you trying to read?”
She stands behind me, in cotton pajamas that smell very nice. Her feet are bare.
She points at the newspaper on the carpet. “Yes. Yes you were.”
She leans down and pushes me hard and grabs the newspaper. Her fingers wrap around my muzzle and she puts her face so close to mine. I try to look up and I try to look down and I try to look to the side and I cannot. She makes me look into her eyes. She makes me she makes me she makes me.
“You know, you were bred to talk, only talk, not to actually think about anything. To be cute, not to read my newspapers or worry about death or have your own goddamn opinions.”
In the hand that does not hold my snout, she rolls the newspaper.
“Learn to read and you’re taking a trip to the shelter, bub. No-kill, kill, whatever.”
She raises the newspaper.
“I am sorry.”
“I told you, cut the apologies. They wear on my nerves.”
I am sorry I am sorry I am a bad dog a bad dog a very bad dog.
The newspaper swings and slaps.
She says, “Bad dog!”