Today’s Short Story

Continuing with a throwback to 10 years ago when I published my first book, Lunch Hour, (Available on Amazon.com) a book of short stories and essays.

Sid

            Sid had seen this before. It was part of the nine years he had spent in a crate as a breeder for the puppy mill. That whole experience, the confinement, the horrible smell and the even more horrible people had done something to him. Worst had been the noise, the constant clamor of yips, barks and growls, howls of desperation, whimpers and the sharp report of people shouting above it all. Sid was not a normal dog by any means. He was afraid of everything all of the time, but who could blame him.

            He had seen this happen again and again, the shallow, rapid breathing and then the stillness. At the mill, he had seen it in newborn pups that had stopped feeding or were pushed away by the litter until they starved. He had seen mothers that had had one too many litters just give up and he had seen seemingly healthy males just fall over and breathe themselves into the awful silence. It had always made him feel ill at ease.

            One day, something changed. There were people shouting, but it wasn’t the voices of the men and women who always came with food or to pull him out of his crate or take a lifeless pup away from a wailing mother. These voices were new. There were shouts of “No!” and “Get back! Get away!”, commands he recognized, but they weren’t directed at him. They were directed at the people who had created this chaos. And then there was one single voice above the din, a woman at his cage talking in soothing tones. He began to turn quickly in circles in his crate and to shiver the way he always did when they came to get him.

            This woman reached into the crate for him, pulled him out and clutched him to her body, stroking him and talking softly to him. It was nothing like the rough treatment he was used to. Ordinarily, he would have been pulled out by the scruff of his neck and shoved into smaller crate. He would be taken to a cage where a passive, worn out female would be mated to him. Now, the woman carried him to a brightly lit trailer where another woman examined him from nose to tail. They bathed and brushed, fed and watered him, all the time talking in calm even tones. They put him in a clean crate with his own water and a pad to lie on. Sid continued to tremble and the lack of noise confused him. No good could come of it.

            As the day wore on, more and more of his compatriots ended up in the trailer. Some scents and barks he recognized and some he didn’t, but the familiarity of the situation made him feel more at ease. The trailer began to move and it startled him, but soon, the events of the day put him into a deep sleep.

            When Sid awoke, the sun was spilling through the window warming the air just a bit. There was a fresh bowl of food and a soft, round object in the crate with him. He could hear the sounds of people, speaking in the same calming tones he had heard the night before, but none of the words were directed at him. The people were talking to each other. He lay as still as possible with his eyes open trying to understand where he was and what these people wanted of him. He dare not move, or they might hear him. He grew tense, the muscles in his neck cramping and his eyes becoming strained from trying to look at things without moving his head. He picked his head up just a bit to ease the cramping and his nose nudged the round thing. It jingled.

            This caught the attention of one of the women in the trailer with him. She turned her attention to him and spoke. Sid immediately backed into the furthest corner of the crate, turning and shivering again. He peed. The woman reached in, patted him on the head and spoke to him again. She closed the crate door and draped a sheer cloth across the front. This made Sid feel a little more at ease and he moved forward, away from the wet spot he had created. When he was sure she was not coming back, he drank as much water as he could and nibbled on some of the food, taking a mouthful at a time and retreating slightly from the bowl so as not to be caught unaware if the door opened again. After a while, his shaking stopped. He lay back down, closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep again.

            He awoke to the sound of this woman’s voice again, speaking to him through the cloth. He sat up and backed away. She removed the cloth and opened the door, reaching in with both hands and gently lifting him out. She held him close and walked him out into the fresh air. It was blissfully quiet and it scared Sid a little. The woman clipped something around Sid’s neck, surprising him and set him on the ground. He stood rock still. The pads of his feet hurt. He had never touched the ground before. She moved forward a little and gave a tug to the leash tied to his collar. Sid resisted, afraid of where he might end up. People had come and taken the still dogs away and they never returned. Who knew what might happen to him?

            The woman urged him forward, a bit at a time. Sid began to pace back and forth to the end of his leash, panting and looking for an escape route. But where would he go? Nothing outside of his crate was familiar. After a while, he sniffed something familiar. Someone else had been there before him and he stood over the spot and peed in greeting. The woman squealed with praise and Sid jumped back with a start. He began to pace again and then he had that stirring that always came after he relieved himself and so he relieved himself again. The woman squealed again. She rolled the round thing toward him and he jumped away from it. She retrieved the round thing and gently pulled him back toward the trailer. She scooped him up in her arms and returned him to his crate. The soiled pad had been replaced with a fresh one and his water and food dish were replenished.

            He woke up the third morning to a man reaching into his crate. He brought him out and laid him onto a cold table where a woman gently but firmly hugged him around his neck. He felt something sting his leg. Then he felt the stillness coming over him. This was it. He was going to the place all those other dogs had gone. He tried to hold his head up, but he couldn’t move and he passed out. When he woke, it was as if he weighed as much as every dog in the world. He was sore and he had a collar around his head. Maybe he was nothing but a head now. He passed out with a whimper.

            When he woke again, he could feel his legs and his tail and he was thirsty. Someone had placed a bowl of water in his crate. He pulled himself to his feet and felt a sharp pain between his hindquarters. He drank until he couldn’t drink any more and then he discovered a small amount of food, which he ate. It made him nauseous.

            After a few days, the collar came off and it was back to the routine of eat, sleep and go outside. The pattern repeated itself for how long Sid didn’t know. He found that he liked the nighttime best and the quiet was something he began to enjoy. It meant that no one would come and he could eat and drink at ease. He could distinguish individual barks from those in the crates near him. He began to hear a change in their demeanor from desperate to cautious to calm.

            A parade of dogs came and went, making Sid feel uncomfortable. Then one day some new people came in, a man and a woman. The woman reached into his crate and took Sid out and held him. He began to shake. She spoke calmly to him, and took him out to a smaller vehicle where she put him into a crate. Sid huddled, once again, to the very back. They drove for hours and arrived someplace new, not like the trailer where he had stayed before, but larger.

            The women reached into the crate and took Sid out and carried him into the new place. There were two large dogs there that seemed to be happy to see these people. They barked and jumped and tried to get a look at Sid. After a bit, the woman sat on the floor and let the dogs come closer to him. They both gave a series of curious sniffs and the larger of the two barked once, but was quickly hushed by the woman.

            With nowhere to run, Sid huddled close to the woman. After a while, the dogs lost interest in him and she set him on the floor. It was soft, not like the hard ground outside the trailer and not like the floor of the crate. Sid quickly retreated to the woman’s lap. They sat that way for a while and then she took him outside, placed him on the ground and stood watching him. He stood still looking up at her. She waited, talking to him the whole time. He finally spread his back legs and peed where he stood, which seemed to excite her. She scooped him up into her arms and took him back into the house.

            Sid spent the next few days sitting close to the woman and trying to be as invisible as possible. He only ate and drank when no one was looking. He let her carry him outside to do his business and he avoided the other dogs as much as possible, although they seemed pleasant enough. He wanted to go back to that crate with the cloth over it and the quiet nights.

Then yet another change. New people came to the home and made a fuss about Sid. They had a small dog with them who looked like him who barked ferociously at everything and everyone. The people talked to one another while the woman introduced Sid to the new couple. This new woman spoke gently to Sid, stroking him and scratching him under his chin, which he liked.

            After a short time, the man picked up the little dog and the woman carried Sid out to another vehicle. They all got in together and Sid remained on the woman’s lap. They began to drive, with the smaller dog trying to nudge Sid out of the way. The sun shone through the window of the car and after a while Sid felt warm and fell asleep. When he woke, they were at a new home with new smells and new sounds. The woman put Sid down onto the floor and Sid immediately hid under a small table. He could smell the little dog everywhere and another dog that he couldn’t see. He lay under the table while the people talked to him and finally, ignored him.

            Come the night, the man carried him outside. While he was taking care of things, he got another whiff of that other dog, but couldn’t find him. They brought him in and everyone got into a large bed for the night. The darkness and quiet made Sid feel a little better. The small dog huddled next to the woman to keep Sid away from her so he scooted up next to the man.

            Days came and went. Sid had his own bed, which they placed under the table so he could hide. The little dog began to pay more attention to him, cleaning his eyes and ears. He had plenty of food and every night they all slept together in the same bed. There was a small door for him to go in and out of the house at either end and he was left alone for hours at a time with no one paying him any mind, which he liked.

Sid began to follow the small dog around, getting to know the ins and outs of the home. He had his own space and little by little began to venture out from under the table to wander on his own. They took him regularly to have his hair washed and trimmed and to another place where a woman poked and prodded him and insisted on lifting his tail.

            Gradually, Sid began to understand that these people belonged to him. He rode with them in the car for no particular reason that he could see, as they always came back home. There was always food and water for him to share with the little dog and a biscuit every evening before bed. The couple did their best not to alarm him, but always made him go out at regular intervals, shooing him out of his bed. He enjoyed having a companion. He followed the little dog around because he seemed to know all of the signals better than Sid. After a time, he began to understand the subtle cues that meant that they were going for a ride or that it was time for bed and he began to let himself out. His routine helped him feel more at ease.

            But now, here he was watching this family that he had adopted in a tense moment. They had let the prodding woman into the house and she had talked to the little dog for a moment. The man and the woman were upset, as best as he could tell. They had been that way for he didn’t know how many days. It started when the little dog stopped cleaning Sid’s eyes. He just lay there all day, not wanting to eat or go out or play. Sid had prodded him a few times, but the little dog just looked at him with tired eyes. There was an uneasy, familiar feeling to that look that Sid remembered from a long time ago.

            The prodding woman moved away from the little dog on the couch and now the man picked Sid up and set him next to the little dog. The man and the woman sat on either side of the little dog, stroking him and talking to him with shaky voices. He noticed that the little dog was breathing rapidly, his eyes closed and Sid knew that the stillness was coming. He nudged the little dog again and whimpered a little, and then the stillness was there. This caused the woman to moan terribly.

            She clutched the still, little dog in her arms. The man ran away. Sid growled at the prodding woman. After a few minutes, the woman put the little dog on the couch and wrapped him up in the blanket from the little dog’s bed. The man returned and carried the little dog away. The stillness was the same, but something was different.

            A million miles ago, someone would have come along and dragged the little dog out of a crate and tossed him carelessly into a sack, never to be seen again. Here, these people were affected by the stillness in the little dog. They cared about him, just the way they cared about Sid. The little dog was part of them the way Sid had begun to feel a part of them.

            Later that evening, Sid went into the back yard. He could smell the little dog, but couldn’t find him anywhere. He went over to a corner of the yard where he had once looked for another dog so long ago and he found a patch of new dirt. He went back inside and up the soft, padded ramp to the bed the man had put up to help Sid and the little dog get up and down. He found the woman lying awake. He rested his chin on her hand. She patted him, sighed, pulled him close to her and cried.

Copyright 2012 and 2022 by Jose Antonio Ponce