Authors: W. Bruce Cameron
“Friendly as ever, I see,” he said.
“Max, you be gentle. Gentle, Max.” I had figured out that “gentle” meant “don’t bite,” but I kept my cold glare on Gregg to let him know not to try anything.
“Nice place,” Gregg said, looking around. CJ put me down and I went over to sniff his pant legs, which smelled like wet leaves.
“Yes, let me take you on the grand tour. Stay close to me so you don’t get lost,” CJ said with a laugh. “This is the kitchen dining room great room.”
“So I have a surprise.”
“We’re going away. Upstate. Three days.”
“You’re kidding!” CJ clapped her hands together and I looked at her curiously. “When?”
“Now, let’s leave now. I don’t have to be anywhere for the next couple of days.”
Gregg waved his hand. “There’s some kind of deal with some property; she had to leave town.”
CJ stood very still, looking at him. “That’s actually not what I meant. What I meant is that I can’t exactly leave right
Gregg. Not, like, this instant.”
“I have clients. I’d have to find coverage. I can’t just take off.”
“Your clients are dogs,” Gregg said. I could hear some anger in his voice and I gave him a threatening stare, which he ignored.
“They rely on me. If I’m not there, I have to find someone else to cover for me.”
“Geez!” Gregg looked around. “There’s no place to even sit down to talk about this.”
“Well, sure, I mean, we could sit on the bed,” CJ said.
“Okay, that’s a good idea,” Gregg said.
Gregg and CJ went to the bed to hug. Sneakers jumped down and I jumped up, licking CJ in the face.
“Max!” she sputtered, laughing.
Gregg was not laughing. “Uh…,” he said.
“Come on, Max,” CJ said, picking me up. She carried me to the bathroom and Sneakers followed, snaking in and around CJ’s ankles. “Stay,” CJ said.
She shut the door and Sneakers and I regarded each other unhappily.
Sneakers came over to me and sniffed me, seeking comfort, then went over to the door and sat there expectantly, as if I could open it for her. I scratched at the bathroom door a few times, whimpering, then gave up and curled myself into a ball on the floor, waiting.
Some time later, CJ opened the door. I raced around the kitchen, thrilled to be out. This was so much fun! CJ was barefoot, but she put the nice-smelling shoes back on, hopping on one foot as she did so. I put my feet on her legs and she smiled down at me. “Hi, Max. Good dog.”
I wagged at being a good dog.
“So, okay,” Gregg said. “If you can’t, you can’t. I get it.”
“I’m sorry, I just need more warning. Even just a day or two. There’s a guy I met at the park, he’s a dog walker, I bet you he could sub for me, but I don’t know how to get in touch with him.”
“This kind of thing, there is no warning.”
“Well … but sometime soon, that will no longer matter, right? I mean, you said just a few more months.”
Greg looked around. “Man, this place is tiny even for New York, you know?”
“Gregg? You did say just a few more months. Right?
Gregg ran his hand through his hair. “I gotta be honest, CJ. This just isn’t working for me.”
“I mean…” Gregg looked around the kitchen. “This isn’t very convenient.”
“Oh. Right. Because most of all, I’m a convenience.” CJ sounded angry.
“You know what? There’s that abusive tone you always use with me,” Gregg said.
“You know what I mean.”
“No, actually, I don’t. What are you trying to say?”
“See, it’s just that you’ve gone from being understanding to now you have all these demands. I had this great trip planned for us and you all of a sudden can’t go. And you’ve known all along what I have to deal with at home. I just … I’ve been thinking about it, and…”
“Oh my God, Gregg, you’re doing this
? Like you couldn’t have said something
? Or wouldn’t that have been ‘convenient’ for you.”
“You’re the one that brought it up. I was happy to go on a trip and everything, but you had to start pushing.”
“I think maybe we need a break for a while, see how we feel.”
“How I feel is that you’re the biggest mistake I’ve ever made in my life.”
“Okay, that’s it; I’m not taking any more abuse from you.”
“Get out of here, Gregg!”
“You know what? None of this is my fault!” Gregg shouted.
I now understood that Gregg was making CJ hurt and angry and I lunged at him, snarling, aiming for his ankles. He danced out of the way and then CJ scooped me up.
“Dog tries that again I’m kicking him into the next century,” Gregg said. He was angry, too. I struggled to get down to bite him, but CJ held me tight.
“Leave. Now. Don’t come back,” CJ snapped.
“Small chance of that,” Gregg spat.
Once Gregg left, CJ sat at her table and cried. I whimpered and she picked me up and I tried to lick her face, but she forced me to lie in her lap.
“I am so stupid, so stupid,” she said, over and over again. I didn’t understand anything she was saying, but the feeling flowing off of her was as if she felt like a bad dog. She took off her shoes and after a while got up and got some ice cream out of the freezer to eat.
After that I didn’t see those shoes again for a long time. We walked with dogs most days and often went to a park, where I would search everywhere for the scent of Duke. I never once smelled him, though there was plenty of evidence of many, many dogs. Sneakers divided her time between our house and Mrs. Minnick’s, which was fine because it meant that I got to spend more time with it being just CJ and myself. The days became cooler and I pretty much wore the tight sweater every time we went outside.
When the shoes finally came out I prepared myself for another encounter with Gregg, but I was pleasantly surprised when, upon charging the door after I heard a knock, I smelled the person on the other side. Trent!
“Hi, stranger!” CJ called as she opened the door. A blast of flower smell hit me—Trent held blooms in his arms. They hugged each other. Over the scent of flowers, Trent’s hands smelled faintly of soap and something buttery when he bent down to see me. I wagged, wriggling under his friendly hands.
“I just can’t believe how Max behaves around you,” CJ said as she ushered him in. She set the flowers down—the whole house instantly filled with the odors.
“You know, I like this place a lot better than the last one,” he said.
“Oh stop. Can you believe that they told me it had a stove? I said to the lady, hello, a stove has more than one burner, that’s a hot plate.”
Trent sat on the counter, which I didn’t like because it meant I couldn’t reach him. “Rent’s got to be a little less here than the penthouse, I imagine.”
“Well, yeah, but you know New York. It’s still not cheap. And the dog walking’s not been going very well—turns out when you lose a famous client you lose a couple unfamous ones, too.”
“Are you doing all right, though?”
Trent looked at her.
“What is it?” CJ asked.
“You look really thin, CJ.”
“Come on, Trent. Please.”
They were silent for a long moment.
“Well, hey, I have news,” Trent finally said.
“They put you in charge of the world’s financial system?”
“Well, sure, but that was last week. No, it’s, um, Liesl.”
“I’m going to propose to her this weekend.”
I felt a shock run through CJ. She sat down on the stool. I went over to her, concerned. “Wow,” she finally said. “That’s…”
“Yeah, I know. Things were a little rough between us there, I think I told you about that, but lately, I don’t know. It just seems right, you know? We’ve been together for a year and a half. It’s like a conversation we’ve never had, right there in front of us, so I thought, time to talk about it. Want to see the ring?”
“Sure,” CJ said softly.
Trent reached into his pocket and pulled out a toy and handed it to CJ. She didn’t hold it down to me to sniff, so I figured it couldn’t be much fun.
“What is it, CJ?”
“This just seems, I don’t know. Fast, or something. Like, we’re so young. Married.”
“No, forget it. The ring’s beautiful.”
Shortly after that, CJ and Trent left. When she came back she smelled deliciously of meat, but she was alone. I was disappointed because I was hoping Trent would stay to play, just as he had always done when he had Rocky. I wondered if the lack of a dog was what was keeping Trent from coming over as often as he once did. Not for the first time, I thought that Trent really needed a dog.
CJ seemed sad. She lay on her bed and dropped her shoes on the floor, and then I could hear her crying up there. Sneakers jumped on the bed, but I couldn’t imagine a cat being as much comfort as a person’s dog. When you were sad, you needed your dog. I backed up, then ran at the bed and leaped up. CJ reached for me and held me tightly.
“My life is nothing,” she said. There was real grief in her words, though I didn’t know what she was saying or even if she was talking to me or Sneakers.
After a time, my girl fell asleep, even though she was still dressed in the same clothes she’d worn when she’d left with Trent. I jumped down and paced the bedroom, distressed at how sad she was.
Probably because I was upset and trying to figure out what was going on, I made a connection that hadn’t occurred to me before: every time CJ put on the nice-smelling shoes, she was sad. They might have a delicious scent, but they were sad, sad shoes.
I knew what I needed to do.
I thought if I chewed the sad shoes my girl wouldn’t be sad anymore, but when she woke up and saw the pieces scattered across the floor she was not happy.
“Oh no!” she screamed. “Bad Max! Bad Max!”
I was a bad dog. I should not have chewed the shoes.
I went to her with my head down and my ears back, nervously licking my lips. CJ dropped to her knees and sobbed, burying her face in her hands. Sneakers came to the end of the bed to watch us. I anxiously put my paws on my girl’s legs, but that didn’t help at first, not until she gathered me up in her arms and clutched me to her. Then the sadness flowed from her as she cried.
“I am alone in the world, Max,” CJ said to me. I didn’t wag, because the way she said my name was so full of grief.
CJ eventually threw the shoe pieces away. From that morning forward, it seemed as if she moved more slowly, a vague sadness in her moods and motions. We still went for walks with a few other dogs nearly every day, but CJ didn’t light up with happiness when she saw them, and when the first snow fell she sat and watched Katie and me tearing around the dog park without laughing once.
I wished Trent would come over—CJ was always happy when Trent was around. But he didn’t and my girl never said Trent’s name into her phone.
Instead, I heard “Gloria.” CJ was sitting on her stool, talking. She had her phone by her face.
“How have you been, Gloria?” she said. I had been playing with Sneakers in the bedroom, but now I trotted into the kitchen, curious. Gloria wasn’t there, though—CJ was just talking, saying, “Uh-huh.… Uh-huh.… Huh.
“Hawaii? That sounds really nice,” CJ said, while I yawned and circled on my pillow, getting comfortable. Sneakers came padding over and leaped up on a counter and pretended not to care that I was there.
“Uh-huh. That’s nice,” CJ said. “Well, listen, Gloria, I have to ask you … I’m wondering if I could borrow some money. Just … I’m falling behind a little. I’m looking for a job, and also trying to find more dog-walking clients, but it’s not happening.… Uh-huh. Well, sure, I understand; that must have been expensive.… Right, I get it, you couldn’t very well go with old,
luggage. No, I’m not, I’m just listening to what you are saying.… Okay, I was just asking, Gloria; I don’t want this to get into some big discussion.”
Sneakers finally lost patience and jumped down, coming over to me and purring at me. When I didn’t budge, she curled up against me on my pillow. I sighed.
With a loud bang CJ set her phone down. She was clearly angry at it, but I knew from the shoe episode that this didn’t imply she wanted me to do something about it. In my opinion, though, phones were not good toys. She went to the refrigerator and opened it and stood there looking inside for a long time, then looked at me. “Let’s go for a walk instead, Max,” she said.
It was bitterly cold outside, but I didn’t complain. Eventually CJ scooped me up, though, holding me as we walked, and with my feet no longer on the wet ground I became cozy and warm.
A light knock on the door many evenings later alerted me and I barked loudly. CJ had been in bed most of the day, just lying there, and much of the time I had been with her. She roused herself, though, while I stood with my nose at the crack in the door. I was wagging at the scent: Trent!
“Who is it, Max? Hello?” my girl called.
“CJ, it’s me.”
“Oh.” CJ looked around, running her hand through her hair, then opened the door.
“My God, I’ve been worried about you. Why’s your phone shut off?”
“Oh. Um, just a … a thing. I need to talk to them.”
“Can I come in?”
Trent stepped inside, stomping his feet to get the snow off of them. His coat was wet; he hung it on the hook where my leash was draped. I pranced at his feet, and finally he knelt down, accepting my kisses.
“Hi, Max, how have you been, boy?” Trent said, laughing. Then he stood, looking at CJ. “Hey,” he said softly. “You okay?”
“You look … Have you been sick?”
“No,” CJ said. “I was just taking a nap.”
“You never responded to my messages. From before, I mean, when the phone was still working. Are you mad at me?”
“No. I’m sorry, Trent, I know it’s hard for you to believe, but I’ve been a little busy and maybe haven’t been able to get back to everyone on a timely basis.”