“On your marks.” I heard Johnson’s voice from across the room. I always wondered how he could project so well, or how even spoke at all, in his condition.
A very important race was about to take place. It was decided last week to be done on this very morning.
Sunday. Of all the fucking days of the week it had to be Sunday.
Robbie, my fierce competitor, and I met a few weeks earlier. He was eating out of my neighbor’s trash. It made me sad so of course I took pity on him, plus I was bored. Robbie explained how he was homeless and that it was his personal choice not something done to him.
“What d’ya mean personal choice?” I asked.
“Well,” he started, “when you just need something more out of life, and you’re as lazy as I am, sometimes you need to do something drastic. I chose to give up all my comforts of home and live on the street. I want to experience the stuff in between day-to-day life. Now, I have the time to do it.”
“You don’t miss it?” Robbie’s ideas were interesting to me. I had been explaining to Johnson earlier that day how grateful we should be that we have it so well. Johnson didn’t agree with me, he never did.
Johnson’s voice again was cast over the living room. My muscles tightened. I tried not to look in Robbie’s direction, but I did. He looked ready to race. I knew Johnson wanted him to win. I had overheard Robbie and Johnson talking the same night I invited Robbie to sleep inside my home.
I started to look forward to seeing Robbie, and he must have looked forward to my neighbor’s trash because he was always there. I liked Robbie because of his weird insights. It was like hearing the voice of a long, forgotten relative, a sage or guru. He said during one of our conversations that if he never expected anything, he would never experience disappointment. Ever.
“Give it a try,” he said after everything.
He also said if people would only buy what they needed for food and used everything they bought, they could save thousands of dollars each year, “Give it a try.” I didn’t know if that applied to me though.
I started to feel bad each time I went inside to my warm house, fireplace ablaze in the evenings. I felt cold for Robbie on the two nights it rained before he stayed with us. When I invited him in he didn’t appear to feel uncomfortable as I thought he might. He didn’t even seem out of place.
I introduced him to Johnson and they hit it off instantly.
Johnson’s voice broke me out of my thought and I bolted like the wind. I was racing toward the door fully aware Robbie was bigger, stronger and apparently faster than me, but I just kept running towards the outside, towards the light, the fresh air. Images of Robbie getting close to Jan and Mark, the owners of the house, played in my mind. I had Images of them eating dinner together, lunch, breakfast, going on runs! And it now it came down to this, a bored gambler racing against homeless Robbie, the sage with nothing to lose.
The terms of the race were discussed and finalized, with Johnson as a witness.Whoever lost would leave the house. Whoever won would get to stay. And of all things, the Sunday paper, the heaviest of them all. The ads alone was like a Monday or Tuesday paper in itself.
As I broke through the small cut out in the front door, I felt warmth at my back paw. I kicked and it went away. I saw the lawn, the most likely place for the morning Times, but I’ve lived here for two years and I had an advantage, an advantage that Johnson didn’t know about.
How did those two know each other? I was trying to figure it out. I know Johnson came from the same store I did, but did Robbie also? Did Robbie know Johnson from that same store? Usually fish are kept far away from us dogs, so even if they did come from the same shop, how did they get to know each other? How did Johnson talk, period?
When I heard Robbie and Johnson talking to each other the first night in the house I knew I'd made a mistake.
“So you did what I told you perfectly.” Johnson was balancing on top of the castle that was put in his bowl when he first moved in.I always wanted to see what was inside that little castle. I imagined a little couch, a little TV set, a little kitchen.
“It was easy. This guy’s a sucker. A Mr. Nice Guy, like taking candy from a baby.” Robbie’s tone was different from when he spoke to me earlier, it was more direct and not as friendly.
“Now because of your size, I want you to pick Sunday for the fetch, he won't be able to carry it, and another thing, the paper comes right to the door, so make for the door like you’re going out toward the lawn. Then just stop, let him go, pick up the times and you win.”
“No problem.” Robbie sounded cocky.
What they both didn’t know was that Sunday’s paper never made it to the door. The boy carrying it was young and small. He always wilted when he tried to throw it, and it barely made it past the sidewalk.
So I kicked myself through the door. After feeling the bite of Robbie’s jaw on my paw. I knew I was bleeding, but I didn’t look back. I just kept running for the sidewalk. I waited for another bite, but it never came. I waited to see Robbie in my peripheral, but I didn’t. I grabbed the paper and headed for my alternate route to get to Mark and Jan’s room.I saw Robbie’s ass sticking out of the small door, half his body out and the other half in. I ran toward the backyard, and heard Robbie and Johnson through the window.
“Where is it? Where is it?” Robbie was confused for once.
“I don’t know you idiot! Find him!”
I was heading toward the back door. Johnson never saw the back door, never even knew we had a back door.
I trotted up the hall, so far so good. Damn this paper was big; drool was coming out of every part of my mouth trying to hold it.
I got to the door, which was closed as usual. Sunday mornings Jan and Mark always woke up late, so I had to scratch on the door to get their attention. I dropped the paper to the ground, scratched a few times then heard something behind me.
I looked and saw Robbie, fangs showing, snarling. I scratched the door, maybe I whimpered a bit. Robbie started coming slowly down the hall. I could hear his growl growing louder and louder. I had to get Mark’s attention now or I would be finished. I had to let him in on a secret us dogs have kept for centuries. I looked at Robbie one last time. I could almost feel his spittle hitting my face.
“Mark, wake the fuck up!!!” I yelled at the top of my lungs.
Robbie looked at me in shock. “What the fuck are you doing?”
The door opened and I ran on to the bed.
Jan was happy to see me, but confused. “Mark who was that?”
Robbie bolted out the front door and Mark went following him. I licked Jan on the face, and began to think of a way to put an end to Johnson.
Mark came back a few seconds later. “I don’t know who it was, but there was blood on the doggie door in the front of the house. I think that other dog killed something. Oh, look at you boy, brought us the morning paper?”
“How in the world could this little guy ever carry that paper? It’s as big as him!” Jan’s warmth was comforting.
I never went outside alone again.