She kept coming back as a dog. Her eyes would open, her tail would wag, and she’d immediately think—
She returned as big dogs, small ones, fancy and mutt-like ones. Each time, each incarnation, she came back like a boomerang with a furry tail. A boomerang that returned to him.
Why is love so annoying? she thought. She would then set herself to the task at hand. Find George.
“That’s my good girl,” some poor sap would exclaim right before she gave them the slip. Sucker! she’d yell as she bounded out of open gates, doors and cars. Only it came out as a bark, almost a growl, victorious and defiant.
This returning had been going on for fifty years.
George had children and grandchildren and great grandchildren. Fat babies that pulled at her scruffy ears with their sticky fingers, which tasted of pudding and SpaghettiOs, as she licked them clean. George had married three times. She’d bitten all of his wives. Although she hadn’t minded his last wife so much. Daisy. That wife had been fond of animals. A sweet, plump little woman who had snuck treats to her under the dinner table. An excellent rubber of bellies and scratcher of ears. She died from a heart attack. Poor thing! Just fell to the kitchen floor one day and no amount of barking or licking could revive her.
It was a curious thing how George seemed never to question the arrival of a strange dog on his doorstep. He greeted her with a smile each time. “Come in, girl,” he’d say as he opened the door. She was usually weary and dirty, having traveled for miles, sometimes across states. He’d bathe and feed her and gently remove her collar. She imagined there must have been a drawer full of old collars and tags somewhere in George’s house. So many!
Happily, she’d curl at his feet and sleep deeply, her dreams chock full of open fields and rabbits who could never be caught.
George would read the paper to her after she fetched it in the mornings. He’d make jokes, painfully corny jokes, that would make his children and wives roll their eyes or ignore him. But not her; she would always jump in his lap, tail thumping. “Silly, George,” she’d say with a series of amused woofs. “My funny man.”
She watched passing seasons transform George. Blonde hair disappeared to a shock of startling white. His skin grew translucent, creped, as his once athletic body became wiry and bent. But his eyes remained the same. A sky blue she remembered from when they were sixteen and falling unapologetically in love.
On and on it went, until one evening she arrived — now a spotted basset hound with woeful eyes — to the familiar porch, with its creaking floorboards and rocking chairs of peeling blue paint, and for the first time, there was no one to greet her. The house was empty and its windows, black and vacant, stared solemnly back at her.
She whined in confusion at the newly staked For Sale sign by the curb. She howled, but no one came. Three nights she waited, to no avail. She wandered the town, aimless, despairing. Find George, her heart cried.
Finally, she came to a lonely country cemetery and found herself staring at a marble headstone, the earthy mound in front of it still fresh, still faintly smelling of carnations and rain. She did not need to read the name chiseled in bold letters on the stone. She simply knew.
“George!” She howled and then slumped. Her furry body shook with grief, tearless and agonizing.
“Such a fuss,” came a familiar voice, a man’s voice, deep with a hint of an Arkansas twang. Oddly bemused.
She saw no one. She turned in circles.
“Over here,” he called out to her. And in the shadowed moonlight of thick evergreens, she made out a familiar shape. A peculiar but familiar shape.
He stepped forward and she immediately knew his eyes. “George?”
“Sweetheart,” he answered, his voice breaking into a mew, his long white tail swishing back and forth. He came to her, gently purring and rubbing himself against her body as she resisted the powerful urge to chase him up a tree.
“It’s you,” he laughed. “I think deep down I always knew.”
Simultaneously, she was equal parts relief and annoyance. The universe had quite an ornery sense of humor. It could not be denied.
Happily, she licked George’s whiskered face, and together, they curled up at his grave. Hound and cat, snoring softly while glittering stars winked from the black sky.
K. Barrett is an emerging writer from Oklahoma who enjoys design, writing and spend time with her dog.