Puppy Love (Squeeze, a short story)

As I dig through the rubble in my garage, I know my actions are in vain. There is nothing here but trash, the clutter of things I promised to get rid of. Sweat burns my eyes yet doesn’t deter me. 

I remember back when she first dropped you off at my home. There was something subtle in her tone that nagged at my soul. I held my breath as she sat you down.

“Randy, I don’t want this.” Sandy said, her voice low. People used to get a kick out of our names rhyming.

“I just bought him for you last week,” I said, trying not to let the reality of what happening sink in. The sun was halfway below the horizon, casting darkness across her face.

“I know why you brought him. But things aren’t getting any better between us. We just need to move on,” she said, turning away.

You were just a nameless pup, barely two months old. When you squeaked and angled your head, you seemed to be sympathizing, telling me it would be alright.

The first two weeks with you were hell. You treated my home like your personal landfill, depositing feces wherever you saw fit. There was so much fur on my couch, it acted as an extra cushion.

“You ever think about getting rid of that puppy?” Mom asked the night you tore her nightgown to pieces.

Shortly thereafter, you ate my midterms. I imagined confessing this to my skeptical professor and having him fail me. As true as my excuse was, it was really the oldest in the book. And I’d had enough of you, so I dropped you off at the pet shelter.

“Such a lovely puppy. You sure you don’t wanna keep him?” said the girl behind the counter, rubbing you behind the ears. Her accent was thick but understandable.

This was the calmest I had seen you. For a slight second, I relented, felt that maybe you could be a good boy. Then, flashes of you peeing on my bed trickled through my head.

“I’m sure I don’t,” I said to the counter girl, her greenish eyes inspecting me.

I stopped for coffee at a nearby café. Behind me, kids squealed delightfully, but I paid them no mind. When I nearly stepped on you and them, I was caught off guard. That’s when counter girl scooped you up.

“I’m sorry,” she said, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. “He must really be attached to you.”

A smile creased my face before I could tame it. “I doubt it.”

“Tell you what, why don’t the three of us go on a date?”

I never knew that dog walking counted as a date, but with Sasha, it did. The day of our date, I was nervous. You could spoil it for us.

“Be nice today,” I said to you, as I stood in the bathroom adjusting my shirt. Mom was gone l, so I asked your opinion on my outfit. I took your yelp as approval.

“What’s his name, Randy?” Sasha asked, as we walked in the grassy park. You pulled me ahead, tucking your nose as deeply as you could in the soil.

I lifted an eyebrow. “It doesn’t have a name.”

“We’ll call him Max.”

You barked, as if proclaiming that, yes indeed, you were Max. That day, a bigger dog growled at you. When I said your name, you looked ahead, not at the the barking dog.

“I bought this for Max,” said Sasha, coming into my bedroom. It had been nearly a month since I’d almost given you away.

You leapt from my bed, barking with excitement. Sasha squatted before you, teasing you with the chew toy. You jumped for it, but it was just outside your reach.

“All you have to do is squeeze it,” she said, tossing the rubber owl.

We sat on the bed, while you went wild biting and shaking it. My heart smiled. We were like a family in my small bedroom.

The night Sasha told us she was leaving was hard for us all. Mistakenly, I thought we would last forever. But I was just in junior college and she was an international student. Her VISA had been compromised, the politics of it too complex to decipher.

“We can always video chat,” she said, rubbing my arm.

You groaned, and I knew you felt how I did. Her head on my lap, I traced my fingers through her soft, auburn hair. You fell asleep on her chest, as the half moon shone.

“Life will go on,” Mom said, as we ate dinner. “And don’t feed Max at the table.”

She didn’t understand what Sasha meant to me, to us. I squeezed your owl chew toy and laughed while you barked. Even though I had bought you plenty of toys, this is the one you played with the most.

The day at the airport was the saddest. I knew Sasha was beautiful, but on this day, she was gorgeous. Her eyes were a shade of reflective green seen only in auroras.

“Don’t you know how to give proper hugs?” she said, placing my arms around her. “Just squeeze.” 

She smelled like cinnamon and mint. I could have melted against her soft frame. Pressed to her womaness, I was coddled in comfort. It lasted forever and never. I could barely let her go.

For days, you picked up your owl and barked at the door. You even bit my jeans, pulling in the direction of the yard. There was no reason for me to go out. I just wanted to sleep.

Mom sat at the foot of my bed. “You have to move on, Randy.”

I rolled over, my words muffled by the pillow. “Just leave me alone.”

Today, Mom woke me up. Her worried eyes preceded the bad news. I steeled myself on the inside.

“Where’s Max?” she said.

The front door had to be open all the night before. Walking through the neighborhood, hardly anyone was out this early. I must have knocked on every door within a two-block radius. No one had seen you.

Now, as I filter through the trashy garage, I hope to find your owl. I have searched the entire house, so this is the only place it could be. I know if I just squeeze the owl one time, you’ll hear it and come back.

But there is nothing here but old shoes, useless tools and boxes. I am weak with dread, understanding you are gone for good. I gave up on you when Sasha left, so you gave up on me.

I turn to leave the garage and there she is. There you are, happy as can be in her grasp. There is no how or why. You give a small yelp. A tear dampens her smile.

She grips the toy owl. “You just have to give it a squeeze.”

 COPYRIGHT 2017 by Jermaine Reed

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