The dog barked. It was 3am and the dog on the floor above me was yapping away excessively. I laid in my bed, eyes glazed open in the darkness, and imagined the little dog at the window yapping at a passerby. I wondered which lonesome figure it saw and wondered if it was barking at Roland returning. It always barked at around this time. I woke up this morning a few minutes before the little mutt sounded. It was becoming a habit.
Even though I was used to it, the high-pitched, back-to-back barking drove me crazy. I stared at the ceiling and wondered if it’d be possible to shoot the dog from here. I figured that the bullet would plow through the ceiling and up into the dog’s entrails, silencing it. But I didn’t have a gun. And if I did have a gun, I wouldn’t have actually shot the dog from below. For all I knew, I would miss, or knowing my luck, the bullet would lodge itself into the dog’s owner.
The dog’s owner was a guy named Murray. He was an old wisp of a man who grounded himself in dogmatic religious practices. Sometimes I’d hear him play old hymns from his radio. He was so old that he turned the volume dial all the way up while he sat in his living room or bedroom, probably thumbing through Bibles or the newspaper. His glasses were too small for him, and anytime I happened upon him in the stairwell I feared that the glasses would squeeze his head til it popped like a balloon. They were lodged into his skull and one time I saw him take them off to wipe the lens and the frame left deep indents on the side of his head.
I leaned over to check the time. The dog had been yapping for ten minutes and by now the sound had invited the street dogs to howl in return. And within minutes, the entire street was alive with barks that bounced into my room and into my skull.
I moaned into my pillow. Eventually, the dogs stopped barking and I fell asleep. Although I’m not sure which happened first.
I woke up early so I could enjoy my morning. I sat by the window with a cup of coffee and watched the street wake up. People walked out of building bundled up against the cold and scurried this way and that, all in a hurry to get to whatever their destination was. I watched businessmen in suits carrying Starbucks coffee cups and yelling into their cellphone, and I watched children wait for the school bus, yawning and poking one another anxiously.
I sat and watched and sipped and scribbled in my journal lazily. The sun peaked over one of the lower buildings and the beams reached my face, warming my skin and blinding my eyes. The clock on my phone read 9:30am and the dog began to bark again.
I heard Murray’s low, rough voice yell and cough at the dog to be quiet, but the untrained dog barked all the louder. My serene morning was ending as it had any other day. Murray and the dog had lived together for years, but the dog was stupid and Murray was lazy and preferred yelling at it than training it.
I got up to dress and heard a door open in the stairwell and Murray’s loud footsteps and the jingle of the mutt’s leash rattling. He coughed and cleared his throat and coughed again. He had one of those bad smokers’ cough, but he didn’t smoke anymore. “Jesus saved me from that,” he told me once as he passed me puffing on a cigarette on the corner of our apartment. “He can save you, too.”
He tried to talk to me more about it, but the dog was anxious and tried to run out at every car that drove by. When the dog did this, Murray would tug on the leash and pull the dog closer to him. “Mangy mutt.” The dog was getting overly excited, and eventually Murray said good-bye and walked the little dog around the block on their usual route. I was happy to see him go and for once felt gratitude towards the dog.
More than anything I hated being backed into a conversation and Murray had had my back against the wall, literally. He had been leaning in closer to me as he talked in slow phrases, stopping and stuttering with his words, because he probably forgot what he was going to say by the time it reached his lips. He had told me that cigarettes would send you to hell, just like alcohol would send you, and just like anything else even mildly interesting would send you. He had explained that it wasn’t the cigarettes, but that smoking them was an act of rebellion towards God, and that God doesn’t take rebellion likely. I was sure that he was senile.
I got dressed and stopped to get lunch before I went to work. I got back at around 5pm, tired from my day, and watched flicks. All of a sudden it was 9pm and a thick veil of depression fell over me. I wanted to write, but all I could do was sit in my bed and watch the wall.
When the dog started barking, I was fearful it was 3am and that I had spent my entire evening staring at a wall with dreadful thoughts in my head. But it was only 11, and I hated the dog.
The barking didn’t stop, instead, after a while, it seemed to get closer. I wasn’t sure if the depression caused the barking to surround me or if the dog was actually getting closer to me, but when loud knocking thundered at my flimsy front door, I knew it was Murray.
I opened it with an impending sense of dread. I opened it up only slightly and peered out. Murray had a hat on and was massaging his jaw. He put his hand down the minute he saw me and began fumbling with his words, “I hate to ask you this,” he said and took his hat off and began to trace the seam with his finger. “But could you please watch Terry for a few hours?”
Immediately I wanted to tell him that I was allergic to dogs. But I wasn’t. And before I could open my mouth to say it he was pleading with me. “I’ve asked a few of the other neighbors and nobody will take him. He can’t be by himself, you seeeeeee. And, and I’ve got some urgent matters that need to be taken care of. I’ll only be gone for a spill.” He was leaning in closer to me and I opened the door all the way.
“Ah, geez, Mister Murray…”
“You’re a nice gal, you are. Please, I don’t know many of the other neighbors and you’re the last one I know.”
The dog grew excited at the sight of me and started jumping at me. I backed away and Murray calmed the dog down. “She’ll be going to sleep soon anyways, she will be.”
He was backing me into a corner again and reluctantly I agreed. He thanked me a few times, brought in a bowl of dog food, and thanked me again, “God bless ya.” He was stomping down the stairs before I had a second to change my mind.
The dog ran after Murray and pulled me forward. I stopped it at the edge of the stairs and let it bark after the old man. Murray was out of the building and probably halfway across town and the dog was still barking down at the stairwell, jumping and biting and trying to fight against the leash holding it back. I stood and stared blankly at the little mutt, working my mouth to tell it to shut up but couldn’t.
The barks turned into howls, desperate howls of a dog without its owner, howls with whimpers crossed into them, all bouncing back and forth in the stairwell.
Finally I tugged at the leash. It wouldn’t budge at first, just fought against my efforts and whimpered some more. I dragged it across the floor and into my apartment then shut the door.
The dog pawed and clawed at my door, causing all types of damage to the wood, and I cursed underneath my breath, and then loudly, and then at the dog. The dog barked back at me and growled at me and walked around the edge of the room suspiciously. It would back away quickly when I approached it and barked louder when I cursed. And I cursed louder when it barked. And soon enough the dogs started howling outside and I gave up.
Eventually the noise ceased and the dog curled up in a corner. I thought it was asleep, but it had its little eyes pried open darting around underneath its furry brows. I fell asleep though and when I woke up the dog’s eyes were still open, and it didn’t move when I did.
I had the day off. I tried to get some writing done, but the dog’s beady eyes made me nervous. It got up once to lap at some water and eat, and then returned to the corner. It didn’t bark all day.
At around 8pm I knocked on Murray’s door and he didn’t answer. I pounded on his door and yelled out his name, but he didn’t answer. The room was quiet when I put my ear on the surface and I returned to my apartment frustrated.
The dog perked up when I opened the door, then resumed its gloomy position. I tried to block the mutt out, but everywhere I went in my small apartment the dog was always watching me. I got fed up with it and left. I went to some bars downtown and drank cheap beer and listened to strangers’ boring conversation until my stomach was full of alcohol and I wobbled back home in the crisp, cool air.
By the next morning I was hung-over and even more frustrated at the furry lump in the corner. I fixed coffee, sat by the window, and leaned over to pet the dog. It didn’t welcome my touch, but it didn’t fight it, and it let me pick it up and set it on my lap.
I was reluctant to go to work, and realized that the food in the bowl was gone and Murray hadn’t left behind anything else to feed it. After work I swung by the grocery store and bought a small bag of chow and some treats. The dog ate the food viscously, and when it was done it sat by my feet as I wrote.
At around 1am I hit a block in my writing and sat by the window with the dog. This time it welcomed my touch and I sat back and wondered if Murray would return. I got a sick feeling that he wouldn’t.
A whimper filled the room, but it didn’t come from Terry, it came from me. I held the dog like a stuffed animal and matted her fur with my tears and whispered encouragements into her fluffy ears. I told her that they don’t always come back, and I gazed out of the window, hoping to see a figure returning. But it never did, and neither did Murray.

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