All I wanted was to be able to tell Wallace (((I’ll be back in nine hours, same as always. Your job is to watch the house))) and have him understand it. I told him as much every morning, of course, but still he pined for me. He wouldn’t use the dog door, eat, or drink until I returned. It hurt to watch him pace on the webcam, not to mention how my constant watching was interfering with work.
I resented this difficulty. In other ways, I was finally living the dream — slow baths, weekend-long sessions with a book on the chaise, ice water from the refrigerator door — but I couldn’t enjoy our newfound fortune if Wallace wasn’t happy.
I feared he’d bite the hired dog walker. She thought a lot of her dog skills and didn’t want to give up, but after six weeks we agreed.
“Medication is what he needs,” said Don in the cafeteria when he caught me checking on Wallace again. If I’d had forty-five minutes for lunch, I could have gone home, if just for a hug, every day.
“We tried meds. The vet didn’t think they helped,” I said.
“Couldn’t you get a communications system?” said Patty.
“Those just translate neurotransmitter signals, or hormones? Something like that,” I said. The messages were nothing more than (((I love you I love you I love you))) when he lay beside me and (((panicpanicpanic))) when I was at work.
“No, but I mean one of the new ones,” said Patty. She brought out a tablet so we could browse new tech for the rest of lunch.
It was strange at first, like seeing colors you haven’t seen before.
You’re supposed to train for several months before it’s safe to use full-time. One-hour sessions where you share sensations — eat the same foods, walk side by side so you see the same things.
Wallace loved this. I didn’t need a system to see that.
I narrated, as was the plan: “Trees, road, Shiba Inu, woman, man, child. Car, truck. You hear me, Wallace? Truck, car, hurt bad. Truck scary.” The dot in my right eye was supposed to ensure he learned the word. I focused the dot on the speeding truck and brought up memories of hurt and fear I thought he’d relate to. The time a yellowjacket stung his ear, the time he cut his foot.
He stared at me intently, like a cat tracking mice through a grassy field.
He sent back the image of the time I cut my finger on the dog food lid, the blood spurting out in the sink. I knelt and rubbed his ears. ((Smart boy)) I said.
(((Home safe))) I said to Wallace just before work. I called up images of puppies in a blanket, reading by the fire, the pleasure of licking breakfast plates.
(((Home you))) he said. He whimpered, ducked his head, and wagged.
(((House home, house me))) I said. I felt it, too. The house was me.
(((House — — -Home, You))) he said, and it was beautiful, like a poem. A green lawn like at the dog park, a single oak tree on the left to stand for house and another tree far separate to stand for home, you and around that tree Wallace circled. He worshiped there.
I woke in the night, Wallace making underwater sounds from the floor. His feet twitched. Slowly, quietly, I turned on the app. I closed my eyes and tried to go where he was.
We run, he and I, through a vast wheat field. A rabbit moves up ahead, but we can’t see it, only the movement of it in the wheat. We chase for a long time and fall to panting, catch the scent of water. We move through scrub to a wide river and drink. Water runs cool on my hands and feet.
(((Home, house))) I say. (((Hungry)))
Wallace only stares, panting. With an exhausted sigh, he finally turns and walks me up the driveway to our house.
Inside are shadows, malevolent movements of light, a great emptiness. Cold dread. Spooked, we walk out quickly, but even the lawn is sinister, people leering and calling us to the fence, crashing garbage cans, revving engines.
(((House without home, without you))) he says.
(((Your job))) I say. (((Brave dog)))
(((you I love you I love you))) he says. He brings up images of me weeping. Because he can’t cry, himself, I suppose.
And I was cruel then, in the dream. It became vague upon waking. I couldn’t remember all that we said, but I recalled how I showed him house, home on the left side of the park, house, home and all that meant: heat and food and ice water, chaise and book, work and money and people, friends — and the good Wallace was on that side too, the brave boy standing guarding it all. On the other side of the park was only the poor pacing, pining Wallace. No one circled around him. No one worshiped there.
We struck an understanding, then, made a true communication.
That morning I woke to find he’d finally used the dog door. He lay curled in the lawn’s back corner, tail held over his nose to keep out the chill.
Christi Nogle’s short stories have appeared in publications such as Escape Pod, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, and Pseudopod. Christi teaches college composition and lives in Boise, Idaho with her partner Jim and their dogs and cats. Follow her at christinogle.com or on Twitter @christinogle.