Wet Eyed Friend
By Alexander Santo
Mark’s dog, Sargent, stared up at him with its big, watery eyes. Its head between its paws, it huffed out a sigh and gave a weak wag of its tail. Mark, sitting in his computer chair, legs outstretched, stared back at it. His eyes watered too, but only because he’d kept them open for so long. When he’d had a girlfriend—the girlfriend had actually made a gift of Sargent on their one-year anniversary—she’d told Mark the dog had allergies. Mark had insisted dogs couldn’t get allergies.
Sometimes the dog would sneeze, but Mark was sure that was only due to the amount of dust in the odd corners of his house, and had nothing to do with allergies. It tickled his own nose sometimes, and he imagined the dog’s was much more sensitive. It was a matter of irritation. Watery eyes, he’d said, were a trait of the Basset Hound. At the moment, though, it wasn’t that Sargent’s eyes watered that Mark was contemplating at the moment, but rather the eyes themselves that occupied his mind.
It was their brown irises and their bloodshot whites and glistening black pupils. Mark tapped his slipper at the wood floor and watched Sargent’s lazy eyes focus on it for a moment before slowly sliding back and locking with his own again. They looked like human eyes. If Mark stared at his dog’s face long enough, he could blot out the animal’s other features, making them nearly invisible, like his own nose when he had both eyes open. When he did this, it looked like a sad, dark lidded old man was staring up at him, the lower half of his face stuck in the floor.
When he looked longer, even that illusion faded, and the eyes didn’t seem real at all. In fact they looked like cheap plastic. Cleverly crafted marbles soaked in clear nail polish and stuffed behind two wet lids of felt. The dark, wet linings surrounding them looked like damp nylon and fake leather padding. The life and intelligence faded from them and they became cheap imitations of life. To Mark, it was like looking at an expertly rendered 3-D model of a human. At first glance, or from far away, the folds in the skin and fabric look perfectly life-like; the muscles underneath look ready to glide as they’re pulled by tendons and ligaments and the entire digital creature seems to vibrate with life. And then, on a closer inspection, the pores in the skin look too wide or are too smooth; there is something unsettling about the structure of the face, as if it were a painting with a malicious intent to deceive; something about the texture of the clothes is off and the way it lays over the frame—because that’s what it is—seems somehow preordained and not natural at all.
Minutes passed and finally Mark’s eyes stung badly enough to make him blink, sending two thin rivulets of tears down his face. He didn’t bother to wipe them away, but shifted in his chair. This small movement from his master was enough to cause Sargent to wag the end of his tail once more and huff at the ground again. To Mark, these actions seemed exactly the same as the first time the dog had done them, only in reverse order. It was, he thought, like they were scripted events, run in random order by a simply designed program. He moved his foot again and this time the dog ignored the movement. Mark thought that was clever. After letting a few more moments pass, he opened his mouth for a moment. The dog’s ears twitched and he looked up expectantly with those brown, watery eyes.
“You wanna go outside?” he asked in a low voice. In the past this would have been said with excitement, the kind of excitement most people reserve only for dogs and small children, as if the most mundane tasks, like taking a piss outside, were the most extraordinary things.
Sargent wagged his whole tail this time.
When somewhat interested, Mark thought, imagining a line a computer code in his head, wag tail equal to ten percent. When excited, wag tail equal to ninety percent.
“Okay then,” Mark said, standing up. His back cracked as he did this, and he had to twist his upper torso around to finish the job. He was still dressed in his pajamas, also purchased by the girlfriend, even though it was nearing three in the afternoon. He slid across the wood floor, slowly, in his slippers before reaching the carpet and treading heavily towards the front door, Sargent following close behind him. When they both reached the portal to the outside world, Mark lifted up the thin blinds covering the door’s window and peered out into the front yard. From this vantage point, he could see that the neighbor’s dogs, two black and white creatures he assumed were shiatsus, were not roaming about their front yard, and he would therefore not be needing Sargent’s leash.
If number of annoying football dogs equals zero, then number of leashes equals zero.
Mark opened the door, letting Sargent run out ahead of him, and stepped onto his front step. He stood yawning in the bland fall afternoon light and stared at the neighbors’ houses. Kids were in school, or, he figured, on their way home, so the streets were, for the moment, deserted. The houses too were still and dark. A few crows perched in a tree across the street, not making any noise. His attention was drawn away from the crows as Sargent sauntered back up the step and sat down beside his master. His tail swatted a brown flower pot filled with cold dirt as he once again looked up at his master with wet eyes.
Briefly, Mark wondered what sort of pump made his dog look like it was pissing. It was quiet, that was for sure, and perhaps helped along by gravity. He figured it probably wasn’t a pump at all, but rather a small valve that simply released the piss out its small opening. He didn’t think about what made it shit or even what happened to all the food and water Sargent took in during the course of the day. One cup of Perina One in the morning and one at night. A steady supply of water set out in a white plastic bowl, available all day.
Outside, in the thin sunlight, Sargent’s fur looked fake, like the lining of Mark’s heavy winter jacket hanging just inside the door behind him. It wasn’t oily enough, it was far too dry-looking, like nylon, he thought again. Cautiously, he let Sargent back in the house, watching the way his hind legs looked like pistons as he followed the dog back into the living room. He turned at the last moment, sure the dog wouldn’t notice, and slid quietly into the kitchen. He listened carefully and heard the soft whump of Sargent dropping heavily onto his bed. In the kitchen, Mark stood with both hands on the sink and stared out the window above it at the cooling world outside.
It would soon be winter…or it wouldn’t. The weather in Minnesota never took a middle ground. In a month’s time it would either be sunny and warm—the winter would be mild the whole way through and a disappointment to everyone, especially to those who most liked to complain about the cold—or it would be well below zero degrees Fahrenheit and the yard would be covered in six to twelve inches of snow. If that happened, he and Sargent would be inside for most of the season…nearly half a year. It could possibly be half a year, he told himself, until things really warmed up and dried off. And that was a long time.
His head hurt, had hurt for a long time, but he only now let himself think about it. The aspirin was in the bathroom and that was on the other side of the house, and that was past Sargent’s bed. He wasn’t ready to go there yet. He drew himself a glass of water instead, quietly, and drank it in one swallow before setting it gingerly on the counter. He wasn’t sure if he could trust the dog. Or whatever it was. It wasn’t a dog, he decided finally. Couldn’t be. He had studied it all morning, and there were so many things, so many little things that were wrong with it. The way it panted, for instance. Sargent would pant for hours sometimes and without reason. He was old and Mark had the furnace turned up high, even though it was still fifty-seven degrees outside. This morning he’d sat and watched Sargent pant for an hour and a half and Sargent had watched him back.
The girlfriend had always thought Sargent cute when he panted. It was the way the corners of his mouth were tipped upward to look like a smile, as if he’d simply been so happy it exhausted him. This morning though, when Mark watched Sargent pant, he’d seen something far more horrific. Like the short tail wag and huff earlier, every pant had been the same. Staring at Sargent was like watching a movie skip in its player, repeating the same two seconds over again. Head back, head forward; tongue out, in; breath in, out, in, out, in, out, in, out. That same pattern for hours and Mark watched every second of it. Sometimes the dog would pause momentarily to swallow its drool, and Mark could see no other explanation for this than that same random program. It happened only five times that hour and a half. Otherwise it was the same, monotonous, horrifying loop. At the end of the hour and a half there was no more dog, as it was later with the eyes. Only the noise of the breath going in and out in a dark space somewhere between Mark’s ears. He’d wanted to stop it, to keep it from running over and over again, but his hands wouldn’t, couldn’t move until that noise stopped. He had to wait for one of those breaks when the saliva built up in the dog’s mouth and he had to swallow it or let it run down the side of his jaw. Mark’s jaw on the other hand had been completely dry. His palms were wet, but there was nothing he could have done about that, not until that break in the unending sound of rapid breathing. As this had happened, Mark found himself breathing in time with the dog and in minutes his vision began to spot over with dark clouds and his head drooped as his body prepared to take over operations form his conscious mind. But then that break, that fifth random break had come and Mark had screamed and scared Sargent out the room.
Afterwards, he’d sat in his chair and clenched and unclenched his fists, trying to forget how he hadn’t been able to do even that simple movement just two minutes before. A few moments later though, Sargent had sauntered back into the room, tail down, wet eyes concerned, and lay down next to his master’s feet. Mark had been tense and afraid. He didn’t like the heat the dog gave off, didn’t like the way it felt like a car engine wrapped in foam and covered with a blanket. It was too hot. Mark knew he wasn’t that hot, and he was damn sure he burned more energy than an aging Basset Hound. He might have done something then, but Sargent had ceased to pant.
In the kitchen, Mark looked at the wooden block of knives to his left. It was the most obvious solution. He couldn’t give the thing pills because…it would know. It would just know, and even if he put them in the middle of a hot dog, Sargent would just spit the pills out like he’d done with the heartworm pills the vet had given him.
Had the girlfriend bought the knives too? How satisfying would that be, slicing open her lie of a gift with another of her presents. But no, his parents had bought the knife set…as a gift for…the wedding? He shook his head, reminding himself of Sargent after a bath. When wet, shake equal to one hundred percent.
Mark walked slowly to the knife block and pulled out the flat butcher’s knife. He’d never used it before, had never had a use for it. He figured cutting open a fake dog would be a suitable first outing for the knife. “Sargent,” he said quietly. The dog didn’t stir in the other room, it must have fallen asleep or powered off. “Sargent.” He said it more loudly this time. In the living room, he heard Sargent’s tags rattle as the dog shook itself and padded across the wood floor and into the kitchen. “Hey buddy.”
Mark held out the knife for Sargent to sniff. Sargent ignored it. If he’d been a cat, Mark thought, he would have stuck his nose out and at least made sure it wasn’t food. Or, he realized, a real dog. A real dog would have thought it was getting some kind of treat. That was the only reason Sargent had been called into the kitchen before. Mark kept the biscuits in a cupboard alongside the refrigerator. The two of them stood like that, once again staring at each other, for a long time. Sargent had always been patient with his master, especially since his moods sank after the girlfriend left, the briefly fiancé left, and his master’s emotions ran in a single low vein twenty four seven. The knife between them wobbled unsteadily and Sargent wagged his tail across the linoleum.
Mark could see the cameras in his dog’s eyes. He knew they’d always been there, spying on him, but now, in the light coming perfectly through the kitchen window he could see them. Their tiny lenses adjusted briefly and were always focused on Mark’s face. He could feel them looking into his own eyes, reading the depression in every small twitch, every tiny adjustment of his irises. They didn’t judge him, but they didn’t console either. In fact they didn’t even keep his deepest emotions—he knew they read his very mind—they didn’t keep them a secret, they transmitted them.
They transmitted them to her.
It made sense, everything about it made sense. She’d said she hated him, had always hated him, even from the start when they were at school together and made what he thought was love in their old apartment, in this house even. She hated him. She’d said so, she’d written it to him weeks later. She said she had calmed down, had come to terms with everything and still she said she hated him with everything inside herself and that she’d known it, some part of her had known it, the entire time they were together. That was why she’d bought this dog for him. It wasn’t even a puppy when she brought it home. It was from a shelter—she’d said—and it was the same size it was now, staring at him in a kitchen that was now his but was once theirs.
Somewhere, she was looking at him. She was sitting in front of her computer in that black turtleneck that made her breasts look like they had when she was a young art student and matched the turtleneck with a beret she thought was funny. She thought this was funny too, his finally realizing her prank all these years after she brought Sargent home. His stunned, angry realization that this animal he’d grown to love was nothing more than a sick joke was something she would die laughing at. Mark pictured her trying to sip from her mug of coffee and not being able to. She was shaking too badly. That laugh he had fallen in love with was pushing its way up and out from her thin lips and was making her shoulders shake too much to take even a sip of her coffee.
He was about the scream again. But the dog would run. Sargent was frightened easily by loud noises. She had said it was something to do with the previous owner. Some abuse committed when he’d been a puppy. So he didn’t scream, he kneeled down instead and patted the dog on the head, gritting his teeth into those twin cameras the whole time. He made Sargent nervous and the dog began to pant once more and wag its tail meekly. Mark thought that was a neat trick, the meek tail wag. She’d thought of everything.
He ran the flat of the butcher’s knife down the back of Sargent’s coat, whispering to the dog, telling him what a good boy he was. Then he held the Basset Hound by the snout and tilted his head forward. Sargent tried to struggle a little, uneasy with his mouth held shut, but didn’t give his master that much trouble. Mark easily slid the knife across the dog’s furry throat. When the blood began to seep out and Sargent began to whine, Mark felt the first twinge of panic. He held the dog’s snout tighter and watched the blood come pouring out and splatter on the linoleum. It was red, so red against the dirty white tile. It looked like human blood. Sargent’s eyes looked like human eyes again, terrified human eyes as he struggled against his master’s hand. But there were cameras behind them. The fear Mark thought he saw was only the positioning off the lids around them.
If hurt, he thought, If hurt…If hurt set eyelids to…seventy degrees. Was it seventy? Was that too acute an angle? Why was there so much blood? Where was it coming from?
Mark let go of his dog’s mouth suddenly and tried to back away, tried to stand up, but slid on the slick blood covering the floor. He watched Sargent try to bark and saw the yips come out in thick bubbles from the slit he’d made in the light brown, now dark crimson fur. Sargent tottered to his side and collapsed, kicking his legs and letting out a high, liquid whine. His whole frame shook, his paws flailed in his own blood. He was still after an eternity.
Mark was sitting in a pool of dog blood. He hands were splayed out behind him, his slippered feet in front of him. His pajama bottoms were soaked through and he could feel the sticky blood on the backs of his thighs and between the crack of his ass. The Basset Hound lay motionless. He scrambled forward after a moment and punched the dog’s corpse as hard he could with one fist. Sargent’s ribs gave easily beneath the sudden pressure, and the skin on Mark’s knuckle’s cracked open and bled. He was in shock. He’d seen those cameras, had to see them again, but when he slid open one of Sargent’s eyes he only saw those of a dead animal. The blank stare of an old, departed soul. There were no cameras, nothing to transmit his horror to the girlfriend, the briefly fiancé. If she was laughing somewhere, it was not at the sight of his blood smeared face. It was not at his tears. He tried to pet Sargent where he’d punched him, but the feeling of broken bones beneath the skin and fur was too much for Mark. He collapsed on the floor next the animal, tried to hug what used to be his only companion in the world, but Sargent’s body was lifeless, and stiffening.
Photo credit: tha-falconer.deviantart.com