Contest #4 shortlist ⭐️

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John lay on the dark blue paisley rug of the creaking house across from Addie and tapped her nose gently until she finally opened her eyes, glazed with irritation, and let out a deep sigh. Their splayed positions, reminiscent of bear-skin rugs, mirrored one another’s with only the fifth appendage of Addie’s tail breaking the symmetry.

“Addie, why is life so easy for dogs?” John mused, continuing to stare at her in an effort to avoid the half-filled moving boxes with haphazardly scrawled labels that towered around the pair inside the ancient house John was supposed to be packing up.

“Well John, we just know how to better prioritize, I’d say” Addie replied, her eyes already shut again. John did not take the hint and continued rambling until Addie spoke up again.

“And at this moment, I’m going to return to the priority that is sleep, if you don’t mind.”

Addie was a seven-year-old hound mix with a touch of AKC certified yellow lab that she was rather proud of. She reminded John of this tidbit whenever possible by slipping it into the conversation so John knew it would not be long until she awoke again to remind him of her prestige or beg grumpily for food.

“Priorities for some dogs may vary depending on their breeding. As you know, the pedigree of my ancestors’ dictates that I must keep myself in peak physical condition, which is why I stick to such a rigorous exercising regiment of fifteen rounds of catch a day followed by a quick dip in the pool.”

“Addie, you only play catch because I suggest it, and the only time you ever swim is when the ball ends up in the water.”

“Yes John, and how does the ball end up in the pool so often?” Addie replied smartly without missing a beat. This was obviously intended to be a dig on John’s weak throwing arm and questionable aim but John knew that Addie secretly enjoyed the excuse to leap into the pool as the buoyancy of the water reminded her of her younger years.

“Now, why don’t you return to your packing and sorting so that you are able to locate my bowl before dinner time?” Addie said as she closed her eyes once more, signifying that the conversation was over. Addie never joked about dinner time. Dinner was the very first priority on Addie’s list and she had followed John around whining and casually commenting that she felt faint on more than one occasion after John had missed her non-negotiable six o’clock feeding time. And day trips were simply out of the question unless John had Mrs. Rolfbeger, the hunched old woman who had lived two doors down from the pair in John’s old apartment, come to feed Addie. She was the only one of their neighbors from Stalebrook who consistently fed Addie on time, and thus was the only one who Addie would allow into the house without a growl when John was away.

But John would have to find a new, reliable replacement for Mrs. Rolfberger now since they had moved from the only home Addie could remember to inhabit the creeky, ghoulish home that had belonged to the late Dr. Aberman and had now been bequeathed to John. Addie was not one to let emotional issues to go unaddressed and encouraged John to do the same. John, however, usually preferred to cope with stress by running away from his feelings in what he referred to as “starting with a clean slate.” Addie responded to this by reminding him that this was code for “abandoning his issues.” It was much simpler to address these problems promptly, especially since, when left festering, these pent-up feelings and unspoken words often led to a late dinner time or less frequent belly-rubs for her. Right now though, Addie knew that John was avoiding a great many things and the duty of securing a new companion for her when he was out for the day was not the first that needed to be addressed.

This time, Addie was not dealing with laments of a name forgotten at work or a rebuff from a woman at a bar as she had often before. John’s father was dead. This was not a silly stubbed toe or misplaced bone. This was being hit by a car after chasing a tennis ball too far into the road, and John was trying to desperately ignore the broken bones and road rash that he had acquired and pretend that he was not falling apart cell by broken cell.

John’s father, only ever referred to as Dr. Aberman, even by his son, had advanced quickly up the rungs of the corporate ladder of International Medicine being one of the few employees of the company who had gone to medical school, and having what was referred to as a “refreshing take on the more practical side of medicine.” This also meant that after giving up his day-practice and later his consulting positions at hospitals around the area of their home, Dr. Aberman could find no reason not to travel the world on his company’s dollar. Traveling at the excuse of “providing a comfortable lifestyle for his family” meant that the father and son only coexisted for one weekend a month and essentially, that John had become the man of the house at age ten. The weekends that Dr. Aberman did return never ended well for anyone since John and his mother had grown close and established a routine that worked perfectly well for the pair, and Dr. Aberman’s presence in the house only disrupted this balance. Soon, the doctor’s monthly visits home became bi-monthly and then he appeared only on holidays before fading from their lives altogether.

John had drunkenly relayed all of this information to Addie one night after receiving a terse letter in the mail from his estranged father and had then promptly finished off half of a bottle of bourbon. With the help of some leading questions, Addie had deduced that Dr. Aberman was regretting the decisions of his life with his increasing age. The doctor had begged his son for forgiveness and pleaded for the opportunity to “make things right” before the chance to do so expired. That night, the two had laid across the floor of the dining room in the same way they were sprawled now.

“John, maybe it really is about time to bury the rawhide.” Addie was educated enough to know that she had misspoken the phrase, but in a rare moment of sympathy had attempted to crack a joke. John was not phased. He had insisted on “sleeping on it” after their discussion and had never spoken about his father again after the conversation, continuing with the monotony of everyday life as if he had never received the letter in the first place. Addie, who had been pawing through the garbage bin a few months later, had faltered at the sight of the tear-stained letter.

“Are you sure this is what you want? Wouldn’t it feel nice to be the bigger person?” She had prodded. But John was a steel trap.

“I have made up my mind. I never want to think about the son of a bitch again and this is the last time I will be pestered about it.” John hardly ever raised his voice at Addie, and though he had returned later in the day with a new argyle-printed bed as a peace offering, Addie knew that it was no longer on the table for discussion.

Now, the pair lay on the floor of the deceased man’s half-empty house. Dr. Aberman had bequeathed his manor, tilting at angles only known to Pisa, to John as a final attempt at offering amends. John had glanced at the will and said only:

“Let’s get moving. I want to get this ancient pile of trash packed up so that we can get it on the market ASAP.”

It appeared that moving through the rooms to pack Dr. Aberman’s things had proved more difficult than John had expected and his pace had slowed throughout that afternoon, leading to their current abandonment of the project altogether.

“Not such a spring puppy anymore, are we?” Addie had teased trying to bolster John’s spirits. But her quips and unsolicited advice could only help so much; really, Addie did not know how to help John.

“What did you find?” She asked, pointing with her snout to the paint-chipped metal of the toy soldier John had unearthed.

“Oh, just a toy from when I was little” John replied casually. Addie knew better.

“Let’s go for a walk old girl,” he said, pulling Addie from her reverie. Knowing full well that this too was a distraction, she nipped at his rear for the jab and followed him to the door.

*****

Addie woke suddenly. She had been lying across the bare mattress on the floor of the bedroom, curled next to John since he had been too tired to search the moving boxes for her bed after they had returned from their walk. She preferred it this way since it was easiest to keep an eye on John when she was closer in proximity rather than lying on her fluffed dog bed on the floor. Addie hated when John had overnight guests for that very reason.

But now John was not in bed. She hopped off the mattress and followed his Old Spice deodorant and Thai food scent until she reached the living room. John was asleep, his back propped against the lone leather couch, his head lolling to the left side. She approached him and began to nudge his left hand to wake him silently when she noticed under his right, a photo album. The filmy corners were beginning to peel but the photo on the page was still clear. Dr. Aberman lay on the same paisley rug covering the slatted wood of the parlor, propped up on his elbows. A toothless John grinned wildly up at the camera, next to his father on the rug, presenting the mint-condition toy soldier to the camera with glee. The corner of the doctor’s mouth was turned up into an almost undetectable smile. Addie stared at the figures in the photo and then looked back to John.

“I’ll just let him sleep here for the night,” she thought to herself and she turned a few circles, curling up on his left side and listening to his breathing until she drifted back to sleep. 

August 30, 2019 17:15

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