Dog Flu by Gabriel Schlesinger
“I’m Simone and I’ll be your server this evening. Would you like to see a picture of my dog?”
She pulled up a picture on her cell phone. I think it was a terrier. It had the remains of a stuffed animal between its teeth.
“Very cute,” Mark said.
“He’s adorable,” I said.
Simone frowned. Our praise was too faint. She pocketed the phone and took our drink orders.
I leaned across the table. “That was a really ugly dog.”
“What if it happens to us?”
“We’ll get a cute dog.”
It was a bad answer, but there weren’t any good ones. Quarantine wasn’t an option: it had spread too fast, too far. Nobody knew if some people were immune, or if the disease just took longer to affect them. During a press conference, one of the scientists researching a cure declared, “Who is a good boy? You are! Yes, you are!”
Simone returned with glasses of water, and placed them on the table. “I forgot what you ordered,” she said. “Why don’t you like Chester?”
“My dog. The dog you didn’t think was cute.”
“Didn’t we?” Mark said. “Wasn’t that an incredibly cute dog?”
“Are you a couple of cat lovers?” Her voice peaked at the last two words. Other customers stopped their conversations and stared at us.
“Maybe we should go.”
“I think you should.”
The sidewalks were clogged. There was a parade of poodles, their owner heedless of the right of way. Basset hounds tripped over their own ears. Pugs pugged or something. Dogs were sniffing at each other, or barking at each other, their owners unable to pull them away. Everybody was a student dog owner. They didn’t need knowledge; they had love. Then there were those still dogless. They carried treats, and stopped every few feet to ask if they could pet a collie or a dalmatian.
Mark pulled me into the street. I missed our neighborhood as it used to be, the quiet disinterest. I missed never seeing my neighbors. I missed the vague sense of danger. A small dog followed us, yipping, its owner trailing behind. Long after we were in our apartment, we could hear its tiny barks outside.
My mother called that night.
“Your brother and Cindy got a schnauzer,” she didn’t even bother saying hello.
“Wow, that’s pretty exciting.”
My brother and Cindy are married. I know this because I was at the wedding. In the wedding party, no less. Also, because my mom tells me every time she calls. She also tells me that they’re trying to have a baby, but Cindy has to go to a fertility clinic. She suggests that if Mark and I started soon, we could probably avoid the same problem. Provided we were married of course.
“He’s the cutest little thing. They brought him over to my apartment, and he just ran around the place. Oh, you should have seen it.”
“That sounds amazing.”
I lie with my back on the bed and my legs going up the wall, staring at the ceiling. I used to do this all the time when I was a kid. Now, I only do it when I’m talking on the phone to my mother. She’s the only person who makes me feel small enough that I can defy gravity.
“He found some old stuffed bear, and tore it up, the little darling.”
“Yes, it might have been yours, but really, why did you leave it here? Anyway, the dog just looked up at me like it was saying, ‘I didn’t do it.’ Just the cutest thing. So, when are you and Mark going to get one?”
“Well, it was nice talking to you, too. I’ll speak to you next week.”
“Oh, okay. Bye dear.”
I woke up in the middle of the night and Mark was gone. I found him at the computer, headphones on.
“Please, please, let it be porn,” I prayed standing in the door to the study. Then he laughed. “Hilariously bad porn…”
But no, it was dogs. Dogs playing the piano. Dogs falling off furniture, but looking endearingly undeterred. Dogs playing with baby goats. Dogs re-enacting The Lord of the Rings.
“It’s not what you think,” he said.
We argued for two hours. I knew it wasn’t his fault. I knew I couldn’t change his mind—the disease had already gotten to him. I just didn’t want to give him up. It wasn’t fair. So, I yelled at him, I insulted him, I did anything I could to hurt him, and when I was done, I cried.
“We could get a dog,” I said. “I could learn to love it.”
But he shook his head. “Love doesn’t work that way.”
Mark moved out within the week. He found a place and adopted a beagle. He called me to tell me all about it, but I hung up on him.
I spend a lot of time alone now. We’re entirely in a canine-based economy, so every show, every commercial is geared toward dog guardians, or the dogs themselves. There’s even a nightclub that only plays music on those high-pitched whistles.
There are a few forums online for people like me. We converse about random topics. Politics, art, religion, anything but dogs. Somebody has suggested a meet-up, but we’re afraid of drawing attention to ourselves. Trolls log on and post insults.
“What type of person doesn’t like dogs? You’re the real animals.”
“Only terrorists hate dogs. Go back to where you came from.”
Sometimes, I wake up early and walk the long way to work. I slow down as I pass the dog park. I see Mark talking to a woman while they watch his beagle and her poodle play together. They seem so happy. They don’t see me: I’m invisible.
I’ve started feeding stray cats at night. There are so many now. They rub up against my legs, but they don’t really want to be my friends. They don’t want to come inside. We know all love is conditional.
Gabriel Schlesinger is a writer who lives in Somerville, MA. His work has previously appeared in AE Scifi. He worries a lot.