[Image: “Dog Upon Her Shoulder, by Caren Keyser]
King Reggie was not sure he knew what Tonya was doing. Her smell was off today and she was behaving the same way she did when she came home after a late night out. Bumbling about even more skill than normal and in a way that could not be blamed on the fact that she only walked on two limbs. Pages were being ripped out of notebooks, precious things were being thrown, she kept picking up the phone and putting it back down and picking it up but never calling anyone. She was also crying, which was not abnormal for Tonya but it was not good.
As her best companion and most loyal dog, King Reggie tried to cheer her up.
At first it was a challenge to try to catch up to his person. Tonya was wandering their small living space at an alarming speed, much faster than she normally walked. It was not like their morning run either, where they went in a straight line for half a block until Tonya’s lungs began to heave and King Reggie’s small legs needed to rest. This time Tonya was turning about, going from one room to the next, one drawer to another, King Reggie could not keep up with the ever changing pattern.
Realizing Tonya would not stay still, King Reggie went to get their favorite kill and present it to her. It was a small fox, too long to fit in his mouth in one go, and would sometimes still squeak even though it was dead. King Reggie was not sure how it did this but it was one of the reasons why it was their favorite kill. Although when King Reggie was being more honest and not trying to calm his person he would be clear that it was not actually his kill. Tonya must have killed it, because she had presented it to King Reggie already dead.
King Reggie took their favorite kill and followed Tonya around. Normally this was enough to get her attention. Simply present their kill and they would begin to fight over it, or she would throw it and he would go get it. She would always make time to play with this kill. Even though she was currently looking through some of her papers, King Reggie knew this kill would make her stop and play.
He’d first spotted this kill the day after Tonya had taken King Reggie from the cages, nearly three years ago. King Reggie knew he was not the prettiest dog. A mix of multiple small dogs that resulted in matted hair, large grey spots in odd places, and a high pitched yip that always made the bigger dogs want to chase him. He did not yip often. He had been there for a long time. Always in that small cage, with very little room to run and no one to play with. King Reggie wanted Walter back. So he had been sad when all the others came to meet him, and he had been sad when he met Tonya.
He’s just like me. Tonya had said. King Reggie remembered. His person speak was very good, even though it was his third language. When they came to their property for the first time, the kill had been there. He was grateful to be out of the cages, but King Reggie had still not wanted to play. He had wanted Walter. Tonya had never complained when he was too sad to play. Even though it took weeks for him to finally drag the kill up to her for her to throw it. Now they always played.
“Not now,” Tonya said when King Reggie placed the toy in her lap. She threw it away and he went to go get it. They were playing. Things were fine, even if she was behaving oddly. He placed it back in her lap, on top of her papers. She was still crying.
“I said, not now.” Tonya put the kill on the table this time, where King Reggie could not reach it.
King Reggie had determined that Tonya did not want to play.
Maybe they could cuddle. Cuddling always cheered Tonya up. The first time King Reggie had been brought to their apartment he had tried to sleep on the floor. Tonya had then lifted him up and placed him on a pillow on her bed. Even Walter had never done that. They slept together every night. King Reggie always made sure he got to cuddle her back, even on those rare nights where his person had a mate over, he would squeeze between them and Tonya would laugh.
So King Reggie sidled up against his person’s leg. Cuddling his fur against her skin. It felt nice. Soon Tonya would scratch him.
King Reggie found himself rolled onto his back, staring at Tonya’s retreating form. His tongue plopped out of his open mouth. He was tempted to yip but no, that was only for extreme situations. Every time he yipped Tonya came running and checked on him. Once she had even come out of the bathroom, sopping wet and covered in soap, when King Reggie had yipped because his paw was stuck. Yipping would definitely attract Tonya’s attention, but she was upset. The point was to make her less upset.
Maybe now would be a good time for King Reggie to wait in his bed. He never slept in it, he always slept besides Tonya, but she had said to go there whenever he wanted to be alone. Maybe he could go there and leave her alone for a bit. Then later they could play. So King Reggie settled down into his bed for a nap.
He was woken up quite suddenly.
Tonya was screaming.
She had curled herself around a pillow. Her legs were pulled into her chest, her arms cradling the red cushion. A high pitched sound came from her no matter how she tried to muffle it, making his fur stand on end. That’s when King Reggie really knew things were bad.
This did not happen often. Crying was one thing. Never when she had people over, but she would often come home and simply start crying. This time was worse because King Reggie could not just cuddle up to her and lick her face and make everything better, but it was still not really new.
The screaming though, that was new.
King Reggie ran up and began to lick her arm. If he could get through and start to lick her face then everything would be fine. She always cheered up when he was able to lick her face. It was one of his favorite things to do because it made her smile. Walking with his person, going to the park with his person, playing with his kills with his person, licking his person’s face – they all made her smile. He hated when she was not smiling.
The licking seemed to help some. She stopped screaming and simply continued to cry. He tried to get to her face, digging through her hair and sticking his paw in the crook of her arm. Tonya gripped the pillow tighter, and that’s when he started whining. He wanted to help his person. Why wouldn’t she let him? He could make everything better, if only she would let him.
She uncurled herself from the pillow and King Reggie started to show his appreciation by circling. She liked when he circled. Tonya did not grab a kill or come to pick him up, though. Instead, she started to walk away. This time her feet were more sure, less stumbling and instead focused. He was delighted to see that she seemed a little less distressed, her crying had even stopped.
Tonya would be all right. King Reggie was there to help her, so of course things would be fine. Things always became all right. Even when she kept crying, or when her arms were bleeding, she still went for their walk together every day. There would be some days when she wouldn’t eat or sleep well and King Reggie would curl up next to her and then she would smile and they would be okay. She’d saved him from the cages and he never thought he’d ever have someone like her after Walter died. If it had been up to him, he would have still been sitting in Walter’s lap even though the old man began to smell like death. It was the others who had taken him away to the cages, but he was glad they had, even if at the time he had tried to fight them. This way he got to meet Tonya.
Tonya was everything.
King Reggie let out a small snort and jumped onto his hind legs, reaching for Tonya as far as he could. That only ended up being a high point on her thigh but still close enough that she could reach down and pet him. This time she did too. She reached down and even picked him up.
King Reggie was not the biggest fan of being picked up. He much preferred to walk about using his own devices. But if it was Tonya, that was okay. If she picked him up then he could be near her head and was even able to lick her face in appreciation. She always let him lick her face.
“I’m sorry boy,” Tonya said.
King Reggie made it clear that it was all right by sitting on her lap as they went down to lie on the bed. She seemed much calmer now. Tonya was not crying. She also did not smell like blood. Everything would be fine. Soon they would play with his kill. Then they would have the after dinner snacks that she fed him from her plate. Tomorrow they would go for a walk and then he would wait for her to come back from her long time away. It was hard sometimes when she grabbed the black bag and left for many hours, but he knew she would always come back.
Tonya got up from the bed and King Reggie slid from her lap onto the cushions. She had a determined look on her face as she walked to the balcony and opened the door. King Reggie made his way over and waited for her to sit down. They would often sit and Tonya would pet him while they watched the world far below them. King Reggie never knew how they got up so high, how everything was so far away. All he knew was that the dogs he saw pass by below looked smaller than his paw. He often reached his paw through the bars of the balcony to see if he could squash one.
Tonya reached down and picked King Reggie up again. She pulled their faces close together and kissed him on the side of the head.
“I love you so much… and I’m so sorry that I’m going to leave you. I don’t want to but I… I can’t do this anymore. But I left a message with Lisa and she’ll come get you. I won’t leave you all alone, I promise.” Tonya said
Alone. King Reggie was still not entirely sure what it meant. Why was Reggie going to be alone? Well whatever it was, Tonya would be there, and everything would be all right. She started to cry again, and so he grew concerned and licked her face all over. Then she put him down, took a few steps backwards, and threw her legs over the side of the balcony.
Then Tonya was gone.
King Reggie did not understand. This was not the way out. They never went out this door. Where had she gone? Where did she go? When was she coming back? She did not say she was going to work like she normally did. She did not say that she would be back later like she normally did. Something was not right. No, no, something was very wrong.
King Reggie let out a very small yip.
Yes, if he yipped then she would come back. She would hear him and she would come back.
So he yipped, louder this time. He yipped and he yipped. When she still did not come back he went to the bars of the balcony and put his front paw through, tried to force his head to follow. After a moment he realized he could not pull back but he did not care. He did not want to go back, he wanted to go forward, to where Tonya was. King Reggie yipped. He yipped loud and long and he waited.
Kayla “Pica” Williams has recently finished her MFA at CalArts in California, her thesis being a short story collection about depression. She has a King Charles Spaniel named Addie.