by Graham B.
A dog tries to deal with his owner's troubled relationship.
| The slightly sour smell of annoyed sweat mingles with the scent of cheap aftershave and garlic in Riley's nostrils as the man walks into Julia's apartment. Riley had heard Julia call the man "Brad," but he thinks of the man as "Sour" because of his tangy scent.
Sour looks at Riley and scowls. Then the man's nose crinkles up in preparation for a sneeze, as it always does when Riley is around. Riley pants languidly and waits for someone to scratch his behind his ears.
Julia appears from her bedroom and smiles. Riley knows Julia's name from the sounds coming out of her shiny phone when she is speaking to it, or when her neighbors speak to her while she is walking Riley. Riley thinks of her as "Lilly" which is the scent that follows her around and wafts from the bottle of body wash that sits on the edge of her bathtub.
Sour sneezes mightily, polluting the air with more garlic. He points at Riley and speaks in angry tones. Riley wags his tail in response and cheerfully farts.
Lilly used to brighten at Sour's presence, as if he brought out something happy in her. Riley could smell them, like a garden of delightful scents. But lately, all Riley can smell from her is stress when Sour comes by, a scent which clashes with the smile pasted to her face.
He keeps wagging his tail, which seems to annoy Sour even more. He hears his name come from Sour's mouth and his ears perk up. Lilly responds, also using Riley's name, and stress scents billow out from her blouse and cloud the air. Riley whines and sidles up to Lilly, who bends down and scratches behind his ears, exactly where he loves it. His tail beats a quicker tempo.
Sour speaks, then Lilly speaks. Then Sour speaks again, and Lilly reaches for her purse, which hangs from the bannister. A confusing bouquet of smells erupts from the purse, signaling Lilly's intention to go out. Riley whines again, and Lilly bends down and speaks to him in soothing sounds, scratching behind his ears. She stands up and leaves the apartment with Sour. The breeze from the closing door cools Riley's hanging tongue, and leaves Riley alone with fading scents and the lonely creaks of the apartment.
Riley wanders about the apartment and investigates the same haunts he always does: the kitchen with his lonely, empty food bowl and the bitter smell of the cappuccino machine, the clothes hamper which is half-full, the seam under the front door. Everywhere he goes, the smells tell him a complex story of the life of Julia. The smell of coffee is especially strong today, reflecting Lilly's extra cup. She isn't sleeping well and needs more of the pungent beverage to rouse herself in the mornings. Lately, Riley has been hearing her toss and turn in her bed in the evening. The smell of distress drifts from her clothes hamper more and more frequently. When Lilly is on her phone, Riley can sometimes hear angry sounds coming from it.
Riley finally pads to the patio and lays down. He is happy that Lilly would leave the door open for him to go out there, trusting him to guard the apartment while she is out. He settles down on the cool concrete and listens to the sounds of the day. A crow alights on a spruce which grows across the street and screeches at something that had offended it. A few cars pass by, the sounds of their engines crossing Riley's brain like scampering animals tickling his deeper instincts. Riley’s pulse quickens, and blood begins to rise into his head. He hears something like the howl of wolves, so distant as to be like whispers. But the patio is not open to the street, and he cannot chase the giant beasts. Riley’s blood slackens.
Footsteps approach the apartment building, and Riley's ears perk up. He hears the jangle of keys, then the squeak of the mail box being opened followed by the rustle of paper as the mailman makes his delivery. The smell is different - the smell of a pungent weed rather than the usual metallic tang of beer. It is a new mailman. Riley hears the tinny sounds of music squirming out from loosely-placed earphones. Finished with his task, the mailman walks away, and Riley's ears settle back down in lassitude.
A familiar engine intrudes on Riley's rest. The engine stops, and his tail begins its movement as he hears Lilly's footsteps, followed by Sour's. Riley smells something else to accompany Sour's usual scent: the smoky smell of his favorite whiskey.
The door opens, and angry voices crash into the apartment, followed by Lilly and Sour. Stress flows freely from Lilly, and tears flow down her reddened cheeks. Riley's tail stops wagging, and he whines in consternation.
Lilly turns and says something to Sour. Sour answers with a shout that hammers Riley’s sensitive ears. Once again, the sounds of wolves whisper from the distant past. He growls at Sour, earning himself a red-eyed glare from the smoky-smelling man. Sour begins shouting at Lilly again, and Riley can smell something else. It is the smell of fear, rage and sadness, all rolled together. Riley can also hear something like whining under Sour’s shouts. Confused, Riley cocks his head and watches Sour carefully as Sour’s voice stretches higher and higher.
Sour's hand lashes out and strikes Lilly in her tear-streaked face, knocking her to the floor.
Riley doesn't hesitate. All seventy pounds of furry canine are in motion, his paws on Sour's chest, knocking him on his back, jaws seeking Sour's soft, tender throat. Sour squeals, and puts up his arm to ward off Riley's fangs, then screams long and loud as Riley clamps his jaws down on the arm.
Blood is pumping into Riley’s head, suffusing his nose, his eyes, his ears. Ancient instincts rise from deep within that blood, the same blood that had run in the veins of countless wolf ancestors so long ago. The wolves are howling now, as Riley tastes Sour’s blood which trickles from the wounds in his arm. He wants to kill Sour. He wants to tear the flesh from Sour’s soft belly and feast on his entrails.
As if from a great distance, Riley hears Lilly screaming his name, and begins to feel her hands tugging at the scruff of his neck. He can hear the plea in her voice, and releases Sour's arm. As he backs away to stand at Lilly's side, Riley is hit with the smell urine as Sour's bladder lets go.
Sour rises from the floor, cradling his ravaged arm. He mutters something at Lilly, but when Riley growls at him he jumps back, and the smell of fear joins the pungent smell of urine. Then Lilly speaks to Sour, and in her voice is the sound of wolves, the patter of their paws, and the snapping of their teeth. Sour turns and flees the apartment.
Lilly bends down and scratches behind Riley’s ears and slowly, the blood pounding in his head subsides, and the howling of the wolves fades. He wags his tail. Then Lilly wraps her arms around him causing his breath to woof out through his nostrils as she squeezes his chest, but his tail wags nonetheless as Lilly croons his name into his ears. Slowly, the smell of distress drifts away, and soon all Riley can smell is the apartment, and Lilly’s life as he remembers it, before Sour, before the blood, and before the wolves.
Word count: 1263