Yes, this is a metaphor.
The dog is old. That much is evident from its graying muzzle and almost, but not quite, hoarse barks, sounding more like Old Mr.Willicks than the affable beagle he must’ve been as a pup. Normally, a dog this size wouldn’t scare Shelley, but something in its eyes kept her from approaching. The dog was mean. The dog seemed like it would be quite happy to rip Shelley’s arm off. Tears pricked her eyes and she found herself running to the other side of the street before she even knew her feet were hitting the damp asphalt. Having reached the other side, her cheeks flame up in a warm, red glow. “Really,” Shelley berated herself, “It’s just an old dog, it can’t even be bothered to move across the street.”
For good measure (and peace of mind) Shelley gave the dog her most enthusiastic raspberry-one that would make even Tommy in English proud. However, this action was regretted almost immediately as the taunt seemed to give the senior canine the burst of energy it needed to cross the street and in a hobbling sprint at that.
Which was how Shelley ended up at home ten minutes ahead of schedule, damp as the street, her short bangs plastered flat and wet against her forehead. “Shelley?” A gentle voice called out from somewhere in the house. “Are you home already?”
Taking off her shoes, Shelley shuffled into the kitchen, taking up residence on one of the high stools at the kitchen counter. She shifted in her seat for a moment, sweat sticking her clothes to her like glue, before blinking up at her mother.
Shelley’s mother, Laura, was what many people would think of as tragically beautiful. Beautiful, meaning she was often stopped on the street by folks wondering if she was a traveling model of some sort, deigning to grace the proletariat with her presence. Tragically, as in her dewy complexion and airy smile were wasting away in an empty and rather stuffy house being underappreciated by one Kevin Johnson, who on most nights could barely be bothered to get home before midnight, much less notice his wife.
But enough about the backstory.
Laura was humming a tune that day, something upbeat she’d heard on the radio during her daily cry in the pantry. She had grabbed a dull knife and was rather enthusiastically slathering peanut butter on white Wonder Bread for the little girl sitting on a kitchen stool, the only child she managed to get out of Kevin before he decided she was simply too boring to spend time with. Finishing the sandwich, she passed it on to Shelley, who appraised it with a critical eye before biting into it, seemingly having checked off all its necessary boxes.
“Hm?” Shelley muffled through a sticky mouthful of Jiff’s peanut butter (perfectly nutritious and mom certified) “Wot ith it?”
“Are-are you alright? You don’t usually get home this early” Laura Johnson’s perfectly plucked eyebrows knit together, her delicate mouth set in a slight frown.
“It’s the dog”
“The old one on Crawford Street. It’s evil, it chased me home.”
Laura Johnson’s face warmed then, giving Shelley a look that one might give to a particularly intelligent mouse.
“I don’t think it’s evil, sweetheart, I think it’s just missing a bit of love. Why, when I started dating your father, it took me six months to get him to say ‘I love you’ in front of his friends! Tell you what, why don’t you try and make friends with it and then tell me if its evil?”
“No buts! That dog needs help. Besides, I think it’ll be good for the both of you.”
Shelley mumbled something then but seemed to be agreeing with her mother. They smiled at each other then, a moment of peace on that damp spring day. Then, the door opened, shattering the moment of silence, snapping their attention to the opening. It seemed Kevin Johnson finally considered it worth his while to be home. He was rushed almost immediately by his wife, but after a cursory kiss and a bored ruffle of Shelley’s hair he settled down in front of the TV and stayed there until much of the night was over. He stayed there as Shelley spoke about her day. He stayed there as Laura cooked a beautiful meal. He stayed there as they both did the dishes. He left as they joined him in the living room.
That night, as Laura slid into bed beside an already snoring Kevin she thought of her daughter. More specifically, she thought of her daughter and the dog.
If Kevin were a dog he’d be a German Shepherd. Not a proud, agile one, used to running about and saving babies from fires, but old, and fat; desperate to convince people he used to save drowning mayors. But not now, now his joints hurt and he’s got a lung issue and couldn’t possibly swim that far-but he did! He did, and if you say otherwise you’re a liar and sapping away the fun.
Some nights, Laura thinks: I should just take Shelley and run away. Others, she wonders if Kevin would even notice. Laura never leaves though, it’s almost as if something is keeping her tethered here. When Kevin says her name or looks up from the TV during dinner to catch her eye for a second, in these moments so few and far between, she feels something tighten around her neck. Those nights, she wonders which one of them is the dog.