Dog Food – Final
“I talk all the time, even though nobody’s listening. It makes me feel a lot better, especially when I get really sad. I like the sound of a voice, even if it’s just my own, and talking a lot makes me feel warmer. A little. Also, I don’t want to forget how to talk, either. If somebody comes and finds me here, I want to remember who I am and how to spell my name and where I’m from and stuff.”
He sat up straight on his seat, at attention.
“Aaron Hanlin, ten years old, 124 Foundation St., Chicago, Illinois.” He relaxed, slumping his shoulders forward and pulling his blanket closer. “Stuff like that. If they find me and I don’t know how to talk, they’ll just think I’m crazy and leave me here, probably. So I try to talk all the time so I can stay good at it. I like to talk to things with faces like dolls and stuffed animals and stuff. But…” He hesitated. “But not the dead bodies. And not yours.”
Aaron fell silent, tending to his dry mouth with a swig of bottled water. Swishing it around his mouth, he squirted it between his feet, darkening a patch of dusty sidewalk. He took another sip, swallowing it that time, and put the bottle back in his bag. For the first time since morning, he sat quietly and still, eyes fixed on the wet spot. He spoke again after a while, without looking up.
“I know you’re not my mom,” he said, quietly. “I know that you’re not even alive. And that you can’t hear me. And that I’m just by myself right now. I’m probably just going crazy.” Aaron wiped his nose, leaving a dark streak across his upper lip. “Before stuff happened, when you and- when mom and me would walk by the store, she always stopped and looked in the window and said that this store always had her favorite clothes and that they always looked so cool. Even after, when we would go out and look for other survivors, she would always laugh about how her favorite outfit was the only one that survived. You just…I guess you remind me of what my mom sounded like when she laughed.”
He brushed the hair out of his eyes. Noticing the circles he had drawn yesterday, he absentmindedly continued to fiddle with them, expanding them into eyes, adding a mouth, as well as a nose and other features.
“You kind of look like her, too.” Aaron finally said. “She’s dead, but she always told me that when she died, she would still listen to me and watch me and keep me safe. When I talk to you, it kind of feels like I’m talking to my mommy- uh, mom. Maybe she’ll hear me better. So, I’m just going to keep pretending that you’re her, okay?”
No voice answered.
But a whimper did.
Snapping his head to the side, with the reflexes of yesterday’s pigeon, Aaron jumped at the high-pitched, wounded sound. Walking toward him, defeated, was the dark-brown dog that had bitten him. Skinny and shivering, he limped on one of his front paws and dragged his tail between his tired legs. Just feet away, he sat on his haunches and blinked at Aaron with his large, wet eyes.
Dumbstruck, Aaron didn’t make a single move. The teeth wound on his arm seemed to throb in the dog’s presence. Despite himself, his heat began to race as sweat began to trickle down his forehead. Yet, before, it had been he who had coaxed the suspicious animal toward him and had paid for startling him.
A slow smile spread across Aaron’s face as he groped for his bag.
“Hey,” he said, quietly. “I didn’t think I’d see you again. I’m glad I did though.” Slowly pulling open the zipper, he removed a small can of dog food from his bag. “Because I didn’t really want to eat this stuff.” Opening the can, he set it down at the middle point between himself and the dog. The animal bent apprehensively toward the can, sniffing it. Then, in a flurry of its jaws, it voraciously licked the can clean in a matter of seconds.
Aaron opened another can while the dog continued to scour every inch of the first for the tiniest morsel of food. As he tore into the second, Aaron timidly reached out and laid his fingers on the dog’s dirty fur. Only flinching slightly, he relaxed at his touch and was content to let the boy stroke and pet his neck as he ate. Even after he had finished, he made no move to bit Aaron, even as he scratched behind his ears. Gently, the dog licked his hand as it moved closer to his mouth. His tail kicked up dust as it started to exhaustively wag.
As Aaron stood, the dog stood with him. As Aaron walked into the street, the dog followed with him, keeping steady pace at his heels.
“My name’s Aaron Hanlin. I’m ten years old and I live at 124 Foundation St., Chicago, Illinois.” He said to the dog. “Let’s go get some more of that dog food. I guess we’ll need a little extra, won’t we?”
Photograph by Jacob Montrasio