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At midnight, Charlie woke the only human in his life, the one who fed him, kept him in water, and let him lead them on an romp past the marigolds on the corner every day at three, with a long howl. It bubbled up from below his belly somewhere near his tail and felt more like an itch in a space he couldn’t reach with his nose. A long, frightful howl, which made even Charlie jump off the foot of the bed.
The man raised quickly in the bed and searched for his glasses.
“Charlie, you okay? Did you hear something?”
Charlie cocked his head to one side and then decided to just say it.
“It seems as though you as wasting your life.”
The statement was so frank and direct, it surprised Charlie as much as the man who stared at him with an odd grin, as if the dog appeared in a dream. The man rubbed his eyes and fumbled with his glasses. Charlie took the gestures as as a sign to continue.
“And I think I can help.” Charlie paused to make sure the man continued to listen. The oddness of the hour, combined with the sudden unusual ability to speak, left the man without words. He reached over to rub Charlie’s ears.
“That feels real nice, but we shouldn’t pause. I don’t have a lot of time. You see, every morning you wake up, fill my bowl with crunchy beef, fill my other bowl with water, and let me run outside. It’s all great. But you then vanish for a long time, and I get lonely. Then you come home all uptight, feed and water me again, let me out, and then fall asleep on the couch. This happens every day and you don’t seem very happy.”
The man listened to the talking dog in silence, unsure how to proceed, or how to process what he had just heard. He rubbed his eyes and looked at the clock, which showed one minute past midnight.
“You need to prioritize. I’m clearly your best friend and we have some good times. But you take me for granted. Sure, it’s my job to be your companion, and I do love doing it, but there has to be give and take.”
Still unsure of what was happening, the man leaned forward.
“I do provide you with food, water, and a home. Isn’t that enough?”
“Well, taking care of my basic needs seems like something you should do. I’m talking about my fears, insecurity, and our mutual need for love.”
“Now you’re sounding like my ex-finance.”
“The whispery blonde. Yeah, she was nice. I always wondered why she left. Maybe, you took her for granted too?”
“She spent all my money and left hair in the shower.” Charlie’s question did make him wonder if he took Marcy a bit too much for granted. “Besides, her mother became crazy and she needed to go back to Kansas.”
“You didn’t want to go with her?”
“I have my job and life here.”
“Speaking of that, I think you spend too much time working and not enough time with me.”
The man looked back at the clock. This dream seemed longer than four minutes.
“I’ve only got a minute more to talk with you frankly about the way I feel. Perhaps, we can finish this another time?”
The man shrugged and rubbed his eyes. Charlie put his head down on the carpet, let a short growl out, curled up, and fell to sleep on the rug on the floor at the foot of the bed.
The man looked over at the dresser to see the clock hand sweep past the five. The night air chilled his shoulders. He pulled up the covers and dropped back to sleep.
As the light of the sun shimmered through the kitchen window, the man watched Charlie chase a butterfly in the back yard. He sipped coffee from his cup and thought about his odd dream. The black labrador raised up to try and lick the insect. With a side glance, he noticed the man watching him chase the butterfly. Charlie turned and ran to the door.
The man opened it enough for Charlie to run through and he went straight for the treats. At this point of the daily routine, Charlie expected a bit of rawhide, a pat on the head, and then the man would go through the front door again. An eternity would pass. Yet Charlie knew the man would return to feed him, maybe let him lead them on a romp passed the marigolds, and then he could curl up again at his feet.
The man washed out the cup, sat it in the bottom of the sink, and looked at Charlie. The dog spun around once and wagged his tail.
“Nothing to say today? Maybe we should go get that checked.”
The man grabbed Charlie’s leash off the counter near his snacks and snapped it on Charlie’s collar. This was different, and the dog pulled the man to the front door. Instead of running to the flowers, the man pulled him back to the car.
“Jump in. We need to stop at the hospital.”
The veterinarian looked into Charlie’s mouth, smoothed his coat, and checked under his tail. The dog seemed to grin. So far, his day out felt a lot better than pacing the floor in an empty home.
“What did you eat last night?”
“Nothing unusual. Why do you care?”
“You’re in banking right? I’ve read about this happening to a banker who was visited by ghosts.”
“I don’t think I ate anything that caused me to have a bad dream like Scrooge.”
“Well, there is nothing wrong with Charlie.”
The vet scanned the man from head to toe. “I think this is a case of an overworked imagination.”
The man sat in the car thinking. Charlie nuzzled his arm. He decided to call in sick and take the day off. The man didn’t sleep too well and maybe Charlie was right; he needed a break. He shook his head. Now he was believing he actually had a conversation with Charlie.
At the park, Charlie scampered out of the car and led the man to a pine tree. He marked the bark and took a deep breath. Charlie sniffed the grass, eyed the park, and wagged his tail as a young woman walked toward him and the man.
“Beautiful dog. I’ll bet you love coming out here with him.”
“He’s a special boy.” The man felt a cool breeze as it pushed the leaves on a tree behind the woman. She smiled at him and he returned it. “This is a nice park.”
“It is. I’ve never seen you here.”
“I’m taking the day off to be with Charlie.” He pulled on the leash and Charlie moved closer to the man’s side. “It’s nice to get a change of scenery.”
“I feel that.” She seemed rushed. “Look I’ve got to go. Maybe I’ll see you again soon.” The woman caught up with her friends and looked back at him. He smiled and waved.
“Maybe I do take things a bit too seriously, Charlie.”
Rather than a big meal, the man ate Pho soup with a small amount of chicken, some broth, and just a dash of fish sauce. He had read once that wine can cause bad dreams, so he avoided it. He also chewed slowly and took his time with dinner. Charlie played with his favorite toy making it squeak when he squeezed it with his mouth.
After watching his favorite crime drama, the man decided to turn in. He looked over at Charlie. Deciding not to take any chances, he rummaged through his bin of old medicines looking for a sleeping pill. In a bottle, he found a mixture of different shapes, colors, and sizes of pills. He decided the sleeping pills were a small, oblong, white pill. The pill also could have been an aspirin. He took it anyway. Either he would sleep good or the pain in his shoulders would go away.
He pulled the covers up to his neck and Charlie jumped onto the foot of the bed. The man watched the dog lick his paws until sleep came over him. He laid his head down on the pillow and nodded off.
At midnight, Charlie howled a deep, throbbing howl, that seemed to come from his deepest core. The man jumped straight up in the bed to find Charlie staring him in the face.
“Walking in the park was nice today. We should play hooky more often. And that girl. You liked her.”
The man rubbed his forehead and wondered why if he was awake or dreaming.
“She smelled nice. And she had a nice smile. You should have brought her home. You could use someone to talk to besides me.”
The man considered the conversation coming from his talking dog.
“I really need to sleep, Charlie.”
“You can sleep later. We need to talk.”
The man reached for his glasses and pulled them over his nose. He looked at the dog sitting at the foot of the bed.
“Okay. What do we need to talk about?”
“You need to think about replacing the whipsy blonde. She laughed all the time and liked me. She took care of us. And,” he paused. “You need to think about kids.”
The man widen his eyes at the thought of children. “Why do you think I need kids?”
“Everyone needs a litter to carry on when he’s gone. There is more to life than just work. You need balance. Kids would balance you out.”
“I’m too busy to think about finding a family. Besides, my future wife might not like you.”
Charlie stuck out the tip of his tongue. “Everyone loves me.” The dog drew closer to the man. “You’re not getting any younger. You need to start thinking about your future. I want you to be happy.”
The man pondered the words coming from the talking dog. He decided Charlie made sense. He also decided he needed to see his doctor.
“You keep this up and we’ll have to find you a gig as a motivational speaker.”
“I doubt anyone but you will listen. Make me a promise?” The man waited for his dog to finish. “Think about what we talked about.”
Charlie rolled over, let out a soft growl, and soon was snoring. The man looked at the clock. Again, five minutes past 12. He laid his head on the pillow and stared at the ceiling.
“It’s happened twice. I wake up at midnight with the dog howling and then he talks to me for five minutes.”
The man waited for the doctor to laugh. He just stared at him.
“What does your dog say?”
“He says I need to think about the future, find a wife, and have some kids.”
“Sounds like something you’ve been thinking about.”
“I hadn’t at all. But, he has made me wonder about life, love, and happiness.”
“Maybe subconsciously you have wanted a way to focus on these things. It’s only natural to be concerned about your future.”
“None of this is a dream.” The man fidgeted with his chair. “I’m not insane, right?”
“It all seems pretty normal. But, just to be safe, I am going to prescribe you some stronger sleeping pills.”
Back in the office, the man struggled to finish the quarterly fiscal report. Yet, he managed to only work an extra hour making up for his trip to the doctor. He hoped tonight would go better. He really needed some rest.
At the house, Charlie seemed listless and laid near the sink in the kitchen. He slowly picked up his toy before dropping it out of his mouth. Charlie didn’t seem that interested in it. The man decided Charlie needed as much sleep as he did. He turned off the lights and led Charlie up to his room.
“Let’s try and sleep through the night, okay Charlie.”
The dog climbed up to the bed and snuggled down in the blanket. The man opened a book he had neglected and turned to the dog-eared page marking his last place.
“I’ve already forgotten what is happening Charlie.” The man started the book from the first sentence, then recalled the story. He turned back to his place marker. “I think I know who the killer is.”
The dog softly snored and kicked his back leg in a dream. The man smiled and thought about the previous two nights. “I also have too much on my mind Charlie.”
At midnight, Charlie rose up on the bed and licked the man’s feet. Shocked awake, the man jumped in the bed. The dog looked at him with tired eyes.
“I’m not going to be around forever. I’m going to die someday. And I want you to find a new companion who can take care of you.”
The man looked at the dog. “I’m not sure you needed to wake me up for this.” Besides, Charlie wasn’t that old; maybe 12 years.
“I’m serious. You need to find someone to love you.”
“I have you Charlie. No one loves me more.”
“At this moment, you’re right. But, I’m talking about tomorrow and the next day. What are you going to do then?”
“I’m not sure there is a rush. Everything will work out. You’ll see.”
“There’s a good chance you’re going to end up alone and I don’t want to see it.”
“I have my work, lots to do, and I can always spend more time with you. Would you like to run in the park tomorrow?”
“I never pass on a park run. A run in the park would be fun. Let’s do it as soon as the sun rises.”
“You got it pal. A run in the park on a Saturday morning. It’s going to be great”
“Yeah. Great.” Charlie closed his eyes and went back to sleep.
The clock clicked over to five minutes past midnight. The man adjusted his pillow and went back to sleep.
The man woke later than usual after 8 in the morning. Charlie sprowled out on the foot of the bed, his black hair glistening in the light from the window. The man thought about how tired Charlie seemed the night before.
“Time to get up boy.” The man took a step before turning back to the bed. Charlie didn’t budge from his sleep. “Come on boy. Let’s go out.”
The man grabbed Charlie by the ears and ruffled his head. The dog didn’t wake. At that moment, the man realized Charlie was dead. “Oh my boy, my sweet, sweet boy.”
The man stood with the canister of ashes at the park near the tree Charlie marked along the footpath circling the grass. He looked up at the leaves, the clouds in the sky, and the children playing in the park. He let out a shuddered breath.
“Oh, it’s you,” a woman’s voice came from behind him. “I don’t see your dog.”
“Charlie’s gone.” The man gestured to the canister. “He died in his sleep.”
“I’m so sorry. Did he know how much you loved him?”
“I think so. But he gave me so much more love. I don’t think I’ll ever forget his gentle way of letting me know what I needed to do next.”
“I’m sure he was a faithful friend.”
The man clasped the woman’s hand and started to cry. “Charlie was always looking out for me.”
“That’s the best kind of friend. One who always looks out for you.”
“I know. The very best.” The man wiped away a tear from his face and the woman patted his hand. “Do you want to grab a coffee?”
“I’d love to. ”
© 2018, Michael Shawn Sommermeyer. All rights reserved.