When Shana came home I tried to explain everything. I wanted to talk to her but she walked up the stairs and slammed the bedroom door shut. By the time I came upstairs she was already under the blanket. I placed a hand where I thought her shoulder would be.
“I can’t take it,” she said. “I can’t take this anymore.”
I pulled the blanket off her head. There were tears on her face.
“I can’t take it anymore, the way Rex behaves.”
I nodded. I hugged her. I wanted to explain; I wanted her to understand. But all I could say was.
I lay next to her for ten or twenty minutes. Shana’s breath turned to the steady and regular breathing of a happy sleep. I brushed my teeth and sat at the end of the bed, thinking about what to do.
I know what some others think and how so many people think that a good animal should never be given away. The choice wasn’t easy. But I promise you if your choice is to either lose the love of your life or your best friend – no matter how much your heart hurts, you will choose love.
I checked another time on Rex. He was still in the living room. I pulled the door handle down. There was a stirring inside the room. The door was still locked. When I walked upstairs I saw how he pulled the door handle down again.
The dread was still there. Dread is by its very definition absurd; it’s not a reasonable feeling. Rex was locked away and still – or maybe because of it – I felt the room to block the bedroom door again. A wedge under the door and a shelf with books squeezed under the handle to block any- and everything from opening the door.
Cuddling up to Shana’s sleeping shape I wrapped my arm around her. I felt she needed it, but mostly I felt that I needed it – the knowledge that I was in control and that I was the one to protect my family.
I remember thinking of all the great times with Rex. I think I cried but I’m not sure about that. It felt more like a silent movie running through my head; scenes of past days – frisbee in the park; stone throwing in the river; jogs through the forest; tickle and play fights – and of course the memory of a small German Shepherd puppy sitting calmly in the middle of the road with its tongue stuck out of the mouth and a confused expression.
I don’t remember falling asleep, but I do remember the dreams. Dreams of forests. Dreams of running and walking and jumping between trees. Dreams of Rex next to me. Dreams of barks. Barks. Barks that woke me up.
They were faint. Faint like a dog barking from far away, or with a tired throat, or maybe both.
It took me at least a minute to realize that I was awake; to realize that the barks were real.
I don’t know what drove me to grab the golf club. I was sure he was still downstairs and locked in the living room; likely asleep.
The barks continued.
I walked towards the shelf that secured the door. For a moment I pondered pulling it away, then I turned around and towards the window.
Movement. Movement in the forest, just outside our gate. A faint shadow moving from one side to the other; lurking as if ready for an attack.
I gripped the club tighter. I wanted to make sure Rex was safe. I needed to make sure he was safe.
The shelf moved quickly but the wedge was somewhat stuck. I had to kick it a few times to get it out from under the door; my feet hurt.
I opened the door quietly and held the golf club like a sword through the widening gap between door and frame.
The barks didn’t change. They were still of the same muffled quality as before.
The door swung open and I swung my golf club into the nothingness – just in case. It swished smoothly through the air.
The bathroom to my right seemed empty. Carefully I closed the bedroom door and took the first steps down the stairs. I noticed a faint light from the kitchen. Maybe the stove? Maybe the digital watch next to the spice shelf?
The barks grew even more faint.
My eyes were fixated on the kitchen. Only two thirds down the stairs I realized that the living room door was open.
I would have sworn on my life that I locked it. I checked it at least three times.
I took the remaining steps down the stairs. Just when I took the last step I heard the weak rustling sounds from the kitchen. Faint, nearly inaudible, but clearly there.
With the shaking club held in front of me I took the last step. Panicked I threw my eyes towards the front door – nothing. Quickly I turned back towards the kitchen.
The living room was dark. I could see about a third of it. I couldn’t see Rex.
With every step I took towards the kitchen the rustling sounds grew slightly louder.
I stood behind the door with the golf club ready. I felt like a FBI agent catching a criminal – only that I was alone and my only weapon a club.
In one smooth motion I stepped into the doorframe.
I screamed “Ha!”
The fridge door was open. A hairy body was inside; hidden from view behind the door. The rustling sounds stopped.
“Down!” I screamed. “Bad dog!”
Then I noticed the legs. They had feet.
A mind-cracking shriek filled the house. I swung the club helplessly through empty air. The figure pushed itself away from the fridge.
Still shrieking it stood on its hind legs. Small, hairy arms held a piece of steak. The teeth held a piece of white plastic. The bulging eyes turned at me.
It jumped towards me. My brain felt like mush; instinct alone moved my arms. The metal club hit a soft body and threw it towards the left and me to the right and against the door frame.
The creature scrambled to its knees. It opened its mouth wide; the shriek grew in volume. My club swung again and hit just air.
For one last moment the dark-eyed gaze held mine. Then it jumped to the back of the kitchen. The back door shattered into pieces. A bark.
With another jump it was at the back of the garden.
With a last jump the thing was over the fence and disappeared in the trees. Growls and barks followed it.
Rex stood right behind the fence.
Without a thought I ran to let him in.
He had a large, gaping wound on his back.
Still, the moment I opened the gate, all he wanted was to lick my face.
Rex, that woke me up.
Rex, the goddamn best dog in the world.