My nose smells something queer. I sniff further down the trash cans to see a thin stick. It looked hot, and smelled divine. I sniff for any signs of poison but there are none. I eagerly chew on it and then see another one but it is dangling above my head. I come closer and give a warning growl. And then I see him. A man, in his 20's, with curly black hair and freckles on his face is kneeling in front of me with that stick in between his fingers. His dark brown eyes are kind. He wiggles the stick in front of me offering it in a peaceful way. I yelp happily and chomp on it.
He comes closer and makes a move to stroke my head. I show my acceptance by nuzzling his hand. He picks me up and when I look down and I suddenly become aware of how very tall he is. He scratches my chin and I forget bask in this unexpected affection.
And all of a sudden, I'm in an apartment with a dog collar around my neck along with a tag reading 'Paladin' attached to it. I even get my own food bowl, and my owner whose name is Mike pours me a small helping of "dog kibble". I sniff at it and taste it. It's so delicious that i gobble the rest up. Soon the helping becomes larger and i run to the bowl whenever i hear a refill. And that's how it is for a couple of years.
Then one day, at breakfast, before i can lunge for the bowl of new kibble, Mike stops me and on top of it, places 2 of his scrambled eggs and a stick of bacon, which i happily munch on. Eventually, I am given other types of food- nachos, meatloaf sandwiches, my favorite being spaghetti and meatballs. Over time, i share food with Mike such as popcorn on movie nights, or even nachos when he is working. I get very happy to see his 2 sisters, Nancy and Holly. They always make it a point to feed me.
I also meet Mike's friends. They call themselves the Party, something they got out of their favorite board game, Dungeons and Dragons. it seems i was named after that game too. They mostly come over on game nights, which i like to call jackpot nights.
Over many months, I get to expand my appetite and try different kinds of food- pizza, mozzarella sticks, onion rings, the patty from the burger, ham slices from a full leg of it. They taste so amazing that everyday is a feast. That is until, one day...
I chew on my steak while Mike chats to our waitress. She is pretty, with short brown hair and light brown honey eyes which have a kind edge to them. She expresses her satisfaction that we liked the meal and ruffling my head, she asks us to call out if we need anything else. She walks away to tend to another table. But I'm not looking at her. I'm looking at Mike who is right now looking over his shoulder at that girl. Somehow, I don't like it.
It's Saturday when someone comes over and it's that girl. I hear Mike call her El. How can her name be a letter of the alphabet?
She goes to the kitchen and a very funny smells comes an hour later. I take my usual seat at the table and a plate is set in front of me. I eagerly look only to find a green ball which looks hideous. Mike comes and then drizzles some yellow sauce on it which is definitely not mustard either. El then places some weird garnish on it which she calls "parsley". I'm about to eat it when Mike grabs a hold of me and places me down on the ground.
I whimper and I see El take my seat which I was sitting on. I yelp in despair and sniff at her feet when he then places a plate of 3 of those green balls for me. I greedily take all three in my mouth but it's weird taste makes me spit it out on the plate. I push the plate towards Mike and bark for one of those nice leftovers, but he only pushes it back and fondles my head. I growl and grind my teeth at the plate of food, and go on to scratch El's chair for some help, when she places that parsley sprig on top of it and pats my head. I narrow my eyes at the offering and proceed to bed but now before head-butting the plate away.
As the days pass on, the food gets worse. I do show my objection to the new food in many ways.
For movie night there's guacamole! GUACAMOLE! I sniff at it and throw the whole box down the couch! I bare my teeth and growl at the plate of cucumber slices left for me, but Mike and El never notice as they are too busy exercising with a guidance video on. They even take trips to the supermarket and come back with mostly green vegetables and sprouts. I'm so angry that I tear one of the bags in fury. I throw away everything they have brought and now regularly eat for meals.
And so because of my behavior, I'm reduced to dog kibble again. I whine helplessly when El places her parsley garnish. And they resume their normal conversation. I sniff off the garnish and stare at the food, never taking notice of my owner's life. I never participate in movie nights or even watch them as they slow dance on some days to cheesy songs, one mainly being 'Every Breath You Take'. I just sit and stare. I huff in defeat and whine and whimper for the life i had before El... when Mike only had me.
One day, over 6 months after El, I hear yelling and arguing from Mike's bedroom. I pretend to take a nap, and i hear El barely saying as she walks off to the door, "Grow up, Wheeler!" and angrily slams it shut. Over the last few weeks, the atmosphere was a bit colder than usual. TV nights were spent with Mike and El on far sides of the couch. As if a conversation had gone sour.
I see Mike smoldering at the door. After a while, he sighs deeply and goes to the fridge and grabs every sweet food he can find. I look up happily and wagging my tail, i follow him to the dining table, and eagerly see him eat a heavily frosted cake. I nudge him and he gives me a huge chunk of it. I munch on it happily.
And my perfect life resumes... again. For breakfast, there are Eggo's, which I happily eat though almost everything as Mike does nothing, but only pours maple syrup on them. For dinner, there's sugared donuts, which again mostly I eat, and not Mike while a forecasted rain storm blazes outside. I eat pizza Mike ordered while he's watching TV, but somehow he watches only news and home shopping channels. I nudge him to take a slice, but he doesn't budge. In fact, he doesn't do anything much. He frankly takes too much time with everything, even in the shower. I don't mind since I get to eat the Mac-and-Cheese he takes along with him on the closed toilet seat.
And one day, I open a box of spaghetti and meatballs, and I see that parsley sprig. I pout at it and Mike graciously removes it. I happily munch on the food, and its when I notice that Mike hasn't thrown that sprig away and is clutching it.
And that's when I take a good look at my master for the first time. His hair has grown and so has his facial hair. He's now sporting a beard and mustache and i realize he is in his nightclothes for the whole day. The light that i always saw in his eyes was gone and in it's place, dark irises dominate. Right now, he is clutching that parsley sprig as if it's his lifeline and he looks at it as if he can hold on to El, or whatever she had left for him.
I whine at him, asking him a question. He closes his eyes and sucks in a deep breath. I know what he means, "I miss her, Pal."
It is then that I look down at the feast in the box. For anybody else, it was worth one dinner. But now, it was so unappetizing now that I saw my master's despondency and depression. And that made me realize what i needed to sacrifice for my master's happiness.
I push the lid of the box close, and nudge Mike's hand. I bark once, then twice. I grab the parsley sprig with my mouth. Mike protests but I race to the front door. I scratch at it but I see the open window, I jump up using the open drawers and Mike calls out to me, "Pal!"
I run off to the steakhouse where we met El and go round the back door. I see the kitchen in full swing and look around for El. In the process, I accidentally knock over one of the chefs and one of the steaks he was holding falls in front of me. I get tempted by the succulent steaks but the smell of parsley reminded me of my mission and I shake my head vigorously and look away. And I notice El, with a plateful of food, going out of the swinging doors.
I brace myself and race my way to her, so much so that chefs yells out "Whose dog is it?"; waitresses trip over me and customers drop their food. But I hold my ground and run to El. And just behind her, i hastily place the parsley sprig on the ground and bark for her attention. She looks around with a startled "Huh?" and notices me. I push the sprig towards her and pant nervously but happily.
She stoops down and picks it up. Just then Mike arrives and catches sight of both of us. He looks embarrassed but quickly downcast walks over, and attaches a leash to my collar. He mutters an apology, and tells me, "Come on boy" and pulls me forward. I hold my ground and whine for help from El, when she stands up.
"Wait" she asks gently. Mike stops tugging at my leash and comes face to face with El. I notice their height difference. But i then noticed the look in their eyes, which all that need to be said. Forgiveness. Regret. Apologies. But most importantly, their feeling towards each other. Especially, their love.
I watch happily as i see that same look in their eyes as they recite promises to each other in a church 6 months later and seal it with a kiss to a thunderous applause from the congregation gathered. I smile contentedly as i watch them play with the big cake, slow dance together and kiss time and again. Their happiness was all I wanted.
Over the next few days, we move into a bigger house and I have bigger space to play and run around. I even start getting along with El. One time I jump into her lap and roll around while she gleefully fondles and cuddles me.
After a while, her stomach grew big. And soon, she was crying about and an ambulance came to take her to the hospital. Mike goes with her and I'm left behind. I look at the half-empty bowl of kibble. I chomp on a portion. It is still delicious as it was before. I didn't get to taste any delicious meals now. But I don't mind. I curl up next to the bowl of kibble and fall asleep.
I smell something familiar. i open my eye to hope I'm not dreaming. But there's a meatball, rolled next to me. I sniff it and eat it. And then I see another. I walk towards it and eat it. I follow the trail of sauce and noodles when I come in front of a big and high chair. I look up and and a face so similar to Mike but with El's eyes stares back at me.
I cock my head in wonder when he holds up another meatball and throws it at me gleefully. I hungrily open my mouth and swallow it.
I happily run around the children who throw cupcakes at me barking happily. Even little James is happy, as well as Mike and El. To say i was happy, was an understatement. I got a companion who happily shared as much food with me as Mike did. And it became double a few years later, thanks to the introduction of baby Sara.
Sometimes, i wonder about the day I grabbed that parsley sprig and ran to El. What if I didn't do anything? Would I have the life I was still living?
They do say the best way to a man's heart is through his stomach. But very often, it is through his dog's. And that provides a feast... for thought.