Substitute for Love

by Kyle Hemmings

So you’re a reborn bachelor in a city of stray dogs. You listen to them bark and whine each night outside your window after you’ve flossed, fallen asleep midway through Leno. Imagine translating canine distress from a distance. Imagine a dog yelping, “Rescue me, as I have rescued so many of you. What a strange breed you are. Maybe you deserve to be lonely.”

You’re growing tired of walls, unfixable Venetian blinds, client schedules, black coffee with a taste of metal, words meant to erase, separate, dispose, flatten the affect. You decide to salvage a part of you and an animal that may have been kicked around too much. After all, you both live in the same world. You pay a visit to the animal shelter.

On either side of the cage, you size each other up, maybe a love at first sight. She’s an Airedale Terrier with a dense coat of tan and grizzle. You name her Emily after the woman who left you with an empty water bowl and too many bones to pick.

It’s not easy at first. Emily can be tenacious. Especially when you must wrestle with her in the bathtub. Or keep her from squirming in the car. She can sense a veterinarian’s long needle. There’s a history of parasites.

Sharing your hunger for warmth, she snuggles next to your legs in a bed that is too long for the both of you. When fully fed, her eyes betray an old love of otter-rivers, of rat-catching, a collective dog unconscious of never letting go. Breakfast brings a new sense of security: the sound of her tongue slapping, licking water while you wolf down two hardboiled eggs and three slices of seven-grain toast, crusts trimmed off.

As time goes by, you suspect Emily understands you, maybe more than you think. She tilts her head and stares at you with her big dark eyes as if to say, Two misfits are better than one. I’m here to the end.

Emily saves you from yourself. She keeps you distracted and on your toes. You find yourself brushing her fine hairs from your pressed suits while giving PowerPoint presentations on the company’s financial flux. At home, she brings in dead mice just to let you know that it’s never safe, not even in your own backyard. She’s a smart dog. And unlike the other Emily, who only loved you when she was lonely or needed stroking, who used you for your vacation time, who never visited you in the emergency room after you overdosed on too much of nothing—this Emily will stay near.And with proper training, she can even dial 911.

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About Kyle Hemmings

Kyle Hemmings is the author of the chapbooks: Fuzzy Logic (Punkin Press), Amsterdam & Other Love Songs (Flutter Press), Avenue C (Scars Publications), Cat People (Scars), Anime Junkie (Scars), and Tokyo Girls in Science Fiction (NAP), Hojo Boy (TenPages Press), The Truth about Onions (Good Samaritan), and the e-book short-story collection: You Never Die in Wholes (Good Story Press). His work has appeared in Arsenic Lobster, BLIP, Decomp, Thunderclap Press, Juked, Smokelong Quarterly, Short Story America, Wigleaf,StoryglossiaElimaeMatch BookThis Zine Will Save Your Life, and Connotation Press. Kyle lives and writes in New Jersey.

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