Beasts of Sadness
by Kevin Ip
I wake up to the sound of two Howler Monkeys mating. I have a tendency to leave Discovery Channel on before I go to sleep because Planet Earth and Blue Planet (or at least David Attenborough’s voice) relaxes me and makes for excellent background noise. Against the green hue worn by the white walls of the bedroom, I look down and notice a large mass lying across my legs. He is breathing in even intervals, tongue hanging to one side of its mouth. A slick drop of saliva dangles there, the shine reflecting the television where the two monkeys are entangled on branches high above the ground. This is the fifth time my best friend’s dog has made his way into bed with me.
I try coaxing the Labrador onto the floor where his master is sleeping, tongue hanging to one side as well. I think he might find more comfort with my friend, but the dog just lays there, unmoving and snoring. I want to push him off because my legs are getting numb, but he might bark. I wonder if the dog, Scotty, mistakes me for my friend, Collin, or if he doesn’t care at all. How strange it must be to have a stranger in this bed instead of someone the dog has known since he was a puppy. I am an intruder.
When Collin turned thirteen, his mother bought him Scotty. The dirt brown puppy was his new best friend, following him into every room like a shadow, nipping at ankles and yelping with delight. Every day after school Collin would come home, feed the puppy, and play fetch with him in the backyard, throwing the tennis ball against the fence and watching the puppy bounce up and down as he chased the rolling ball across the lawn. When his mother came home from work Collin would tell her of their adventures: chasing a squirrel around the mango tree, getting the slobber-coated tennis ball stuck in a storm drain, Scotty getting dirty from jumping into mud. She’d smile and remind him not to overwork himself or the dog.
On his eighteenth birthday, Collin thought about bringing Scotty to college. On nights when I stayed over, Collin would tell me that he was looking for affordable, pet-friendly apartments. Because he wasn’t going to college until the spring semester, he had enough time to search, to find the perfect place for him and his companion: nice and open lawns, water fountains, Doggie-do stations, plentiful squirrel population, and other dog owners to chat and play with.
“St. Augustine is not that spacious, though. Places like that are hard to find and really out of the way.” I would mention.
Collin would tell me that Scotty was not just a pet, but family, and that family should never be separated. He called a few months later to tell me he found a small studio apartment upstairs from a bakery— perfect for a dog always begging for table scraps.
When Collin died in a car accident in 2013, Scotty was at the funeral, adorned with a black leather collar and matching leash. Collin’s mother did not have to command him to sit by the coffin. Slowly, guests proceeded towards the landing for a final viewing, and after they would reach down to pet Scotty on the head before returning to Collin’s mother to offer more condolences. Against the cries and sniffles of the guests, Scotty did not whimper once or lay down from the uncomfortable position on the small steps before the landing the casket was on. After the burial, Collin’s mother placed a bouquet of white roses where Scotty had pawed a divot into the plot of land next to the grave.
It’s been one year since Collin’s death and the last time I visited his home. Being away at college has taken away the familiarity—the dread of nostalgia and newness as real as the thunderstorm outside. Steady strokes of lightning illuminate the room for a short while before darkness seeps back in. I miss the sound of David Attenborough’s low vibrato, but a new show has taken over his time slot. Now I am alone with nothing but the sounds of rain pitter-pattering against the cool glass of the window above my head. In the intervals of darkness I feel smaller in the room than I ever have. If I reach up, I imagine the air is vast expanse settling heavy on my chest, pulling my skin taut and clutching it there.
I can hear the footsteps of Collin’s mother dragging across the wood floors. The hall light opens and then shuts, and for a second, I think she’ll poke her head in to check on me, but a door closes and I know she has retired for the evening. It is her idea for my visiting, that she or I might have some sort of closure, to talk about things and catch up. She suggests I take one of Collin’s jackets as a memento. I agree because his mother insisted just like how she insisted I stay the night.
Scotty snores lightly on the floor. I want to reach out and pet him, but I don’t want to disturb him. I miss the large mass in bed next to me, even across my legs, but I know it’ll get stuffy and cramped. I imagine it can’t be too comfortable for him. This dog, however, prefers comfort over thoughtfulness. He’s just like his master. But on nights like these, when I know the floor is lonely for him, I tell myself I wouldn’t mind.
Then I think about joining him. I could take up the space that Collin filled, but I know I am not Scotty’s idea of normal. Would he shift over to his side and leave his back to me? Would he leave me there and hop up onto the bed and take over that space? I begin to wonder if Scotty has grasped the idea of Collin being gone – that he will no longer wait at the door, sitting upright with wagging tail, until his master comes through the door.
Maybe Scotty does not understand the finality of death and thinks that Collin has gone away for a while, casually pushing the worn tennis ball across the wood floors of the living room with his nose. Maybe Scotty is like Hachiko, waiting on the floor every night until his master returns to take that spot. Or maybe, Scotty does know and the shock has lacerated his heart and rendered him solemn. Maybe he’s pretending it never happened.
The more I think about it, the more glad I am to be in bed. I crowd myself with blankets and turn over. Against the slash of lightning, Scotty is illuminated for just a short while. His ears perk up every so often and makes me think he’ll finally get up and join me in bed.
He does not.
About Kevin Ip
Kevin Ip is an MFA student at the University of South Florida, where he is studying creative nonfiction.