"Every little boy needs a dog," barks your mother

That's odd, too. Your parents don't go out in winter. You pick up whatever they need.

"Every little boy needs a dog," barks your mother
Photo by Cristian Castillo / Unsplash

by Karen Walker

as she guards the front door.

You struggle past her with the groceries. You think sure, your Joshua needs a pet. It's a nice thought, if a little out of the blue.

She's in her winter coat.

That's odd, too. Your parents don't go out in winter. You pick up whatever they need.

Today, your mother's shopping list included three kinds of tea, toilet paper, ginger ale, four apples and four oranges, ketchup, lots of soup, and the kibble their toy spaniel used to eat.

You were confused and the bright white lights at Grocery Giant didn't make it any clearer: they put Oliver down months ago.

You shrugged. Bought the chow anyway.

Back at the bungalow, your mother doesn't greet the food or you. There's no excitement or thanks, no asking who you may've met at the store that she'd remember.

You drag the bags down the hall to the kitchen.

Your father is there. He and you unload.

The ketchup and ginger ale in your hands, you look back at her. Gasp! You nearly drop it all.

She's clipped Oliver's old leash around her neck. At her feet are his cushion, bowls, and tennis ball.

Your father grabs your hand, pulls you across the countertop, and tries to tell you something.

But—her hearing still bird dog sharp—she cuts him off. "I'm giving myself to Joshua."

Last week, she wanted to give herself to you. Arriving back with the shopping, you found her sitting cross-legged in a big box, wrapping her china figurines and herself in newspaper.

Hey, you were honest, if abrupt. You didn't want them. You don't have room for them. Not being your taste, they'd end up in a junk shop.

"I'm for my granddaughter then," sniffed your mother.

You reminded her you don't have a daughter.

"I know that, Erica!"

Now, you try everything not to have to take her home, but you're kinder. Describe your new apartment as tinier than it is. Sigh there's no one home all day and how lonely it'd be. Even blame your child. "Joshua loves his grandmama, but he's at a stage where he squeezes hard. He pokes and pulls."

You turn to your father, nudging him to tell her how he'd miss your mother—the way she snuggles on the couch at night, the morning strolls around the block. You hope he'd miss all that. He did when Oliver died.

But he doesn't help, doesn't say a word. He brings you the dog food you bought and sets it beside the cushion, bowls, and tennis ball.

Time to lie. "Besides, I'm already getting the little guy a pet."

That stops her from scratching at the door. Just as you're deciding whether it'll be a goldfish or a bunny, she says "Oh. Joshua's grandmother, I assume."

Your mother complains yet again that she's never met her, whines that you and Joshua's sire split before she could invite the woman to brunch.

"Perhaps I'll come over to meet the new addition."

You steady yourself. Breathe.

"We might become friends and go for runs in the park." She watches your face.

You nod and smile. Moving slowly, you're able to take the leash and her coat off with no snapping. Able to tempt her away from the door with a treat—the cupcakes you picked up even though they weren't on the list.

Thankfully, there's no need to toss the ball to distract so you can dash out the door. It'd break your heart to do it, to listen to her howling for you to come back.

Karen writes in a low Canadian basement. Her work is in or forthcoming in FlashBack Fiction, A Thin Slice of Anxiety, Emerge Literary Journal, Bullshit Lit, Blank Spaces, Janus Literary, Atlantic Northeast Magazine, miniskirt mag, and others. She/her. @MeKawalker883