Flakes melt through your fur. Your frozen paws leave bloody footprints in the snow. Ten feet into the throng of boots and coat bottoms, a half-eaten piece of pizza pokes through the metal lattice of a corrugated trash can. You shunt forward, head down, mouth open, to receive the pizza when—
A rat spits out like a snake though the lattice of the trash can. You back away, boots hit you. Your ribs shake. You wish you were shaggy like a poodle or wore a sweater like the loved and the leashed.
An angle choir. “Here, Doggie.”
She sits on the ground, holding pizza so warm you can smell it. “Here, Doggie.” She peels off a disk of –
— and tosses it just short of your nose. You lap it off the sidewalk. She tosses another and another in a path that leads to her. To your very own person. She takes a final bite. She gives you the crust. You lick the sauce off her hand. She scratches your ears. You snuggle into her. She sings lullabies. You fall asleep tangled together over a steaming grate. You are in heaven. You have purpose. Having someone to protect makes you brave.
He stops, but he tosses no money in her box. He pats your head, then wipes his hand on his pants. He sits next to her on the sidewalk, eyeing the box. He sits too close. You crawl into her lap and growl. “Your dog is jealous,” he says. She smiles. You wait for Him to go away, but he stays. You lick her face and she scratches your ears but she doesn’t sing because she is listening to His voice which is full of something that quivers the hair on your neck. You whimper.
He stands up. “Let’s take this pup to the park. He’ll love it.”
And you do love it. There’s dog-pee, human-pee, pigeon-pee, empty wrappers, chewed gum, hotdog crumbs and birds! It’s all you can do to keep your eye on her. He’s touching her. His pheromones curl your tail under and make your hind legs fail, but you pull forward, dragging your lower body, involuntarily peeing a trail of submission.
He crowds her into his friends. All unwashed jeans and slept-in flannel. They pass bottles and bags and so much smoke that it’s hard to smell them apart. A big one feeds you crunchy stuff, tosses the empty bag on the ground. You lick the shiny inside until all the cheese dust is gone and when you look up your girl is gone too. You bolt across the park. Where is she? You bark. You circle the grass until you catch her scent just in time to watch her disappear through a door.
There’s an open window at the back. You smell Him before your girl. She smells afraid. You jump for the window; it’s too high. You howl. Car horns blare in response. You pee on the wall to let her know you are there.
You run around the building. Fast. Again. You close your eyes and leap at the window. Your head slams the sill. You jump again. Your head bleeds. You feel warm where the blood oozes on your skin, you want to lick it, you are hungry for it, but you are busy jumping. Your girl is in there. The snow turns to sleet. You keep jumping. You hear her cry. You jump higher. It’s been too long. Your pee mark has frozen. You throw yourself against the window jumping high enough to hit the glass. You slam against it. Your ears ring with her lullaby. You can’t jump anymore but you scrabble your front paws up the wall. You scratch the rotted wood of the sill. You hear her cry. You whiney back, but she is human; she can’t hear you. You jump again until, like all dogs left in the cold, you turn three times and fall asleep.
The snow covers you.
And you awake.
On the other side.
Of the wall.
You get up. Your nails skitter across dirty linoleum. You are inside, but you are still cold. Your fur has worn off. Your paws have expanded into flaps with long weak toes. They are sticky with blood. Blood clots your eyes. Your bald flesh is as smooth and salty as boiled chicken. You have patches of fur on your head and chin, in your groin and under your arms. There’s fur on your chest, but it’s nothing against the cold. Your shrunken nose picks out garlic and pee, but you can’t differentiate one urine stream from another. You are smell-blind. You are human. You concentrate, straining your newly round ears. That’s her. Crying. You’re all hind legs. You don’t have the coordination to stand, so you lope on your weird human paws down the hall.
You push your head into door until you hit metal and it pops open.
He’s got her pinned.
You launch yourself at Him. You clamp his flesh with your blunt teeth, but your jaw won’t grip. He twists away. You growl. It sounds wrong, but you are bigger than him, so he runs.
Your girl cries. You lick her face. She shrieks and throws a blanket at you. It covers your head. You roll on the floor in it, waiting for her to take charge and tell you what to do.
The last thing you remember before the bright lights, cold steel, and ammonia is the stick of the needle, just like the needle in that other place where the dogs were hairy and the boxes were tight, where the bars were right in your face, but the howling was the same. You schooch into the corner and turn around three times. Your back paws can’t reach your head, so you bend your front leg in a new way and scratch behind your ear, humming her lullaby until you fall asleep.