Bones by Ross Dohrmann

I’ll never forget those final days of Summer before He left and everything changed. He was always there, always, right after school He’d come home. During the summer, which He said is when the “dog days” are, it was even better because He didn’t go to school, so He could play and ruffle my neck like He always did. The last few days He was with me a lot, and laughing, and playing, and so much walking. Then one day He was sad and the next day He was gone.

They think we can’t keep track of time, but we can, we do. He left one year, and five months, and thirteen days ago. I knew He was going to go though. He’s left before, but I didn’t know it would be for one year, and five months, and thirteen days. I know when He’s going for a short time and when He’s going for a long time. When He goes for a short time He ruffles my neck and smiles, and points, and says to me, “Now, Bucko, you watch the house and take care of Mom.” Then I put my paw in his paw and He sits up straight, and then I sit up straight because He laughs and looks at me when I sit up straight, but I usually look at something else instead of Him. He didn’t do that one year, and five months, and thirteen days ago.

The third day before He left, I thought He was going to go for a short time because He started to put his things in bags, and He does that when He goes for a short time. I liked that day because He took me to the lake, and I like going to the lake because that’s where I swim. He put his things in bags for a while, and I sat close by and watched just in case He needed my help. After fifteen minutes there were too many bags, so I closed my eyes but didn’t sleep. He called my name and He had his ball glove. He looked at it, then at me, and put it in a bag, which made me happy because He likes playing ball and I like playing ball too.

“You’re going to have to help me get through the next couple of days, okay?” He said. I cocked my head.

It took a little longer to get to the lake that day because He went slowly in the car. Usually we get to the lake in seventeen minutes, but the third day before He left we got there in twenty-three minutes. I didn’t mind though because it was warm that day and the wind outside the car was warm, so I stuck my head out. When we got to the lake, He didn’t put my leash on like He usually does, which was strange because He told me one time, “You have to wear the leash, Bucko, so you’ll always be close to me.” He said it was okay though, so I got out of the car without my leash and stood close to him anyways because I felt safer, and otherwise He’d say, “No! Bad, Bucko, come!” I know I’m not bad, and I think He knows that too because He never sounds angry when He says I’m bad. He grabbed my ball off the car-seat and I ran fast ahead into the water.

He threw the ball far out into the lake for me like He always did, but He was quiet this time, which was not like He always was. All the other times we went to the lake He laughed and yelled out, “Good boy, Bucko, swim fast,” because I’m a fast swimmer and He likes that about me. On that day He didn’t laugh; He said, “Good boy,” but not “swim fast.” I didn’t mind though, because He still thought I was a good boy, which I was, because I swam fast even though He didn’t tell me to because I know it makes him happy. He threw the ball for forty-one minutes instead of forty-five, but I was okay with that because I swam extra fast that day and I was tired. When I got out of the water I sat straight up like I always did, dropped the ball in his paw, and waited for my towel. I like the towel because He always squeezes my whole body all at once and I bark, then He laughs because my bark makes him laugh, but I don’t know what’s funny. So I barked again when He put the towel on me, and He laughed, but this time it was quieter, like He was remembering a different bark that used to make him laugh. I wagged my tail anyway because I like it when He laughs.

The second day before He left, He put even more things in bags, which made me nervous, so I sat and chewed a bone because I wanted to be there if He needed my help like the day before. Also, He said we’d go on a walk if I waited and was a good boy, so that’s what I did because I like walks. I watched him for thirty-four minutes until He suddenly stopped putting things in bags. He stood still for thirteen seconds, staring at something He was holding in his paws, like I do when I find a new smell. He came and knelt down to me, holding a small collar and smiling. It was strange because He didn’t smell like He was smiling, because He actually smelled like He was scared, so I kept chewing on my bone. He placed the collar lightly on my nose, which made it tickle, and said, “Remember this, boy? It’s your first collar from when you were a puppy. You were so little though, you probably don’t remember.” He scratched my ear for three seconds, which He knows I also like, plucked the collar from my nose, and put it into a bag. I do remember the collar from when I was a puppy, because I wasn’t a puppy that long ago. I also remember the collar because He ruffled my neck for the first time after He put it on me, and I liked it right away.

We walked our usual path like we always did so I could say hi to other dogs, like Bento and Ratchet and Moxie, and squirrels, and so He could say hi to Mrs. Ellis. Mrs. Ellis lives close to us, and smells like cats which makes me want to pace and groan, but I have my leash on so I stay close. She also ruffles my neck, though differently than He does it, but I sit up straight anyway.

She said to Him, “I can’t believe you’re going in just two days! Did you know I changed your diapers when you were just a baby?” I didn’t know what that meant, but He laughed and I perked my ears, and He said, “Yeah,” but He stopped talking and played with his paws for two seconds and looked down at the ground. “It’s hard to believe.” I suddenly felt jealous because Mrs. Ellis had known him for longer, because I’d only known him for three years, and eight months, and fourteen days, but He didn’t take her for walks so I stopped feeling jealous. They talked a little longer about something called the East Coast and “dog days,” and then she hugged him. I didn’t know what the East Coast or “dog days” were then, but He was happy while they talked, so I was happy. He said goodbye to Mrs. Ellis and finished our walk in silence.

The day before He left is the day He was sad, and so I was sad too. I went to his room so I could help him put things in bags, but when I got to his room, He was sitting on his bed and all the bags were closed up and on the floor. I guess He didn’t want my help that day, but I sat straight up in front of him anyway. He wasn’t smiling, or laughing, or ruffling my neck, or calling me a good boy. He sat staring at the bags for three minutes before He took a deep breath in and let it out slowly, which He only does when He’s sad, so I put my chin on his leg because it usually makes him smile when He’s sad. Instead of smiling, He put his face in my neck and held onto my paw with both of his paws, and then He started shaking and the fur on my neck got damp. He kept his head buried in my neck for two minutes before He looked at me again. His eyes were puffy and wet, and He looked at me differently than usual. I got nervous so I looked at the bags, but there were too many, so I closed my eyes. He took another deep breath in and let it out slowly. I did the same. Even though his paw was still wrapped around mine, I felt scared. They don’t think we get scared very much, but we do.

We sat for six more minutes before Mom came in, slowly, with her head down, like I do after I eat out of the trash. They started to talk, and I don’t always understand everything they say because they speak faster than I can swim, but I listen anyways because his voice makes me less scared. They don’t think we listen, but we do. I heard Mom say, “Bucko will still be here, I won’t let anything happen to him.” I didn’t understand, because I’m always here, and He’s the one who goes places. He said back to her, “I know, but it’s going to be different. He’s always been there when I needed him. It’s going to be hard not seeing him every day.” I nudged my nose closer to him to tell him that I’m not going anywhere. This was a sad day. They don’t think we know when it’s a sad day, but we do. He put his head back into my neck and started shaking again.

He left the next day, and I barely felt like moving. I saw him in the doorway holding two bags, and smiling He said, “Come here Bucko!” He was smiling, but He didn’t sound or smell like He was smiling. I got up anyway and followed, and I moved my tail just a little, even though I didn’t feel like it, because He’s my best friend and I wanted him to know that I was still His best friend. He set the bags down in front of the door, and He told me to sit, so I sat. Mom was standing just outside and her eyes were puffy and wet just like His were yesterday, so I felt scared again. He knelt down beside me and He told me, “Bucko, I’m going to be gone for a little while. I’m not going away forever, but I’m not going to be right back either.” Instead of grabbing my paw, He wrapped his arms around my neck and buried his face below my ear, which meant that He was scared because He always puts his head above my ear when He’s not scared, and I saw Mom turn away over his head. After eighty-five seconds He let go of my neck and took my paw in his paw. “Bucko, I need you to watch the house and take care of Mom, okay?” He looked me in the eyes and He tried to smile, but I know when He’s really smiling and when He’s pretending. They think we don’t know, but we do. He sat up straight, expecting me to do the same like I always did. I felt too sad to sit up, so I dropped His paw for the first time and went to lie down in the corner. He stared at me for seventeen seconds, got up, picked up the bags, took one final deep breath and said, “I love you, Bucko.” Then they walked out the door.

That was one year, and five months, and thirteen days ago. He said He wouldn’t be gone forever, but each day felt like forever was getting closer and closer, because we know what forever is. Mom went to see him on the East Coast, but they said I had to stay here to watch the house. I feel sadder each time they don’t let me come with them, but I continue to watch the house because that’s what He told me to do, and I want Him to know that I am still His best friend.

Today has been a little different, though. Mom has been smiling all day, and she tells me that she is going to see him again soon. She doesn’t tell me to watch the house when she leaves, but I will anyway because it makes Him happy. I curl up in my corner and go to sleep because sometimes I dream about Him. They don’t know that we dream about them, but we do. They also don’t know that sometimes we don’t want to stop dreaming.

I don’t know how long it’s been when I hear the door open, but I hear his voice and I think I’m still dreaming. I hear him call, “Bucko! I’m back boy,” but I’ve had this dream before, so I take a deep breath like He did one year, and five months, and thirteen days ago, and keep my eyes closed. I hear footsteps, and suddenly my back starts ruffling very hard, so I snap my eyes open. I see a man smiling down at me, and His face looks familiar, but I don’t recognize Him at first. When I meet His gaze He begins to laugh and then I know it’s Him, and I get up faster than I’ve ever even swam before and knock him to the ground.

I am so happy, happier than I’ve ever been because after one year, and five months, and thirteen days He is finally back! But I am also so mad at Him for leaving, madder than I’ve ever been, so I bite down on His arm like a bone, but He only laughs harder and pulls me into his arms, paws grasped tight around my neck. He ruffles my neck again in the way that only He does it, not like Mrs. Ellis, or even Mom, and I am no longer mad, but I keep biting down on His arm because I don’t know what else to do. After two minutes of wrestling around on the ground we are both out of breath and He gets up on one knee. He looks at my eyes and I feel like He has never left, that He’s only been gone a few days. I eagerly sit up straight and slap my paw down hard on His leg. He laughs, takes my paw in His paw, sits up straight, I wag my tail, and one year, and five months, and thirteen days after the horrible “dog days,” he says, “Good boy, Bucko.”

He still goes away for a long time after He comes home for a short time. After He left again for a long time, I was confused and scared because I thought He was staying for good again, but He wasn’t. They think we understand, but we don’t. I don’t know where He goes, or what He does, or what the East Coast is, or why the final days of summer are called the “dog days,” but I do know now that He always comes back. Sometimes I want to chew on my bones or his ball glove, so I don’t always come right when He calls me, when He’s home. I see Him watching me when I chew on bones. They don’t think we watch them, but we do. He looks confused, like He doesn’t understand how I could be happy without him, chewing on my bones or his ball glove. But when I’m done chewing I always go over to him and sit up straight, and slap my paw on his leg, and wag my tail, and He always laughs and ruffles my neck.

I think that when He leaves for a long time, He goes to chew on His own bones, or something that humans do that’s like chewing on bones, because I’ve never seen Him actually chew on a bone. I’ll watch Him leave and wonder how He could be happy without me, chewing on His own bones. But when He’s done chewing He always comes home, like He used to before the “dog days,” and ruffles my neck, and wrestles with me, and lets me chew on his arm like a bone, and I know He’s so happy, like when we’re at the lake. I may not know why He always leaves, but I always keep track of how long He’s gone, because He’s my best friend, and I want Him to always know that I will be here, always waiting, even when Mom is gone and I’m alone, chewing on my bones. They don’t know that we always wait. They don’t know that I can wait for however long He’s gone, even if He never comes back. But I know He always comes back. They don’t think that we know.

*Ross Dohrmann is originally from the San Francisco Bay Area. He moved to Tacoma in 2010 to attend UPS, from which he graduated in 2014. Aside from reading, writing and playing guitar, Ross loves to travel and do “outdoorsy” stuff like hiking, running, and kayaking. He first heard about Creative Colloquy on a poster at King Books in downtown.