(Note: This is a piece of fiction, based on this week's challenge over at Write-of-Passage. The challenge is: "Find a person in public today and study their character. Make a story surrounding them. Build them in to your shorty essay.")
I am so sick of these damn dogs. I never wanted dogs. I don't like them. They smell, they bark, they can't use toilets. I especially don't like big, hairy, black ones. But they, like most of the things I don't like in my life, came with Kevin. Now Kevin's gone, and I'm still walking these dogs, every day, around and around the block. I wait as long as they'll let me and then I put them on their stupid leashes and walk them in circles.
Kevin's insistence that I'd grow to love his dogs should have tipped me off before anything else did that things with him would go bad. When I say I don't like something, I am not just doing it to hear my own voice. He could have insisted on keeping the dogs without demanding that I "warm up to them." I'd probably have resented them less if he had. But instead, he was so sure that I'd grow to "think of them as my children." No. I wanted children, once. My children would have, eventually, learned to wipe their own chins and asses. Unlike Kevin, though, I don't insist that I know better than someone else what he or she likes. When he said he didn't like children, I believed him.
The dogs were just puppies when I met Kevin. Brother and sister, he said, though I don't think they're smart enough to know what family is. He got them from someone with a box in a grocery store parking lot. He called them "mostly Lab," but they're really just big, hairy mutts. They were a year old when we started living together. I wanted him to move in to my apartment in the city. It was a beautiful, old apartment on a great street. It was close to everything--work, shopping, restaurants. But it wasn't a good place for the dogs, or for his bikes, or his tools. So I moved in with him, in this suburb, where all the streets looks the same and I still get lost after all these years.
Kevin knew every inch of this development. He knew which roads went through, which were dead ends, which led to parks and trials. He even knew which houses put up the best Halloween decorations and Christmas lights. He used to walk the dogs by a different route every day. He said it kept life interesting for them, that they could smell new things and mark new territory with each day's walk. He drove to work by the same route every day, every day had the same breakfast, every summer took the same vacation, even got me the same birthday present three years in a row, but he was very concerned with breaking up the monotony for his dogs. Now, I walk the dogs around the block, always north-to-south, for exactly thirty minutes (which is seven times around). They still sniff and pee, still pull on their leashes when they see a squirrel. I don't think they know the difference.
Kevin's been gone a year now. When his sister came for his memorial service, she said the dogs he loved so much must be a great comfort to me. I almost laughed in her face. Which part, I wondered, was supposed to be comforting? The gross, wet noses pushing against the backs of my legs? The constant muddy floor from their paws? The vet bills that were now mine to handle alone? Maybe it was the walking that was supposed to comfort me, the leashing up Kevin's dogs and walking them around Kevin's neighborhood, without Kevin. Or maybe it was watching them age, their black muzzles growing steadily grayer, the fatter of the two developing a bit of a limp. Maybe I was supposed to be comforted by watching them die, just like I'd watched Kevin die.
I know I don't have to stay here. I could sell this house, give the dogs to the pound, get rid of the bikes and tools. I could move back to an apartment in the city--maybe not one as nice as before, but one similar. I could shrug off all the things that Kevin left me with that I never would have chosen on my own. I could lose the suburban weight I've put on, get some stylish clothes, try again. I could call this whole creating a family experiment a loss and start over. But I won't. I'll keep having the lawn cut every second weekend, and stringing up white icicle lights the first weekend in December. I'll keep buying the same soap, the same coffee, stopping for gas at the same station. I'll keep walking these dogs, who I can't stand, in circles around this block. I'll keep waiting for him to come back.