Anthony rested his head on his forearms for just a moment – the all-nighters were taking their toll. His long hair covered the laptop, next to the heavy neuroscience journals. Some printouts fell from the desk.
The sheets landed on Roshko. “Wuf!” he complained.
Anthony did not move a muscle; his obsession had drained all energy out of him. All he thought of, apart from Andrea, was the prototype.
Unsupervised, Roshko decided to have some fun. Like an alligator about to sneak up on his prey, the big Golden Retriever crawled under the desk. He sunk his head in the paper basket and ran around the living room, banging his “helmet” against the furniture, leaving a trail of rubbish.
Not even the thud of a falling chair woke Anthony.
Panting, Roshko suddenly stopped. He dropped the paper basket and tensed up. Listening…
“Wuf, wuf, wuf!”
Somebody slipped an envelope through the mail slot. Roshko kept barking.
“Roshko!” Anthony said. “Shut up! What’s the matter with you?”
When he straightened up, the laptop pulled his hair. “Ouch!” he screamed as he hurriedly untangled his disheveled hair. “Look what you did! You can kiss that paper basket goodbye!”
Anthony followed Roshko’s trail to pick up the rubbish. Then he put the basket on the tallest bookcase in the living room.
The morning sun hurt his eyes. Squinting, he saw the envelope by the door. It read, “MIT Grants Allocation.” There was no stamp. Somebody from the university had taken the trouble to deliver it in person.
This must be it! He sat down and opened the envelope.
“Dr. Clay, I regret to inform you that due to the lack of progress with your Brain Peripheral prototype, your grant will not be extended. Yours, Dr. Raymond Henderson, Cognitive Neuroscience Department.”
Anthony felt the tremors in his whole body. He took off his glasses, tossed them on the coffee table, and sunk his face in his hands. He breathed in and out, loudly.
Roshko snuck his head between Anthony’s legs, pried apart his owner’s hands with his snout, and licked his nose. That finally got a laugh out of Anthony. Turning his face left to right, Anthony pushed him away. Roshko always knew when something was wrong, and he loved him for that. Glancing at his watch, he said, “Hey! Let’s go, buddy! Time to visit Andrea!”
Roshko wagged his tail.
Andrea’s room overlooked the lush, beautiful gardens around the expensive clinic. The place could have been a holiday resort, Anthony thought. He could be staying here with Andrea for a week, to get away from it all. But he knew it was Andrea who would be getting away from him soon – unless he finished his prototype. He walked up to the window and saw her through the glass.
Roshko saw her too. He pressed his paws against the glass, and barked.
“Hush!” Anthony said, and gave Roshko a few of his favorite cookies. Then he checked in at reception.
It was hard kissing Andrea with all the tubes coming out of her mouth. It was hard caressing her head with all the sensors glued to her scalp.
“Hello my love,” he said. “Guess who came with me today!”
Anthony stuck his head out the room and looked around the hallway; nobody in sight. He shut the door and opened the window. Roshko jumped through. Wagging his tail furiously, he licked Andrea’s hand.
Anthony took her other hand and held it against his cheek. “I’m so close,” he said. “So close! The prototype is almost finished.”
Roshko tensed up.
Somebody knocked on the door. It was a strange knock: toc, toc-toc-toc-toc, toc-toc. A smiling nurse hurried inside and closed the door behind her. “Aha!” she said. “The troublemaker!”
“Hi Susan,” Anthony said. “Don’t worry, we’re leaving. I don’t want to get you in trouble.”
“Never mind that,” she said, her smile disappearing. “I’m afraid I’ve got bad news. You didn’t hear this from me, but I heard the director talking to the comptroller yesterday. They were talking about your debt. I think they won’t give you any more extensions.”
Time was running out and Anthony was becoming desperate. He had to finish the Brain Peripheral prototype before Andrea’s brain shut down completely. He sent Roshko to the backseat and turned on the radio – anything to distract him a little.
“…and the doctors said that Detroit Red Wings’ star Anton Romanek’s brain injuries have left him in a vegetative state. It is up for his family now to decide whether to stop life support. Mr. Romanek has been in intensive care at the Detroit Medical Center since Friday, when he suffered a freak accident during the hockey game against-”
Anthony turned off the radio in disgust. It was just two weeks ago that he proposed to Andrea. How things changed! She was lucky she did not die in the crash, but her head injuries were so serious that the doctors said she would be a vegetable for the rest of her life. Twenty-six-years old! Despite being only thirty-one himself, he felt like an old man already. He pictured himself alone in his MIT residence; just another bitter professor. He knew he could never love anybody else.
He forgot he was driving.
When the car swerved off the road onto the gravel, his instincts kicked in. He hit the brakes and the car zigzagged dangerously close to the ditch, stopping just short of the old pine tree that marked the entrance to the park. It was a good thing Roshko was in the backseat, or he would have flown through the windshield.
“Wuf!” Roshko cried.
“Sorry, buddy.” Anthony rested his head on the steering wheel. “Let’s go to your favorite place. We’re already here anyway.” He parked the car and put the leash on Roshko’s neck.
It was a beautiful Sunday morning. Roshko busied himself sniffing hundreds of sweet spring smells, and dragged Anthony to the rocky outcrop – his favorite spot.
I have to talk to Paul, Anthony thought, struggling to keep pace. He’s my last chance. He’ll find someone in MIT to help with the memory interface.
At the outcrop, Anthony took off the leash and Roshko darted off.
“I need your help, man,” Anthony said over his cellphone.
“Why I’m not surprised!” Paul said. “What is it this time? You know I can’t lend you any more money.”
“No, it’s not that. They’re going to move Andrea to a hospital. And hospitals don’t have the same state-of-the-art equipment to keep her brain active. She’ll become a vegetable in a week!”
A pause. “I’m sorry… What can I do?”
“I have to finish the prototype. It’s the only way. I need that memory interface!”
“Anthony, the only person who can help you is that crook from the Artificial Intelligence department. Word is that he’s here to steal ideas for his buddies in big corporate, and then he’ll shut down the department. MIT’s bureaucrats contracted him without even looking at his past engagements. Trust me: you don’t want to deal with him.”
“I’ve got no choice. Andrea’s got no choice.”
“So this prototype of yours, where is it? Can I see it?” said Bruce Wang, with shining eyes, as if he was about to buy a yacht for the price of a dinghy.
“It’s at my place, Dr. Wang. I’ve spent the last five years building the Electromagnetic Field Inducer and the Mapping Xaser. It’ll work, I can assure you.”
Bruce rubbed his chin while he scrutinized Anthony, as if contemplating whether to bet on a race horse. He placed his hands on his desk and said, “And yet, you need my help.”
“Yes, Dr. Wang. There’s one module I can’t build, I don’t have neither the equipment nor the knowledge. My prototype interacts with the neurons by means of targeted electromagnetic fields, but it lacks a medium to store the information.”
“Call me Bruce. I think your project has some potential, and I’m inclined to help.”
He took out a document from a drawer. “This is a letter of intent. We will sign the contract upon completion of the prototype.”
Anthony skimmed over it and realized he was about to sell his soul to the devil. Among the things he would have to surrender to Wang Consulting Services, was the patent.
He signed it.
“Excellent!” Bruce uttered. “I’m going to introduce you to Kumar Ansari, my Chief Computer Hardware Engineer. He’ll take it from here. We’ll be in touch!”
Anthony arrived late to his lectures, and left early. He was pulling all-nighters with Kumar and his team, and he barely paused to wonder why Wang’s people were so dedicated. They went about their tasks like modern-day slaves clad in lab coats.
Visits to the clinic became less frequent, and Anthony limited Rohko’s walks to a block around his residence – whenever he showed up to catch a few hours of sleep. It all paid off.
The EFI and the xaser were now neatly packed into the headpiece, connected by ribbon cables to the CPU in the backpack. The state-of-the-art memory modules added up to 4PB, the agreed capacity of the human brain.
Back in the lab, a tired Kumar said, “I think this is it.” The bearded scientist extended his right hand. “Congratulations!”
“Thank you, Kumar,” Anthony said. “I couldn’t have completed it without your help.”
“Do you want us to run deep tests?” Kumar asked.
“No. You’ve unit-tested it enough already. I’m going to take it home and calibrate it. It must be able to detect and avoid dead neurons, and build a bridge between the active ones and the external memory. When I’m done, I’ll bring it back so you can install and configure your proprietary software.”
Kumar poured himself one last cup of tea. “Call me if you need help. But right now, I think you should get some rest.”
Anthony felt in debt to the man. “Kumar, why are you working so hard on this? I hope Wang has promised you a share of the profits.”
Kumar laughed. “My friend, that man only cares about himself. He has tried to outsource my entire department many times. Only through my work, and the work of my team, have I convinced the dean to keep us around. We work unpaid overtime just to keep our jobs. An entire department depends on me, Anthony. We are just trying to hang on until Wang’s contract ends. He is a very bad man, a very bad man,” Kumar said, looking at his cup. He drank his tea, wished Anthony good luck, and left.
Anthony packed the prototype in a cardboard box and was about to leave the lab, but Bruce suddenly blocked the exit. Behind him, a serious looking man in a business suit shuffled papers in a folder. He wore such thick glasses that his eyes looked tiny.
“Ah, Anthony!” Bruce said. “We’re just in time. I’ve been following your progress and I must say that I’m impressed. I’ve asked Mr. Bodanzky here to bring the contract. Let’s go to my office!”
The lawyer opened his folder.
“Sign here, here, here, initial here, sign here, and here, and here, Mr. Clay,” the lawyer said.
Anthony left the box on the floor beside his chair and read the contract. His jaw dropped.
“What’s this?” he said. “It says here that I grant all invention rights to TPK Medical Systems! This isn’t what we agreed on the letter we signed!”
“That’s all it was,” Wang said. “A letter. Not a contract. This is the contract. I have made a significant contribution in the name of my associates and I have to look after their interests.”
“I won’t sign it!”
The lawyer cleared his throat. “Mr. Clay… If you do not sign, all assistance from Mr. Wang’s department will cease immediately. I believe you are aware that without the proprietary software, the Brain Peripheral is useless.”
“Anthony,” Bruce said, “just sign it and let’s get it over with. Actually, let’s get this business started!”
Anthony’s face turned red. “No! I’m not doing this for profit! I’ll find help somewhere else!”
He picked up the cardboard box and stormed out of Wang’s lab.
Still fuming, Anthony stored the box in his bedroom’s closet, and took Roshko for a much needed walk. Did he make a hasty decision? He would have to find another computer lab willing to design and code the vertical software from scratch. He checked his watch; forty minutes until his afternoon lecture.
Andrea was running out of time; that was his biggest worry. He went back to his apartment and left Roshko there, then he rushed to his lecture.
A heating and A/C contractor’s van parked on Anthony’s driveway. Both men wore dark blue overalls and carried metal toolboxes.
“Hurry up!” the tall man said to his short, bald accomplice, who was picking the lock. Child’s play. Thirty seconds later they were searching the living room.
“Look in the bookcases and under that desk,” the boss-sounding, tall man said. “I’m gonna try the kitchen.”
“Got nottin’ here,” the bald man said. “Imma check the guy’s bedroom.”
He opened the door, and froze: Roshko’s wolf-like gaze terrified him. The big dog meant business. Growling, he charged.
The bald man jumped back, barely managing to close the bedroom door. He fell on his butt. Loud, angry barks came from behind the door. The handle started to turn.
“Dog’s gonna open it!” the bald man said. “Let’s get da hell outta here! Screw this Wang guy!”
Anthony left his lecture ten minutes early, only to find the dean, waiting for him in the hallway.
“Dr. Clay, I need a word with you.”
It was a polite, unpleasant conversation. It started with the dean talking about the complaints he had received from students, about Anthony arriving late to his lectures and leaving early. But that was not the worst of it. The worst of it was that he had to pay the back rent he owed for his graduate residence, or find another place to live.
It just keeps getting worse, Anthony thought as he drove home. He would have to beg Paul for help once more. Perhaps he could pull some strings. Again.
He opened his front door and found a mess that had Roshko’s signature all over it: every drawer was on the floor, upside down. Every cupboard in the kitchen was wide open, and not just the ones under the sink – the ones high up, near the ceiling as well. Beyond Roshko’s reach.
In the bedroom he found his friend, spread-eagled on the bed, snoring.
Anthony opened the closet and pushed the hangers to one side. The box with the prototype was still there. That a boy, Roshko. That a boy. He sat on the bed next to him. He didn’t know what to do anymore.
Roshko woke up and licked his face.
Anthony went back to the living room to clean up the mess, and saw that the light on the answering machine was blinking. Two messages. Absent minded, he pressed play.
“This is a message for Anthony Clay. Mr. Clay, this is Ronda from the clinic. The administration has decided not to extend your credit any longer. Please call us back at your earliest convenience to arrange for Andrea’s transfer to another facility. If we do not hear from you by Monday, we will have to make a decision on your behalf.”
Anthony dropped the books he had just picked up, and stared at the answering machine as if it was some sort of executioner coming to take his life. The second message played.
“Anthony, this is Kumar. Wang is a very bad man, a very bad man. He’s firing people now because he claims he lost money with this project. He’ll destroy the department before he leaves. He’ll probably fire me too, that horrible man. But before he does, I’m willing to help you complete your prototype. Give me a call.”
Kumar took ten hours to configure the software. Anthony ran his tests and everything checked out. The prototype was ready. The headpiece looked like a Second World War aviator leather cap covered with dozens of blinking LEDs. Protruding from the back and sides, there were metal cylinders the size of pop cans – the xaser detectors and the EFI generators. Everything was plugged to the computer in the backpack.
“What’s next?” Kumar said.
“I’ll have to try it on someone with brain injuries.”
“And how are you going to do that?”
“I’ll go to the dean tomorrow morning.”
“Anthony, tomorrow’s Saturday.”
“I don’t care. I’ll go to his home if I have to!”
Anthony thanked Kumar for the twentieth time and promised to keep him updated. It was just after midnight when the bearded computer scientist left.
On the desk sat the prototype. Anthony looked at it as if it was of alien origin.
How do I get the dean to endorse human trials? Who am I kidding? He’ll laugh me out of his office! I’m such an idiot!
He found a bottle of whisky under the table – a survivor of the break-in. He took a sip. Not being a drinker, the alcohol went straight to his head.
I could try it on me. But no…my brain cells are healthy. There won’t be enough activity to prove anything. I need a subject with a damaged brain!
He kissed the bottle again. His vision got blurry. He burped.
From the sofa, Roshko barked.
Eighty-five billion neurons. I’ve got too many! He burped. I’ll sneak into the clinic, that’s it! And-and-and I’ll put it on Andrea!
More kisses to the bottle, more burping.
No! What if I hurt her?
He needed proof that his device would allow brain injured patients to bypass their damaged neurons, and use the computer memory instead. Healthy neurons would grow and replace the damaged ones, until eventually, when the patients recovered their mental faculties, the Brain Peripheral would not be needed anymore.
But he had to test it on an injured brain.
Roshko kept barking.
Or an underdeveloped brain. A brain with just one hundred and fifty million neurons. With one last, big gulp, Anthony finished the bottle and tossed it across the room. It hit the already wrecked bookcase and broke in several pieces. Roshko cried out, startled.
Anthony booted up the computer in the backpack and turned on the headpiece. The LEDs flashed a few times and then blinked once every few seconds. Stand-by mode.
He tried to get up but fell from the chair.
“Come here, Roshko!” he said from the floor. “That’s a good boy! Now you stay right there and you don’t go nowhere, you stay right there, okay buddy? I’ve got a surprise for you!” he said, reaching for the headpiece.
The TV woke him up. Some annoying clown who called himself Piffy was on. His head was killing him. To make matters worse, he sat up and banged it against the table.
“Ouch! Goddamn it!”
He looked for the remote. It was on the floor, next to Roshko. The Golden Retriever was glued to the TV. Standing on his tensed legs like a show dog, he did not blink. And he was wearing the Brain Peripheral. The LEDs on the helmet lit up in random patterns, indicating that the external memory was being accessed.
“My god! What have I done? Roshko!”
Roshko ignored him, so focused was he on the TV.
“All right kids,” Piffy the clown said. “Next up, finding the subject in a sentence. This is how you-”
Anthony switched it off.
Roshko turned his head towards him and barked; he did not stop until Anthony turned it back on.
“I’m sorry buddy, I’m so sorry. I must have been very drunk last night. Let’s get this thing off,” he said.
Roshko shook his head left to right, and, through trembling lips, showed his teeth. Anthony could not get the headpiece off – Roshko would not let him. So he sat on the sofa and watched Roshko watch TV. He was sleep deprived and hungover. Hoping the headache would go away, he closed his eyes for a moment…
He dreamt he was drowning, he felt the water getting into his mouth, into his lungs. Terrified, he opened his eyes. Roshko was licking his face. The LEDs on the headpiece were flashing.
All of them.
Roshko picked up a sheet of paper from the floor, and showed it to Anthony. In very coarse handwriting, as if from a child, it read, “Hello, I’m Roshko.”
“What’s this?” Anthony said. “Where did you get this, Roshko?”
Roshko picked up a pencil and a blank sheet of paper and pinned it to the floor with his front paws. Holding the pencil in his mouth, he wrote on the sheet.
“I wrote it. I’m Roshko. You’re Anthony, my best friend.”
Anthony wished he had not finished the whiskey. His first instinct was to search for another bottle, but the scientist in him took over. He showed Roshko the first page of a journal of cognitive neuroscience, and asked him to copy it. Roshko copied the first two paragraphs and was about to start writing on a fourth sheet before Anthony stopped him.
“This is incredible! You’re using the Brain Peripheral as an addition to your own brain! Can you understand me?”
“Can I take it off of you?”
Roshko wrote down: “Afraid of the fog.”
Anthony placed his laptop on the floor and opened Word. “Roshko, tap the keys with this pencil. Now tell me please: how could you possibly learn to read and write overnight?”
Roshko typed faster than he wrote. “I’ve always known things. But they weren’t clear. There was fog. When I put this thing on my head, the fog vanished. Everything that I saw, heard, smelled, and touched my whole life became clear to me.”
“Wait a second! When you put it on? Didn’t I force it on you?”
“You were yelling and slapping yourself, until you fell asleep under the table. I thought this was the paper basket so I stuck my head in it.”
All of a sudden, Anthony did not feel like Dr. Frankenstein anymore. “I’m going to connect my computer to the Brain Peripheral. I won’t turn it off, I promise!” he said.
The computer rendered a map of Roshko’s brain and its active areas. There was no mistake about it: Roshko was using one hundred percent of his brain, plus a good chunk of the external memory. The EFI had over-excited the neurons and they were generating a stronger than normal electromagnetic field. The Electromagnetic Theory of Consciousness, which stated that sentience resides in the field generated by the neurons, was no longer a theory. What Roshko’s brain lacked in processing power, it found in the backpack computer.
Roshko typed: “I’m hungry.”
“So let me get this straight, Dr. Clay,” the dean said, raising his eyebrows and tilting his head backwards. He was looking at Anthony through the bottom part of his glasses. “You are telling me, with a straight face, that your dog became intelligent when it put on that so-called Brain Peripheral of yours. Which, I might add, has cost this institution hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
“Yes sir, that’s exactly what I’m telling you,” Anthony said, nervously tapping his fingers on the dean’s desk and staring at him with eyes on the verge of popping out of their sockets.
“Dr. Clay… I understand that your fiancée’s situation has put you under extreme pressure. And you will forgive me, but I do not think that coming here and-”
“Would you like to talk to him?” Anthony interrupted. “I’ll bring him in!”
Before the dean had a chance to respond, Anthony opened the window and whistled.
Roshko jumped through. He wore the aviator helmet and the backpack. Behind his desk, the dean tensed up. “Does he…does he bite?”
“Allow me to use your computer, sir. Roshko, let’s make some room for you!” he said, and swept the dean’s desk clean of obstacles such as his full coffee cup, his expensive-looking clock, his telephone, and the pictures of his wife and kids, which all ended up on the floor.
“I opened up Word,” Anthony said as he patted the dean’s desk. Then he picked up a beautifully engraved pen from the pile of stuff on the floor and said, “Tap the keys with this.”
“MIT scientist makes dog intelligent.”
“Brain Peripheral human trials imminent.”
“Church of the Legionnaires of the Second Coming denounces Dr. Anthony Clay as a black magic practitioner.”
Days after the first press conference, MIT’s switchboard was still overloaded. Anthony had been adamant about making it public, because he feared corporate thugs might try to steal the prototype again. Now that the big news was out, he felt safe.
Above all, he felt relieved. The clinic cancelled his debt, encouraging him to mention – in the press conferences – how well Andrea was being treated. Finally, he had time on his side. MIT reinstated his grant, and he hired Kumar and his team to work on the human-rated peripherals.
Roshko was happy to provide precious feedback. He jokingly referred to himself as “the guinea dog”. While the celebrity dog loved the attention, he still required time for himself. The Brain Peripheral had not inhibited his instincts in any way; he longed for his favorite place.
Anthony was sitting on the rocky outcrop, checking his emails, when Roshko returned. There was something odd about him, he thought.
Roshko typed something on the smartphone attached to his left front leg, and showed it to Anthony. “Can we go home? I’m hungry.”
“In a second, buddy. What have you been up to, anyway? You look overly happy.”
“I’m a dog. I’m always happy. Especially when I get lucky, as you people like to say.”
“You dog, you!”
But that was not it. There was something else… The headpiece! The LEDs were not blinking!
Anthony jumped from the rock.
“Stay still, buddy. Let me check something quick.”
The headpiece was unplugged from the backpack. The getting lucky action had caused the ribbon wires to come loose. In one swift move, Anthony removed the headpiece.
Roshko barked, then he typed, “Why did you do that? The fog will come back!”
“Will it?” Anthony said. “Can you still understand me?”
“Wuf!” Then he typed some more, “Yes! Yes I can! What does this mean?”
“It means that your brain has rewired itself! Your neurons have gone into overdrive, and they’re generating an electromagnetic field that is strong enough to maintain awareness. You’re one smart dog!” he said, hugging his best friend.
It was their secret. Anthony feared that some religious fanatic could harm Roshko. His friend would wear the brain peripheral, but with the active components turned off – and the headpiece rigged so the LEDs would blink randomly.
Roshko appeared nervous during this week’s press conference in one of MIT’s auditoriums. He was answering questions from the press, and his words showed on the big screen above him.
“Don’t worry,” Anthony whispered into his ear. “Just act normal. Nobody will find out.”
Roshko sat on a chair behind a long table. Anthony was to his left, and the dean to his right.
Warily, Roshko scanned the first few rows. His sharp senses warned him something was about to happen.
Yelling, the crazed man sprinted from his front row seat. The press pass hanging from his neck flew over his head. “You godless warlock!” he shouted, pulling a revolver and pointing it at Anthony.
Roshko jumped over the table, losing the Brain Peripheral headpiece. He was already airborne when the man pulled the trigger. When he bit the man’s neck, the lunatic dropped the revolver and fell backwards. Security guards jumped the fanatic.
“Nooo!” Anthony screamed, running to Roshko, who was struggling to breathe. His chest where the bullet had hit – was wet, but his back was dry. The bullet had not come out.
The bullet that had been meant for Anthony.
“Roshko! Roshko!” Anthony cradled him like when he was a puppy. Roshko howled, and typed something on his smartphone. Blood spurted out of his wound.
A young veterinary student from the audience rushed to assist. She put pressure on the wound, and listened to Roshko’s heart. Looking at Anthony, she shook her head.
Roshko fixed his eyes on his best friend, and smiled.
Surrounded by majestic oaks, in a prominent spot in the garden near MIT’s Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, there was a rounded rock with a plastic paper basket on it, no different from any other you can get at a dollar store; except this one had been chewed on the edges. Flower arrangements sent from universities, governments, and regular people from all over the world, were piled up into a multicolored mound around the rock.
Anthony cleared the flowery mountain a bit to reveal the writing on the tombstone: “Here lays Roshko, the first intelligent dog. Loved by Anthony, his best friend. Loved by the whole world.”
From her wheelchair, Andrea held his hand. She was wearing one of the first human-rated Brain Peripherals. Anton Romanek, the hockey player, stood beside them. He did not need his Brain Peripheral anymore.
“Roshko was my best friend,” Anthony said to the crowd of alumni and academia. “He saved my life. He saved the life of countless people with brain injuries. As the first patients recover their mental faculties, we will always remember the one who opened the doors for them. Thank you, my friend.”
Clapping, the attendants opened a path for Anthony and Andrea to pass through. The now famous scientist and his recovering fiancée went home.
The LEDs on Andrea’s Brain Peripheral were barely blinking, a clear sign that her healthy neurons had built new pathways. Her injuries had been much more serious than those of the hockey player, so her recovery would take longer.
“I gotta go, honey. You rest now,” Anthony said.
“His favorite place?” Andrea asked.
He nodded, showing her Roshko’s smartphone.
It was a sunny morning. Anthony sat at the top of the rocky outcrop and read Roshko’s last request, as he had done every Sunday, for months.
“fav place find mina”
He was not sure what that meant, but he would keep coming back here, every Sunday, for the rest of his life if necessary. He remembered, when Roshko was a puppy, the first time he brought him to the park. He remembered the beautiful brunette who was sitting on the outcrop, reading her heavy book. He remembered Roshko climbing the outcrop to introduce himself to her – and break the ice for him.
He was lost in his thoughts when he heard the voice of a young boy.
“Mina! Mina! Come here girl! Time to go home!”
A beautiful German Sheppard ran across the foot of the outcrop towards the boy, who put a leash on her. Then they walked away.
Intrigued, Anthony followed.
The boy and the dog headed to a rundown neighborhood a few blocks north of the park. The grass had not been mowed in weeks, and there was an old, worn out sofa on the front porch. The boy opened the screen door and he and the dog entered the house.
Anthony went up the steps and hesitated for a moment. Then, resolutely, he opened the creaking screen and knocked on the chipped wooden door.
“Yes?” the woman in pajamas said. She had a cigarette in her mouth, and her hair looked like it had not been washed in days.
“Good morning, ma’am. My name is Richard Thomson. I’m with Animal Services.”
Her eyes opened wide and the cigarette fell from her mouth. “Oh, my! I-I-I refunded the money! I can prove it to ya! Let me get the receipts! Come in and I’ll show ya!” She waved him inside.
The woman rummaged through a stack of magazines, newspapers, and unopened envelopes. Anthony saw Mina curled up in a corner of the living room. The TV was on. Where had he heard that annoying voice before?
“Here!” the woman said. “Found ’em! I told ya! See? All seven buyers signed ’em! When I refunded the money! Look! Don’t you go giving me no fine me now, mister!”
Anthony read the greasy receipts. Something about returning young puppies to the seller.
“When the buyers complained that them dumb dogs didn’t do a damn thing all day but watch TV, I says to ’em ok then gimme ’em dogs back and I give you’s your money back! So they says yes, and that’s that! No fishy business, mister.”
Anthony entered the living room. The puppies were sitting side by side, glued to the TV. Piffy the clown was as friendly as ever. “It’s time to put the letters together into words, kids. Now grab your pencils and write down: ‘Hello’.”
The young children in the audience scribbled on their notebooks. The seven puppies spread out all over the house.
As if they were searching for something.
by Nestor Delfino