It’s almost midnight. Robin is asleep. Not just a sleep but hard asleep, the kind of sleep where when she snores she sound like a bulldozer. I can tell the exact moment when she drops down into rock hard sleep like that because her face twists, like when she struggles to open a jar, (or to slide from her wheelchair to the toilet) but then her face relaxes until her mouth falls open. And then she snores. And then I can slowly rise from my position snugged up tight against the crook of her legs. And I can tiptoe away and jump down from the bed and tiptoe into the closet and fire up my laptop with its revolutionary bark-activation software. And I get to tell my story.
Bark activation software is truly an extraordinary miracle. It is the greatest breakthrough in dog-human communication ever. All I do is bark into my microphone and it translates it into human English. It’s amazing. But it still has bugs that’s for sure. One bug, for instance, is that it only translates into human American English. I guess you could call that a bug. Because there are a bunch of human languages besides American English. Not all humans in the world speak to their dogs in American English. Most dogs in the world don’t understand a word of American English. Whoever the man was who invented bark recognition software (I assume, because of this oversight, that it was a man) must’ve only spoken American English to his dog so he must’ve assumed all humans speak to their dogs in American English. Humans who speak only American English tend to do that a lot these days I notice. And B, another bug is that sometimes this bark recognition software doesn’t translate very well. It doesn’t pick up the nuances of dog dialects and so it types out the wrong word. Like for instance, once instead of typing out the word pizza like I told it to it typed out the word uterus instead. It was an honest mistake, since the word for pizza in my dog dialect sounds like the word for uterus in human American English. But still, it’s just an example of how sometimes I have to bark a word over and over and over again until the computer gets it right. So it really slows me down. Plus, the bark recognition software probably also has trouble picking up what I’m saying because I bark so quiet. But I can’t help it. I have to bark quiet because I don’t want Robin to hear me. I live in fear of that—that Robin will find me in the closet with a computer and she’ll put it together that what I’m doing is telling the world about our lives and she’ll break into a rage and smash the computer to pieces. It takes a lot to make Robin break into a rage but that would surely do it. She hates to death when people “put my business out in the street like that!” She really hates it. I don’t know why. She acts like there’s a bunch of things she has to be ashamed of. But I don’t know anything, not one solitary thing, she has to be ashamed of. But she is nonetheless. And she really hates it when people air out her “private business.” Robin can act real suspicious sometimes. Like when the phone rings and a number comes up on the screen that she doesn’t recognize, she calls the number back and asks who they are and what the hell they want. It’s probably just a wrong number, but Robin assumes it’s someone spying on us. Sometimes, Robin acts like a fugitive, like there’s something big she’s trying to run away from or hide.
Robin is my homo sapien, as you’ve probably guessed. She calls herself my homo sapien because another thing she hates is when people call themselves their dog’s “owner” or even worse “master.” It makes it sound like we’re slaves or something, she always says. So she calls herself my homo sapien and she’s quick to correct anyone who calls her otherwise. She tells them they’ve got to get over their slave owner mentality. Sometimes people get mad and accuse her of being politically correct but she doesn’t care. She says she’s my homo sapien. I appreciate Robin for that. I don’t want to be treated like a slave.
I am Robin’s service dog, more or less. I ride around in the basket of her motorized, three-wheeled scooter. It’s a metal bicycle basket with a dog bed in it. On the back of the fiberglass seat of the scooter is a Chicago White Sox bumper sticker. Robin doesn’t care a whit about the Chicago White Sox, but she slapped the bumper sticker on the back of the seat to cover up where it says Property of K-Mart. She has another sticker on the front of the base of the scooter that says: KICK ASS ROCK WKGD. Robin would sooner have her teeth yanked out with pliers than listen to listen to kick ass rock but she slapped the bumper sticker to cover up where it says Shop-a-round. Those were the first bumper stickers Robin could find in her junk drawer. I remember when Robin first got the cart. The day before, we went to a government office. Robin took a plastic card with number 42 on it off a hook on the wall. They weren’t very nice at the government office. All the people who worked there had sour attitudes, like they all had stomach cramps. They called number 42. Robin walked up to the window. She was walking with her cane because her knees were killing her. I was on a leash. She handed over the accordion folder full of all her paperwork—her doctor’s note and her original birth certificate and some long yellow form she had to have notarized. The woman in the window pulled down the metal blind and she didn’t come back for what seemed like days. And when the woman finally pulled the metal blind up she said it had been determined that Robin wasn’t qualified for the government to buy her a motorized scooter. Robin said her knees were killing her and soon she wouldn’t be able to walk at all. And we sure can’t afford to keep taking cabs everywhere. The woman in the window told Robin she could file an appeal and gave her a long pink form and then she pulled the metal blind down. Robin looked like someone kicked her in the stomach. She was trying not to show it but I could tell by the way she dropped her head and squeezed her eyes closed and swallowed hard. All the way home in the cab she held back hard from crying. And as soon as we got home she cried hard, so hard that it twisted up my heart and made me want to go back to that government office in the middle of the night and leave a nice runny pile right outside their door, anonymously.
Robin cried. She sobbed. She sobbed so hard she exhausted herself. She went from sobbing to snoring just like that. And then she slept, passed out on the bed, for as many hours as she sobbed. I stayed up all night in a vigil, watching her. I was worried. It’s not good for a person to exhaust herself like that. It wears out the heart to shift gears violently. So I stood guard past midnight. And then Robin sucked in a great roaring snore and her eyelids snapped open and she sprung up startled and she looked around the room bewildered until she saw me next to her and my tail was beating the mattress and when she saw me her face relaxed as if everything was falling into place. She knew she was alive. She knew she was safe. But then her eyes rolled around like she was sifting through the memory rubble of the previous day’s events. (That how that guy Owen, who I lived with for a heartbeat after they took me from Bob, would do every time he woke up from being blacked out drunk. His eyes rolled around, like he was adding it all up.) Robin’s eyes stopped rolling suddenly and the glare returned, the glare of betrayal. But then she laughed. A big loud cackle. Crazy Robin. Big long crackling bursts. Waves rolled through her belly. And then she pronounced, “I’m sick of this bull shit!” She said it happy and proud, like a hallelujah. She picked me up with both hands and held me high in the air like a newborn baby. “Aren’t we Rosie,” she said. “We’re sick of this bull shit!” She put me back down on the bed and picked up the pink appeal form. It was still on the bed too from when she passed out from sobbing. She held it high too and she tore it up! She tore it into little pink pieces and threw them in the air like it was New Years Eve! I was happy. I didn’t know what might happen next. I didn’t even think what might happen next would be good. But I knew tearing up the form was good for Robin’s heart.
That afternoon, we took a cab to K-Mart. Robin huddled me tight in her arms. She wasn’t gleeful anymore. She was tense like a bank robber. She tied my leash to the bike rack at K-Mart and waddled inside. It didn’t seem like more than a minute passed before she whipped around the corner in a K-Mart electric cart. And it seemed like she never even slowed down as she reached down and untied me from the bike rack and scooped me up by the harness and dropped me into the basket. And her eyes looked scared. And she rocked back and forth in the seat while she drove. And she kept looking back over her shoulder. “Come on! Come on! Hurry!” she chastised the scooter under her breath. And I was in the basket! And the wind blew my ears back. And I was facing backwards. And the air smelled clean. And I could see the K Mart getting smaller and smaller but not fast enough. And this was fun. It was fun like a getaway car. But it was scary too. It was scary like a getaway car! If they catch us, will we go to jail? And Robin rocked and rocked. But no one was running after us. And K-Mart was shrinking away. And Robin never slowed down, not even when the light changed. And we were in the middle of the street when the light changed and a grey pickup truck blasted its horn and Robin shouted “Dickhead!” to the man in the truck and never slowed down, not until she was unlocking our door. And she fumbled with the keys and panted and she still kept looking back. And then we were inside and she slammed the door and triple locked it. She took me up in her arms and squeezed me hard against her chest and cried. She squeezed me hard like she never squeezed me before, like she was afraid someone was going to kick the door down and take me away. I licked Robin’s face. I was proud of her.
But I don’t want us to go to prison, so I worry. I worry when Robin argues, like she does all the time like when she argues with the person who brings us our food at the restaurant or with person behind the counter at the store or with the woman who comes to collect the rent. I cringe when she argues because anybody can see if they look hard enough that our Scooter belongs to K-Mart. It’s the same shade of gray as the big gray K on the K-Mart sign. And so they might get even by reporting us to K-Mart and K-Mart will call the police and Robin will go to prison and they’ll take me back to pet prison, where Robin got me from in the first place.
I’m terrified about going back to pet prison. I don’t ever want to leave home ever again. I’ve had enough of that. I don’t ever want to be taken away from home again, like I was taken away from Bob. That’s why I wish Robin wouldn’t argue so much. Maybe that’s why Robin’s so suspicious and fierce about being private all the time, because she’s afraid someone’s going to report us to K-Mart. Of course Robin was suspicious and fierce about being private before we got the K-Mart scooter.
Robin argues most when we go somewhere and someone says I can’t come in. She goes nuts when that happens. She says we’ve got papers. I don’t know if they’re official papers. I don’t know if there is such a thing as official papers. It’s just a letter from a doctor saying I’m her emotional support dog and she needs me with her at all times or she might have a breakdown. She shakes the papers at them and shouts something like “You’re in violation of CFR-8299 dash 19c!” or something like that. She says I calm her down and bark when it’s time for her to take her medicine and I wake her up from nightmares, though I don’t ever remember barking when it’s time for her to take her medicine. But they don’t even care when she waves the letter, the ones who says we can’t come in. They just walk away.
I am Robin’s court jester, I guess you could say. I make her laugh. I roll around on the floor like my pants are on fire. I dance on two legs. I wear a party hat, a cardboard polka dot coat strapped under my snout with a rubber band. I do whatever it takes to make Robin laugh. Sometimes I fart. I’m on call around the clock. Robin cries a lot. Sometimes the least little thing makes her cry. Like once a waitress asked if she wanted mashed potatoes and it made her cry. Maybe Robin lost somebody, like I lost Bob, and mashed potatoes remind her of that person. But Robin laughs a lot too. She laughs more than anybody ever.
And in return for being her court jester, Robin treats me mighty kind, sometimes like a queen even. We go to the store and she buys a can of ravioli. And right outside the store, right there in the parking lot, she opens it and eats raviolis with a plastic fork and I get some too. And Robin feeds me ham. Bob fed me ham too. Bob in his pajamas all the time, the tubes running from his nose to the gray tank that looked like a torpedo. Bob fed me ham, rolled up like a cigar. The salty goodness of ham, the heavy salty smell. I also love the color of ham, the soothing shade of gray. Gray is my favorite color because it’s not like black and white. Black is black and white is white. But there are infinite hues of gray. There’s the gray of the K on K-Mart and the gray of Robin’s face. (There are almost as many shades of gray as there are smells. Robin’s home smells like menthol liniment. Bob’s home smelled like rubbing alcohol. Owen’s home smelled like nasty cigarettes and deep fried food.) But my favorite shade of gray is ham gray.
I saw a picture of a whole ham once, dangling from a string. Robin’s legs look like whole hams. Robin’s lap is voluminous. When I lie in Robin’s lap, her flowered dress runs for miles in all directions. Robin’s lap is warm, like Bob’s. Warm is good. Everything begins with warm.
I don’t blame Robin for being secret and afraid. I’m only ready to tell my story in pieces. But this could be an anthropological milestone, telling my story, the story of me and Robin. It could revolutionize dog/human relations. So I’ve got to tell our story, even when it hurts. I hope if Robin ever finds out she’ll understand and forgive.
My name is Rosita Barkasaurus Smolinski. That’s the name Robin gave me.
This is my story: