“Wrong!” he barks, but all he receives is a careless hand wave in his direction. It doesn’t mean anything. The color is right on that hand; the long skinny appendages of flesh are a mix of yellow and brown. He looks at the other one—the one draping over the edge of the couch.
The color is wrong.
He whines, and looks up at Beth. She hasn’t risen from the couch in days, not even to let him outside. His excrement lies next to the door, but not even that can mask the vile odor rising from her hand. Her nose is too small—too dry—to smell it. Its thick putrid rankness belongs to decomposing fruit and molding blood. It burns the sensitive tissue of his muzzle, and he pulls back his lips in an effort to lessen the intensity.
It doesn’t work.
“Stop that,” she says. He knows what that means. He cocks his head to the side, tall angular ears flattening against his brown fur. He’s not doing anything. Her voice doesn’t sound right either—the pitiful croaking of one parched for thirst but unable to quench it. She’s sounded like that before, when her nose was red and running. The flu, she’d called it—but even then she had opened the door for him when needed and filled his bowl with food twice a day. Emptiness claws at his stomach. He whines again.
It shouldn’t be grey.
Grey was the color of the world outside, of the park, and the lawn in front of the house. The blades of grass underfoot, the umbrellas of leaves hanging above his head; all were a mosaic of varying shades of grey. He knew Beth could see more colors than him—though he couldn’t explain how he knew. Maybe it was the way she pointed at grey on grey objects, and expected him to immediately notice. But flesh—no not flesh. That wasn’t grey.
It wasn’t supposed to be grey.
Beth sighed and reached toward him with her good hand. She was soft, made of jelly—a slab of meat like himself. But she wasn’t covered in thick fur, a pelt to keep her warm at night. She always felt cooler than him, the absence of fur worrisome. He would leap onto her bed at night and curl up next to her, trying to share some of his warmth with she who had raised him, walked him, fed him, and loved him. But now he could feel the heat—the unbearable heat of her skin—the feverish sweating of her pores that she seemed to ignore.
So very wrong.
She’d wrapped a cloth around her hand—the other one, not the one she scratched his ears with. But had she seen it? The white material had stained and sickly yellow puss congealed with blood oozed from beneath the wrapping. And there, just barely visible, was the horrendous grey.
He shifts closer to her, licks her sweating cheek. She tries to push him away, but there is no strength in her arms. They quiver and shake against his chest, and his panic increases. Her condition has only deteriorated, only worsened as the scent of rotting flesh grows stronger. No—he doesn’t want to consider—she can’t die.
She’s all he has. He counts the smiles he puts on her face, the sighs she makes as she rests alone. He waits for her return by the door, resolute as a statue until he hears the footfalls and the click of the lock. He curls up with her on the couch and watches the box of lights, resting his head on her knee and hoping that she’ll lean over and scratch his ears. He heeds her calls to come back inside, struts next to her down the street, and brings back whatever she throws and loves that she pays attention to him and plays with him and—
No No No
No No No
He looks up at her tired face, at the eyelids that obscure her blue eyes. She’s going to be so mad at him—she’s going to hate him. But he can’t let her die, and his eyes fall on the hand hanging limply off the couch. The stench is unbearable at this distance—like the carnage of road kill and diseased birds that he would never even consider putting in his mouth.
He licks his lips.