I haven't seen Snarf in a week. He doesn't appear when I fry entire bricks of bacon or when I drop pieces of my dinner, which I later forget about and mash into the carpet because I can't imagine a world without Snarf beside me at dinner. Since he was a golden fluff cake, he's never missed a meal. Now, we have an open door policy—he has his dog door and I have my human door—but a disappearance this long is strange. Each day, I blast the AC and leave a tray of pepperoni by his favorite air vent, but when I come home, no Snarf!
Truth be told, Snarf is a bit of a mooch, a leech and a messer-upper of life. Still I buy his pepperoni logs and cartons of strawberry ice cream for when he returns and is extra hungry. On a normal day, Snarf finishes his food then snags what he wants from my plate and mows it down. Sometimes, he even forgets he's indoors and squats right there to "open stomach space" for more food. Then you know what he does? He smiles, the old clown.
After two weeks, the freezer is strawberry ice cream side-to-side. I leave new cartons on the counter, internal gasses build, and the carton lids explode off. Under each lid, bogs of bacteria smell like dead mice in musty sneakers. Not that this will matter to Snarf! He'll devour it all the same. I cover the rotten dairy with saran wrap, duct-taping the clear plastic to the sides of the carton. And it smells better, slightly.
After three weeks, I staple signs to telephone poles. I draw a map on each sign with a big heart over our house, in case Snarf has forgotten where he lives. He is getting up there in dog years (12 years old!). Do dogs get dementia?
Soon, I have enough ice cream to paint the living room strawberry with mold molding. The snack drawer overflows with enough pepperoni sticks to start a midget winterguard. Snarf would howl at that joke. He'd slobber it up for fifteen minutes, his hind leg beating his stomach like a steel drum. Snarf's always had a great sense of humor but is limited in his joke telling. I pull his old paw, and he lets 'em rip. Sometimes, I lie in his nest of pillows on the bed and listen for his snores and sniff for a whiff of his old dog humor.
At Thanksgiving, I scoop cranberry sauce off for Snarf, but he's still not there. By now, the pile of dinner leftovers is a three-foot dune that resembles Jabba the Hutt. I spread the cranberry sauce into two ruby eyes and flop a piece of turkey onto the pile for a mouth, a green bean nose. After a few more meals, even fake Snarf turns to mush. Mush like my soul.
Then, one day as the stack of ice cream tops six feet high and the pile of leftovers spills into the living room and I'm really contemplating cleaning up because Snarf is never coming home, I get an email from none other than Snarf! He writes:
You're a fucking loser. I saw your signs and wanted to let you know that I've left and am never coming back.
Ha-ha. I didn't notice you were gone. JK. I have lots to tell you! Life has been wild and exciting, per usual.
See you soon,
I walk around the kitchen calling for Snarf. I step outside and call his name. I shout to my neighbors that Snarf is coming home. They look at me weird, but it doesn't matter because my boy is coming home. After Snarf doesn't come running, I return to my computer and hit refresh. There's another email from Snarf:
I'll be home tonight.
After dinner, I pound coffee and bags of Gushers. Then at midnight, I write:
Where are you, buddy? I'll stay up but you better get here soon!
At 7 AM, a message finally pops up from Snarf:
Dear Mr. Mayweather,
I feel bad. I saw your posters a couple weeks ago. Look, awhile back my father hit your dog with his Dodge Durango and had me run out and grab it. Honestly, it wasn't Dad's fault. Your dog sort-of threw himself in front of our truck (He was pretty quick for a dog his size). Anyways, we buried him out behind the abandoned ice cream parlor on Route 5. I'm really, really sorry.
It's the first time since Snarf left that I laugh. That dog can make a statue crack one. My fingers dance across the keyboard:
You're hilarious. I'm barely awake. Spent the whole night waiting for you. Get your butt back here or else I'm throwing away all of your T-R-E-A-T-S
I hit send and chuckle. This is quintessential Snarf. Tease and bait. Taps at the door, yet hides the tennis ball under his stomach. Doesn't wanna fetch, just wants me to search the house for his ball. A minute later, he responds:
Dear Mr. Mayweather,
I'm really sorry. I shouldn't have joked. I did not know how to break it to you. After I showed my mom your sign, she insisted I reach out. My dad said not to in case you sued. Please don't sue.
I'm sorry again,
P.S. Please forgive my son. He made a terrible joke, but he AND his father are BOTH sorry about what happened
I can barely scroll down to the postscript I'm laughing so hard. I pound the desk with my palm. Oh Snarf, you dog. You crazy, crazy clown. I write a few words then send my response. I wait five then ten minutes. No reply message. I step away and rearrange Snarf's nest of pillows on the bed but then curl myself into his spot. It feels warm where he normally lies. I pull his hairs from the pillowcases. Then something prods my back. I readjust but it jabs just above my tailbone. I ignore and ignore until finally I reach behind me and pull a partly chewed pepperoni stick from between two pillows. It's hard like a dried bone. Must be part of Snarf's hidden cache of Italian meat. I trace his teeth in the empty marks on the reddish skin then slip it into my pocket. Snarf will want it, even if it's fossilized. He'll want it when he returns, and I'll give it back.
BIO: Casey Quinn lives in North Carolina. He has received scholarships from Bread Loaf Conference, Squaw Valley Community of Writers and Hamilton College. His fiction is forthcoming from Post Road.