Working Like a Dog

by Sarena Ulibarri

I guess we joked one too many times about the dog getting a job; he finally did it. I stopped to get gas on the way home from the shop one day and there he was, wearing a little backwards uniform shirt and restocking the chip aisle in the convenience store. My wife said he'd seemed more tired than normal in the evenings, but we figured he'd just spent the day chasing squirrels out of the back yard.

The manager rang up my gas and four beef jerky sticks while I watched the dog drag a new sack of chip bags out of the stock room with the same enthusiasm he used on his favorite rope toy.

"I didn't know you hired corgis," I said.

"Fair hiring practices, man," he said, "He's too short to work the cash register, but he's a decent stocker."

I took my beef jerky and receipt, and paused by the chip aisle on the way out.  He looked up at me, chip bag in his mouth, foxy orange ears perked, white feet splayed on the floor.  His eyes drifted to the jerky in my hand.

"Good boy," I said and walked out.

The dog was so proud when he brought home his first paycheck, a mouthful of green bills.  I guess dogs can get jobs, but still can't get bank accounts.  It's an unfair world.  He laid the money at our feet and wagged his whole tailless rear end.  We gave him an extra treat and rubbed his white belly. We used the money to pay our overdue electric bill.

But over the next few weeks, the dog grew surly.  He was working longer hours now, and he'd drag in an hour after my wife and I got home, smelling like gasoline and junk food.  He'd eat his kibbles, pee on the tree outside and then go to bed.  He stopped sleeping on the bed with us, preferring his dirty dog house in the yard, where he could snooze without having to negotiate the tangle of human limbs.

"How you doin', buddy?" I asked him one evening.

He was flat on his belly on the kitchen floor, stubby legs sticking out behind him, ears drooping. He still wore the backward uniform shirt, and it was dirty and stained.  He looked up at me with a ring of white beneath his black eyes.

"When's that next paycheck coming in?" I said, "Dog house rent might be going up soon."

He flipped his feet under, stood up and stalked out of the room, giving me a dirty look over his shoulder.

I was joking, of course, but then, that's how this whole thing started.  We'd laugh and pet his head and that was that.  But really, we were better off now that we were a three-income family.

The next time I stopped by the gas station they had him out scooping kitty litter onto an oil spill, holding a garden spade between his teeth so he could dip it into the bucket. He kept his back to me the whole time, but he knew I was there.

Inside, I paid for my weekly stash of beef jerky.  I'd upped my ration to six now, a simple splurge.  On my way out, I watched a Yorkshire Terrier trot toward the restrooms with a fresh roll of toilet paper.  Stereotypical little thing, too: long gold fur, little top-knot tied with a pink bow. Even her uniform shirt was pink. I whistled a cat-call at her and she turned to me with a surprised look, then hurried down the hallway.

The dog didn't come home that night.

"Probably working a double shift," I said to my wife.  I told her about the Yorkie, but she didn't think it was funny.  She said I could get banned from the gas station for sexual harassment, and I said it was a freaking dog, and she called me a sexist and a specist.

I slept on the couch that night and the next morning I saw the dog rounding up his toys in the front yard, dragging his dog food bag outside.  The little Yorkie with the pink bow waited on the side walk.  The dog was moving out.

I saw him a few more times at the gas station.  They even got him a step stool so he could work the cash register.  My wife was real upset when he left, cried for days, kept sweeping up his fur and collecting it in a little ball at the foot of the bed.

She's been happier since we got the cat, but I've had to cut down to three beef jerkys.  Some weeks, none at all.

As she left for work this morning, she scratched the cat's ears with a smile and said, maybe just out of habit, "When are you going to get a job?  Cat food isn't free, you know."

I was worried for a second, after what happened with the dog.  But the cat flicked its tail and purred while my wife picked up her briefcase. Once she was gone, I saw the cat put its paw on the remote control and order pay-per-view.

BIO: Sarena Ulibarri is an MFA student at the University of Colorado-Boulder, where she is also on the fiction editorial staff of Timber Journal.  Her fiction has recently appeared in decomP, Flashquake and Zahir: A Journal of Speculative Fiction.  She has a corgi named Einstein who has a full time job making sure the house is always covered in fur.