“How are you doing?” he said.
“This is a dream.”
“Yep!” he replied as his head turned and scanned the shoppers. “You know, I always liked it when you brought me here. Climate control. Lots of smells. And the food court…”
“You were food crazy.”
“Yeah. It’s the breed. They bred Labs to be food-focused. It helps with training. The trouble is it made concentration on other things very difficult.”
“Oooh, I don’t know about that,” I said. “You were pretty focused on chasing deer and other critters.”
“In fact, I remember several times you took off, right into the woods after a critter while I ran after you yelling ‘Come back! Have a biscuit!’.”
“And we had to establish a yearly veterinary budget because you kept running into things and getting hurt. Splinters in your toes. Barbed wire…”
“Hey! Those were…”
“Every year we could almost guarantee another $900 vet bill for some of your crazy shenanigans.”
He shrugged and looked at me.
“Do you regret it?”
I tilted my head slightly, questioning.
“Did you regret having me around?”
I reached down and scratched his neck exactly where he liked it. I knew the spot. I didn’t have to look.
“I loved every minute of it, Boris.”
He leaned into me, his leg shimmying.
I knelt over and nuzzled his head. I took a good sniff. Humans aren’t as well equipped in the nose department as dogs, but after ten years, I knew his scent. And I loved the smell of my dog.
He turned to me and began licking my ears. He gave them a gentle nibble.
I laughed, and soon heard the thump-thump of his tail.
We sat there for a minute, enjoying each others’ company.
A lady walked by carrying several bags and pushing a stroller with two toddlers. They looked at us with a curious detachment. One of them pointed at us and attempted speech, but could only manage “Mtrffshhhhglmrph”.
I looked at the dog and he at me. We laughed.
Eventually, we fell silent. Him leaning against me, and I with my hand on his neck.
We sat at the bench, and the shoppers continued their pursuits.
They parted around us as though we were an island in a river. Few of them took note of the man and his dog. Instead they pawed their smartphones and walked on.
He shuffled his feet, and I sensed something was weighing on his mind.
“I knew something was up when you took me out for burgers and ice cream. Then we walked out into the lawn and you had me lay on an old bed sheet.”
“You knew I was digging a hole.”
“Yeah, but I never thought…” he shook his head. “Look, I knew I wasn’t doing well. Every walk began with the usual excitement…”
“You loved your walks most of all.”
“… but after a few steps, I got tired. My legs were weak and my chest hurt. I could barely finish. And after, I’d sleep for hours.”
“Your heart was failing, Boris. There was nothing we could do.”
I held my hand on the back of his neck and gently stroked.
“I’m sorry we had to put you down.”
He looked at me with a knowing gaze.
“Yeah. Well… I had nine great years, and one final crappy one.”
“I wish it could have been otherwise,” I said, quietly.
I swept a tear away and tried to keep my voice even.
“It was for the best.”
We sat again in silence as the mall and its endless shoppers bustled in their noisy quest. A man stopped to tie his shoe. A woman coming from behind, her nose in her phone, almost knocked him over. Somewhere a child had a screaming fit.
All the noise faded away. A shroud of silence enveloped us.
He cleared his throat and turned to me.
“Even at the end, I trusted you.”