by Robert Pope

We were talking about dogs, and our dog in particular. Tom said, ‘Penelope, I wonder if we give dogs too much or too little credit for thought?’

I said it was hard to know, unless we could be inside the head of a dog for an afternoon, but the two options are brought together and forgiven by love.

This did not satisfy Tom, who is always searching for answers that satisfy his deeply existential longing. His words, not mine.

I went on to suggest intelligence might be overrated, as for example, we may think of one breed of dog as more innately intelligent than another, but, in the final analysis, both are dogs, and thus limited by a dog’s potential for intelligence.

‘Like people,’ I extrapolated. ‘All in all, we’re as intelligent as human beings can be, which, in my estimation, is not terribly intelligent.’

‘I wonder,’ he said, ‘if a dog, Herman, for example, ever feels limited by his form.’

‘Do you mean does he ever wish to be human?’

‘Does he feel limited by four legs, a tail, and the degree of intelligence apportioned to dogs?’

‘Interesting,’ I said, because the question meant literally nothing to me. Not so Tom. He fell in a brown study the rest of the evening. When time came for bed, he would have none of it.

‘Why must I walk upstairs on two legs and lay my head on a pillow like every other living man in creation?’

‘After all, you are a man, aren’t you?’

‘Yes, of course, but how did I ever become so complacent that I felt satisfied by two arms, two legs, and a head placed in balance with these like every other man?’

‘I see what you are getting at, but to tell the truth, I am too tired to carry this line of thought any further.’’

‘That’s it,’ he said. ‘At the point of revelation, we are too tired to carry the thought further.’

‘You may stay up all night pondering the question, if you wish.’

I went to bed, read my beside book a few minutes before my eyes drooped, and slept through the night. When I came down in my dressing gown the next morning, he still sat at the kitchen table scribbling notes, the dark circles under his eyes slightly frightening.

‘Have you slept at all?’ I demanded.

‘Not a wink,’ he said, from deep at the bottom of his dark quandary.

‘Don’t tell me you’re still thinking about being trapped in a human body?’

He lowered his head, sipped at his coffee, and continued scribbling.

‘I hope you figure this thing out before this evening,’ I told him, though I regretted expressing this sentiment so vehemently. ‘Remember, we have dinner tonight at the Harris’s.’

I took my coffee upstairs to get ready for the day, and when I went out to meet Tilly and June Bug, he was still lost in thought. I saw no reason to come home after a hearty lunch at Monty’s, so I had my hair done, went shopping, and didn’t return until dusk.

As I came up the walk, I gasped at the enormous owl on the front porch, turning its head this way and that. I stopped in my tracks as it took to the air, the wide wings flapping precariously close to my freshly done hair.

A bit shaken, I nevertheless went up the front steps, but when I took out my key to unlock the door, I saw that it stood wide open. I went in, quite tentatively, and proceeded into the kitchen, calling out, ‘Tom? Are you here? You will not believe…’

I broke off mid-sentence when I stepped into the kitchen. Though his papers and coffee splashes strewed the table and floor, he was not there. I went upstairs, calling for him. Once I had gone in this manner through the house, I sat on his side of our bed as dusk faded into darkness, unable to move for the longest time, until I found I had gotten quite hungry.

Robert Pope has published a novel, Jack’s Universe, as well as a collection of stories, Private Acts. He has also published many stories and personal essays in journals, including The Kenyon Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, and Fiction International, and anthologies, including Pushcart Prize and Dark Lane Anthology.