Chapter A0 - Beginning
I stopped and watched her pick her way along the path, and I remembered.
I remember seeing her the very first time. Shen was covering for a vet in a small mountain town, when she brought her dog into the clinic. She looked so sad and worried and smelled of sour stress sweat. Her dog was half dead when she arrived. I could smell that her dog was clinging to life by a strand and I wasn’t sure why she had not let go already. It was as if she felt obligated to stay until her master released her.
And her master was there, to do to just that. After many tears it was clear that her dog friend would not be staying no matter what she or Shen did. I saw the way she touched her pet, gentle loving strokes. As I watched my fur twitched in sympathy as I imagined those touches on my fur. Her fingers tracing the curves of my shoulders and along the ridge of my back.
Shen did the injection. And her friend drifted away. I’d seen it many times in the short time he’d been acting as the vet in this little town.
But this time was different, even for Shen. He watched her.
I couldn’t put my finger on it, but he smelled different. Something about this was different for him. I came to realize later that it was her and not her pet that was the difference. I never understood how he convinced her to stay with him.
Her fur was long and curly, the color of fall leaves. Her furless face was beautiful to me, different from the faces of the people at the lab. Underneath it, she smelled floral, and like the wind. I watched her from a cage in the stacks. I could see everything. She still stroked her dogs head long after she’d left. The air seemed to permeate with the smell of her sadness and the salty tang of her tears. The other animals around me, went back to their needs and their naps, but I couldn’t take my eyes off of her. I had never felt love like that, from Shen. What was it like to be beloved for just being yourself? To receive praise just for being?
I don’t know why he brought me with him while he covered as a vet. I used to be his favorite, he would always cheer for me in my new tests and challenges after my treatments. It made the constant pain bearable to know that I could be good at something.
I tried and tried my best. But lately he’d become disillusioned with me. The treatments increased, but I wasn’t able to win the challenges any more, and I wasn’t able to please Shen anymore. He was always upset with me. He stopped reading my scores, I don’t think he even realized that I had begun to understand words in my mind. He talked now of my limited usefulness, called me a “genetic dead end” and how I was a waste to pursue any further, but I still did my best every time. I hoped that he would look at me again, that he would care again about my tests. I don’t think he even cared anymore.
It didn’t matter, he hadn’t given me a treatment for months and no challenges either. And now I sat in my cage, fully healed, in the vets back office and watched her with her dog, and I wondered, would Shen mourn me at my passing?
Was that why I was here so he could give me a shot, now that he had determined that I was no longer good enough for him?
But I’d gone back to the lab with him and he took her back with him.
But now she was here, with me.