ME, MY SKIP, AND I by Christian Angeles
Grey skies loom overhead. Grey clouds too. The air feels cold and wet from the rain. Refreshing, if it weren’t for the smell of Skip’s body odor that leaves a sour taste on my tongue.
Humans have such a distinct flavor. Salty and oily and sometimes, on rare and special occasions, sweet. Like children in the summertime after indulging in some tasty ice cream. There is absolutely nothing sweeter than a child’s soft and sticky fingers on a hot summer day.
You know, I bet humans would taste delicious. If it weren’t for the fact that they made such wonderful servants, who fed and worshiped and rubbed me in all the hard to reach places, I’d probably eat one. In fact, if I were big, and I mean really big, like as big as all of Bar Harbor, I’d eat all the humans. Especially the mean ones. All of them… except for Skip.
Oh, Skip. Bright of my life. Rubber of my loin. My beastly brother from another mother. Skip is my buddy, my “Such a good boy!” and my best friend. We sleep in several boxes scattered throughout town, sharing everything we have with one another. All the left-over morsels Bar Harbor has to offer. Skip is special. He is more dog than man. Skip naps almost as much as I do. When he runs, he pants with his tongue sticking out, just like me. He is also brimming with odors, each coming from uniquely different human holes! I discover new smells from Skip every day. He also fidgets in his sleep, the way that a dog chases cats in dreams, his arms and legs extended and flailing. Sleeping next to him can be brutal. Particularly the nights when he barks at his nightmares.
Last night, Skip and I slept beneath a box in an alley. During the storm, I noticed that the roof of the box began to collapse. I’d reached out to nuzzle Skip, but he was out like a log. At least until morning. When the overhead pool of water started dripping through the roof.
It still drips now. A pattering of drops dribbling down the lines of Skip’s cheek. I track them with my eyes. Tiny wet tributaries that finger along the wrinkles of my friend’s face. His scars from too many sun cooked summers.
Suddenly, the roof gives out and wakes Skip with a splash to the face. Screaming and sputtering, he spits out a series of unkind words. His reaction reminds me of my life back in the wild. The animals of the forest, and how hostile they’d be after I’d say hi by licking their faces.
Nature is not friendly.
People are friendly.
Another reason I will not eat them.
I hate nature.
But I love Skip.
These thoughts race across my face but Skip doesn’t understand my expressions. Such a silly human. I lick his face. He tastes like salty leather. Skip rubs my head and then behind my ear where I like it. Yeah. That’s the spot.
“Ugh. Good morning, Hopper.” Skip says.
“Hi, Skip!” I woof.
“You know the drill. Let’s find some grub.”
As we wander the town of Bar Harbor, we pass busy docks and even busier streets. The sounds of horns ring loud across the bows of massive ships. Damp splashes from the salty ocean leave a tinge of salt in the air from yards away. I can sense it all. I can see twice as fast and can smell fifty-times better than Skip can. Humans are so limited. There’s just so much more to the world I see, and better yet, smell.
As Skip and I continue our stroll, I bark at several delicious looking people around town. In a friendly manner of barking, of course. There are ten things that make Bar Harbor the greatest place ever. Ten are the amount of seafood restaurants that throw food out with their trash. Nine are the amount of areas to sleep where we can find fellow folks like Skip and I. Eight are the number of boats at the docks. Seven are the dogs I know at the park. Six are the number of secret squirrels that I know are always watching that I love chasing. Five are the streets around main street where all the good food is. Four is the handy amount of feet I have. Three is for the number of parks in Bar Harbor. Two is for pair of boxes me and Skip get to sleep in. And one is the one and only: Skip.
“Can I ask you something, Hopper?” Skip asks as he drags his feet. I tilt my head to the side in a curious fashion in retort.
“What would you do if I was dying?”
Dye Ying? What on earth is Dye Ying?
“Ah. So you’d want to come with me?”
No. No. I never said that.
“Well, we’ll just be sure to find you a good owner. Okay?”
You’re weird, Skip. But I love you.
In an alley around the corner of Main Street is our secondary set of boxes. Right behind Wichcraft, the greatest place in Bar Harbor. No, the world! Wichcraft is renowned for its signature Po’boys. Sandwiches crammed to the brim with the most succulent of delicacies, if I do say so myself. What’s great is the employees occasionally toss out some left-over sandwiches. Especially the yummy burnt ones.
Now let me get one thing straight: there is nothing better than a Po’boy. A soft belly rub after a big meal maybe, or a solid whiff inside of a human locker room may come close, but nothing quite tops a Po’boy from Wichcraft. They blend it with everything at this place: fried oysters, romaine lettuce, fresh seedless tomatoes, apple-smoked bacon, onions and even creole mustard pickles. Sometimes with a splash of vinegar, or sometimes not. It was perfect through and through. I know this, because Skip sometimes reads to me Wichcraft’s thrown out menus late at night. Right before bedtime, when he uses those menus to stay warm.
To my delight, I catch the scant scent of some Po’boys nearby. I trace the smell to the back of Wichcraft and head straight toward the dumpster. I bark at Skip. He nods in agreement and then dives right in. Skip scavenges through the goods, immediately tossing a few things out of the dumpster: plastic sacks, some stinky and slimy black goo that even I don’t want to be near, and a shiny thing I can see my reflection in. Gosh, I’m so pretty. I look back and see Skip’s arms extend outwards in a victorious V-shape motion, as Skip holds out in both fists a pair of perfectly fine po’boys.
And so, we feast. Like monarchs. Like beasts. And above all else, like two best friends. Two against the world with our po’boys and our tiny box cottages, lounging and laying around as life passes. Without a worry in the world. The best of times with the best of people.
I want this moment to last. Because I know that tonight, during the late dark hours, Skip won’t be like this. Won’t be happy. Won’t be Good. Won’t be the innocent Skip I love and adore. Tonight, Skip will go to the bad place again. No matter how much I wish he wouldn’t.
And I’ll have to protect him. As I always do.
It begins when the sun goes down. When the usual suspects of fellow vagrants gather beneath the docks. Skip waves them down from a distance and then heads over to the gathering in a slow and cautionary gait. I follow suit, though this time, I’m the one dragging behind.
I play the role of lookout, watching out for the bad humans with the flashing lights and the sticks. Though they’re the least of our worries. Worst is when I can smell sulfur in the air. A sure-fire warning that someone is carrying one of those loud boom-boom toys. The kind of toys only humans play with. The ones that make you forever dream.
The area appears shady and the only glimmer of light beckons from inside a tin barrel placed just below one of the edging wharfs. I bark, beg and whimper, trying everything I can to convince my best friend not to go. But it makes no difference. I can feel the darkness creeping upon us. I lick Skip’s hand and he pats my forehead. I deliver a dirty look of disdain, but he just smiles in return. Damn my dainty charm. I’m angry at you, Skip! Let’s leave before it’s too late!
Just then, something draws away my attention. A dark aura from the shadows. I growl at it. Though I cannot see the evil that lurks close by. It creeps up as sneakily as a cat. I can only tell it’s there by the distinct stench of toxins and cigarettes.
“Easy, Hopper. It’s going to be okay,” reassures Skip.
“You brought the damn dog again?” a voice inquires. A round man in a tattered windbreaker jacket emerges from the shadows. He appears menacing with sunken dead eyes, dark skin, and a receding fur line across his forehead. Quite the opposite from Skip’s handsomely gaunt and wrinkled skinned appearance.
“I gotta. Hopper’s my buddy. My friend.”
“Fine. But shut it the fuck up this time, Skip.”
I do not like this man.
Skip follows the scary man to the others beneath the docks. They move in a slow pace gathering around the dim lit garbage can. The others add some kindle to the fire and huddle together. Shooing away the cold darkness with some warm illumination. As silhouettes round together, they become more focused in appearance. In terms of deliciousness, they look like the kinds of people that would get you sick after eating. In terms of meanness, these guys are on the top of my food chain.
I sniff around in all the usual places. The area’s secure enough, though one can never be too cautious with humans. I greet everyone I can with the average nose-down. They pet and receive me and find it rather adorable, not realizing my clever ploy. Dogs seem friendly because we pretend to be! The real purpose of our affections is not for amusement, but rather, to snoop in up close because we don’t trust all too easily. Which may come as a bit of a surprise.
I can gather a lot about where a person’s been by licking their skin and sniffing at their feet. It tells me the type of places this person frequents and the kind of company he or she keeps. I can also gather with three good sniffs in someone’s butthole and crotch: how healthy and hygienic someone is, figure out where a person lives, what their daily routine is, know what they put into their body and what their favorite foods are, know how frequent this person masturbates or has sex, know where a person spends most of their time, and find what their socioeconomic status is, or as I call it, where does this person fit in the human’s version of the food chain.
Did I mention my kind processes sensations much faster than a human? We’re so good at smelling and touching and tasting all the things, that we don’t even know what to do with all the information. In a way, dogs are smarter than humans. We are so smart, that we seem dumb.
“Get that fucking dog the fuck away!” the scary man from the shadows yells, “This shit’s delicate. If he ruins this Skip, I’m going to fuck you up like it’s Junior prom night and you’re the last piece of pussy in sight.”
Despite my pleas and though I’ve done my duty and proven my worth, Skip ties a makeshift leash around my neck. He attaches it to a wooden beam. I want to fight, but Skip gives me such a reassuring look. How can I not trust that face?
“Man, that’s messed up, Big B,” says one of the others.
“No, you’re messed up, Randall,” pushes the scary man, “You’re all messed up which is why we’re fucking here. Now, I got the smack, so let me hear them Johnny’s sing. Gentleman, if you may?”
They dig deep into their pockets and hand over some paper and shinnies over to the scary man. He grimaces a yellow toothy grin, then pulls out the kit that they’ll be sharing. The others look on with mouthwatering glee as the big man unzips and pulls out his tiny prickly needles. Everyone, except for Skip, who takes a long glance back at me.
I know Skip wants to say no.
I also know that he can’t.
“Please, Skip. Don’t do this,” I whimper one last time. In this moment, I think the bows hit their wows and the sounds hit their mark. Skip hesitates. We lock eyes and I try to guilt him the best way that I can. Shame glazes over his watery eyes. But my begging can only do so much. I want him to untie me, so we can leave together. But when it’s his turn Skip still takes the kit.
Oh, Skip. If only I could eat every single one of these bad guys up. I would, in one big solid, gulp. Especially the scary looking fat one. Heck, I wouldn’t even eat him. Just mangle him into a forever sleep. That monster doesn’t even deserve to be my poop.
Skip takes the syringe and his share of the tools out of the kit. Then he plays with all the familiar toys. First, the cigarette, as Skip carefully cuts it up and pulls out the cotton filter. He places the cotton carefully onto the spoon. Next, is the addition of that magic white powder. That abomination. The white void devoid of smell to humans, but to me, smells like danger and sadness and the loss of my best friend.
Skip fumbles for a water bottle. The others are a bit too out of it to help. The big man towers over to make sure Skip does it right. I try and snap at snap at the big boss, but the leash pulls me back, so I can do nothing but watch. A needle sucks up and spits out some water onto the spoon. Then they cook the metal spoon with fire. The dark fluid is slurped in through the cotton filter and into the syringe. Skip aims the shiny point at the moon. Two taps and then a tender push until the tip squirts just a teeny bit. I never understood this next part, but Skip ties a tight leash onto his arm. Then the needle penetrates his skin as Skip pulls in just a dash of blood. Then the arm gets unleashed. Then the poison pushes in. Then the needle pulls out. The other men utter slurred statements.
“Ugh. I feel like throwing up.”
“I can taste it. In the back of my throat!”
A moment of silence. Skip hunches over and goes still like a ragdoll. They’re all like this. Everyone, except the scary man, who quickly takes his tools and leaves without saying goodbye. I’m just in reach to rest my head on Skip’s lap. So, I do so, and I stay there, on guard, for as long as I can. I’ll watch over Skip and the others. Looking out for the terrors of the night.
Though the terrors were already within.
In the daytime, Skip and I sit along the street. A cup sits before us and Skip scribbles funny messages onto a cardboard sign that was once our roof a few days back. We sit by the inside of the marina. At the inlet of the nearby shops and stores. Frequent visitors pass us by. Some pet and play with me, and some even leave some worthwhile morsels to eat. Skip always leaves me the better bits. Skip is the best!
Hours pass but it feels like an eternity. I feel bored and like I’m wasting away the best years of my life, but at least I get to be with my best buddy. On occasion, some people drop crinkly paper and some shinnies into our cup. I noticed that Skip seems happier with the paper than the shinnies. Sometimes, Skip seems very happy with certain types of paper. And sometimes, Skip gets extra paper if he performs special services for other humans in the convenience store.
What is this value with paper and humans? Does paper feed one of their holes or rub their bellies or provide them with shelter from the rain? I always see Skip and the humans exchange these papers and shinnies for things. I wonder how much it would take to exchange for other humans? No, no. Humans would never exchange other humans. That’s more savage in nature than the most rabid of squirrels. Still, I wonder how much a human is worth?
I think Skip is worth all the papers and shinnies in the whole wide world. The way Skip gives me all the extra food and rubs my belly and scratches me in all the right hard-to-reach places. His warmth during the cold nights and even colder winters. His glowing presence that brightens my day. His affection. His playfulness. His crinkly smile and rugged hands, rough yet gentle. It’s the way he’s patient and protective and always makes me feel safe. Skip makes me feel like the most perfect girl in the whole dog darn world. I love, Skip. Skip is worth every… ah yes, I remember now: monies. Skip is worth all the human monies.
Such a revelation! I wonder how to tell Skip all of this?
It’s been ages since we last saw the scary man. I can count the moons and suns that have passed since then, on the toes of my paw. A whopping two whole days! It was only a bit after our last encounter, that Skip and I heard the news from one of the other vagrants: the men with the big flashing lights found the scary man and took him away. Such a long time ago, now. Still, I must remember that time is perceived differently for those of my kind. Both in the sensory sense, and of course, in comparison to one’s total lifespan. Though a canine’s sense of the world burns several times brighter than a human’s, unfortunately our candles burn out just as fast.
Skip is not looking well. He had spent the entire evening in a hot fit, flailing his arms and legs, naked as the day he was born. A restless effort to get comfortable. I don’t think either of us got an ounce of sleep. Likewise, though I usually appreciate when Skip shares with me, I did not take much pleasure when he shared some of his… ickier bodily fluids. In fact, several times at night I painfully nudged him to stop, though it seemed sickness caught the better of him. His nose goo crusted onto my shaggy coating and his mouth spewed waterfalls of vomitus. And though the murky fluids piqued my curiosity in that they had dissimilar salty versus vinegar-like tastes, I grew tired of both quickly and just longed for my friend’s torment to end.
The morning did not fare much better. Currently, Skip shivers beneath our makeshift paper blankets as I huddle close to keep him warm. It’s odd. Though he is cold, he is also sweating. What’s even stranger, is that despite the sweat, in other regions his skin is completely dry. I try and lick those dry patches. Dog-spit helps dogs heal faster, so I can only hope it’ll work even better on Skip’s condition.
“Owwww. Oh, Hopper. I feel like I don’t fit in my own skin, girl. Like I’m trying to crawl out of my own body. I just want it to stop. Please, Lord. Just make it stop.”
A series of gurgles rumble from Skip’s belly. I try and give Skip a belly rub, but honestly, dogs aren’t very suited for that. Skip grabs hold of his gut. He winces in pain.
I can’t let him suffer on like this.
I shall go find help.
When I get to the town center past the Marina, I bark at the various people around town, both the delicious and the unsavory types, alike. I do this hoping that someone will attend my pleas. And though a crowd gathers, no one listens. Everyone is much too focused on the rush to exchange things for paper. Skip is sick, people! Why are humans such horrible listeners?
Some squirrels glower at my plight from a distance. They scoff at my panic and distress, and scheme accordingly. Their darting and twitching movements flank an unsuspecting peanut vendor and his cart. Though I’m noticing only now, that this person is paying attention to me…
No. No! NO!
Using me as the distraction, the squirrels try and steal some peanuts. I bark and shift everyone’s focus onto the food cart and the squirrels. Now, the resulting chase that unfolds between a man armed with peanuts and some sketchy tree-rats is as equally sensational as it is amusing, but I need to get everyone’s attention. And this? This is about as distracting as it comes. So where do I go? What do I do? Who has the answers? Where can I find the greatest solution to everything in all of Bar Harbor?
I make a break for it to Wichcraft. It’s familiar and a good place to start. I rush on all fours up the alleys and across busy streets. I know something there must be of help. It’s the greatest place in the world. It always fixed Skip and my grumbling tummies, so why shouldn’t it work now?
When I get there, I catch the scent of fried oysters in the air. I trace it back to the dumpsters and bark away at the bins, waiting for old Skip to come by. I completely forgot that he’s not there. Why was I here again? I know… I was supposed to do something. Oh, dog. Oh, dog. Oh, dog. What was I supposed to do? I know, I’ll ask Skip! Where is Skip?
“Skip, are you raiding our garbage again? You can just ask for food, dude.”
A woman in a scrunchy hairnet and dirty apron comes outside. She has a tall thin figure, golden hair and veiny legs. I Bark at her.
“Hopper? You by yourself? Where’s Skip?”
“Oh, no. Did something happen?”
“Yes. Finally! Someone who gets me!” I woof in reply.
“Timmy fell down the well!?”
What? Who in the dog darn it is, Timmy!?
“Just kidding. I always wanted to say that. Lead the way, girl.”
I take the kind woman to find Skip. Tightly through the busy crowds of main street and across the road and up the Marina. To the back alleyways and beneath the large edging wharf, we go. Through and through, and faster and faster, though unlike Skip, she follows close next to me without struggle. I take her across most of Bar Harbor, mostly because I can’t remember my way back, so I trace my steps with my nose. When we reach my best friend, he seems much less distressed, and I jump right on him and lick his face and let him know that help’s finally arrived!
But his face is cold. And his breath and his butt smell a bit funkier than usual. Don’t be rude, Skip! Now is not the time to show off your farts, no matter how awesome they smell.
There’s an odd expression on the golden-haired woman’s face. Salt water keeps leaking from her eyes, so I lick it. It tastes… sad. She takes out some sort of glowing toy. Then she quickly holds it up to her face, choking on words as she speaks to it as if it were a person.
“Come on, Skip,” I nudge my motionless friend.
“I brought a friend. She can help. Everything is going to be okay.”
Then, it dawns on me. Well really, it dawned on me seconds ago. In so many clues. Though it took some time to realize what’s going on. What’s happened to my best friend.
Skip has entered the forever sleep. I know this, because he lays still. He’s not barking or heaving or chasing the cats in his dreams in haste. I think he’s finally caught them all. I think that this is a different sort of dream.
“It’s okay, Skip,” I whimper to my best friend. I promise I’ll stay. Right here, on guard, for as long as I can. I’ll watch over you, Skip. And protect you forever and ever, from now until the end of days, and from all the tonight’s terrors.
And later, we can go the Marina. Where I’ll ask the sailors how I can grow into the size of a boat. And then, maybe we can eat all the humans together? Or maybe just the bad ones, like the scary man, if you like? For dessert we can have po’boys from Wichcraft stacked to the top with everything on it. And after that you, me, and kind blonde lady can all be a family! Wouldn’t that be nice, Skip? We could do everything together. Or not. It could just be me and you, I’m okay with that too. Just the two of us!
Just me, my Skip and I.