An exclusive excerpt from Jon Gresham‘s short story, Dog at the End of the World published in The Best Asian Short Stories- 2020 (Edited by Zafar Anjum), published by Kitaab in 2020.
Dog at the End of the World by Jon Gresham
My mistress’s eyes are red. The silver trail of her tears runs down her cheeks. She smells of vanilla and crushed lavender. I stick my tongue out, lick the air to make her laugh. To cheer her up, I race around the condominium. Scampering claws, skittish on the marble tiles. I chase my tail.
“I love you, boy,” she says, kneeling down to ruffle the hair on my head. She hugs me and I wiggle my butt. I used to be a wagger on the street of love. Now I’m a wagger in the condo of isolation.
She smiles. I’m her buoy. Someone to hang onto. Someone to save her. She is the only one and I’m keeping her afloat.
“Only a couple of weeks,” she says. “The two of us together while this whole thing blows over. Just you and me.”
She looks at me with her big grey eyes and flutters her eyelashes. She’s trying to comfort herself by reassuring me. I try to slurp her face. Cover her in slobber. If only I could lick her all over to leave a thin layer of saliva on her skin. This alone would shield her from the world’s end. It’s the least I can do. Make her wet. Hang my tongue out, ready to ink her with the old black nose. I leave a little saliva on her earlobe. Rub against her. Mark her with snot and dribble.
My mistress weeps at the end of the world. Her eyes are nothing like the sun, but she is mine. And that’s all that matters.
I’m not worried. About anything. Nothing will change between us. In fact, I’m hopeful. Looking forward to being together, nesting in our tidy pad. Smelling her close.
The cats know something’s up. Mittens next door left two days ago when the news first came through the intertubes. Shook her head and told me no more moggies in Clementi. Not so much as a purr on the way out. Slinked away into the night, left with a harsh meow. “Time to hit the road, Boy,” she said. “The end of the world ain’t no place for felines. Ain’t no place for anything on four legs.”
Frigging Mittens. I recall an argument with her before everything went pear-shaped.
“Man does not live by dog alone,” she said. “Rubbish. There is no stronger bond,” I barked back. “Humans live to be friends with dogs. Look at what we do. Guard the family, dig the rubble, sniff for kidnapped kids, fetch dead birds, sit beside bombs. We’re responsible. Not like you frigging cats. Humans love us.”
“Get real,” she said. “Haven’t you been on social media? There are at least twice as many photos of cats as there are of dogs.”
I was without a woof.
“Cat used to get devotion even though does nothing,” she hissed. “Now I’m leaving because my human is sick in bed, frothing at the mouth. Time to go.”
“But … but they love us …” my voice wavered. “And we love them. We stay. We’re their people.”
Mittens strutted away, tail in the air, her pink sphincter clenched in a toot towards me.
Our helper, Siti—who smelt of bleach, peppermint, and ABC Sambal Extra Pedas—ran away too. Went to Best Denki. Then caught the last boat to Batam with a brand-new rice cooker and an Xbox. She messaged my mistress from the ferry, “Ma’am. Are you OK? I escape with husband. Yes, the engineer. We go back Pekalongan. Dorms not safe. We’re alright, but what about you? You’ve got the dog. That’s OK. Bye.”
The bees die. The parrots are mute. The canaries keel over. Should I leave too? Inconceivable. I ain’t no cat. Cats are tamarind and kimchi. I am cinnamon and orange peel. My place at the end of the world is beside my mistress. People must stay together.