It seems like it happens every third day or so. Somehow, I come home, expecting to him waiting there, wagging his tail. Except, he’s not there.
The doors are all locked. The windows, too. And I don’t have one of those damn doggy doors. I live in the country and was always afraid a raccoon or skunk would come waddling through, so I never bothered with one.
So damned if I know where he goes. He just goes missing.
For about twelve hours or so. He’s usually back by breakfast, laying somewhat awkwardly on the little round pillow type bed I bought for him six years ago. He’ll watch me come into the kitchen and get his breakfast ready.
It’s become our routine.
Every time, I look at him quizzically and mutter, “And just where did you hide last night?”
I swear sometimes I can almost see the grin in his eye and he lets out a yawn which I interpret as, “As if I would just give away all my secrets, human?”
Then I place his bowls on his little bench and he stretches, gets up and starts hungrily slurping down whatever’s on the menu.
This morning, it’s his favorite: chicken. But this morning, he also goes through the routine, except when he gets to his bowl, he lets out a long howl, and refuses to eat.
I leave it there while I prepare my own oatmeal, ignoring him as if my behavior is some sort of punishment for not telling me where he goes every few nights. Maybe he has a girlfriend. Or maybe he just hides under the bed, waiting for me to sleep and then…
I leave the thought unfinished. After all, I’d hear him. Right?
He shuffles into the bedroom, leaving his food bowl untouched. I shovel down my bland breakfast, and follow him, feigning interest in my wardrobe, but sneaking glances at him.
This is insane, right? I mean, he’s a dog. Who somehow hides somewhere in the house overnight where I can’t find him. Every three days. Like clockwork. There’s something strange about this whole thing, right? I’m not just imagining this?
I shrug off my worries and finally get ready to leave the house. I notice his food bowl is still untouched. “If he’s still not eating by tomorrow morning, then I’ll take him to the vet,” I reason with myself.
I fret all day. What if my keeping him in the house so much is slowly killing him? Don’t dogs need to run? We go for a long walk everyday, but is that enough?
I’m mentally exhausted during the commute home.
I walk in the door and know that something’s not quite right. Nothing is out of place, but it is as if everything has been moved a little bit.
His dog bench is pushed over so now it is blocking the back door. His bowl is still full. The table by the front door seems pushed over by a few inches as well. The living room furniture. The rugs. Even the pictures on the wall.
I see him though. He’s laying on the pillow. Head down, eyes closed. When I look at him, its as if he can sense me. His eyes pop open and he gets up and greets me the way most dogs greet their owners, with a wagging tail and a lopsided tongue.
“What happened here boy?” I ask him, while scratching behind his ears.
He gave a low moan, and a short growl. Then he sniffed in the air.
Taking his lead, I lifted my head and sniffed the air. It smelled like lavender, with a hint of jasmine. “A woman?” I ask quizzically.
He seems to nod his head. “Is she still here?” I ask.
I get no response. “Of course not, he’s a dog.” I tell myself. But there’s something, something strange that has my senses on heightened alert.
Then he whips around so that he is facing the kitchen and he lets out a low growl. I start forward, because, well, because I’m a damn glutton for punishment.
I push through the swinging doors that separate the kitchen from the rest of the house. There’s an old woman sitting at my kitchen table, a spoon raised in her hand, and a steaming chicken pot pie sitting on a plate in front of her.
The dog’s bowl is now empty.
“Can I help you?” I ask, giving her a curious glance and a wide berth.
“Oh no,” She says smiling. “I’m just here for a visit to see my old husband. He died in this very house you know.”
I shook my head. “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize that.”
She laughed. “No worries, it was many many years ago. But he likes your dog. He likes to come back as him sometimes. There are sometimes when he comes to visit me, your dog. But I know who he really is,” she grinned. “Walter.”
My dog was still waiting in the hallway. I whistled. “Walter, come in here.”
I turned to the lady sitting at my table. “How funny,” I said, “that they have the same name.”
She put down her spoon and looked at me. “Why wouldn’t they?”
My face dropped. “I don’t know.”
The dog came into the kitchen quite reluctantly then, looking between me and the woman at the table.
“What are you eating?” I asked her, stepping just a little closer.
“A chicken pot pie of course. I haven’t had one in so long, so when Walter told me there was chicken here, I had to come see for myself. And he was right, and I’ve been longing for some home cooked chicken pot pie so I made one, you see?”
I shook my head. “Who are you again?”
She laughed again. “Abigail.” She said. “Abigail Hastings. Married to Walter Hastings in 1813.”
“But that’s over two hundred years ago!” I protested. Something about me was trying to come up to my attention. I looked at her hard. “That’s impossible.”
She picked up her spoon again and devoured the last of the pot pie as I stood there watching her. She was lying, I was sure. Either that or the old woman was senile and had escaped from either an old folks home or the mental institution ward in the hospital a few blocks away.
Then, as clear as day, she put down her spoon. She gave me a smile. “Thanks for taking care of my Walter,” she said and winked at me. Then I blinked and she was gone. Instead a little brown mouse raced across the floor and skirted between the wall and the cabinets on the other side of the kitchen. Walter watched it go, and made no move to chase after it.
He nudged me as if to say, “I’m ready for breakfast now.”
This time, I put out the dry dog food, bacon flavored.