Barnard (pronounced “barn-ard”, with emphasis on barn) was a lumbering, gentle giant of a dog, if indeed he was a dog. His human, Maynard, had long-suspected that Barnard’s reincarnation had somehow become confused with a human, and that inside Barnard was a human trying to get out. Barnard was a 140-pound St. Bernard. Maynard had rescued Barnard from a dumpster when Barnard was a pup. This had confused Barnard, because instinctually, he, Barnard, knew he was meant to be the rescuer. Barnard wondered if, perhaps, Maynard was a dog in a human’s body, whose reincarnation had also been confused, and that Maynard had been intended to be the St. Bernard rescuer. At any rate, Maynard and Barnard had been life-long friends (Barnard’s life), and wherever one went, the other could always be found close-by.
Barnard had suffered through many a human crisis. He had survived children, who thought him a horse and tried to ride him; grandchildren, who thought his ears silly putty and endlessly tried to pull them into unnatural shapes; and when Barnard took the children for a walk, he strutted through the neighborhood, and the children who weren’t trying to ride his back or his tail or hang from his ears, followed behind like ducklings, as though they were his own offspring. Barnard had suffered the divorce of Maynard and Maynard’s two wives, one of whom thought Barnard her child and had tried to gain custody of him. Barnard, like a child, had tried his hardest to stay out of the middle of these battles, but he’d had to resort to chewing up many, many pairs of the woman’s shoes, as well as other things, belonging to the human who wanted to take Barnard away from his master. Barnard felt badly about all of those terribly mangled shoes and purses and once-stuffed pillows, but the strategy had worked well, and Barnard had finally come to be in the permanent custody of Maynard. The fact that Barnard was more accurately Maynard’s custodian would forever remain Barnard’s secret.
Barnard was well-trained. His nose was that of a bloodhound. His hearing was acute enough to know, not just that a car was approaching from a mile away, but whether that car was a known or an unknown entity. Hence, he would alert his master with either a growl for the unknown entity, or an excited pant and his best imitation of a grin, for the known entity. His tracking skills were remarkable enough that, when one of the small, human offspring had gone missing, it was Barnard who had tracked the wayward child, finding him sitting precariously on a branch in the upper-most parts of a tree, many blocks away from Maynard’s home. The fire department had been called to rescue the child, but Barnard was ecstatic about all the accolades given him for being the “real” rescuer. Barnard felt that he had fulfilled his life’s purpose: the rescuer. It was the curious bow that someone had wrapped around his neck that bothered and puzzled Barnard to no end. It would be embarrassing to be seen this way by another dog, so Barnard worked it off as quickly as possible, as he pretended to do his business behind a tree.
Barnard was intensely curious and the quintessential observer, and perhaps that heightened the sharp acuity of his senses. Barnard had the perpetual expression of a question mark on his face, as though always trying to solve some complex problem. When Barnard was hungry or thirsty, he went to his bowls and sat patiently beside them, looking back and forth between his master and the place where he would procure sustenance. When nature called to Barnard, he sat next to the back door, looking to and fro between the door and the master, his panting growing into a crescendo according to his mounting need to heed nature’s insistent call. Drooling was a last resort for Barnard, because he was a tidy dog. He had trained Maynard to understand that, once the drooling began, little time remained to avert a full-blown disaster.
At bedtime, Barnard lay on his mat, crossways in front of the entry door. Barnard took his sentry-duty quite seriously, and mostly for effect, would occasionally get up and march back and forth, from window to window, showing his sizeable mug to anyone who might even think of being interested in making an unwelcome nighttime visit. Barnard’s bark wasn’t particularly ferocious, but it was low and gruff and loud, and few would-be intruders hung around for long enough to match the size of the dog with its bark. Truth be told, Barnard’s jaw could easily pull down 400-pounds of bite, quite enough to pierce and rip and do significant damage to a leg, or a buttock, or an arm. It pleased Barnard that, aside from his toys, he’d never resorted to a bite; his growl and bark had always proved adequate to ward off all danger, imagined or otherwise.
One morning, Barnard went to his food and water bowls, and sat, looking expectantly toward Maynard’s open bedroom door. Maynard did not emerge to tend to Barnard’s breakfast. Barnard lived in a constant state of now, and now, and now, so he didn’t know how long he’d waited, but at some point, he’d picked up his bowls between his teeth and carried them to Maynard’s bedside. There, he sat and waited. He waited for so long that, not only was he now hungry and thirsty, his bladder was beginning to protest. Barnard began to pant. His hunger and thirst could wait, but Barnard’s bladder could not, despite the humiliation of having to urinate on his human’s tiled bathroom floor. Afterward, Barnard’s bladder felt much better, but he knew his master would not be happy. Barnard slunk low to the floor, and back at the bedside, he sat, then lifted a paw to nudge his sleeping master’s arm. After several, progressively more firm, nudges, Maynard awoke.
Barnard watched as his master slung his legs over the side of the bed, where his feet landed in the empty food and water bowls. Barnard felt his stomach turn sour, as his master’s gaze drifted toward the puddle of urine on the bathroom floor. Barnard lay down onto the floor and curled into a half-circle, his tail firmly tucked between his hind legs, his sad eyes flitting apologetically between Maynard and the floor. He covered his muzzle with one paw, and his eyes with the other, while at the same time managing a high-pitched, two-syllable whine. Then, he felt the gentle touch of his master’s hand stroking his coat. “It’s okay, Barnard. It’s okay.” Maynard proceeded to clean the puddle, filled the water and food bowls and put them back in their usual place, then sat heavily down into his recliner. “Food, Barnard. Hungry, boy?”
Barnard was a creature of habit. Maynard was a creature of habit. And Barnard was disturbed, because this morning, Maynard did not get his human bowl of food and cup of liquid, as he’d always done before, right after feeding Barnard. That was when Barnard knew something had changed. That was when Barnard realized he’d have to be keeping a much closer eye on his master. And, even more worrisome, Barnard noted a strange, different smell when he sniffed at Maynard. He didn’t smell the way Maynard usually smelled.
After that day, Barnard moved his sleeping mat halfway between the entry door and Maynard’s bedroom door. Barnard slept a half-sleep, alert to the slightest change in Maynard’s snoring, keeping a vigilant eye on Maynard’s every shift in bed. Barnard wandered to his master’s bedside, several times each night, to sniff Maynard and to make sure he was still breathing. That unusual smell had become stronger, and this was quite bothersome to Barnard. Something was wrong, he knew, but what could he do? He had never left his home without his master in tow, not even to relieve himself. And how would he tell another human that something was wrong with Maynard? He began to notice that Maynard’s movements were slower, and Barnard had to nudge his master to remind him that it was time for a walk. The last time Barnard and his master went for a walk, Maynard stumbled and fell. This had never happened before, and Barnard was frightened. A neighbor came and helped Maynard back to his home, Barnard hanging closely enough to Maynard that his master could lean on him.
The next afternoon, a strange human woman came to the door. Barnard growled and placed himself between the strange human woman and his master.
“Friend, Barnard. It’s okay. Friend.” Barnard reluctantly moved aside, but kept a watchful, suspicious eye on the human woman, who carried a bag with strange instruments which she placed against and into his master’s body. Barnard whined a worrisome whine, but was reassured by his master’s, “It’s okay, Barnard. Friend.” When the human woman left, Maynard had tubes attached to his body, and Barnard couldn’t figure out what they were. He sniffed at each one, and Maynard gently told Barnard “no”, when he tried to chew them off.
Later that day, strange men came and moved out all of the familiar living room furniture, which had taken years of work to make smell like Maynard and Barnard. The men left Maynard’s easy chair in its original place, and set up an odd bed, which smelled of chemicals and had metal rails, and a mattress that did not smell at all like Maynard and Barnard. Barnard’s familiar landmarks were gone, and with the exception of Maynard’s easy chair, which still had that wonderful, Barnard and Maynard homey smell, Maynard set about his job of giving the bed a proper scent, by rubbing up against it as much as possible. That night, Barnard began his nightly vigil, at the side of Maynard’s new bed.
A neighbor human came to sit with Maynard every day, took Barnard for his twice-daily walks, and made sure Barnard was fed and watered. She made Maynard meals, and spooned food into his mouth. Barnard cocked his head to one side, as he’d never seen anyone feed his master before. At night, an unfamiliar human woman came to stay with Maynard and Barnard. It was then that Barnard took to sleeping on his master’s bed, as he didn’t really like this new, nighttime woman. She smelled like old shoes, and her breath was stale. He wanted to be as close to Maynard as possible, to comfort his master with the old, familiar Barnard smell. He felt proud when the woman tried to shoo him off the bed, and Maynard had waved her away. “I want him here, he makes me feel better.” Barnard was sure this meant that, if he stayed close enough to his master, his master would get better, and all of their wonderfully scented furniture would come back, and Maynard would put food and water into his bowls again, and take him for his walks, and the strange tubes on Maynard’s body would go away. But something kept bothering Barnard: no matter how closely he curled up to his master, no matter how long he put off going for his walks, no matter how often he licked Maynard’s wonderful face, that smell just kept getting stronger, and Maynard spoke to him less. Didn’t Maynard love him anymore? Barnard whined a heart-broken whine, and nudged his muzzle into Maynard’s neck.
Weeks passed, and Maynard began sleeping most of the time. He no longer woke to Barnard’s gentle pawing, nor to his loving, wet kisses to Maynard’s face. A human woman put a mask over his master’s face, and attached it to a tube on a machine that made a strange, loud humming noise. Barnard tried to lick the mask away, to give Maynard kisses, but the mask wouldn’t budge. Barnard’s heart was heavy, because his master no longer stroked his coat or patted his head or scratched behind his ears. But, still, he nestled closely to his master.
One morning, Barnard woke from a fitful sleep, and noticed Maynard’s chest was no longer moving up and down. He laid his head against Maynard’s chest, and he could not hear the soothing, regular beating that often soothed him to sleep. The mask was no longer on Maynard’s face, and the loud, humming noise was gone. Something inside of Barnard knew that Maynard was no longer there. Barnard jumped from the bed and crawled beneath it, where he covered his face with both paws. After awhile, some men came and took away the bed and they took away Maynard. Someone left the entry door ajar, and Barnard bolted from the room. He ran and he ran and he ran, until he could no longer smell that smell of home. Until he could no longer smell Maynard.
Someone eventually found Barnard, miles away from his home, exhausted and malnourished. They took him in and fed and nourished and loved him. But nothing ever took away the smell of Maynard. Perhaps, Barnard thought, if he was good enough, Maynard would come back.
©Janet Mitchell, May 2012. All Rights Reserved. Any resemblance to any person, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. This is a work of fiction.