A Strange Reversal
sits across from me in a padded leather chair, one bushy eyebrow cocked
black-framed glasses. I sprawl on the matching sofa in front of his
window AC unit hums louder than an angry hornet, yet the office feels
uncomfortably warm on this sweltering southern night.
logic, the Ambassador understands me when I bark, and I understand him
Gunner, have I got that right?” The musky tang of his sweat mixes with
of his aftershave.
stop panting and
stare at him, cocking my head, attentive.
thirteen years old, white-and-brown spotted mutt, cross between a hound
retriever,” he mutters as he jots down the particulars. “What seems to
a reputation for helping animals like me. Dogs who’ve been abandoned,
their owners, or found themselves in a tight spot. I’ve been loyal to
Ted since he could hold me like a donut in the palm of his hand.
love Ted, but
I’m afraid he no longer loves me.
He’s moving to another state and where he’s living, can’t have a dog.
to be dropped off at the shelter in the morning and they’ll find me
you’ve come?” the Ambassador says, his eyes kind despite his gruff
yip and gaze
directly at him. Yes. I yip again.
grunts, removes his glasses, folds and slides them into the front
pocket of his
crisp white dress shirt. “That’s a serious situation.”
lick my haunch,
digging my teeth into the roots of my fur and pulling out entire tufts.
turn to my back paws and bite the nails. When I cut my eyes toward the
Ambassador, he’s watching me.
pant instead. A
concrete kennel can’t compare to the pillow-top mattress and
at Ted’s apartment. He counts on me to patrol when he’s not home. I
intruders, as many as eleven a day, any of whom could pose a grave
him?” The Ambassador unfolds his lanky frame and, with long, loping
circles the desk closer to me.
whine escapes my throat. “Ted has never lied to me.” At least, I’ve
him to be dishonest. He feeds me at the same time, morning and evening,
every walk he’s promised, we’ve taken together.
years old,” I bark. “No one wants to adopt an old dog with creaky
bad breath. I’ve heard rumors about what happens to old dogs like me.”
tugs his earlobe, a pinched expression on his face. “You have every
right to be
concerned. I would feel the same way in your position. Do you have a
in mind?” He considers me thoughtfully, one forefinger pressed against
thump my tail on
the leather cushion. “I want to become human,” I bark, with all the
stops, fixing me with his gaze. “You’re sure about this? Certain
yours will diminish, your sense of smell, for one, along with your
hearing, though you will gain tremendous intellectual capacity and an
awareness of yourself.”
give a yip, my
tail fanning the air behind me. My front feet do a tap dance on the
edge of the
I don’t want
to be a statistic, I have to stay out of the shelter.”
sets a broad
hand on my head, scratching me behind the ears. “You’re a smart fella.
your owner doesn’t appreciate you. Tell you what,” he says. “Standard
dictates I attempt to verify what you’ve told me with a quick call. If
it is as
you say, we’ll perform the reversal before you leave.”
pats me on the back. He punches a number into the phone on his desk and
the receiver to his ear.
turn in a circle
on the couch, unable to get comfortable. If Ted finds out where I’ve
thought makes the tremor in my bad leg kick into high gear.
says. “I’ll pretend I’m someone else, that I found you wandering in the
and got his number off your name tag. This way we’ll find out if he
loves you or not.”
test. My paw
pads start to sweat and a bead of saliva drops off my tongue.
that sound like Ted.
found your dog,
Gunner. He’s fine, he’s not hurt. Where can we meet up? He’s anxious to
Ted-like talking. The Ambassador knits his brows together and frowns. I
apprehension in the set of his jaw. “I see,” he says. “I’ve called the
number. Gunner doesn’t belong to you? You’re insisting he’s my problem?”
bows his head,
rubs his fingers along his jaw. “All right, then. Goodbye.”
hangs up the phone and scowls. “Fickle humans.”
sorrowfully at me. “Ted appears to have no recollection of who you are.
convenient excuse right before a big move and a change of employment.
Gunner, I’m sorry.”
fingers in the air. “Tell you what,” he says. “You deserve more than
transformation. How about if I let you keep the apartment, too?”
tilt my head at
him and whine. “How’s that possible?”
to get a job, but that’s beside the point. You’re an industrious
finding work won’t be a problem. I’m offering you a deal. I’ll make you
if you allow me to transform Ted into a dog.”
into a groan. I’m not sure. Yes, the apartment has always been my home
love to stay there, but I don’t know how Ted will react to being a dog.
Ambassador’s offer is contingent on my saying yes, what other choice do
can’t go to the
shelter. I can take care of Ted.
do you say?
Once the reversal is made for both of you, there’s no going back. The
will be permanent.”
series of yips. Yes, yes, yes.
moves behind his desk and types on his keyboard. The screen reflected
lenses of his glasses obscures his eyes. I can smell the acrid, tinny
you’re all set,” he says. “I’ve noted your case in my files. We’ll make
switch. I need a picture of your owner to get started.”
hop to the floor
and sniff along the edge of the couch. Picture? I’m not sure what he’s
about, but the authority in his voice sets me to searching regardless.
glance up at
thoughts, are you?”
onto my haunches, and scratch my side with my back paw.
folding his hands together on the desk. “I’ll bet we can find a photo
desk, I hear a furious clack of keys, the click and slide of the mouse.
he speculates. “Ted Jenkins, Class of 2004, Elmsworth High. Tell me, is
him? C’mere.” He waves me over.
place my front
paws on his knee for a closer look. I recognize the dark, wavy hair,
close-set eyes, and the crooked smile of my owner. It’s Ted, all right.
the Ambassador’s face. Traces of the meatball sub he had for lunch make
take that as
a yes.” He clicks on the picture and it enlarges to fill the screen. He
me off his knee and lays a hand along my neck, his touch warm and
places a soft
blindfold over my eyes and in low, monotonous tones, mutters an
can’t interpret. My back legs start to tremble, followed by my front
toes elongate, my skin stretches and slides over my bones as
fur recedes, gathering into a clump on top of my head.
upright, wobbling to maintain my balance around a new center of
gravity. I lose
the Ambassador’s scent as a maelstrom of new questions floods my mind.
do I look?
going to react to me?
I grip my
head, bewildered by the volume of thoughts racing through my head. The
heightened self-awareness is staggering, Ted’s well-being no longer at
forefront of my consciousness. I’m obsessed with myself, my appearance,
hands me a pile of clothes and tells me to put them on. After removing
blindfold, he turns around and busies himself with the papers on his
fumble with the
clothes, but eventually figure them out. My dexterity improves as I
the belt through the loops on my pants. After tucking in my shirt, I
try out my
voice for the first time. “Do you have a mirror?”
sound as if I’m
I couldn’t bark even if I wanted to.
Ambassador says. The top desk drawer opens with a squeak.
grab the handle
of the mirror. I’m
overweight with a grizzle of whiskers on my flabby cheeks and decent
I squint hard enough. Not bad for a transformation, although I miss the
Not to mention my right hip aches and I’m hungry enough to eat three
breathe a sigh
of relief. I’m human now and Ted is a dog. He won’t drop me off at the
in the morning: the threat of euthanasia no longer looms over my head.
to live the rest of my life as I see fit, though without my keen sense
smell, I’ll be hard pressed to identify Ted if he runs away from me.
question pops into my mind: will Ted be okay with me taking care of
that he’s turned into a dog? I hope so. I’ll do the best I can to earn
trust. It wouldn’t be right to let him fend for himself now that I’ve
can I repay
waves me off. “It’s my privilege to help you in any way I can, Gunner.
I insist. Enjoy your life. Will you keep Ted?”
puzzled that he would think otherwise. I suppose others in my position
tempted to ditch their owners. The clock on the wall above his desk
it’s after nine o’clock. Ted’s an early riser, so he’s sure to have
when the reversal took place.
spin on my heel
before leaving the Ambassador’s office. “Will Ted recognize me, now
not a dog?”
liable to be
easily startled,” he says. “Be careful how you approach him.”
more than you
understood him, when you were a dog.”
didn’t think of
that,” I reply, nervous at the idea of being unable to explain the
Ted. I hesitate to leave; unsure I want to face the ramifications of
you intend to keep
him, I wouldn’t wait. If he panics over the transformation, he might
escape. He could wind up a stray.”
courage and step outside into the late summer night. A blast of
saturates me and dampens my skin. Beside my ear, the dull buzz of a
whines and I swat it away.
twenty-minute walk back to the apartment. Chittering sprinklers erupt
manicured lawns and spritz the sidewalk alongside the grass. I’m five
height of the grumpy lawn gnomes hiding in the bushes. Funny those
things frightened me as a dog, they strike me as completely inanimate
make the turn
into the apartment complex and pause, sniffing the air. Of course. I
up a scent and all the buildings appear the same. I have to rely on my
instead. I climb the stairs in the breezeway separating the two halves
second-closest brick apartment complex and at the top, I freeze.
the open door
of my old apartment, the piercing, black gaze of an angry Schnauzer
stops me in
my tracks. His upper lip lifts in a snarl, white teeth flashing in the
the security light.
hold out a hand
in an effort to placate his anxiety. “Whoa there, Ted,” I say. “It’s
Gunner.” I know it’s him. Ted’s got some serious drive, and a short
taken by surprise. In the middle of moving boxes to his car, he’s used
to wedge the door open. I’m lucky he hasn’t run away.
bend low. The
extra weight on my hip makes me wince, so I straighten up. One slow
step at a
time, I shuffle closer to him, my hand stretched out for him to sniff.
going to hurt you, see?”
door to the
neighboring apartment opens and Sandra steps out, clutching her young
hand. Veronica’s face is streaked with tears, and blood-smeared stains
undersized shirt that’s crept above her belly button.
are flushed as she thrusts her chin forward angrily. She points an
finger at Ted. “I don’t know where that vicious animal came from, but
he bit my
granddaughter on the arm.”
Veronica’s arm in the air, pointing at the red, swollen bite wound.
already called Animal Control. That animal has no place being anywhere
glance at Ted,
who stares at me. He begins to growl again. I shoo him inside our
leave the door unlatched, and offer Sandra what I hope is a winning
apologize for that,” I say. “I hope she’s not very hurt.”
eyes. “Who are you? I’ve never seen you here before. Are you Ted’s
relative,” I say, marveling at my ability to think on my feet.
Schnauzer is my responsibility. I’m terribly sorry he bit your
Let me take you to the hospital.”
fact that I’ve no idea how to drive, I figure the gesture will go a
toward smoothing over the situation. At least I know Ted is safely
I can reassure him later.
necessary,” Sandra says. “Does that dog have a rabies vaccine?”
stare at her,
dumbfounded. The night has gotten infinitely more complex. I don’t know
say. “I don’t...no, I don’t think so. I just found the dog,” I stammer.
don’t know what vaccines he’s had.”
hope you get
rid of that animal,” she snaps, “because if you don’t, I’m calling the
You can be damn sure he’ll never bite my granddaughter again.”
herds Veronica into her apartment and slams the door. I lay my hand on
doorknob and scratch my head. Then, I step inside and close the door
in darkness. A dark shadow stands outside the kitchen, a low growl
confused and probably frightened, but that’s no excuse to go biting
Least of all children.”
erupts in a fit of hysterical barking. I let him get it out of his
flick on the overhead light, then lower myself onto the couch.
don’t know which
is worse, Animal Control coming to pick up Ted, or the threat of Sandra
the cops if I insist on a second chance at managing Ted. I might be
convince an officer he’ll never bite anyone again, but Sandra will know
kept him. I can’t keep Ted locked inside forever. He needs fresh air,
and lots of grass to sniff and roll around in.
wish you hadn’t
done it,” I say, regarding Ted.
sits in front
of me and tilts his head, a worried glimmer in his eye.
not how I’d
hoped this would go.”
mouth in a nervous yawn, makes a guttural whine, then snaps his jaws
I could drive,
you and I could start over somewhere new,” I say.
lays down on
the carpet, hind legs splayed out, and rests his chin on his front
they come to
get you, I’ll talk to them. If they won’t listen, I’ll figure something
Don’t you worry. I may have lost my sense of smell, but that doesn’t
won’t be able to find you. You can count on me, Ted.”
of the corner
of my eye, I see him lift his head, observing me. When I stand, he
jumps up and
the frantic barking starts again.
move into the
kitchen, pour myself a glass of water from the tap, and swallow it in
Using the measuring scoop in the closet, I deliver a half cup of kibble
used to be my bowl.
he gives the
morsels a tentative sniff, I talk to him. “I orchestrated the reversal,
was me. I visited a man who knows how to take care of these things
well...because I was afraid. I know you said they’d find me a good home
shelter, but I’m not stupid. I wasn’t born yesterday. No family is
want an old dog like me, with a busted hip and halitosis that could
train in its tracks.”
the bowl of food and licks his lips, then sneezes and brushes up
leg. I lower my fingers to his head and he allows me to rub him behind
The gesture does something inside me. To know Ted trusts me, that he
me to take care of the situation, is humbling. I don’t want to let him
to me and I keep petting his head. “The reversal is permanent, Ted.
I’ll be a
human from here on out, and you’ll be a dog.”
my hand, I
feel him go still. The next moment, a harsh knock pounds on the door.
growls and I shush him. “Be good,” I say.
I open the
door, the Animal Control officer is waiting with a catch pole and an
report. My protestations fall on deaf ears. Tough as a drill sergeant,
informs me Ted will be impounded at the shelter for the next ten days.
struggle to sign the release form, all thumbs.
have bad dreams
all night and wake up early the next morning. Peering into the
find three eggs and a bag of shredded cheese, plus a pound of bacon in
While the coffee pot burbles, I fry the bacon, narrowly avoiding
burns from the splatter. Pieces of shell get caught in the scrambled
cheese I mix together next, but I crunch through my breakfast, content
table with my plate and mug, I spot Ted’s empty bowls in the corner. I
like something’s missing, actually, even though I’m well aware the
won’t keep him forever. It’s a strange sensation, not being concerned
every possible threat to the apartment and guarding him with my life.
in the sink, I wipe my hands clean and decide to make the walk across
the shelter before the heat becomes too oppressive. I locate the
no trouble. Surrounded by a chain link fence, the sloped sidewalk leads
metal door in a cream-colored cinder block building. Behind the
a tanned thirty-something girl in a faded cotton tee-shirt answers the
soon as she
hangs up, I approach the counter. “Excuse me, I’d like to visit my dog.
dropped off here late last night.”
“What’s your name?”
“...Jenkins. My dog’s name is Ted.”
something on the keyboard and scrolls through a list, her gaze glued to
screen. “Here he is. Ted’s in isolation.” She turns to glance at me.
aren’t allowed in the isolation runs. I’m sorry, but you can’t see him.
text you a picture if you want.”
I see. No,
that’s okay.” I turn to leave. The day is already heating up, the
whirring music emanating from the limbs of trees. Behind the shelter,
are barking in anticipation of their morning feeding.
head toward the
street, then catch myself. It’s early and there aren’t that many cars
parking lot. Sneaking undetected around the side of the building is no
With considerable difficulty, I scale the fence and land on the other
without battering my bad hip. I scan the row of kennels out back but
the dogs are Ted-sized. Farther away, I spot a solitary lean-to with
make a dash for
it and find Ted’s kennel. A laminated cage card adorns the chain link
complete with giant red lettering: CAUTION. WILL BITE. Behind bars, he
smaller, a fraction of himself. His blanket lays undisturbed in the
food and water untouched in stainless steel bowls. His muscles are
fear, the whites of his eyes visible.
is scared to
grip the chain
links between my fingers and press my face close against the fence.
whisper. “Are you okay?”
to hurt you. It’s only for ten days and then I can bring you home.”
head. Behind the dark curtain of fear, an intelligent gleam lights his
why I had to do it?” I glance aside and stare off into the distance
turning back to him.
onto all fours.
you’ll always have a home with me,” I say. “You’ll have to learn better
manners, but that’s nothing we can’t fix.”
the gate, sniffs the air around me.
want you to know one thing. You’re my dog, and I love you. I’ll never
on you. I’ll be back for you soon.”
scratch his muzzle
through the fence. He watches me silently as I leave, the cicadas
buzzing out a
tune in the sizzling summer air.
© 2021 Lisa Voorhees
Bio: Lisa Voorhees -- "A Jersey girl at heart, when
Lisa’s not writing, she’s usually listening to hard rock, bouldering,
or sipping amaretto sours. Before she started writing novels, she
earned her doctorate in veterinary medicine from Tufts University. Her
short stories have been featured in The Chamber Magazine and
Noctivagant Press. Find out more about her at Lisa Voorhees or
Lisa Voorhees on Facebook."
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