This is a regular column featuring original fiction by and for high school students, provided by Figment.com, an online community writing site for young people.
It was sitting there on the couch. It hadn’t moved; just its eyes, following the movement of mine and Jakov’s hands, like we were conductors of the same symphony but with different rhythm, different interpretation. But it wasn’t just a dog, sitting on the couch, with its fur hanging just above its nose, and that short tail curled up next to its feet, like a child searching for protection. It was the dog that meant that the air Jakov and I breathed was not as it used to be, it was a dog that signaled the beginning of the end.
“I don’t see what the problem is. I wanted it. I wanted a dog. I thought you would want a dog. There’s nothing wrong -- it’s not weird -- it’s -- what’s the problem that you have with me getting a dog?”
Jakov put his hand on his left arm, moving it up and down, as if he were petting himself. He looked at the dog, its shaggy hair spread out on the couch as if it were a small area rug, its head rested on one of the cushions, awaiting its fate.
“You did not ask me,” Jakov mumbled, the low volume of his voice and his Russian accent overriding any clear sounding English.
“This was something I wanted to do!” I said, my arms falling at my sides in exasperation. “This was for me, my thing, something for me. I think I’m owed that, you know. And I still don’t see what the problem is. Is there even any problem?”
Jakov hadn’t moved; his hand still in the same place on his arm, his face unflinching, his gaze directed at the dog.
“You did not ask me,” he said again, this time louder, with an emphasis on the word “ask”; the last tick that made the bomb inside of me go off.
“Ask? I needed to ask you? Well, okay, I see. Hm, let’s talk about asking.”
I moved closer to Jakov, or rather charged towards him, making sure that it was my face his eyes were looking at.
“Did you ask me if it was okay when you painted our bedroom that sickly color of green? Did you ask me if it was okay when you bought me a new car, even when I hadn’t been driving for ten years? Did you even think I would be able to drive? Did you think my leg would magically heal itself because you got me a new car? Did you ask me if it was okay when you took this job, here in Russia, where I can’t speak the language, let alone get a job, without thinking of how I might feel, how hard it would be for me to pick up and leave everything that ever meant anything to me?”
I was breathing hard. I had said things that I had been thinking for months; perhaps years. Thoughts that had began as seeds, planted in the depths of my brain with innocuous intentions, and had sprouted, quick, and became the only garden that I could water, I could nurture.
“Then why did you come with me?” Jakov asked, in his slow, deliberate way, as if each word had been subjected to a highly selective process; and these were the ones that had been chosen.
“Because I…” my voice trailed off, gusto leaving my sentence like a blast of air leaving a hot air balloon. I knew the right answer was because I cared about what he wanted, that relationships were a two-way street, that I was the one willing to do the sacrificing. But it wasn’t real, those feelings were tainted with supposed-tos and have-tos. I didn’t know why I put myself through all of it. Maybe that’s why I got the dog.
“You don’t look at me,” Jakov said. “Not like you used to. When we kiss, it’s like robot, no feeling. Nothing.”
“Yeah, well,” I shrugged, the reality of the situation setting in front of me; this only being the first picture in the slideshow.
“I’m surprised it took you this long to notice.”
And then I went to the couch and picked up the dog. I hadn’t named it yet, hadn’t become attached enough to it to even warrant me picking it up in the middle of an argument, but the dog licked my chest, that hot, slippery tongue globbering all over my skin; and I felt as if my dormant heart was fluttering awake, feeling more alive than I ever had when I used to kiss Jakov. So I kissed the dog back, just a peck on its nose, and I held it close to me, relishing in its soft fur that hung off of its body; like a floor mop you had bought suddenly coming to life that happened to be equipped with a loving personality.
I looked at Jakov, who had taken his eyes away from the scene that was unfolding before him; as though I were being adulterous, how cruel of me to let him watch. But I felt free. Free to do to as I pleased. Free to let Jakov rub his arm like a sad rabbit, free to let him speak as slow as he wanted. But there was one more thing I needed to say.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “This…it’s sad.”
Jakov didn’t respond, at least not with his voice. He let his arms rest at his sides, and turned around, with the mannerisms of an obedient soldier, and grabbed his black jacket from off the coat hanger and walked out the door. There was no hum of the car engine outside; nor was there any sort of guttural scream or the crunching sound of shoes against the hard snow. Nothing but silence. The silence I had been waiting for.
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