Stay, Boy. Stay.

Stay, Boy. Stay.

by Erin Dawkins

The lights inside the house glow brightly, once warm and welcoming. Now, it takes everything to bring myself to go inside. It’s quiet. The front windows, normally covered with nose prints and drool smears, are pristine. The carpet runner near the door, once peppered with little specks of urine, was removed, leaving behind only the discolored floor from countless hours spent under the beating sun.

The evening sky is a winter painting — creamy oranges and pinks. After a few minutes, the colors settle past the horizon, and everything darkens. My hands rest flat on the steering wheel. The dry and pink skin around my nails pulses from where I have gnawed at it. She was inside, waiting. Or maybe not waiting. Truthfully, I never really know what to expect from Tilda.

Bruce was our dog, an eighteen-pound border terrier. He was our happiness. He was the glue that held our life together, a welcomed distraction from all the other things that were taking place. Now he was gone, and I no longer wanted to go inside.

But it was time to head in. The cold around me has settled, and it is so quiet my ears are ringing. Once inside, I place my briefcase and lunch bag down, and hear the gentle patter of bare feet walking toward me. Tilda wears an oversized teal shirt, leaving her thick-freckled shoulder exposed. Her long, dark hair tangles in beaded strands of costume pendant necklaces that decorate her front, extending down near her chest.

“Hi,” she says as she motions for me to step further into our home. “How was your day?”

“Fine. Yours?”

“Good, it was good. Actually, it wasn’t,” she waves off her thoughts. “Never mind about me.” While I settle in, she inhales deeply and stands with her hands on her waist. “Well, I got you something,” she says, “But you need to close your eyes.”

“What?” I straighten up because, admittedly, I’m intrigued.

“C’mon, close them.”

I do as she says, closing my eyes tight. She approaches me with uncertainty, and after a millisecond of hesitation, she wraps her hand around my forearm and leads me into the dining room.

“Ready? And…open!”

The room is blurry as if I woke up from a midday nap. I blink quickly, wishing I hadn’t opened my eyes at all. Tilda stands next to the table, trembling with excitement. She’s like a greeter at the circus, welcoming guests and using her arms to elevate the excitement for what’s inside.

“What do you think?” she asks.

It’s Bruce. All eighteen pounds of him, intact. I move in to examine him closer. I lean in to look into his eyes, reflective and glassy. He’s positioned on his side, paws facing forward. His tail is perfectly poised on his side. His pocket-sized brown ears, one straight open and the other slightly folded, are perfectly positioned on top of his head. His underbite reveals itself about an inch above his lower lip.

“He’s stuffed?” I move my slightly trembling hand close enough to touch but retreat.

“He’s preserved.”

“But, but… why? And, when?”

“Months ago.”

“But why?” I ask again. I reach out to hold the back of a nearby chair for support.

“I thought this would help. Help you. Help us.”

“But we buried him! In the ground…together!” I say as I point to the doors that lead to the backyard.

I raise my hands, unsure whether to cover my ears or my eyes. They gravitate toward my ears as I circle frantically in the dining room.

“Who digs up a dog and has it stuffed?”

“He’s preserved.”

“What?” I turn to her, lowering my hands.

“Preserved! Bruce is preserved,” she says despairingly. She lifts her finger to push right between my eyes.

“I thought this would make you happy! You’ve been missing him so much. I thought this was what you wanted!”

“I don’t want a dead dog; I want my dog!”

“This is your dog. I’m your wife. We’re both right here.”


I sit with Bruce in the dark dining room. Tilda retreated upstairs hours ago, bare feet purposefully pounding each stair on her way up. The moonlight from outside shines through the window, casting a perfect square with four equal parts on the ivory table cover. I trace it lightly with my forefinger and then give the table one final, decisive tap.

I pick Bruce up off the table. As I carry a lighter version of my dog outside, I run my palm along his fur. It feels stiff and ungiving. I sit him down on the ground and begin to dig the same hole where we buried him months earlier. Open blisters form in the crook of my left thumb, and the raw skin is traced dark with dirt.

The moonlight creates a small spark of light in Bruce’s right eye, but he remains lifeless. I kneel down and carefully place him in his grave. Then, using both of my arms, I sweep the excess dirt around the grave over him. Once filled, I pat down the dirt to secure the burial site.

I look up at our bedroom window from the backyard. The lights that once glowed brightly switch off.

I say my final goodbyes.


Featured in our January 2023 issue, "Turmoil"