- Lost Excerpt from the Dialogues of Plato
One's early twenties can be a lonely and troubled time. It certainly was for Mia Maybelle. She had no friends, for one. She did have furniture, and she spent a lot of time on that furniture. And she clipped her toenails a lot.
Mia Maybelle, twenty-something-years-old, relatively financially successful, sufficiently well-humored, an avid runner, a reader of six or seven books a year, was desperate for companionship. So she decided to just do it. She could afford it, right? And she had enough money, didn't she? She had more than enough time, gosh darn it.
Mia got a puppy. She named it Samwell.
Samwell was a six-week-old English Bulldog - wrinkly, short-haired, and completely bonkers. He liked to lick faces. He liked to smell dirt.
Mia started to bring him to the office, and soon everyone was hanging out in her Public Relations team's cubicle.
There was a first time for everything, the Public Relations team agreed.
But better yet, after two weeks of this, Mia started to get invited to hang out - with people - at their apartments - and after that, she invited them to hang out - at her apartment!
Samwell was doted upon by Mia's new friends, adored and loved more and more with every lick of the face, every wag of the stunted tail. But it was during that first fateful get-together at Mia's apartment that she began to question Samwell's presence - and his intentions.
"I read this article yesterday," Mia said to Chaz, a guy from Technical Support who came around and fixed everyone's keyboards by shaking them around until the chip crumbs and almond bits were dislodged. "It was about how, like, the newest form of bullying, like, on the subway, or in schools or whatever, is now -"
"Oh my God!" Rachel from Accounting shrieked. "Look, look!"
Samwell was staring at his reflection in the floor-length mirror in the sitting room. He barked at himself.
Quite suddenly - and discreetly - Samwell glanced at Mia's reflection in the mirror. Mia frowned, blinked.
Then, just as suddenly, he glanced at his reflection again. He barked.
Everyone started to crack up and giggle and talk baby-talk to the precious little puppy. "Aw, he doesn't know it's him!" "He's jealous of the other cute puppy!"
Mia, momentarily disturbed by Samwell's glance at her, chuckled along half-heartedly.
"Anyway," she said, turning back to Chaz, "it was about how bullying has changed to be, like, not an aggressive act, but rather like an active indifference -"
Samwell started to howl at his reflection, and the howl activated the voice-activated lights in the sitting room. The lights turned off. He howled again, and they turned back on.
Suzie, the functioning alcoholic from Human Resources, slapped her knee and cackled.
"He figured out how to turn the lights off and on! What a brilliant dog!"
She wasn't wrong. Samwell realized that his howl could turn off the lights, and so continued to howl. After a few seconds of this, though, Mia stood to turn off the voice-activation. On her way to the console, in a moment when the lights were on, she glanced at her new, curious dog. It howled, turned the lights off, howled again, and turned the lights on - except this time, when the lights came back on, he was staring at her.
He howled, turned the lights off, howled again, and turned the lights on. He was wagging his tail and pawing Suzie from Human Resources.
Suzie let him lick her face, giggling gleefully as he did. "Mia, you have the best dog in the world. He's -" she paused to let him lick her face - "like, abnormally adorable. And so intelligent!"
"Get the mutt a Rubik's cube," Chaz said.
Mia turned off voice-activation for the lights and swiveled her head around to Chaz. "He's not a mutt," she said less than politely. "He's a purebred English bulldog. And he's not even potty-trained yet."
Mia was on her way to an evening weekend get-together with a few co-workers from the office. She'd been with Samwell so much, lately, that she decided not to bring him this time.
The subway came to halt at 79th St., and she got out.
Curt from Financial - the redheaded Curt, not the one-legged Curt from Customer Service - came down to the first floor when he heard the doorbell. The get-together was at Curt's apartment, a beautiful, ivy-covered brownstone on 81st St. between Amsterdam Ave. and Columbus Ave.
Mia was waiting on the steps. She was nervous. She'd had a crush on Curt for almost a year, now. But she'd never told him or done anything about it. It wasn't until recently that they'd even spoken, really - she wasn't sure he'd even known her name, before.
Curt grinned as he turned the doorknob. Her heart leapt. She grinned back at him through the glass centerpiece on the door.
"Hi," she said.
"I - didn't bring him. Is that okay?"
He scrunched his eyebrows, smirked.
"Oh, sure you did. C'mon." He cupped his hands over his mouth. "Samwell!" he shouted. "Come here, boy!"
There was no response, no puppy, no Samwell.
"Where is he?" Curt asked, still smirking, but less surely.
"He's at my apartment," Mia said.
"Oh," Curt said, his lips puckered to one side of his face. He put his hand on the doorframe, effectively blocking her, and drummed his fingers.
They were silent.
Mia's expression gradually became more and more incredulous - it was a face slowly, slowly flushing down a toilet, twisting into itself little by little.
They were still silent. Curt nodded at nothing in particular.
"Should I go get him?" she finally asked.
Curt lit up. He beamed at her.
"That's a great idea!"
The seasonal restaurant smack-dab in the middle of Union Square Park was Mia's favorite brunch spot. It had been there for two summers, and because it was outdoors, it had a lot of success with tourists. It had a few regulars - Mia was one of them.
But none of the managers or servers were familiar with Mia. Not until she started bringing Samwell, that is.
"Ah, if it isn't my two favorite customers," the waiter said as he approached the table. Mia remembered this waiter in particular because he always circled the 20% tip suggestion on her receipt. Mia always got back at him for this by tipping 25%. That'll show him, she'd thought over and over again.
Billy Joel was playing over the speakers.
The waiter bent down and set a water dish on the ground for Samwell. He poured water in it, and Samwell lapped it up.
"Actually, it's only me who's the customer," Mia told him.
The waiter nodded and turned to go.
"Oh - excuse me," Mia said.
The waiter turned to her.
"Can I get water too?"
He poured water in her glass.
When her food came - she had the chicken and tomato-confit sandwich with a house salad, dressing on the side, no croutons - naturally - the waiter had an extra plate with a pink, petite cut of beef on it.
"Oh - I'm sorry, I don't think I ordered that," she said before he could set it on the table.
"Compliments of the chef, madame," the waiter said. "Filet mignon, medium-rare. It's one of our specials tonight."
"Oh - thank you!"
The waiter nodded. Mia blushed. She guessed she did show him what was what with her 25% tip.
The waiter bent down, and set the plate of filet mignon on the ground beside Samwell.
"Enjoy, sir," the waiter said, and strolled off.
Mia's mouth was agape. Samwell started tearing apart the little filet mignon with his little puppy teeth.
"Give me that," she snarled at him, bent down, and picked up the plate. She set it in front of her. She glanced around at the other guests.
Thinking no one had seen her, she cut into the steak with a butter knife. It was tasty - perhaps slightly too rare for her, and somewhat puppy-saliva-y, but still pretty tasty.
Samwell stared at her as she finished his steak. He whimpered once or twice.
Mia gazed lovingly at Samwell, now three months old, but still an itty-bitty tyke of a pup. They were at the doctor's office. He'd kept her company that week while she sneezed and snotted and coughed and shivered in bed. He'd snuggled up next to her, the bestest snuggle-buddy anyone could ask for.
She had him in her purse.
"Mia Maybelle," a nurse said. Mia rose and followed her to the room. She coughed into the bend of her elbow.
The doctor came in twenty minutes later and asked her what was the matter. She told him what was the matter as he washed his hands in the sink, his back to her. He hummed acknowledgements as she listed her symptoms.
"Sounds like a nasty cold," he said, still washing his hands. She wished he'd turn around and meet her eye. It made her nervous that he felt it necessary to wash his hands for what seemed like many long minutes.
"We can probably get you an antibiotic," he said, continuing to scrub his hands.
"Shouldn't you - check my throat, or whatever?" she asked.
Samwell sneezed. He sneezed again.
The doctor turned around, clearly alarmed.
"Oh - that was the dog," Mia said. She coughed into the bend of her elbow again.
"I know," the doctor said, clearly alarmed. He put his stethoscope on and rushed over to Samwell.
The stethoscope against Samwell's chest, the doctor glared at Mia. "I'm not a vet, you know."
"I know. I'm the one who's sick. Not him."
"Please," the doctor scoffed. "I still know a sick dog when I see one. I may not be a vet, but I still have eyes. And ears, for that matter. And a nose! So don't try and tell me I don't. Have you had physical contact with him since your symptoms started?"
"I mean, yes, but -"
The doctor shook his head and repositioned the stethoscope to another spot on Samwell's chest. "I don't get you people," he mumbled. "It's like you want your dog to get sick." He took the stethoscope off Samwell's chest. Samwell sneezed again. "Here's your prescription, dog-hater: stay away from your pets when you're sick."
He stood upright and shook his head again. "You disgust me," he said, and left.
Mia took Samwell outside so he could pee and took him through Union Square Park in front of the outdoor restaurant; a meatball fell from an old man's plate at which Samwell strained and strained and strained against his leash, to no avail at first, with Mia reprimanding him as he did so, until he finally broke loose and made a frantic dash for the meatball.
The old man put his hand to his chest and tried to inhale - but he couldn't. He was choking.
Mia made a frantic dash for Samwell who was frantically swallowing the meatball before she could get to him and the old man continued to choke. Samwell swallowed the meatball and started to bark when Mia finally reached him.
Samwell continued to bark.
"Hey, that old guy's choking!" one of the bussers at the restaurant said. The busser made a frantic dash toward the old man and started giving him the Heimlich.
The old man coughed up a meatball that had been undercooked. It was raw in the center. Samwell lapped that one up too.
The guests at the restaurant and the surrounding onlookers cheered. The old man thanked the busser profusely and then glanced down at Samwell and pronounced him a hero - were it not for his barking, no one would've noticed he was choking.
Mia, however, missed most of this scene, panting as she was after chasing after Samwell. She began to chastise him for getting off his leash.
"Bad dog! Bad dog!" she said, clasping his leash back on to his collar.
The old man and guests at the restaurant and surrounding onlookers paused their cheering to scowl at this hero-puppy's tyrant-owner. The old man picked up a meatball, the last one on his plate.
He threw it at Mia.
"Bad owner! Bad owner!"
The New York Times published an article about Samwell's heroic deed. It wasn't on the front page, but it did have a photo. The photo was of Samwell, the old man, a few unnamed guests in the background, and Mia.
Mia scowled in the photo, so they blurred out her face.
The Times reporter quoted a few bystanders who were at the scene:
- "She came over, soon as the guy coughed up the chicken bone, and started beating the shit out of the dog."
- "Dude was choking, right? So he was choking and this little mutt or whatever came up and just started like wailing. Wailing like, 'Someone help him, someone help him,' you know? So dude's choking, right, and ain't no one helping him, so guess what the mutt did? Guess what it did? Literally gave the dude the Heimlich right then and there. Never seen nothing like it."
- "I may not be a vet, but I know an abusive pet owner when I see one. I'm legally bound to not make any further comments."
- "Dogs got sixth sense. Dogs know when it's about to go down. And this dog knew it was about to go down. What it didn't know is that it was going to get slapped around by its momma afterwards. Shit. I wouldn't mess with her, no sir. No ma'am."
- "Wait, the dog's owner was there? Who was it?"
Whenever Mia was feeling down, she made an aesthetic change - she got a new shirt, a new dress, a piercing, gold contact lenses, etc. The Queen of Hearts tattoo on her thigh was a result of a downtrodden feeling she had many moons ago. And the Saturday after the Times published the article about Samwell, Mia was feeling down. So she scheduled an appointment with her hair stylist, and had him chop off six whole inches.
Her hair was bobbed, now, like a little boy's.
As she turned the key into her apartment, she was humming to herself. She felt much better.
And as she stepped into her apartment, she suddenly felt much worse.
Almost all of her friends - her co-workers, really - were there, in the sitting room, sipping martinis.
They were cracking up.
They were cracking up, their eyes in the direction of one doe-eyed puppy sitting in the loveseat that Mia was usually in. It was as if he'd made a hilarious joke.
After they finished cracking up, they noticed her in the doorway, her face aghast. A few of them were still giggling.
"Hey Mia, what're you doing here?" redheaded Curt from Financial asked her.
She looked toward Samwell. Samwell looked toward her.
"Put to sleep, yes. Before it gets worse. His sickness. He's in a lot of pain."
The vet squinted, suspicious. He stroked his clean-shaven chin.
"What was the name of it again?" he asked.
"Samwell," Mia told him.
"No," the vet said. "The sickness."
"Oh," Mia said. "Cancer. Of the metaphorical heart."
"Cancer," the vet repeated. "Of the metaphorical heart."
"Yes," Mia said. "Cancer," she repeated. "Of the metaphorical heart."
"Let me get this straight," the vet said. "You think I should euthanize this dog because he has cancer," he said. "Of the metaphorical," he said, "heart."
"Exactly," Mia told him. "You should euthanize this puppy because he has cancer," she said. "Of the metaphorical," she said, "heart."
"Cancer," he said. "Of the metaphorical," he said.
"Heart," she said. "Yes."
The vet thought about this. "This puppy was in the newspaper. He's a hero."
"Heroes get cancer too," she said. "Samwell here has cancer," she said. "Of the metaphorical -"
She waited. "So you'll do it?"
He glared at her. "No."
"Gosh darn it!"
"He has cancer," she said to the secretary at the pound. "Of the -"
"Aw, he's so cute!" the secretary said, interrupting her. "I'm so sorry he doesn't like you."
"No, he does like - it's not that -"
"I'll take him. Here." She reached her hands out.
Mia glanced down at Samwell, who was trembling. She handed him to the secretary.
The secretary cradled him. She cooed at the trembling puppy and pet him. "There, there, now," she said in a soft voice. She kissed his head.
"Well," Mia said. "That's that, then." She turned and started toward the door.
Samwell barked. Where was she going?
Mia turned. I'm sorry, Samwell, she thought. I'm sorry it had to happen this way.
She was asked to come back and fill out paperwork, which she did. There were no tears in her eyes as she did this - no sympathy.
Before she could get out the door, she heard a young couple exclaim, "Oh my God, he's perfect! He's so cute! He looks just like that puppy in the newspaper!"
Mia turned around, at the door, and glanced in the young couple's direction. They had little Samwell in their arms.
He was adopted right then and there.
"Sayonara," Mia muttered to herself in the doorway. "And good riddance."
He'd been begging her every day, every night. It didn't matter what the conversation was, he'd mention it somehow - when it seemed least expected, as if feigning spontaneity made it subtle, as if she didn't know exactly what he was doing.
Jean-Paul Brantley had been begging her since the engagement. He figured she was stuck with him now, and that, to Jean-Paul, meant she either had to be more stubborn than him, or give in and let him get a dang dog.
Mia Maybelle - soon to be Mia Brantley - had said no every time. She'd had a dog once, a long time ago, and it hadn't been a particularly wonderful experience.
Jean-Paul loved his fiancee, he loved her very much, but an experience she had before was no reason not to get a dog now.
And Mia loved Jean-Paul, she loved him very much, but when it came to dogs, he could go fuck himself.
Jean-Paul asked her once or twice what this experience many years ago had been and why it was so traumatic. But, Mia thought, he was probably only asking so that he could dissect her reasoning, and through that, change her mind.
There would be no mind-changing.
So Jean-Paul eventually shut up about it. In fact, he shut up about dogs altogether, even when they were actually relevant. Mia noticed, but didn't comment. She assumed he'd just given up.
In other words, she didn't suspect anything.
The elevator was one of those old rickety ones. The Upper East Side was pretty and pretty damn rich but the apartments weren't so new, and neither were the landlords.
The elevator beeped at 4. Jean-Paul pulled the grate back and turned the knob.
Mia was pale. She felt sick. The elevator felt like a wooden rollercoaster with its bearings purposely loosened, operated by an ex-convict with only three fingers.
She could hear the ex-convict cackle and press the buttons of the rollercoaster - the elevator - with his three weird fingers.
As they turned down the hall, she started to feel better again. "Who are these people again?" she asked her fiancee.
"Co-workers," Jean-Paul mumbled.
"From the construction company? - here?"
He didn't answer her.
They came to a door, 4F. Jean-Paul knocked.
The couple who answered the door were about Mia's age. They seemed friendly enough, but they were by no means construction workers.
"The pups are in here," they said, leading Mia and Jean-Paul into the guest bedroom.
"The what?" Mia asked in a hostile voice. Jean-Paul turned and scowled at her - Don't be rude, he seemed to tell her.
It is a well-known fact that telling people to not be rude, or to relax, is an effective, time-tested means of getting them to be polite or relaxed. It is always successful, and never backfires.
Mia started to grumble under her breath. She grumbled in garbled sentences, sentences like, "Rude I'll show you rude," and, "Rather elevator hell than puppy heaven," and, "Jumbo mega-death explosion, we'll see who's rude."
The couple let Mia and Jean-Paul alone with the puppies, who were cuddled up against their mother, asleep.
Jean-Paul picked one up and presented it to her.
"See? See? How can you refuse this?"
Mia started to tell him just how she could refuse this when another dog, full-grown, came into view from behind the bed. Her scowling eyes flicked toward the dog, presumably the father of these ugly little wrinkly shits.
Mia blinked. The daddy-dog pawed his way toward her. She blinked again.
It was Samwell.
"Get out," Mia whispered to her fiancee.
"What?" Jean-Paul said.
"Get out!" she screamed.
Utterly bewildered, he did as his fiancee asked.
Mia bent down and stared at Samwell. He stared back.
And a single tear dripped down her cheek.
"I'm so sorry," she said. "I'm so sorry."
She reached out to hug him, but he backed up. He didn't growl, or snarl, or bark, but he wouldn't let her hug him - that was the price.
"No, you're right," she said, sniffling, and wiped the tear from her cheek. "I don't deserve it. I never did. Samwell," she said in a shaky voice. "You're a daddy." Misty-eyed, she smiled.
"Listen," she told him, now somewhat stern. "You be kind to these pups, alright? These are your kids. These are your kids." She paused. She inhaled. She exhaled. "Samwell?" she said. "It wasn't you. It was me. I wasn't ready. And yet, despite that -" she paused for emphasis, "- I forgive you."
The last of her tears dripped down her cheek, dripping down the same track the first one made.
Mia rose. She glanced at the puppies, one of whom was waking up. It was the one who most resembled Samwell - except it was a girl.
Mia scooped it up. She cradled it. She looked at Samwell, and Samwell looked at her.
"Can I take her?"
Samwell only stared.
"Thank you," she said. "Goodbye, Samwell."
Mia strode toward the doorway, left ajar by her fiancee, and then paused. She grinned toothlessly from ear to ear at Samwell, who she imagined did the same, or was at least trying to. He wasn't, but it certainly made her feel better.
She glanced down at the tiny, tiny puppy. It was staring at her too.
And it winked.
The grin stuck to her face like a leech, Mia whispered - "Don't do that."