Black on Black

A Short Story Warning: it’s sad.

The black dog and the black cat. The dog had been lumbered on her 18 years ago. A problem dog, given to Simi’s Mum for socialisation before she could be adopted out. But the black dog clung to Simi’s heart and she couldn’t let her go. Named her Ever. Everyone else called her Evie, but her name was Ever. Ever and Ever.

And Ever went everywhere with Simi. Through university and all the hell that came with continuing her studies after the death of her mother; through the first round of ‘serious’ relationships that didn’t end up meaning anything; through the jobs that underpaid and overworked a naïve young woman with not enough sense to know when she was being used. Through sorrow and heartbreak and loneliness and grief. Over and over.

Only Ever got her through all those rough patches. Ever the dog. Ever ready to give her heart to Simi, regardless of the situation. Regardless of the cost.

One day, Ever came in through the back door with a little bundle in her mouth. A little black bundle. Matted fur, so still and cold that Simi was sure it was dead. It wasn’t. The little black kitten was nursed back to health – not by Simi, but by Ever, who kept him warm and licked him clean and taught him to toilet and to play, and even pre-chewed his food for him. A real parent.

Ever hadn’t been a dog to play before Brat. Oh, yes, that was the Cat’s name. Brat.

The black dog and the black cat. Tore through the house like a torrent. First the dog chasing the cat down the long hallway, then back with the cat hot on the tail of the scampering dog, then the swirl around the chairs in the kitchen, over the table, over the cabinet, through the chair legs, back into the hallway to do it all again. The occasional yelp slowed things down; a hiss every now and then warned of things gone too far, but it never slowed for long. And the thumps went on during the night too, especially at the favourite time of three in the blessed AM. Simi growled, but didn’t do anything to stop them. In a way, it was a comfort to hear their manic fun, their joy in each other.

And when they were quiet, when they slept together, she couldn’t see where one ended and the other began. One pod. So cute. So … pack.

Simi watched them all the time. It brought joy to her heart, eased her. Ever had missed out on so much to keep Simi sane, so Simi let them do what they wanted. Brat would occasionally come for a smooch – usually for a reason, like the smell of chicken not shared – he was part of the pack of Ever, not Simi. Brat got toys and the tower and twenty minutes of brushing each day – which he hated – at the same time that Simi gave attention and brushes and clipping to Ever. All together. All the same smell. The same pack.

The first time Simi came home to find the house full of tissue paper, toilet paper, newspaper, magazines – even books – torn up and scattered about like a snow-storm, she was shocked into numbness as she waded through it. Brat sat on the back of the couch and glared; didn’t look away; almost dared her to say something. Ever hid her eyes and grovelled.

Simi cleaned it up without a word, but after that she ensured the tissues were in a metal box or high up in the pantry and the toilet paper was at the back of the bathroom cupboard. Books and magazines got new homes behind glass-fronted cabinets.

It still happened, but not as often. They had to have serious plans of attack to get at things to create the same chaos after the first lesson.

And Simi owed so much of her life to Ever.

Of course, Ever wasn’t a young dog when Brat came. She had a grey muzzle and chin, and her eyes had clouds of white haze that hid her vision. But she could smell and she could hear and she was smart. And now she wasn’t lonely.

Simi moved to a bigger apartment with more room and a large balcony – which she screened in. Lessons had been learnt. She had fewer books and less clutter; a more streamlined look, except for the dog/cat beds that furnished every corner in every room and in each wardrobe and the bottom of the pantry cupboard. Two special beds for the cat – one under the large antique desk and one on top of the double-width bookcase. Brat liked to be high and he liked caves. His hidey-holes. His quiet places.

And he liked her bike. The seat, to be specific. It had value because she reacted to it.

The first time she found him nestled there, she thought she’d left a box or something nearby, but no. He never got up there when she was looking, and it didn’t matter how far she put the bike from anything high enough, he always found a way to be there in the morning. Simi had to lift him off without getting into too much trouble with the claws and teeth, and place him gently in the bed with Ever before she went to work.

It was the most time Brat gave her.

Before Ever died.

She was old when she passed. Over twenty, because Simi remembered her coming home. An adult dog then, but un-socialised. Young, but not a pup. Probably two years old, maybe more. So she had to be at least twenty when she departed. And it wasn’t sudden, not like her mother. It was slow. It was full of pain and smells and knowing.

Brat didn’t treat Ever any different. He barged in to take over her sleeping space and snuggled up in the curl of her belly. Ever rested her head on him, and seemed to sleep better for it, so Simi didn’t stop Brat.

Ever stopped eating, and Simi watched as Brat brought his own food, a mouthful at a time, over to the dog. Sometimes, Ever would lick at it. Mostly, she didn’t.

When that last breath came, Brat was there, and he howled and growled and wouldn’t let Simi take her body away. It stayed like that for two days. Eventually, Simi was allowed to pick up the body and take it away.

While the body was gone, Brat waited by the front door and swished his ragged tail every time Simi walked by. Until the urn came back.

Simi followed Brat to the favourite bed and placed it on the rug in the middle of the floor. Brat knocked the urn over. Simi went to lean in to save it, but Brat lay down around it, curled up, and let go. The last breath whooshed out. The black fur of the chest lay still. A soft glaze of blue sheened over the dark orange eyes.

He was too young. It was too soon. How could Simi survive this loss, especially so soon …

Simi’s heart broke in three.

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