I’m working my administrative assistant job when the Dog Man walks in. I’ve read about him. He has all these dogs trained to do just about everything for him: they open doors, they bring in the mail, they return all his correspondence and cook his meals. He has a cocker spaniel to answer his phone, a pug to make his travel reservations. One of his dobermans scored a six figure advance for his crappy memoir.
He skips my desk and goes straight to the manager’s office in a flood of immaculately groomed dogs. Big ones and little ones. Purebreds and mutts. Three of my co-workers start sneezing uncontrollably and rush off to grab some fresh air. I’m sure the Dog Man is in there with management making a case for how easy and cost effective it would be to replace us all with his dogs.
I can’t help myself: I start wondering about the Dog Man. How did he acquire his powers? How could anyone not envy how little work he has to do? He doesn’t have to tell his dogs anything, he just points and they do it; if the dogs don’t know how, he has other dogs to teach them. I bet he doesn’t waste his time sitting in a cubicle. He’s an entrepreneur. He has the life he chose, not the one he settled for.
If only the Dog Man could teach me some of his tricks. I’d get my own pack of dogs to do all my digging for free; I’d finally get to be a real archaeologist, not a seasonal shovel for hire who has to work in an office to make rent. I’d put all the other archaeologists out of business.
One of the dogs, a bichon frise, sneaks out and trots over to my cubicle. She gets up on her hind legs, looking up at me with very sad eyes, so I give her a piece out of the bag of beef jerky I keep in my desk.
I hold it out in front of her. “You don’t have to do everything he tells you,” I say, holding the piece out to her.
She stares at me patiently. She’s very good at it.
I take out another piece. “Really, it’s your life. Surely you’d rather be out there chasing after Frisbees instead of sorting through correspondence or picking up his drycleaning or making sure he doesn’t cheat on his paleo diet?”
She pulls out her cellphone (I’m not exactly sure where she got that), opens up an app, and barks/growls/woofs a bit into the phone.
“Are you sure you’re not the one who ought to be out there playing catch with somebody?”
“Somebody like you?” I ask.
“I’m a good dog. Would you like to see me do a backflip?” she asks, looking at the bag of jerky on my desk.
“Sure,” I say.
“Tough. I don’t work for you,” she says.
Growling and barking come out of my manager’s office. It starts low and slow, but picks up and gets more chaotic, more out of control and frenzied. Everyone looks up but no one does anything. The door is closed, which means do not disturb, even though the sounds leaking out of there are terrifying – the dogs are not the only ones around here who have been trained. The bichon frise hops into Jane’s cubicle across from me, she’s on Jane’s lap getting her ears scratched.
“I don’t have a dog,” Jane tells the bichon frise, “but if I did I’d have you! I’d never stop petting you!”
I swivel my chair to face Jane and try to get the dog’s attention back. “What if I gave you this entire bag of beef jerky? What would you do?”
“I’d eat it all at once and throw up thirty minutes later,” the dog says, positioning her head to where she wants to be scratched by Jane. “Are you a good person? Would you like to see me do that?”
Jane nudges the bichon off her lap. Adorable is one thing, talking is quite another.
The barking and growling stop, but there’s all sorts of commotion going on in the manager’s office. A few moments later the door opens and just the dogs come out. They’re covered in blood and they casually trot to the elevators. The bigger ones show us their teeth. No one gets in their way.
The bichon frise grabs the bag of jerky and runs off to join the rest of the dogs.
It’s only a quarter to three, but Jane turns her computer off. There’s screaming as the first few people peek into the manager’s office. “If you had your choice of pets, what would you pick?” I ask her, as she starts filling up her bag with office supplies.
“A turtle,” she says. “They don’t talk, they don’t do tricks, and they’re slow.”
Hugh Behm-Steinberg’s prose can be found or forthcoming in Gravel, Sand, Joyland, Grimoire, Vestal Review and Pank. His short story “Taylor Swift” won the 2015 Barthelme Prize from Gulf Coast. He is a shop steward for the adjunct faculty union at California College of the Arts in San Francisco, where for ten years he edited the journal Eleven Eleven.