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by Clifford Royal Johns





I stand rigidly against the wall in my nook between the chimney and the food sterilizer, unable to move without a specific command. I smile pleasantly and hold a leash. Watching and waiting.

At the kitchen table sits a man of great moral fiber, at least so he has declared several times. He is one of those men who wears an extra sixty or seventy pounds around their waist as though they worked hard for it and intend to display that hard-gained wealth with an unsubtle distinction and careful indifference. He is balding; no, bald, though he makes some effort to disguise the fact, wearing a hat almost all of the time and leaving the dark hair at the side of his head bushy and distracting.

"I think they will promote me this year," he says, ruminating over a piece of toast.

He has a quick, yet uneasy laugh, more nervous than genuine, which will stop suddenly, and he will abruptly change the subject. Often as not, the conversation on the other topic is incomplete, but the laughter indicates outwardly that he knows all that, and why talk about such a dull subject anyway? In fact, he laughs when he becomes ill at ease, when an issue gets beyond what he already knows, and this is his way of moving on to more comfortable and sure ground.

He wears charcoal gray. He always wears charcoal gray. I picture his pajamas to be of the same color, so he disappears in the dark, indistinguishable from the dull background of an unlit room.

On this day he wears his gray in the form of a suit and a tie - they match like curtain and valance with the light of his stretched white shirt shining through like sunlight through a south window.

His wife tips her viewing glasses forward, squinting at him over the top from across the table. "Did you know the son from the show we watched last night got his height enhanced? He'd only be five and a half feet tall without the alteration. Must have cost him a bundle."

She is calm, thoughtful, and considerate, to hide her astonishing ignorance of everything outside the house and the rearing of children. Her flat stare is her attempt to show interest. I often wonder if she offers that stare because that is how other people look at her when she speaks. She washes her hair every day and is slim, yet unmuscled. She walks without grace, but with purpose, or does not walk at all. She does not like animals because they like her so much, and she thinks they must be poor judges of character. The family Pekinese appears to adore her and begs on hind legs for a piece of sausage.

Their son takes his mother's moment of speech as an opportunity to get her attention. "Mom, why can't I be connected in like everyone else. Even Affer has a jack now." He thumps his viewing glasses on the table as though they are worthless and a bother; as though he is above their pathetic technology.

He is short for his four years and always wears a fake network jack stuck to his temple. He talks constantly whether anyone listens or not. If he finds that no person is listening, he will talk louder and louder until someone tells him to shut up, at which point he bawls and demands to be held and soothed and paid attention to. Invariably, his volume is directly proportional to the interest his mother has in some other conversation about shopping at garage sales or the proper cooking temperature for quazi-meatloaf. If his mother or father tells him to do something, or to stop doing something, he will say, "No!" with such petulance and virulence that I admit I would smack him fairly across the cheek, were I able to.

As I stand and listen to their efforts at conversation about why their daughter does not yet speak, even though she is almost three, or their rehashed laughter from an earlier viewing of the very latest rerun of Love Boat 3D, I wonder why I don't just get up and leave.

Yet somehow I can not. I am a robot. I take care of the dog.

I, who was built to teach and mentor the children of the rich, am servant to the Pekinese of idiots. I stand here with my mouth formed into a smile, watching carefully for any sign of my charge's desire, and try to imagine life with another family. I know what imagination is. I can even teach children how to use their imagination and improve it. I can teach them how to imagine a future so clearly that it helps them attain it. But I do not teach the children anymore. I take care of the dog.

Lucky stands up and stretches. He wanders over to the water bowl and slurps. Dribbling water across the floor, he comes over to me and paws my leg. I bend over, snap on the leash. He leads me out the door.

To the right stretches the lawn and driveway. Lucky sometimes goes over to the driver's side of the car to pay his respects. To the left is the park where he leads me today. We walk the paths, and he stops to pay his respects along the way. People come up and talk to Lucky. They glance at me, then continue on their way.

I imagine that one day Lucky will decide to run away and leave this family and find another. If he does, I will follow because I take care of the dog.

Clifford Royal Johns, 2005
All Rights Reserved



BIO: Cliff Johns lives near Chicago with his wife and three dogs.