“Backyard,” I bark. “Backyard, backyard.” The gate bangs against the post again and again. I scratch at the door.
“Banjo!” she says from the couch room. I bark again.
“I’m coming,” she says. “Calm down.” She is still in sad-face and I am supposed to be on the couch with her. I want to be on the couch with her. I know she needs me. I chuff when I see her and bow with my front legs. I am hers and she is mine.
“You have to go pee-pee again?” she asks, rubbing my head.
“Out, out,” I whine. I wag my tail, love love love swishing back and forth.
“Stay close,” she tells me. “I couldn’t bear anything happening to you too.”
I run out into the yard and patrol the edge of the fence, head down sniffing sniffing sniffing. There is nothing new. I come to the unlatched gate and I open it with a paw. The scent is coming to me from across the fields. I run toward it, smelling constantly: Grass. Dirt. A chipmunk rotting away. Running, my paws digging into the soft earth. The scent. The scent is there. I have the scent. I know it like my own. I run harder.
Gasoline. Cows. Cut grass. But I ignore them all for the scent. It is clear and bright, rich and complex. Love. It smells like love. The wind shifts a bit and a new scent mingles with it. A human. A man. Food. He has food. I stop and smell his food. I lap up some of his food. He says something. Not angry. He touches my head. I sniff him all over. The scent I want is there, under his scent. I am trying to pry the scents apart when the familiar car sound comes up behind me.
It is her. I love her. I ran to her, wiggling all over. I barked “Hello” and “Hello” and “There is something here” and “There is something here.” She puts me in the car. She is angry with me. I can always tell. I watch her talk to the man. I whine. I growl. I bark.
She opens the door and I catch the mingled scents again. I spin in the backseat in frustration.
“I told you not to run off,” she says. She is shaking and crying. I lick the hot tears from her face. She laughs. The first laugh in a long time.
“At least you made a new friend,” she says. As she drives away, I stare at the man and growl softly.
“Hey, there Banjo,” the man says, coming out of the barn. I had only snuffled part of his yard. I bristle. His clothes smell of smoke and detergent and fresh earth and coffee and cooked meat and dust and grease.
“Got out, again, did you?” he asks. There is something wrong with him. Underneath all the human scents there is something metallic and sharp. Something like burning. I let him pet me and lick his hand. He tastes wrong. Makes my tongue hurt. He laughs and kneels down. Same taste on his arm and face. Wrong-taste.
Crunch of gravel. She has found me again. Why can’t she understand?
“I am so sorry,” she says as she gets out.
“Oh, it’s no problem. We’re just becoming friends,” he says. I sneeze because they are talking about me.
“C’mon, Banjo!’ she said. She pulls on my collar. I want another sniff of him. I want another taste. She wrestles me into the car
“I am so sorry to hear of your troubles,” he says to her.
She freezes. Fear smell flows out of her.
“Th-th-ank you for that,” she says. She closes the car door and walks toward him. The window is barely open. I howl for her to get away from him.
“Shush,” she commands. They talk. I keep my nose in the sliver of open window, trying to catch the wrong scent again. Grass and grease again, chickens and far-off sheep.
She gets in the car. “I don’t know what I am going to do about you,” she says. I chuff and she smiles so I chuff again.
The wind shifts as she drives away and a whole new scent floods my nose. It is new and old at the same time. I howl for her to go back to the farm. I need more. I howl and I howl.
New gate. New lock. I press my nose to a knothole in the fence to see if I can catch the scent. I dig under the fence all summer. The ground is hard. She fills in my hole twice. After a good long rain, I find I can get under the fence. I run as fast as I could. I will avoid him this time. I will find the scent. Almost there. I will find–BALL! HE THREW A BALL! BALL! BALL! BALL!
I collapse on his porch panting. So much ball time. She is already there to pick me up. I have failed.
“It’s been a year now,” he says.
“A year,” she says. Sad face. I whine.
“Sore subject,” he grunts. He turns the ball over and over in his hand.
“There’s still…” she begins as he threw the ball.
Behind the barn. It is behind the barn. He finds me digging and kicks me. I growl at him. When she touches the sore spot when we are on the couch, I yelp and she kisses me.
I have never forgotten. I cannot get out of the yard. I have never forgotten. I stare at his farm. I smell the wind.
“You want to go see your friend?” she asks. I look up at her. She glows. My tail thumps on the floor.
“Who wants to go for a ride?” she asks. My tail thumps harder. Sometimes that thing has a mind of its own. “Does Banjo want to go for a ride?”
Go. Ride. I get up off my bed slowly and walk to wear the leash hangs.
“Good boy, you are such a good boy,” she says.
I do not know where we are going until she is almost at the farm. It has not changed. She lets me out. It hurts to get to the ground. The gravel hurts my feet. I start sniffing things.
“Hi!” she says. He is sitting on the porch. I can barely see him. But I know his sour smell.
They talk. I let him pet me. They talk. I whine.
“You need to go potty?” she asks. “Go potty,” she says, “Go on.”
They talk. I hear my name a few times but I do not turn back. I get to the edge of the barn and I pause to look back at them but they are not looking at me.
The ground behind the barn is soft and wet, but the digging still hurts. But this was the place I smelled her last. This was where he kicked me. I keep digging. She isn’t deep.
I can hear them talking as I get closer to the porch. I want to bark. I want to howl. I want to growl.
“It’s been so long,” she says. “She would have started her senior year this August.”
“Has it really been that long?” he asks. Through my good eye, I see him show his teeth.
Up the porch steps, each one hurting. I cannot hear their words any longer. My blood is roaring in my ears. I bump my head into her leg and the blood noise stops.
“What did you find, boy?” she asks.
She screams when I drop the small skull of her daughter at her feet.