By Allison King
I keep a box of chocolate in my room and it is there that Kratos bolts the first time we bring him home. I named him after the archangel in my video game, the one with the fire sword, and when Kratos steps into our house, he is ablaze, his shining, red fur streaking to my room, the way car lights turn to beams in photographs. Later, the chocolate betrays him, and he throws up square lumps of brown on my pink carpet. When he is done hacking he sniffs, then gives a tentative lick.
“Stupid dog,” my grandmother says. She cannot pronounce his name so that is what she calls him for the rest of both of their lives.
Kratos patrols the perimeter of our yard, barking at every whiff of rabbit. It is only a week after the adoption before the neighbors complain. Loudest of all, though, is my grandmother, who is sure that he will one day trample through her garden while chasing a stray smell. My father builds a fence for her garden, but every day, as Kratos circles the yard, she watches him with equal vigilance, ready to give chase if he gets too close to her vegetables.
One day, when only she and Kratos are home, he begins to bark furiously. Seeing a shadow in the garden, they both bolt outside, Kratos, fire ready to engulf the invader, and my grandmother, a crazed puppeteer’s marionette, limbs flailing everywhere.
From the way she tells the story later, Kratos mauled the invading raccoon, then threw each piece over the fence to serve as a warning to other potential pests. My father finds no such remains, but it is true that afterward, the garden flourishes. For dinner that night, she makes braised pork belly, fatty slices glazed in a syrup of sugar and soy sauce. I catch her sneaking a piece to Kratos. His drool puddles between his paws, and from then on he belongs only to her.
In school, a classmate says a name I don’t recognize but that everybody else does. It is only when I ask who Mr. Christ is that the teacher offers me the Bible. I read it and learn that I have gotten Kratos’ name all wrong—that before my video game there was the Bible, and in the Bible, there is the story of an angel with a fire sword, protector of God’s garden. I ask my grandmother if she knows Christ, but she says I am too young to be asking such questions. I ask Kratos if I should change his name to Uriel, to be consistent with what everybody seems to know, but he just continues sleeping.
I invite a friend over for dinner. My grandmother stands by the stove, steaming a whole fish. Kratos comes in and reports straight to her.
“Ah,” my friend says, eyeing Kratos. “Is this your dinner?”
I’ve heard the joke before, but this time I can’t stand it. I can’t stand that he can imagine a world where my grandmother would cook Kratos. We are a mess of limbs as I yell that we are a normal family with normal food, and he is crying that a whole fish with eyeball and all isn’t normal, and Kratos is barking for us to stop, but it is not until my grandmother speaks that we are struck down. Suddenly she is Christ on Judgment Day, pointing her spatula at each of us— the friend goes home, I go to my room, and Kratos stays.
“It wasn’t my fault!” I complain.
“Stupid dog is smarter than stupid children,” my grandmother huffs, and Kratos licks his lips.
They age together. Kratos does not chase every smell anymore, and my grandmother begins to forget. One morning we wake to find Kratos curled at the foot of her bed.
“Did you let him out?” my father demands.
“No!” she retorts, then fades because she does not really remember. My father installs a hook on the laundry room door so Kratos cannot be let out absent-mindedly.
Not long after, she falls down the stairs. We all startle awake because there is the sound of the impact of her body, then of Kratos barking desperately.
My father installs the same hook on the outside of her bedroom door so that she cannot wander at night. I still wake up, though, to the rustling of my grandmother fiddling with her door, and to Kratos scratching at his on the opposite end of the house.
In school, we write essays on books and everything seems to relate back to original sin. But I wonder about paradise, and the fall, and everything that came after—the banishment, the Flood—but the good things, too—like my life of comfort with a family and a dog—surely that’s better than two people, alone in a garden, trapped? It is my first essay without full marks.
When I return from college, they are both in diapers. Gunk collects under Kratos’s eyes, and when I drop a treat at his feet sometimes he can’t find it. My mother has quit work since they cannot be alone anymore. Before she walks Kratos she has to make sure to hook my grandmother in her room, and before she bathes my grandmother she has to make sure Kratos has a fresh diaper.
I take over watching everyone so that she can nap. They have taken to wandering the house together, my grandmother opening doors to rooms she’s forgotten, and Kratos poking his nose in to investigate what he cannot see anymore. I decide they cannot get into much trouble.
But there are moments of lucidity, and it is in one of these moments that she remembers how to open the front door. I run over and see the two of them squinting into the gentle sunlight, at the glistening blades of grass. I do not stop them as they both step outside and, together, venture out of the house.
Wonderful and very moving story.
Beautiful, touching and well written.
Beautiful. I loved it.
Don’t you wish they could have been allowed to share the room?