The last good year. Make me weep.
Every day, since she adopted Boy, had been the same. Etta got woken up by his slobbering kisses and his eternally cheerful, “Good morning, Boss.” and some vestigial orders he used to give his old master. Even after all this time, Boy obeyed his programming/training and looked after his owner.
This morning, the alarm went off before Boy’s cold nose pressed against her skin and his tongue lavished her with kisses.
She’d been trying to ignore the grey appearing in the darker patches on his pelt. Now she was trying to ignore the shakiness in his hind legs as he perched his forelimbs on her bed and greeted her. “Good Morning, Boss. Breakfast. Shower. Meds. Time for go.”
He hadn’t cleaned himself properly again. Etta took him into the shower with her and made sure he was clean and dry and groomed, and then neat in his uniform. It included, despite all logic, a decorative and ludicrous hat at his insistence. He always put it on himself, set it just so, and muttered, “…good boy,” under his breath.
She cooked him breakfast. His favourite, blue steak in peanut sauce. And cut it up for him because his old teeth couldn’t chew the way they used to.
It had been a routine since his gene-reader told her his telomeres were running out. She hadn’t touched it since. She was dreading the day she had to say goodbye and didn’t want to face it. Therefore, the gene-reader had lain untouched on a high shelf that Boy couldn’t reach for an excess of nine Standard months. Three hundred and sixty days.
She’d been kinder to him than normal. Making sure he would want to take his medicine by insisting that it tasted of bacon. Making his clothes thicker so that he would be warmer in the cool station air and his thinning muscles would be slightly more padded whenever he sat or laid down.
Etta went on longer walks with him, played any game he wanted. Made certain he had a wonderful time.
Because she didn’t want him to go.
“Time for Boy go,” he said, apropos of nothing on their way to the tram to work.
He had been saying it more often, lately. Etta feared what it might mean, but, just like a crazy human, she had to ask. “How do you mean, time for you to go? We are going. We’re going to work.”
“Yes. Good dog.” He waited for her to stop. Sat, and put his hand-paw in hers. “Boy go, see Master. In forever-sleep.”
Her heart almost stopped. Unbidden tears sprang from her eyes. Her knees buckled and saw her crouching on the floor like a petulant child.
Boy kissed her tears away. “No sad. Forever-sleep good. No pain. See Master.”
She hugged him, wept over his nice clean vest and harness. “But I no see you any more.”
“Good boss,” said Boy. “All forever-sleep soon.” And just like that, his conversation was over. “Tram! Tram! Tram,” he barked. “Ride time.”
He sat on her lap, that ride. Or at least, as much on her lap as he could manage. Called her ‘good boss’ as often as he could get away with it.
All this time, she was making sure he was comforted in his last time. Now he was comforting her because he knew she was sad about it.
That night, at bed time, he said, “Good bye, boss.”
She said an absent goodnight as she tucked herself in. And, just as she drifted off to sleep, she heard him mutter, “Good dog,” in a satisfied tone.
The alarm went off on the first day without his cold nose or his warm wet tongue. He was still curled up in his bed, cold and still. Gone into the forever-sleep to whatever beyond suited him best.
She arranged for Services to bury his body at the feet of his old masters’ grave, and reserved a spot beside the old man who she had never met - for some time a long time later. Etta didn’t cry. Not during the burial, not during the services. Not even when she planted his favourite flowers in the fresh-turned soil above his body.
It came on her way home, sitting in the tram opposite Julie and Nanny, when the blonde girl asked, in all innocence, “Where’s your dog?”
That was when she wept. Not because he had gone into the greater beyond, but because he had left her behind.