The radio spills out some hot new single or other, and the sound isn't comforting in the least. I'm gripping the steering wheel so tight my knuckles are whitening and bulged, and the leather beneath my grasp rustles up in soft little crunches. I have not slept since the night before last, and without a new sleeping pill prescription, I won't be sleeping tonight either. My eyes are red from the drudgery, irritated with the salted sting of tears that come and go in waves, that have been since this morning. My ears sting with the sounds of the grizzly morning I've been subject to, their origins still fresh in my mind and heavy on my heart.
Wednesday: 8:00 PM
I pull in through the fast food drive through, a crumpled set of sweat soaked twenties in my hand. The car behind me is a minivan filled to the brim with Spanish-men, all considerably inebriated and scream-singing to their samba music. I envy their cheer, their unmarred glee as I pull up to the payment window.
(Ask about our super size! Free side order of curly fries; limited time only!)
A small red-freckled face, round and gaunt; though not unfriendly greets me. Her name tag says "Fran". "That'll be 35.23." she says in a genuinely cheery voice. She cannot be more than eighteen, her smile is warm and her is gaze comforting. I drop the twenties in her hand with an almost casual disregard, amazed at how soft her skin feels as we connect for the briefest of moments. I envy her for enjoying what she does, and hate myself for what I have to do. After a few moments she hands me several large brown bags, filled to the brim with white bundles that steam in the chilled night air. She attempts to hand me my change, and I gently close her hand around the sum. She thanks me, and I'm off before we can exchange any more conversation.
As I enter the parking lot, the old familiar silhouettes begin to take shape. The building itself is low and bricked, with a steep roof that slants like a mis-crossed "T". The air is chilly, and I pull my jacket tight to my chest as I gather the brown bags up in my arms, looking like a much more awkward version of Santa Claus skulking my way into the front door of this quiet little dwelling.
I fumble with my keys, almost dropping half the bags in the process. A few moments and some colorful language later, and I'm inside, and the air is much warmer. The fluorescent light clicks on with a cold mechanical snap, and the scent of familiarity comes to me almost instantly. The thick smell that lies just beneath the scented plugins, just beyond the air filtration system that hums idly away at all hours of the day. I walk through the various hallways, past offices that are dead and black for the night, and up to a door that I absolutely dread. The paint is tan, coffee brown and peeling. The handle and hinges are beginning to rust, and the tile just in front of it is scratched and scarred considerably. A small metal placard shines with a sort of dull indifference in the lights over-head.
"(Proceed With CAUTION)"
I sigh, a deep hollow sound that rattles out of my chest as I try to choke back the sobs that want to roll up and out of my throat. I will not cry, not now, not yet. The handle creaks and cracks as it's various inner parts click and sync, all at once becoming slack as the door gives way; opening slowly, deliberately slow. The smell hits me much harder now, the thick odor that i'm sure most of you remember from your childhood. Almost as soon as the door opens they start. A choir of dozens upon dozens of curious dwellers arises, and echoes a countless number of times through the plain concrete corridors. I pass a sign on my left, small, and stern.
"Please do NOT feed the animals. Thank you - The Management"
There are dogs of various sizes and breeds. Some stand up, some rear up and put their paws to the fence in an effort to get my attention, and some don't move at all. The noise is almost maddeningly loud, but I don't mind. I take my slow and deliberate walk down the line, past cage after cage, my footsteps falling like lead as I near the far end of the walkway. This door is much less kept, and is in-fact partially rusted through near the door handle. The steel is cold, and steals the warmth of me away as I grip it in my free hand, the sense and memory of doing this a thousand times over floods my head, and again I choke back the tears.
The crowd here is much less raucous, and almost none at all bark as I enter the smaller wing of the dog pens. I sit my parcels on the table to my left, the contents spilling out and rolling slightly. The scent of hot meat gets their attention, and several walk to the front of their cages, which are far dirtier and unkempt than the ones out in the larger wing. Many water bowls are either empty or dirtied, and only a few have food worthy of mention. There are dogs of all sizes and ages.
I unlock the cages one at a time, walking back to my table each time. As the latch comes undone and the gate swings forward, I begin the process of coaxing each one from their cell. Some are reluctant, but most come at the smell of the fast food I offer them. They always eat the same way, and it breaks my heart. The food is not so much chewed as swallowed whole, disappearing in mere seconds, sometimes in as little as one or two bites. They are always grateful, always indescribably happy at my offering. After they eat I devote no less than five minutes of individual love and attention to each and every dog. I pet them, scratch their backs, rub their bellies, and let them tug on a toy rope that I keep back here, and they are always happy to do so. I give each and everyone one of them (sometimes as many as 40) names. They bark in joy and lick me in the face, and every time one does it drives a sliver of icy pain deep down into my heart. Every one of these dogs will be dead in the morning.
After they are all loose and fed, they all crowd around me and I play with them. I throw tennis balls this way and that, toss out strips of jerky and dog treats, and generally get smothered in fur for roughly two hours. They are gleeful and energetic, even the older dogs join in further down the road, barking barks that have not been sounded in the months they've been incarcerated here. As the festivities wind down, I lead each one back into their original, run down, sullied pens. I kiss each one between the eyes, and tell them I'm sorry. I tell them I'm sorry that the world can't help them, and that soon they'll be in dog heaven, running and playing with all the little children and all the Frisbee and tennis balls they could ever want. I tell them I love each and every one of them, and I do. I remember each and every face of every dog I've ever put to sleep. They look at me with their confused dog minds, most likely sensing my sadness as I lock each and every one of them back into the pens. After the task is done, I lock up, and return home for a night of sleepless tossing and turning.
Thursday 8:00 AM
All of the dogs are happy to see me. I am gloved and wearing a breathing mask, but they still remember me. As I unlock the cages, some tug playfully at my hands, others roll over in the hopes I'm here to stroke their bellies again, and others still look for the food that I surely must have brought. But there is no such luck for them, or for me this morning. I load them onto the cart in batches of ten, and do roughly five batches every Thursday. I have taken four anti-depressants just before, and they are doing their job well enough, at least for now. They are confused as I pull them past the door-less entry point marked off with yellow and black cautionary lines, and further down the hallway to a small medical steel door.
"Danger: Carbon Monoxide Gas"
I open the door, and thats when they know. It's the smell that rolls out from this room, the thick stiff scent of death, they smell it and they know what is about to happen. They whine and fidget in their harnesses, some howl sorrowfully, and others begin to gnaw at the steel restraint bars in front of them. I sob gently beneath my breathing mask, my eyes flooded now with hot fresh tears as I wheel them in to place within the gas chamber. The door shuts cooly, coldly into place as I step out and the air locks engage. I look to the simple control panel that has two simple buttons, one red, one black.
I hover my palm over the red button, my hands shaking and my heart pounding so hard it hurts. The tears are flowing harder now as I recall each and every one of their faces, each and every one of their barks and their playful leaps at me as I opened their cage. I know they're all so scared, so afraid, so confused. I was so nice to them, and now I've put them in this place, and they can just smell death in the air. "I'm sorry....I'm so sorry."
It takes hours to complete the process. I have to pull their bodies out after each cycle, and the gas causes their nerves to go haywire. I spray the chamber clean of their bodily leavings, mostly blood and sometimes half digested remnants of food that I myself gave to them down a small circular drain in the center of the room. The smell makes me throw up almost every time. It goes on for what feels like forever.
- - -
They are in heaven now, that's what I tell myself. Call me what you will, call me monster, devil, demon, heartless, evil. I know what I am, I know I'm going to hell, I know that what I do each and every week is wrong, and I absolutely hate doing what I do. I hate it so much. Each and every night after I go home, it takes no fewer than three sleeping pills to put me down. In my sleep I fidget and groan, sweat and murmur. I jump and gasp, scream and weep. I see their faces all through the night, and sometimes during the day. Every single animal I've murdered, for the simple and cruel fact that there is not enough space for them to live and be loved.
This is my life, week in and week out. Please do not judge me,
I already judge myself.