Not a Replacement
Mari knew enough to be horrified by the little beast sitting oh-so-innocently in the gift box.
Her hands, moments away from diving into the package, retreated hastily under the protective shelter of her arms, the motion like that of a turtle withdrawing into its shell. It was a natural reaction; the idea of pets terrified her, dogs especially.
If – and this was an emphatic if – the panting creature could even be called that.
Tiny and white, with an obscenely distended middle, it more resembled the biologically questionable lovechild of a polar bear and an ermine. It had the wide-spaced black eyes and snout of the former, and the watchful, weasel-like appearance of the latter. Like a semi-devoured mango seed, its fur was stringy yet wiry, poking out in odd lengths from its body. This wasn’t from uncleanness, she could tell – the scent wafting from the box smelled of dog shampoo and paw balm, tinged with the natural musk of an animal.
She stared. It stared back, shuffling inside the confined space, nostrils flaring wildly just below the lip of the box.
“Do you like it?” The words burst without warning from her left, but when Mari dragged her gaze away from the dog, the desperate, anxious hope bleeding out from her mother’s face stalled her automatic response. “Doesn’t he look just like Krypto?”
Krypto. Mari’s gaze returned to the dog.
The name evoked nostalgia, scenes flashing by in rapid-fire succession. A white ball of fur hurtling around the living room. The rattle of kibble falling into a shallow bowl, its owner looking on with a swishing tail thump-thumping on the hardwood floor. A barely contained mass of manic energy sitting for its human just to snatch a treat out of midair. Twelve years of companionship and shared laughter and naptime cuddles.
Until the too-shallow breaths, the soft, whimpering whines, and a vet explaining in comforting words that it’d be painless, and he’ll be happy where he’s going.
Mari looked for just a little while longer. Then she reached into the box.