Saturday Morning Post #70: How to Keep a Mistress Happy

In another short story from the 24 Exposures collection, This one, obviously, was born out of my great love of and affinity for dogs.

Alvin was in the doghouse again.

He couldn’t understand what had gone wrong this time. He’d tried everything he knew to make her happy, but nothing worked. The more he tried, the more she seemed to hate him. What else could he do? He had no idea right now, but he’d have to keep trying. He wanted to be liked again, that’s all. It was starting to rain.

He crept backwards as far as he could, curling up, trying to keep his face out of the falling water. He put his muzzle on his paws, infinite sadness in his eyes. He wanted to cry. Instead, he just whimpered a little, wondering. What did he do wrong? He’d thought he’d done everything right.

He closed his eyes and listened to the rain, now coming down steadily, thunking on the doghouse roof. He let out a pitiful whine. From somewhere, her voice yelled back, “Shut up.”

For three years, things had been great. Master was about the earliest thing Alvin remembered, and they had fallen in love on sight. Alvin’s first memory of Master was being lifted out of a cardboard box high into the air, seeing the rest of his litter scampering around below him, being held up to a human face. It was a nice face, big, and Alvin could smell food. He was too young to recognize exactly what the smell was, but there was something edible on the man’s breath, and Alvin licked his nose, tail wagging. That seemed to seal the deal, and then Alvin was sailing along, under the man’s arm, into the big box that made noise. It was a comforting noise, very deep, and the whole thing swayed and jiggled and Alvin felt very safe here and he fell asleep. He woke up as he was being set down in a big place, the cold floor stretching away past what his young eyes could focus on. There was food, there was water, and a hundred fascinating things to explore and smell and play with.

And Alvin grew, and learned the rules and hung by his master’s side when he was there and longed for him when he wasn’t. Alvin made sure their territory was safe from every intruder, except for the ones that Master welcomed. They were the ones who were friends, accepted into the pack’s space, and Alvin greeted them with an excited tail wag, although he’d quickly learned that the usual effort to jump up and wrestle was not accepted for some reason.

Alvin was a big boy by the time he was a year old. When he greeted Master, it was their custom for Alvin to stand on his back paws, and his face came up to Master’s chest. Master would lean down and make accepting noises and Alvin would lick his nose again and would recognize the sound he’d come to associate with happiness and status and everything’s fine in the world. “Good boy. Who’s a good boy?”

Alvin was number two dog, favorite of the pack leader, and he was in heaven. Sometimes, when other people came over, he’d find himself left outside or shut out of the bedroom. He couldn’t understand why, at first, and never knew when visitors came if it was going to be one of those nights. After a few times, he’d finally figured it out. The visitors who took Master away from Alvin all smelled… well, different than Master, but the same as each other. There’d be a strong aroma like the garden out back, but there was also another smell, one that was a little familiar to Alvin from the dog park, but also different. He didn’t have a name for it, but he came to know that this particular smell meant he’d be sleeping outside of his room that night.

The exact smell never quite repeated, though. It was a series of variations with one strong note beneath that only a dog could detect. A series of different visitors who never came back. Then there were the regulars, the ones Alvin had come to recognize from their scents and their voices. When they came over, Alvin was part of the pack. They fed him and played with him and let him hang out while they sat around looking at people running around beyond that strange window in the box in the den.

Then, one day, Alvin recognized the other scent again, a particular other scent that he’d smelled before. He didn’t even have to think it when this one hit his nose. This person had been here once and was back again. And then again, and then more often. And suddenly, sometimes, Master would go away at night and not come back. Alvin had learned to dread those evenings when Master came home from work and spent a long time changing that stuff he wore and came out of the little room covered in smells — dusty wood, sharp mint, something pungent and leafy, something else like pepper and vegetables. Those were the evenings when Alvin would sulk, lying on the bed with his saddest expression, hoping he’d get to go along, his tail wagging despite himself when Master came over to pet him and say the words Alvin had learned to hate to hear. “Take care of things, I’ll see you later.”

Sometimes, Alvin would follow Master to the door, begging with his eyes to go along, but it never worked. Alvin would go back upstairs, shoulders hunched and tail down, lie on the bed and let his sadness drag him to sleep — although he would always awake and lift his head up at the slightest promising noise, even though he knew Master would not return until it was light outside again.

He always smelled different when he came back, and Alvin noticed that it was always a hint of that familiar smell on him, that other scent, that particular scent. And the human who carried that scent started to come by more often and spend more time and Alvin realized the pack had grown. This was the only human with that particular scent who ever sat with Master in the den watching the strange window, and Alvin would lie at their feet, very happy to be with them.

Then, one day, he caught something else in that scent and he realized something he hadn’t known before about humans. This visitor was in heat. Master had never been in heat for as long as Alvin had known him. So that was what it was. Just to be sure, Alvin walked over to the visitor, put his nose between her legs and sniffed. Unmistakable. It was different than the dog heat smell in most ways, but there were telltale aromas that were only associated with that time of year. It was certainly an interesting and complicated smell, although there was nothing arousing about it to Alvin. He sniffed hard, just to make sure he was right.


Oh oh. He felt the visitor’s hands pushing his shoulders, then the yank on the collar from Master, the words he hated. “Bad dog. Bad dog. No.”

That evening, the visitor left instead of staying the night. Alvin hoped that this wasn’t his fault. He was only curious, nothing more. But the next time she came, Master put Alvin in the yard before he let her in the door. And the next time, and that became the pattern now, and Alvin came to dread hearing the familiar footsteps, catching that familiar scent from outside, hearing the doorbell.

She didn’t like him. He’d done something wrong, but he didn’t know what. He’d even given her a dog’s most friendly greeting, but she’d pushed him away. That was bad. That was terrible. Dogs rarely got along again after that sort of thing. Was it the same with these tall animals?

Alvin and Master were spending less time together. Master and her were spending more. Alvin found himself frequently sitting on the back porch, staring in through the window, seeing them there, so close and yet unreachable and it was his fault. If only he could make her like him again.

But how?

She obviously liked Master. She liked him a lot. Alvin watched them through the window. Maybe, if he was very, very good, he’d get a chance to make up with her. And then he’d make her like him, he really would, and everything would be fine and the three of them would be a pack and Alvin would be in heaven.

Alvin watched them through the windows, studying them, memorizing everything that Master did.

* * *

One evening, a long time after, Alvin heard the familiar sounds and caught that particular smell outside, and he sulked to the back door, waiting to be put outside. Only this time, for some reason, he wasn’t. Master opened the door and she came in. Alvin snapped to attention, his entire body wagging. This was his chance. Now was the time to use what he’d learned. He was very excited. Things could be the way they were before.

He ran over to her, practically bouncing, ears down to show her his proper status. And she reached down to pet him! She scratched his ears and said those words, “Good boy.” And Alvin knew how Master always said hello to her, how it made her so happy. He jumped up, put his paws on her shoulders and licked her mouth, tail wagging furiously.

“Alvin, goddammit.”

And he was outside again.

He didn’t understand. He’d shown humility, he’d given her a proper human greeting. What had he done wrong? He watched them again, trying to figure it out. They walked slowly through the living room, Master’s arm around her. He brought her to the dining room table, opened a box and handed her a bunch of flowers, like the ones along the front walk. And Alvin could tell that this made her very, very happy. They licked each other’s mouths and she didn’t get mad at Master. It didn’t bother her when he did it. Why not?

He watched as they kept licking and sniffing each other in the dining room, and then they started wrestling, pulling off those things that people always covered themselves with. Master won the wrestling match and she wound up on her back, throat exposed, kicking her hind legs as he held her down, but she really seemed to like this. Alvin could smell their happiness, even outside. They sniffed and licked each other everywhere, wrestled some more and then finally just lay down for a long time.

Alvin paced around the porch, circling, thinking. What was he missing here? What was it?

He was still wondering when Master let him in later. She was still here. Alvin could hear her. But he didn’t get a chance to try again, not tonight, and so he fell asleep staring at the closed bedroom door, and he had fitful dreams that made his legs twitch and his lip quiver in a noiseless bark and when he woke up again he was still very sad.

* * *

One day, later, Master took out the leash and said the magic phrase. “Want to go for a ride?” Alvin let out a happy yelp, started jumping up and down, running to the front door. They went outside and got in the big box and the world went past them, Alvin hanging his head into the wind, ecstatic, sniffing a thousand things and seeing dozens of people.

Then, as they started to move slower, he caught a hint of something familiar. He’d never seen this place before, but there was a trace of aroma. Her. They were near her. He’d have another chance. He welped in his happiness and Master laughed as they stopped moving and the rumble died down. Alvin couldn’t wait to get outside, he was practically pawing at the door as Master went around and opened it. Alvin bounded outside, ran to the nearest tall object and lifted his leg, leaving his mark so they could find their way back later. Then he ran up a walkway, toward a door, Master following.

The door opened and it was her. Alvin scampered over, twisting at the same time, head down and ears down, trying to look very small. He approached her and stood there as Master shouted, “Alvin, wait.” She leaned over and scratched Alvin’s ears. He was so happy. She liked him. He was about to jump up and lick her face when something stopped him, a twinge. That’s right. Bad dog. His tongue darted in and out of his mouth, but he kept it away from her and he must have done something right, because she said the words she’d only said once before. “Good boy.” His tail wagged furiously, wapping into Master’s leg as Master leaned forward and licked her face.

They went inside and it was a new place, with a hundred fascinating things to explore and smell and play with. Alvin ran from room to room, sniffing and looking, always coming back quickly to make sure Master was still there. And the place smelled a lot like Master, and like her and… and Alvin was inside. He was part of the pack.

He ran back to where she and Master were standing and watched as Master handed her something. She gave off that happy aura again as she opened the small box, pulled out a small bottle. She gave a little squeal and hugged Master very tight, kissing him. Alvin sniffed and caught a faint hint of that familiar gardeny smell. But where had it come from?

Alvin tried not to do anything, not until he knew what the right thing to do was. He lay down nearby while she and Master sat together, not approaching even though they were eating. Too risky, and he was in a strange place. He didn’t want to be left behind.

They were talking about him, looking his way. He heard his name, heard “Good.” He held his head up, wagged his tail. Master patted his leg and Alvin walked over, put his head in Master’s lap, got his ears scratched. And she reached over, scratched the white spot on his chest. Could it really be? Was it working, did she like him now?

Alvin moved away from them, rolled over on his back, tail wagging. Maybe she’d wrestle with him, and he’d let her win so she’d know he knew who was in charge. She and Master laughed and Alvin barked, then the two of them got up, carrying plates, left the room. Okay, that was odd. They didn’t want to play? Where were they going?

Alvin peeked into the kitchen, where she was standing at the counter, Master standing behind her, making noises in her ear. There was clanking, running water, then silence. She picked up the small bottle Master had given her before. He took it from her hand, and then sprayed her with it and the gardeny smell got very strong. Alvin could tell it made her happy.

Master squirted her with it again. It was an overpowering smell, a hundred different things mixed together. Gardens and cooking smell and… Alvin cocked his head to one side, took a deep whiff. Was it? His mind processed and he sniffed again. That was very strange, but yes, he was sure that’s what he smelled. Along with all the flowers and spices and other things, he definitely smelled cat pee. That’s what it was, all right. Cat pee? That was very strange.

Master sprayed her neck, then put the bottle down and stuck his face there, inhaling deeply. She laughed, turned her head, looked at Alvin, smiled. She smiled. She smiled at him. She wasn’t mad at him anymore. Alvin rushed over, circling next to them, wagging his tail. She held her hand down and he sniffed it. Cat pee. Flowers and cat pee and she was happy. She liked him now.

And it was Master’s cat pee. Of course.

Alvin gave a happy yip, turned, lifted his leg, and gave her some scent of his own and knew she would be happy and everything would be fine — and then there was yelling, Master swatted him very hard and he found himself in a strange yard again, kept apart and he couldn’t understand it. He just couldn’t understand it at all. Why hadn’t that made her happy?

They left him outside all night. The porch was covered and it was warm enough, but that wasn’t the point. He was outside, out of their territory. He’d been cut from the pack longer than he’d ever been before, and he couldn’t even see inside this place to know that they were still there. Alvin was miserable. Dawn came and he opened his eyes, but he knew it would still be a long time before Master came back. He had to make it up to them, had to say he was sorry somehow.

He wondered, “What would Master do?” Had she ever been mad at him? It didn’t seem like it. He’d realized his mistake, though. Cat pee. Not dog pee. Big difference.


She always had that flowery smell, except sometimes in the morning, and she was always very happy when Master gave them to her. Alvin sat up, looked around. He got up, walked into the yard and did his morning business against a tree, then sniffed. He caught the smell he was looking for, went around the house.

Flowers… There were a bunch of them here, and they always made her happy. How could this be wrong?

Alvin stuck his nose in the flowers, tail wagging, problem solved.

* * *
She screamed.

Alvin had never heard this noise before, and it startled him. Of course, he hadn’t expected her to open the door yet. He hadn’t finished arranging things. He looked up, long uprooted stalk in his mouth, wagged his tail. A clump of dirt shook from the stems and fell onto the porch next to the pile of flowers.

Master appeared behind her, looked down. His reaction was not what Alvin had expected, and he quickly found himself dragged outside and put in the big box, all alone, nothing to do and nowhere to go for a long time. All the way back home, Master didn’t talk to him, didn’t look at him, and when they got home, Alvin got pushed out into the backyard for most of the day, even though no one else was there.

So, it was back to being put outside every time he heard her sounds and caught that particular scent, and she didn’t even really look at him through the windows anymore, no matter how hard he tried to get her attention. She kept coming back and dawn kept getting further from nightfall and it kept getting colder outside until it was that time of year again when Alvin always grew a little fat and shaggy and his breath would fog the window, make it harder to see inside. It had been a long, long time since he’d even gotten near her. Almost forever.

Then, one night when she was there, very late, it started to rain and Master came downstairs and let Alvin into the dark house. Alvin couldn’t remember the last time he’d been inside with both of them. He wagged his tail, but moved very slowly, very carefully, not wanting to do anything wrong. He followed Master up to the bedroom, but the door closed before Alvin could go in. Still, he was inside. He lay down and watched the door, waiting.

He could hear sounds from inside, like they were baying at the moon, and a strange squeaking. Alvin sniffed, moving his nose toward the door. Yes, they were both in there. He sniffed again and then the unimaginable happened. The door quietly popped open. Alvin pushed it with his nose. It swung wider and he lurked inside, headed toward his bed and quietly got in. They hadn’t noticed him. They were too busy.

Alvin watched, his eyes adjusting to the dim light. She and Master were wrestling again, he thought. He could see both of them on the bed, moving around, but —

Alvin lifted his head, stared. No, this wasn’t wrestling. He knew this. Every dog knew this, whether they’d ever done it or not, it was just one of those things. She had her back to Master and he was behind her and they were mating and Alvin could tell both of them were extremely happy. Maybe, then, they wouldn’t be mad at him when they were done.

When they were done, Master got up and went into the small room, not noticing Alvin in his basket. Mistress — that’s who she was now, after all, those were the rules — also got up, went to the dresser, fiddling with something. Then she said, “Dammit,” which Alvin knew was a mad word, but she hadn’t said it at him. She hadn’t noticed him, either. Or had she? She must have, because all of a sudden she was kneeling on the floor, head down, moving her front paws around, sniffing the carpet.

Alvin had never noticed it before, but even though humans didn’t have tails, they had all the other parts that dogs did. And here she was, offering it to him and it had made her very happy with Master. This was it, this was the answer and everything was going to be wonderful again.

Alvin got out of his basket and went to her and now he was in the doghouse and it was pouring rain and everything made him very sad, there was nothing he could do anymore, nothing he could do right, nothing. He whimpered, then howled.

“Shut up,” her voice shrieked from the darkness.

But Alvin just kept howling, louder and louder, a mournful noise. He didn’t care anymore. If he couldn’t make her happy, then he’d make her mad. At least it was something, at least it got him noticed. But he’d have his revenge. After tonight, that was it. He was just going to ignore her, not even say hello. He wasn’t even going to look at them through the windows, and she’d know. She would know how mad he was at her and he would never be her friend.

Alvin stopped howling. Everything was solved, then, and he felt very relieved. He went to sleep a new dog, and even the sound of thunder didn’t disturb his slumber.

His dreams were even pleasant. It was a sunny day, and he and Master were playing in the park. Just the two of them and nobody else.

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