Spare Part

by McKenzie Caldwell (Univ. of Mount Union)

My parents brought a puppy home yesterday. It was a Happy-Christmas, you-children sort of dog in an incomplete sort of way—the bow was missing. Regardless, my brother and I rushed to envelope him in love.

“His name is Max,” my mom said.

“He’s a mix,” Dad added, as though my brother and I couldn’t tell.

Most of his parts were definitely lab, and my father long-ago proclaimed that we are lab people. The labrador parts were well emphasized: his overly large, he’ll-grow-into-them paws had webbing draped between the toes; the soft, chocolatey fur of his head and neck transformed into dense bristles with his puppy down still beneath them; and his eyes were what the American Kennel Club refers to as “kind” and “friendly” and “expressive.” Yet Max’s tail was slightly too curled and his snuffling snout slightly too long to be lab parts.

“He was free.” Dad shrugged.

Though my brother was attempting to monopolize his attention, Max looked at me, which allowed me to reflect that the setting of his eyes—the way the pearlescent whites shone when he gazed upwards and the hint of pink lining that action revealed—was also characteristic of a labrador. His irises, however, were not. It was frustratingly impossible to identify their color. It was something like the coats of Weimaraner dogs or, perhaps, like a tea or coffee drowned with milk. There was also something in his gaze that was shared with the other labs that we’ve gathered over the years: that intelligence that caused my mother to declare that animals certainly must have souls, the one thing that she disagrees with, it seems, when it comes to Christianity.

I really don't see the issue with throwing a soul into an animal. I mean, theoretically, that’s exactly what happens with humans. We’re not that bloody special.

Max averted his “ancient” puppy eyes and squirmed within my brother’s grasp.

Having a puppy is better than having a fresh human in the house. Six days have passed since Max came here, but it certainly didn’t take all six days for me to realize this. With humans, it’s dirty diapers and long nights of crying for whatever reason. Max accidentally poops in the house sometimes, but most of the other times, he goes outside to handle that sort of matter. And the only time he really makes any noise is when he’s screaming obscenities at the doorstop.

Max is also better for cuddling than small children because, once his energy sputters out from attacking all the toes and trying to gnaw at my black socks—only the black ones—he flops down in a way that almost begs for me to scoop him up and throw him on the bed. He always starts out on the southwestern corner of the mattress, but, thirty minutes into the nap, his disgruntled puppy noises wake me up, and he smacks me in the face with his schnoz before heaving himself into my stomach. Then we both go back to sleep: warm and happy.

Don’t get me wrong—it may seem like I like him, but I am not a dog person. There’s just something pleasing in the way that this small canine came equipped with soft paws that are disproportionate to the rest of his body. Those are four less parts that he’ll have to worry about changing out as he grows up.

That’s something that humans have a problem with. They come with those tiny bits and expect everything to grow at the same rate. That’s an expensive expectation. To upgrade each and every part of yourself all at once while still holding on to who you are “as a person”? Well, okay. Let’s check your parents’ credit, kid. You’re operating on your parents’ good graces, kid. You’ll be lucky if you get the parts you want, kid. You’ll get what you need and probably will be made fun of for it, kid.

I’d hate to be the person who has to give that speech to a twelve-year-old.

Max doesn’t have to worry about that. He has people to pay his bills, no matter how many times he switches his parts. The only thing that he has to worry about when it comes to other dogs is whether or not the pack living in our basement accepts him because Jessie is a bitch. No, literally. She’s one of our other dogs. Our other labrador, to be exact. But she, like our other three dogs, is black. Max is the only little brown dog we’ve ever owned. He’s been snubbed every time he’s ventured into the basement, and I’m pretty sure it’s because Jessie told the others that he’s less of a dog because his fur-tone. Oh wait, no. I’ve been around people too long; it’s probably just because she’s overly territorial and didn’t sign a permission slip for us to get a little brown dog named Max.

Jessie and the others could accept him or they could continue to rumble at him in a threatening way every time he infringes on their territory—it doesn’t really matter. Max is overly comfortable and loved in the realm of the upstairs. Six days and he’s practically tearing my family apart with love. Once, I thought that pets were supposed to bring families closer together; that was before I decided that I was okay with the pleasing scent of fresh sheets and cool quilts being replaced by the musty tinge of Max. My parents and brother made the same decision. None of us sleep in the same room. The way that we fight over him until the early hours is really becoming a problem.

Humans have limits, though. After so many exchanges, so many upgrades, parents throw their offspring out to fund their own parts purchases. Sometimes those offspring wander away to find jobs that offer immediately reap-able monetary benefits—practical because, as we know, money gets the parts. However, sometimes these offspring go to colleges and universities, thinking that they’ll upgrade the parts that are stuffed into their skulls. Those parts, often referred to as “brains” and “minds,” are much, much more costly than the external parts. Then it’s back to checking credit. The funny thing about humans: they insist that they need these new parts and quietly deny that they’re going to spend a small forever attempting to recover from spending that many arms and legs.

But I? I’m on existential sabbatical. This means that I’m almost totally exempt from the whole business of parts and people and credit, so, while Max is in the process of growing into his paws, I unscrew my hands from their wrists and unclip my feet at the ankles. I fold my torso up and squeeze it into a dusty corner, but not before I deflate my lungs to prevent popping, click the “off” button on my heart to save electricity, and unsnap my neck so that it doesn’t bend and fray when the rest of the parts are shoved into that little nook in such a careless manner.

The last part to be stored is my soul. Although it’s just another part, I treat it with care because it’s a difficult and costly thing to replace. This one was custom-tailored, given to me at birth by whatever god or God or next-door engineer mapped out my original, tiny, useless body. You don’t just break your soul and then hold up a greedy hand for another one: you either steal someone else’s or stuff yourself full of the straw-like materialistic-ness that effectively fills those unsightly dents and depressions. But as mine is not yet to the point where I would need to do either of those things, I tuck my soul into one of my thickest pairs of socks to protect it from the moisture and the dryness and the drafts and the sun. I smooth the dark fabric over the slight wrinkle of my most treasured part and tuck it under my bed for safe-keeping because that’s where all children hide things from their parents. Sometimes, it’s better to brave whatever monsters may lurk there than to deal with the people who spat you out into this tiresome world.

And, sometimes, the only little brown dog with a penchant for black socks your family has ever owned sticks his too-long nose under your bed, and your mother doesn’t see him dragging off yet another of her daughter’s socks, even if this one drags a little more loudly because it’s a little more weighty. I really have to say, though: Max had a particularly nice time with that sock.