I have a dog.
Sounds very ordinary, but context is everything.
Where we live it hasn’t rained in five years, seven months, and twenty-three days. Nothing grows. There’s no topsoil to put a plant in. Plenty of dirt, but it’s all blowing through the air.
Every plant that used to grow here is dead. All the animals who used to eat the plants that used to grow here are dead. A lot of the people who used to eat the animals and the plants that used to grow here are dead. The few of us still alive have made it because we’re very adept at queuing up for charity food shipped from places where there are still plants and animals. Being among the first persons in line and having the stamina to stand there for thirteen hours at a stretch are major survival skills.
In this context, I have a dog means there’s something for dinner.
Not that I really have a dog. We ate all the dogs a long time ago.
I used to have a cat. Cats outlasted the dogs. They are worse eating – too stringy. (Predators in general aren’t tasty food sources.) And the cats earned their keep by keeping mice out of the grain stores. For awhile. Until we decided that mice were too nutritious to waste on cats.
Of course I don’t have a dog. I was just making a point.
Frankly, we’ve gone beyond dogs and cats and mice. There’s been more than one report of cannibalism, and I’d be willing to bet that for every incident we’ve heard about, there are ten no one mentions. So far we hear the person eaten died of natural causes. People said they just couldn’t face sticking all that meat into a hole in the ground.
But if nobody’s been murdered for dinner yet, it’s only a matter of time.
I said I don’t really have a dog. Where would I even get a dog these days?
The charity food used to come every week. Last year it dropped to twice a month, and at the beginning of this year they told us the shipments would only come monthly. We get the same amount of food we always did: a pound of rice, a pound of beans, a pound of wheat.
Everybody has scurvy and no baby has lived more than three months in a year and a half.
It’s a Chihuahua, for God’s sake. Skin and bones. Not enough meat on him to do anybody any good.
The local well dried up, so now we have to walk five miles just to get some water. We only get three gallons each a week. No one bothers using it to bathe. Drinking’s more important.
It’s hot, too. The sun was always relentless here, but now we can’t even sit under a tree.
The neighbors took my dog. I heard him cry out when they killed him. I cried for the first time in months.
They barbequed him.
I ate a piece.
The charity food hasn’t come in seven weeks. Some say there’s some new disaster, that it’s no longer fashionable to care about us. Others say even the rich are starving these days, that the whole world is in trouble.
Ten days ago a neighbor died. We didn’t even talk about it. We each contributed bits of wood from our houses for the barbeque fire.
I pretended that it was just another form of cremation. But I ate a little. Stringy, like the cats.
I haven’t eaten anything in three days. Yesterday I started off to get water, but passed out on the road. When I came to, I crawled back home. Nobody helped me.
Everybody’s watching me now. There’s only so long a person can go without water. A couple of people have snuck by, brought me a cup to sip. I appreciate it, even though I know they’re just doing it so they’ll feel less guilty when it comes time to feast on my remains.
This story originally appeared in Flashes of Illumination.