Things wore on, year by year, for the couple, until the moment came when, both agreed, it was time. Do we or don’t we? They thought it over and discussed it aloud, throughout that long final moment, which they both hoped might last longer than they knew it could.
They knew the moment was going to end, and soon it did. The time—the real time, the time beyond which there could be no more hedging—came, and they decided, though of course they would never be sure, that, no, they couldn’t pass it up. The chance to love something of their own making.
Someone, they corrected one another.
The chance to make someone and love them and, if things went reasonably well, be loved by them in return. No, they confirmed, we’d be crazy to let that pass us by.
So they didn’t. The condoms came off. After what seemed only a week or two of vigorous intent, she announced that it’d taken. Now they could only wait.
As they waited, they each, in the privacy of their own dreams, dreamt that, during their honeymoon in Australia, they’d met a contingent of British Peace Corps volunteers who told a story of how they’d taken an antimalarial drug on a riverboat in Zambia and, during the night, all of them—it was six women—dreamt they were giving birth to a litter, or six litters, of mangled puppies, their skulls crushed and wormy, their eyes hanging out like viscous liquid that had never gelled.
When the couple awoke in the morning, neither mentioned the dream, although each was then left to go through the day with no means of verifying whether they really had met such a contingent of British Peace Corps volunteers during their honeymoon in Australia, where their actual honeymoon had—surely—taken place. And so it was possible, each thought, that they really had met these women, and really had heard their story, which, after all, had itself been merely a dream, in the telling.
This was enough to chill the last weeks of the pregnancy, until the afternoon the water broke and the wife was rushed to the hospital.
She labored there for hours, the husband by her side, until, by dawn, it was done. Six beautiful, healthy golden retriever puppies had emerged, nestled in the wet sheets between the wife’s legs.
And this wasn’t even the strangest thing. The strangest thing, it seemed to both of them, was that the hospital stood empty. There were no nurses, no orderlies, no one to tell them what to do next. The whole world, so far as they could tell, had receded. So, uncertain how else to respond, they bundled the puppies in the husband’s coat and snuck them home, where they deposited them on the kitchen floor and began their lives as parents.
The puppies, it has to be said, were the kindest, cutest, most lovable creatures either of them had ever seen. Lovable enough to dispel the British Peace Corps volunteers and their mangled litter, or litters, somewhere in a dream of Zambia. Lovable enough, even, to dispel any lingering question about how this scenario had come to pass. There were questions, of course, but no will to ask them, not even internally: the puppies were simply too cute.
Both husband and wife nuzzled the puppies, cuddled the puppies, whispered in their wonderfully fluffy pink ears, for weeks, months even, until the time came when it occurred to both of them that the puppies should have begun to grow by now.
The fear that they would one day grow into dogs, and then old dogs, dragging their hindlegs along the wooden floorboards until they could no longer do even that, quickly became so ominous that neither husband nor wife saw any option other than to birth another litter.
And so they did, even more easily than before. They didn’t go to the hospital—if any hospital remained—but simply had them on a rug on the basement floor, the husband holding the wife’s hand, while the original litter cuddled nearby, yawning and licking their adorable soft lips, black on the outside and pink on the inside.
This second litter joined the first, which still hadn’t aged or in any way lost its cuteness, until the same fear that had overcome the couple before overcame them again, and they had a third litter, and then a fourth.
This, they decided, is our God-given gift, the one regard in which we are unambiguously blessed. If they’d struggled before, in their childless years, to find purchase in their time and place on Earth, this struggle now seemed long past. Now, as they sat beside the fire, docile puppy-heads extending from a central golden node in their laps, they could hardly remember these earlier years. It seemed impossible that they had ever occurred.
All that mattered now was that they remained focused on breeding, determined to produce as many puppies as possible before their luck ran out.
None of the puppies had aged, nor sickened, nor turned strange, and yet the fear—the fear that this gift was too perfect, that they’d been granted more luck than any two people could possibly hope to enjoy, and thus the fear that the British Peace Corps dream, which hadn’t gone away, had to mean something—kept them on edge, as they bred again and again, filling their large Tudor home with nearly as many puppies as it could hold.
In time, they came to realize that this could well be the way in which their luck would run out. It’s possible, each thought, that we will at last be punished, not through the aging and eventual demise of our puppies, but through the simple inability of our home to contain them.
They considered buying a larger place, a mansion, a castle even, but the work that would’ve gone into acquiring the funds for such a move would’ve taken too much from their breeding cycle, not to mention separating them from their already-born puppies for hours or even days at a time.
So, no, they saw that they would have to be content with filling the large Tudor home they already owned. Arms full of puppies, kissing their cool black snouts, or being kissed by their warm pink tongues, the couple watched their rooms fill—the living room, the kitchen, the room with the fireplace, the library, the wine cellar. Every room in turn grew so full of puppies, so stuffed from floor to ceiling, that it became impossible to navigate. One by one, they made their peace with these rooms, abandoning them to puppy-flesh, while concentrating only on maintaining enough space to allow their own congress and subsequent delivery to proceed.
But even this, in time, grew impossible. The day came when their large Tudor home was so full of puppies that neither of them could reach the other. They clutched golden puppy-flesh and nuzzled soft puppy-fur, as enamored as ever of their radiant offspring, and yet they felt their strength begin to give out as they groped for one another, desperate to breed, straining to connect through a sea of adorable bodies that they could not part.
Here they remained, surrounded by hundreds, or, indeed, thousands, of healthy young puppies, ageless, guileless creatures, while their own skin began to wither and their bones softened as the starving militias scavenged outside, and both he and she could tell, even beyond death, that they’d been given the very last of the world’s good luck.
Long after the couple was gone, subsumed like the pit at the center of a tremendous soft fruit, the puppies continued to multiply, or perhaps simply to expand—no one had yet gotten close enough to say for sure. Those roaming the countryside, trembling with cold, could say only that the house in the distance was growing, turning ever downier and more golden, drawing them toward it. Its stone walls vanished, covered with golden fur just as densely as the walls of other, lesser structures were now covered with tangling vines. All conceivable softness, however little had survived, was now sewn into the fabric of what those few who could still speak had taken to calling Sanity House.
And yet, no matter how effortfully these few approached, none ever arrived. Or, if they did, they vanished, absorbed into the mass of puppy-flesh, their ragged skin sprouting fur and their wasted mouths elongating into adorable golden snouts.
Although no one ever returned, word began to spread, from one wasteland to another, or to another part of the same wasteland, that softness did indeed exist, that it was not yet gone from the world. The legend of Sanity House spread until there were no sane minds that didn’t know of it, and it became, thus, a kind of heaven, a promised end of all wandering and doubt, the holy terminus of a long journey that, had it not existed, would not have been a journey at all, but merely a grueling trek from nowhere to nowhere.
David Leo Rice is a writer from Northampton, MA, currently based in NYC. His novels include A Room in Dodge City, A Room in Dodge City: Vol. 2, Angel House, and The New House, coming in 2022. Drifter, which came out in June, is his debut story collection. He's online at: www.raviddice.com/
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