He likes the red ones. He hoards them below the stairs, next to the grey tennis balls and the stale custard creams from Christmas. He likes Christmas. So many children he can bribe with his eyes.
He likes the children. They used to ride him, before they got too big. He got a treat afterwards, even if they often fed him chocolate by mistake and then he had to bite the man in the mask and gloves. He used to howl on his hind legs as they played the piano. He pretended he wasn’t tired, just for another smile.
They don’t smile much anymore. Some weekends they are out of the house, visiting the man who used to live there. She drinks the red drink and lies on the sofa with him across her lap. Her fingers dance on the black thing that makes scary sounds. Sometimes on those days, men come. Some are nice. Some are not.
The one she finally adopted was not. This man bites too, in a way he doesn’t understand. The woman started wearing scents that hurt his nose, tied her hair away. If she answers the door in pyjamas, the man shakes his head. She sometimes cries when he is in the bathroom. She won’t let him lick it better. He doesn’t like the children. He uses short words and never smiles. He sends them to bed early. The man kicked him once, when he scratched at the bedroom door because they were making scary sounds behind it.
Eventually, the man started to send her away. He comes over and drinks the red drink. He watches the loud box. He talks to her, and she leaves. She brings bottles and popcorn. He misses popcorn. He hides from the man, when she is gone.
Sometimes the man comes to the hiding place. Sometimes there are other shoes with his. They smell different. The soft ceiling above him creaks and moans, like the people on it. They don’t sound like her. But just sometimes, he can collect the red ones.
They drop with the belts, warm and soft. He doesn’t like the blue ones. He leaves them alone. But the red ones catch his eye like the teasing tails of rabbits. He takes them in his mouth, bolts downstairs. They never notice.
He misses her. They used to walk, before the man. She cried into his fur when the other man left. He liked that man. He misses him too but knows he shouldn’t. He misses her smile. But he knows how to make one.
The new man is not here today. The children are at school, and she is shopping. She might bring him eggs when she sees her present.
He has laid them all out on the sofa. Some are lacy, some are waxy and hard to grip. Some have strange holes in the front. His tail wags as he lies down to wait for her. He thinks she will like the red ones.