by Mika Soria
If my mother’s dog could take Everwake, if he could just take one pill, he would be enjoying this walk through the park instead of moving in slow, languishing motions. I tug the leash gently, the way my mother used to do, and Colo reluctantly takes the lead. His joints are stiff from age, and he is apprehensive of anyone who isn’t me. When Everwake-powered athletes jog briskly past us, he freezes for half a second.
“You got a weird-looking dog, lady.”
A boy and his Golden Retriever cross our path. The boy holds an Everwake soft drink in his freckled hand. He takes a step closer to Colo, tapping the side of his temple once until a faint blue light begins to glow from his right iris. “Huh,” he says, reading what his smartlens has pulled up on Colo. He frowns.
“What’s his job?” The boy taps again and the light fades. “I don’t see a tag.”
The Golden Retriever has taken to sniffing Colo’s dullish brown fur and shorthair coat. With a luscious, flowing coat, feathery tail, and powerful gait, it outshines him in every respect. I don’t have to notice the green tag on its collar to know that it’s a show dog.
“He’s a pet.”
“What does that mean?”
I wind the leash tighter around one hand and adjust the strap of my handbag with the other. “It means he’s a companion.”
“So, like service dogs? With blue tags.”
“No. Pets don’t have tags. They…don’t work. They’re just there for you to take care of.”
A corner of the boy’s mouth twitches as if he’d heard a bad joke. He takes a gulp out of his can and says, “So he’s useless.”
I look at Colo when he says that. I see his body tense up as the Golden Retriever continues its unwarranted inspection.
“Where I’m from, people keep dogs as pets.”
Back in Loon, people still cling to a pre-Everwake lifestyle. My mother took daily naps in her rattan chair, with Colo right beside her.
“A small town on an island.” I say. “You wouldn’t know of it.”
The answer doesn’t impress the boy. He gives Colo one more look before stepping away. “Weird dog,” he says, then runs off with his Golden Retriever.
Near the park exit, an Everwake robot hawks our products. “An Everwake a day so you don’t hit the hay!” it says with mechanical glee. A holographic billboard casts a huge shadow on one side of the park. A familiar chime rings through as the Everwake logo flashes on the billboard.
The sound makes me stop in my tracks. Colo reels from the momentum.
I’m in the conference room. Jimmy is presenting the report he and I had prepared the week before. When the chime sounds, he stops speaking. Everyone in the room reaches for their Everwake bottles. I prepare to ingest my pill, white and tiny and unnaturally smooth, but my smartlens refreshes. My mother’s LifeAlert pings in the corner of my eye: Aortic aneurysm rupture.
Colo anxiously tugs at his leash. I let him lead me away.
The biometric scan glows green and the doors of the building slide open. The interior is all smooth marble and honed granite. The receptionist bot stands watch at the front desk, with Everwake’s red and white corporate logo embossed on a panel. Steeling myself, I step into the entrance hall and let the building’s cool, conditioned air sweep over my face. Colo pulls away from the chill.
“Welcome back, Cheska Custodio,” the bot says. “It is now 8:02. Your supervisor has been informed. Have a productive day at Everwake!”
“Shit,” I hurry up to the International Distributions floor, trying to catch my breath. It’s bad enough that I’m two minutes late, but Don doesn’t even know I’m bringing a dog to work. Colo’s claws clack awkwardly against the tiles and heads turn at the sound. No one questions his presence, but everyone’s faces say enough.
I drop my bag and herd Colo under my desk. He hides himself behind my legs. Good boy.
“I was going to ask why you were late on your first day back. But now I see a service dog hiding under your desk.”
Don’s impassive delivery makes me wince.
“Is it for emotional support? I am not familiar with the company policy on service animals. No one has ever reported a need to deal with the passing of a loved one.”
I bristle at the suggestion that I need special assistance.
“I’m fine, Don,” I say evenly. “Colo’s not my service dog. He was my mother’s pet.”
“A pet! I haven’t heard that word in a while.”
It comforts me that he knows what the word means. I smile at him hopefully.
“If the dog has no purpose, you must remove it from these premises. It will distract you.”
I drop the smile, feeling foolish. ”I was just about to collate the market data you asked me to collect while I was in Loon. Colo won’t get in the way of that.”
Don gives me a look. It’s clear he thinks otherwise.
“Do you know how much time I’ve wasted today?”
I feel Colo brush up against my legs.
“Sixteen minutes and twenty-one seconds. That’s time I could have spent overseeing our overseas operations—time I could have spent making up for the delays we suffered as a result of your decision to spend time away from work. And now you want me to let you keep a pet around?”
“I’m sorry, Don. I didn’t think about how this would affect our operations.”
“You should know better than to let these kinds of things affect your work.”
I bite my lip, but know better than to argue with Don. It’s my fifth year at Everwake and my contract is up for renewal. The last thing I should do is to overstep my position.
“Remember what Everwake stands for. Every second–every minute–matters. We can’t stray from this path.”
“Yes. Of course.”
“Now lose the dog. Then get back to work.”
Frustration festers underneath my skin. This is the first time I’ve been told off at work. Two weeks ago, our department was recognized as the backbone of Everwake’s global operations. Don had even congratulated me for my substantial contribution to the team’s success. How could a single week away from my desk—and now, Colo’s presence—erase all that?
“Eh, Don can suck it.”
I look up and see Jimmy leaning by my cubicle. Jimmy always seems to have the time to chat. I, on the other hand, like to keep things professional. I often think that Don makes us work together on projects so that I can keep Jimmy on track.
“I’m sorry you had to hear all that.”
He shrugs. “You doing all right?”
Before I can answer, the chime rings through the room again. Jimmy swears before fishing out the bottle from his pocket and takes a pill.
Everyone in the meeting room also takes an Everwake pill, but I am too frozen to move. Jimmy turns to me, looking for some encouragement, oblivious. I nod at him. He resumes his spiel. I try to focus on the slides projected on the holoscreen, but everything is blurry. I tell myself that if I had received a LifeAlert, then surely an ambulance should have been dispatched to my mother’s house in Loon. I worry about the flight that I will need to book; how much time I can afford to take off from work–if I have time. Jimmy claps his hands. I brace myself, knowing this is my signal to take over. I don’t have time. So I stand up, do my part, and leave.
I blink. The pills are in my bag.
A tiny whine issues from beneath my desk.
“I’m fine.” My hands curl into fists as I leave the bag untouched. I look up at Jimmy. “I shouldn’t have just left you to wrap up the presentation like that.”
Jimmy shrugs again, as if everything that had happened was a weight that could be easily rolled off one’s shoulders. He crouches down to examine Colo. “So you actually brought a dog here.”
“When my mother died, I half-expected him to follow. But he didn’t.” I don’t know why I feel the need to explain myself to Jimmy. “I thought it would be easier to find an animal shelter in the city that would take him. But it turns out that no one can take in an untagged dog, especially one without papers.”
“It’s all purebreds, work dogs, and reputable kennels over here,” he says sympathetically.
I shake my head. “Not my best decision, in retrospect. What was I thinking?”
Jimmy chuckles. “When I was really little, I lived with my grandmother in Popayán—you know, one of those backwater towns, those last holdouts against Everwake. Abuela had this dog. No job, no tag—a pet, just like yours. Her name was Daisy. She had a black coat and arthritis because she was really old, and her favorite thing was to swim in a pond at the back of our house.”
This trivial conversation is a waste of time, but I catch myself asking—”Do you ever miss Popayán?”
Jimmy looks like he doesn’t expect my question either, but smiles. “I miss the downtime…not having to be pressured to be a hundred percent all the time…but mostly I miss Abuela.”
To my surprise, Colo approaches Jimmy. He allows himself to be petted, then turns over to have his belly rubbed. I have never seen him so relaxed.
“Listen, Jimmy. Don wants Colo out of the building. If I leave him at home, is there any way for me to make sure he doesn’t panic while I’m gone?”
Jimmy rubs the back of his neck thoughtfully. I wonder if he finds it strange that I think a dog might panic when it is left alone.
“You should get one of those dog cameras and link it to your Wi-Fi—that way you can check on him any time,” he suggests tactfully. “Order one on your smartlens. Here, let me share a link.” He taps the side of his temple and soon enough, I can see the link pinging in from the user interface. He puts his hands in his pockets and sighs. “I should go before Don scolds me too.”
I nod. “Thanks, Jimmy.”
He takes one last look at Colo and says, “I think I know why you brought Colo here, Cheska. You just haven’t realized it yet.”
When we reach the apartment, I leave my shoes by the side of the door. I turn the key and the door opens with a creak. The interior lights turn on by themselves and the devices in my apartment begin syncing with my smartlens. The holoscreen in the bedroom starts playing. In the living room, the HTV tunes into the news channel that I watch for market research. Scheduled calls pop up on the digital calendar in the kitchen. Colo shuffles to the console table in the hallway, where my mother’s urn sits.
When I drop my handbag to the floor, my Everwake bottle falls out. I pick it up, throw it back inside, and hear the pills clatter. I remember wanting them so badly back in Loon. You could only get Everwake in the metro, or have it shipped from overseas. I remember saving up for one bottle and locking myself in the house all day, waiting for it to arrive. I can’t forget how mad Mama was when she saw the package on our doorstep.
But Everwake was worth every peso. I managed to double—no, triple—my productive hours, and I never felt tired. Success came so easily. I studied; I worked; I even did all the house chores so that Mama didn’t need to do a thing. But she never admitted that it helped. She would stew angrily in silence whenever I ordered a bottle. What did she have against Everwake? I never understood. All the parents in the metro were introducing it to their kids. No wonder Loon remained stubbornly in the past.
My eyes widen when Don’s name flits up on my smartlens. Has he noticed I was away? I gulp and take the call.
“Cheska. I’m reviewing your pending deliverables. That’s three reports and six proposals. Do you need Jimmy’s help?”
A wave of relief washes over me. Behind me, Colo is cleaning himself next to the console holding my mother’s urn. I move to the bathroom and lock myself in—just in case Colo manages to make a noise that would give us away.
“Thank you, Don, but I’m fine. I can power through.”
“That’s good to hear. Don’t forget to follow up on Vientiane so that the board can finally give us the go-ahead tomorrow. I don’t wish to celebrate in advance but—congratulations! That will be our eighth ASEAN partner.”
I put the toilet seat down and sit, letting out a silent breath. His praise makes me uneasy. If I hadn’t left for Loon, we would have closed Vientiane a week ago.
Another call comes up on the smartlens.
“Oh, sorry, Don. I’m getting a call from the brand reps.”
“Not a problem. Don’t let me keep you.”
I take the next call, and the next one that follows.
When I finally open the door—how long was I in there?—something foul-smelling hits me and I almost gag.
Colo is lying beside my bag, unconscious and covered in excrement. The Everwake bottle has been chewed open, the remaining pills scattered on the floor.
My smartlens keeps pinging with calls so I mute it. I can explain myself later, when all this is over.
But halfway through Colo’s stomach pump, Don’s caller ID flits up. I have no choice.
“You need to explain yourself. I’m getting reports that you aren’t answering your calls.”
A sharp ache flares up in my stomach.
“Tell me where you are.”
“I—I’m here at the vet—“
“Colo—the dog you saw this morning—he—“
“Cheska. Listen to me very carefully,” Don’s voice turns into something I have never heard before. “I do not give a fuck about your useless pet. I want you to tell me that you will be at the office immediately or there will be consequences.”
I swallow the rock in my throat. “I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
“No. Not as soon as you can. Now, Cheska.I will be waiting.”
He hangs up.
The Everwake chime resounds throughout the vet’s clinic. Everyone—employees and pet owners alike—stops to take a pill.
My smartlens refreshes. The LifeAlert pings in the corner of my eye. I try to focus on the holoscreen, but my eyes are blurry with tears. Aortic aneurysm rupture. A LifeAlert means an ambulance is on its way. Mama will not die alone. The antique rug, the rattan furniture, the photographs of my childhood. Colo, sound asleep, beside my mother’s chair.
I could have told someone. I should have said something and excused myself. Instead I took the pill with everyone else, and let the presentation go on.
I message Jimmy, fill him in before apologizing for the extra work on Vientiane that he will have to complete without me. Then I mute all notifications and wait.
Colo is still asleep when he is wheeled out. I hold my breath until I am able to feel the warmth of his fur and the slow, muffled beating of his heart. I feel the weight of the past weeks lift from my shoulders. I let out a shudder, long and deep, before collapsing onto the clinic’s cold floor.
It’s the best sleep I’ve had in years. I’m slightly disappointed when I wake to the sound of the Everwake chime. I’m so fucking tired of hearing that chime. When I sit up, I see the hospital staff take their pills in unison.
“Ma’am, please don’t sit up, your vitals are still—”
“Where is he?” I say, but the voice that comes out is too strangled, too small. My throat is unbearably dry.
“We just need you to take it easy.”
Dread starts creeping up my neck when no one answers my question. I want to take the tubes off my body. I want them to tell me where Colo is.
A door opens to my left, and a man in scrubs shuffles in. “Excuse us,” he says, and I recognize his voice. Jimmy’s voice. A familiar shape crosses the threshold with him. Colo. Tears start welling up in my eyes.
“You doing all right?” Jimmy asks.
I cough out a weak laugh and wipe the tears with the back of my hand. “I think so.”
The look on his face turns serious. “You’ve been here for two days.”
“How did you know where to find me?”
“You told me where you were.”
I look at him blearily. “Did I?”
“Don’t you remember sending me a message?”
I cover my face with my hands.
“Oh god. Vientiane. How was the presentation?”
He shrugs. “I don’t know anything about that.”
“If you think that I’d leave you and Colo here, then you’re crazy.”
I feel the need to apologize again. But Jimmy shakes his head before I can say anything.
“It’s okay, Cheska. Really. I’ve been thinking of quitting for some time now.” He pauses. “A long time, actually.”
I blink at him. “But you’ve been at Everwake longer than I have.”
“I guess I needed to think about it some more,” he jokes. He stoops down to pet Colo behind the ears before saying, quietly, “I think you should quit too.”
Colo pads his way towards my bed, his wet nose sniffing at my hand.
“The job is everything to me,” I say, surprised by my own lack of conviction.
Jimmy gives us a knowing look. “It doesn’t look like it is.”
There isn’t much in the apartment that I end up keeping. Jimmy points out that I’d only bought things that were useful to my career, so much of my inventory is drab and utilitarian. Jimmy teases me about it, but says that with all the free time I have now, I’m bound to pick up a hobby soon. I take his word for it.
I step out to meet the pale sky, my mother’s bronze urn snug in my grasp. Jimmy herds Colo outside, the air crisp and full of the morning. Colo stretches and yawns.
“It’s time to go,” I say, and we all take one last look at the facade of the apartment. It’s odd to see a place stripped bare of its belongings, an empty space gazing back. But for once, I’m not thinking of what I’m giving up.
For once, I’m not leaving anything behind.
About the author: Mika Soria grew up playing video games and reading fanfiction about them. Later, they realized they could write their own fanfiction, and then their own stories. Their works have been published in the literary journal & (Ampersand) Vol. 2 and in the Likhaan Philippine Literature Portal website (panitikan.ph). They are currently taking their BA Creative Writing degree in UP Diliman. If they aren’t playing games, they’re writing stories, essays, and comic scripts, eager to keep going until they can finally get to write their very own video game.
They can be found procrastinating indefinitely on Twitter (@heysorz).