The dog did not know he was famous. But he knew people stopped to look at him, and once a photographer came and took his picture for a newspaper. He whistled and called and tried to get the dog to sit up. But the wooden boards where the dog lay were warm and the summer drone of cicadas hypnotic. The photograph in the newspaper showed the dog lying on his belly in his customary place beneath the map showing the train lines, head on his paws and his eyes half-open.
Once the schoolchildren who streamed through the station had slipped him treats saved from their lunch, until the station master noted how fat the dog was getting and forbade them feeding him. The dog was sorry to lose the mouthfuls of rice and sticky noodles, but he still came twice a day. It was not the children he came for, or their food.
As long as he could remember, the man had risen before dawn. The dog waited, sniffing the bitter scent of coffee, until the man took his hat from the peg by the door. Then he escorted the man to the train station. As they walked he told the dog what he planned to do in the city that day. The dog didn’t understand, but he loved the man’s voice, deep and warm, the words precise. When he said the dog’s name, the dog tilted his head, and the man smiled at him.
When the train had vanished into the morning mist the dog went home, where he spent the day with the woman. The woman fed and petted him. But she had come to live at the house after the dog had, and he couldn’t love her as he did the man.
In the evening the dog trotted back to the station. If it was raining, the woman tucked a poncho folded into a neat square under the dog’s collar.
This was the way of things. Then the man changed. Someone came to the door one morning, and the dog followed the woman as she answered it. He didn’t understand the man who stood on the stoop, but his urgent tone made the dog’s hackles rise. A moment later the woman rushed out, leaving the door slightly ajar. Puzzled, he watched her go. Then the dog slept in the kitchen until it was time to go to the station.
The train creaked to a stop and disgorged its passengers, among them the man. For the first time the dog hesitated. The man didn’t smell right- didn’t smell of acrid cigarettes or sweet hair pomade. But then the man smiled at him, face collapsing into the familiar mass of wrinkles, and the dog ran to him.
After that the woman no longer spoke to the man, though she sometimes talked to the dog. For a while many people came in and out of the house, but none of them noticed the man. At first the woman cried when the dog scratched at the door in the morning and evening. The dog pressed his belly to the floor, but he persisted. He couldn’t see why she didn’t want him to meet his master as he always had. Finally she gave in and opened the door for him twice a day.
The dog grew used to the man whose reaching hands didn’t touch, whose moving lips made no sound, and who smelled of nothing. He didn’t know time was passing, the years rolling on like the trains on their tracks. He knew his ears and nose grew dull, and that a white fog began to creep into the edges of his vision. His legs stiffened, and he had to leave earlier and earlier to meet the train. The ticket sellers and conductors and even the station master went away and were replaced. The schoolchildren grew taller and taller until they too vanished. The stiff hairs on the dog’s muzzle turned white, first around his nose, then to his eyes. The woman too began to move slowly, and silver threaded her black hair. Only the man remained the same. The dog observed this, but the woman did not, for she never spoke to the man or looked at him, even when he sat across from her at the table.
One evening the dog limped to the station as usual. He had spent most of the day sleeping in a sunny patch in the garden, twitching his ears at birds but too sore to chase them. It took him a long time to get there, but the train was late. A conductor stopped to rub his ears. The dog wagged his tail. Then he lay down beneath the map. He was very tired. The dog closed his eyes for a moment.
The train came with a whoosh and a wave of oil-stink. The dog yawned and trotted toward the platform. The man stepped off, walking slowly, letting the crowd stream away around him. He came to the dog, who wagged his tail. The man bent and stroked his head. The dog started and stared in wonder. The man’s hand was heavy and gentle, his blunt nails scratching the dog’s ears in a way he hadn’t felt for years. The man smiled at him, and the dog realized that the white fog had disappeared from his vision. The smells of smoke and pomade filled his nose.
“It’s good to see you, my friend.” The man gave him one last scratch, then straightened and hefted his briefcase. “Shall we go?”
As they left the platform the dog saw a knot of people gathered around the station map. The station master knelt on the floor, waving back the spectators. A woman was crying. The man glanced at the group, looked at the dog, and smiled. The dog strode next to him on legs that no longer ached. Together they slipped out the exit and stepped into the sunset light. And they turned toward home.