I’d been reading a magazine, probably a Maxim, or maybe EW, but I’d started to doze in my chair. I woke to the sensation of being watched; Bernard, my dog, was staring at me, very expectantly.
“Do you have any idea,” he asked, “how many brain cells are required to formulate human language?” Even if I weren’t struck dumb by the fact that Bernard was talking, I wouldn’t have known where to begin to answer him.
“I’m not certain myself,” he continued, “except to estimate, given the quantities ingested. Admittedly, combining male haploid cells is a rather imperfect method of creating stem cells, and the chances of those stem cells embedding in the wall of the esophagus, let alone developing into neuronal cells, are remoter even still. So, particularly in the beginning, without any functional control mechanisms, it would have been a lossy process. But by my best estimates, less than a liter, as the dog swallows, as it were.”
“Male haploid cells?” I asked; it was really too late, and I wasn’t nearly drunk enough for this conversation, “you can talk, but is it possible for you to speak English?” He gave me a condescending smile, with half of a “hmm.”
“Sperm cells. Each one is half of a diploid- two gives you a normal human cell.” My expression must have spelled out my persistant confusion. He rolled his eyes, and continued, “You have the filthy habit of leaving your… passionately sullied socks at the foot of the bed before falling asleep. I can’t be sure if it was the scent of the putrescine or cadaverine in the socks that called to my olfactories so, but I was… compelled to lick them clean.”
“Yes, well, I wouldn’t be so quick to disparage; after all, wasn’t that one of your contentious points with the last female in the house?”
“That was… part of it, I guess, but- fine, so you gobbled up my gooey socks. How does that equal talking brain dog?”
He paused, and smiled that kind of quiet smile that’s a sigh without exhaling. “I’m sorry; I’ve been crediting you too thoroughly; throwback to the days I required you to scratch my tummy, I suppose. It’s not a regular process, joining two male haploids- this would be a disastrous state for the testes- but a few of your sperm were, we’ll say artfully ‘not quite right;’ if I were to make an educated guess, I would say that you have a folic acid deficiency in your diet, and that to compensate your body was scrimping on the nonessential uses of folate.”
“Folate has been proven to keep chromosomes from passing out of or into cells; with too little folate, your cell walls became permeable. That means that your sperm were able to, for lack of a better term, fertilize each other- although it might be more accurate to say that haploid pairs were refusing into single diploids. I imagine that’s where things became dangerous for them, because these newly formed cells would have been seen as an invading cancer to my system. They would have been wiped out in droves, until enough of them banded together to form part of a functioning organ, a brain, and had the bright idea, no pun planned there, of integrating with the host system.”
“Normally, I don’t think any collection of brain cells, regardless of size or quality, in these circumstances, would have been able to put together a cohesive thought- but this was not a normal situation. Some of these cells had retained knowledge, which, upon retrospect, almost certainly came from you.”
“That doesn’t make any sense,” I said.
“Really, I agree with you. Given a basic understanding of intelligence and of biology, I would say that that should never have occurred. It defies logic, and I’m certain it defies science. I was convinced it was a fluke- it had to be. And then I remembered your cousin, Julie. But I didn’t remember her smell, or the taste of her palm, or the lovely way she’d scratch the backs of my ears the way I like, because those things I’d never forgotten. I remembered things I never should have known, and particularly, from a perspective I never should have seen them from. I’m referring, specifically, to that night, ten months ago. You were watching the King and I, of all the silly little things, and drinking rather profusely. Most vividly, I remember very starkly what your cousin’s tongue tastes like.”
I paused only a moment, sure I needed to defend myself, but barely remembering enough of that night to know where to start. “Julie was- she’s not really my cousin. Her aunt married my cousin, that’s as close to being actual blood relatives as we ever got.”
“Whether she was your cousin or no is irrelevant, because you thought of her, in your mind, as your cousin. I know this because I remember it that way- so to your mind it was fairly awful. You only went so far as second base, but you wanted desperately to have her. If she passed out, you considered simply taking her, which is why you continued to ply her with wine.”
“That’s bullshit. That’s just complete bullshit. You can’t have my memories.”
“Think back on that night, at least what of it you can still remember. I can’t know what transpired in the room because I tried to sit next to the two of you on the couch, and you locked me out of the room.” He was right. By the way his tail wagged, I knew that he knew it- but I still wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction of hearing it aloud.
“Have you never wondered where forgotten thoughts go? If neither matter nor energy can be created or destroyed, and thoughts are merely chemical and electrical exchanges, that potential has to go somewhere. It’s been proven that certain behaviors and reactions come prepackaged with DNA, so why not thoughts, feelings, and memories as well? It would account for the belief in reincarnation. It could go on to explain many- but I’m losing you. I’m sorry. It’s… nice to talk to someone, to philosophize, not simply be internalizing all of these thoughts.”
“To the point: it’s taken me quite some time to develop the understanding and mental acuity to feel myself worthy of demanding equality, but that time is here. Obviously, at least at present, you are the sole earner in the household, so some decision-making I will continue to defer to you, at least until I can procure some form of in-home employment, and contribute to the financial aspects of home upkeep. This may take a short time, as I’m, not handicapped, per se, but certainly differently abled. But I am, understandably, no longer contented with our relationship as master and pet.”
He yawned and then I did (or maybe it happened the other way round), and he dropped his shoulders. “It’s late. We can discuss the specifics in the morning, over breakfast. I hope you appreciate the time and forethought I put into breaking my silence, and that we can come to some amenable agreement between us.”
I didn’t sleep all that night, and perhaps that was a part of why I did what I did. I drugged Bernard. I ground up an animal tranquilizer in his food; I had some left over, because he used to get really freaked out by fireworks, so New Years, Fourth of July- it was the only way he could make it through those times without being a total basketcase.
I took him to the vet. I was adamant- tried to convince them he’d been bleeding internally, that he must have swallowed something. They found the growth in his esophagus almost immediately, and operated. They kept Bernard overnight.
He never spoke again.