While Orange Boy and I continued our explorations of everything, consumed by our desire to learn and to know, we failed to notice the subtle changes in our mother.
Her eye was on Orange Boy when he was the last puppy to her milk yet again. Her eye was on Orange Boy when he allowed our brothers and sisters, and even me, to climb on top of him, and never tried to be on top himself. Her eye was on Orange Boy when he wandered off with me, instead of staying closer to our other brothers and sisters.
One night, I had fallen asleep beside Orange Boy after a particularly exhausting expedition. We had gotten outside of the enclosure that held our small family and had tripped and sniffed all over the house, biting at this, peeing on that. Finally, when we could move not an inch further, we fell down where we lay and slept. Eventually, I grew hungry, and got up and sniffed my way back to mother, after a few wrong turns. I left Orange Boy where he was. I thought that when he was hungry, he too would wake and find his way back.
When I found mother, I ate dinner and immediately fell asleep. It may be hard, Reader, for you to remember that dreamy time when you were a pup yourself, but it was not possible to resist sleep then. Sleep came whether one wanted it or not. Had I been more in control of my faculties, I would have gone back for my brother. As it was, I slept the helpless sleep of the few-week-old.
I was awakened sometime later by the sounds of my siblings’ cries. I joined them without thinking, letting our mother know we were hungry. She was not there. I got up and nosed around our enclosure. Orange Boy was not there.
I bounded out of our enclosure–it was still open, due to the unexplained absence just then of our humans–and went back to the carpeted room where I had last seen my brother. On my way, I encountered my mother. She bit my nape in her jaws and carried me back to the enclosure. I whined. I asked her where my brother was, but she did not say. When she put me down, my other brothers and sisters came over and delicately sniffed me to see where I had been. Immediately, they began to lick me intently, tasting something new. I sniffed my sister, Green Girl’s mouth, then licked it to understand what they were sensing. In that moment I tasted for the first time what I now know is blood.
I never saw Orange Boy again. I whined to my mother, but she would not answer, and eventually bowled me over with her paw or nipped me whenever I brought it up. I have since learned that mothers sometimes kill the weakest puppy–the runt–and I might be able to understand Orange Boy’s disappearance in this way if it weren’t for something that happened the very next night.
It was very dark, and I was sleeping in the comforting pile of my littermates when I heard a small scratching noise on the outside of our wooden enclosure. It took a few moments for my head to clear and for my mind to emerge from the milk-white cloud of sleep, but then I slowly made my way toward the sound, sniffing with my nose outreached. When I got there, I heard a familiar whine, and the scratching again. I whined back, softly, trying not to wake my mother or siblings. Orange Boy smelled faintly of blood and sweat, but it was him, I am almost sure. He seemed not to know what had happened to him. I fell asleep by the wall when his whining grew quiet, and when I woke up, though I whined and barked and scratched and dug at the wall, there was no response.
I never heard or saw Orange Boy again.
Did my mother have something to do with Orange Boy’s disappearance? Is he dead? Over the years, I have learned of the “natural” phenomena of “animal infanticide,” reading articles like this one. I felt though, at the conclusion of my research, that I am still left with more questions than answers.
This image from Wikipedia shows a mother lion and her young. What is she thinking? Is she already deciding that the young cub in the foreground is the runt–the disposable one–the “Orange Boy”?