Author : Rollin T. Gentry

He was one of seven paintings of the faces of cats and dogs.

In watercolor and India ink on stark white backgrounds, they were all rather cartoony, but Hangdog — that was the nickname I made up the first time I saw him — he was something special.

He was the most expensive piece in the exhibition and for good reason: his droopy ears, sagging jowls, and tight frown drew you in from halfway across the room; his half-green half-blue coloration said I’m sad, but you don’t have to be; his uneven eyes made you see a nose that wasn’t there. I felt an inexplicable urge to grab a Sharpie and give him the nose he deserved. It was as if this odd painting demanded interaction, required my whole attention.

He could have been all mine for two hundred bucks, and it would have been a good investment, even if he’d been an ordinary picture. The look on his face alone would have been worth every penny. It was a familiar expression that made me want to reach through the glass and offer him some sort of comfort, perhaps a dog biscuit or a scratch behind the ears.

I’m not sure exactly when or how I figured out that Hangdog was real. It must have been the result of some unseen leakage of psychic energies transferred over many listless lunch breaks. It’s amazing the things you can learn while simply staring at the right piece of art.

And by “real” I mean just that: a living, breathing, thinking “person” for lack of a better word — just not from here — a scientist peering into our world for the first time, his experiment the culmination of a lifetime’s worth of diligent study and persistence. But on his side of the frame, time passed slower than here. That explained why he never seemed to move.

Even though I must have looked like a blur, like a fruit fly in a bottle, wasting away the precious moments of my fast-forward life, he had noticed me. He liked me, in fact. In his notebook he referred to me as Lonely Man, and he wished he could pet my balding head. And I could have been all his — or at least a real-time streaming view of me — for a bazillion, bazillion bones, the price of the entire laboratory where he worked.

But like me, Hangdog was strapped for cash. He did the best he could and snuck a hologram of me back to his doghouse. On the last day of the exhibition, I waited until no one was watching and snapped a picture with my phone — just an ordinary photo, a keepsake.

The next day, Hangdog was gone.

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