It's easier to be cruel to animals than to people. They don't cry like humans do. They don't protest or beg for mercy when cornered. They are unable to mimic emotions recognizable to their human counterparts. So for those humans who are self-centered, like all people are to some degree, it is that much easier to avoid the pangs of empathy in lashing out at creatures whose pain is unrecognizable to yours.
One of the earliest signs of psychosis is linked to the abuse of others, particularly those that cannot articulate or fight back. When Sumire was still a child, already cold and standoffish, her parents worried that she was exhibiting the same antisocial behavior. That is, they told her how concerned they were when they weren't worrying about their affairs, their jobs, and other such self-centered things.
Perhaps they were right and Sumire Iwaya was just not meant to deal with others properly. Perhaps she had a complex that could have been avoided if she were given real human companionship, not temporary, not conditional. All she needed was someone who wasn't intimidated by her, a kind and understanding soul that could reciprocate all the pent up wishes for companionship she held. But they instead gave her a dog and assumed if it came back damaged then they could start to worry.
Unintentionally or not, the dog Momo became Sumire's only consolation in her young life. A creature that was never vicious, never abandoned her, never able to lie like the rest of the world did. And what little gentleness a girl like her could manage was bestowed upon the dog lavishly. Without thought she would call out her return every day after school, saying "Momo, I'm home."
"Momo, I love you." She didn't need a response. It was already there, waiting for her. It was always there.
She in turn learned that was the only way to express her real emotions, the sensitive whispers of loving something other than yourself. It was perfunctory; an unconscious development on her part because her dog could not articulate happiness like humans could. Tongues not made for lying, but also incapable of the profound. Sumire preferred it that way, because she could be happy and Momo would be happy, be sad and Momo would be sad. She didn't have to think about how she felt when she was around Momo, it just was what it was.
"...Because if you think too deeply, it'll hurt."
"Easier said than done," Sumire grumbled, snapping out of her nostalgia to the problem at hand.
She wondered how things had gotten so strange in such a short time. All of a sudden she was in a relationship with a wonderful man, but spent too much time worrying about how to act around him to enjoy it. Adding to the problem was her newfound secret relationship, taking in stray boy who she sheltered in exchange for his unusual acceptance to play the role of her long lost dog, who died years ago and with Momo's passing so did Sumire's connection. She never learned the words to express how she felt when whatever it was that she cherished suddenly passed away.
The boy was a convincing actor. Never complained, only made slight attempts at something more, but they were all forgivable offenses. He was an innocent animal after all.
"It is easy," Momo laughed, turning to take her hand and press his lips to her knuckles as tenderly as any lover would. She would have compared it to a dog's lick of affection but the chivalric gesture could not be ignored, especially when he stared full into her eyes and whispered, "I love you."
In that second, with his fingers wrapped around hers, Sumire Iwaya saw Momo as a very real human boy. One whose expectant eyes made her whole body flinch and pull away.
And the human look in Momo's eyes was just barely concealed as he felt her wrench away from him. But he was used to playing a part, and it was almost flawless when he smiled. "See?" he said happily, "Like that, it's easy."
When a dog misbehaves most owners advocate light swats to discipline them. It is negative reinforcement, but never to be done out of malice because then it ceases to be about the boundary crossed by the animal and becomes the boundary crossed by the owner. To say, do not do this act or you will be hurt, is part of living. To say, simply, do not, is a hypothetical beyond animal comprehension. It is only the realm of humans, who measure the fine details enough to articulate emotion as more than instinct, that ever hold true wrath. Only humans know how to deny themselves.
"Ouch!" Momo cried out, instinctively. He brought a hand up to his reddened cheek and looked back in shock. "What did you hit me for?"
Reaction. Emotional articulated through the most basic urge. What she felt...it was what it was. And for a second the feeling she felt was her heart fluttering. "I just felt like it...You just made me mad."
The rest of the conversation was a blur to her. She had ordered him out of the room, more angry with herself than with him. He was just a...he was Momo. She never felt like slapping Momo, even when she found her book report on "Tales of Genji" torn to shreds and under furry paws. There were accidents, mistakes, foul tempered days, but no grudges. And all their reunions were welcomed eagerly like nothing had changed at all.
Sumire Iwaya felt the foreign concept of guilt creep along her shoulders. It itched where her silk scarf tied around her neck and made her feel as if she should make some inarticulate sound of loss. With a sigh she sat up and fumbled for her purse.
Sprawled out on the couch of their living room, Momo managed to suffocate a very human sigh into the confines of the seat cushions. If he didn't know better he'd think he heard a ringing sound. He rolled to his side, realizing that she hadn't slapped him hard enough to make his ears ring, and dug out the brand new cell phone she gave him earlier.
"Hello?" he asked cautiously, trying out the words.
"This is my number," Sumire's voice echoed between the phone and the faint whisperings behind her bedroom door. It was what it was and it wasn't. Momo smiled because he knew the intricacies of human behavior as well, if not better, than she did. And for all their faults, humans had a great benefit to their difference.
The capacity to forgive.