“Hunh?” Anastasia opened her eyes groggily. Her bedroom was dark and she couldn’t remember at first what day it was. But she recognized the voice. It was her mother’s voice, and it was angry.
There was another sound, too—?a kind of crying, as if someone had left a baby on the doorstep. Great, Anastasia thought, as she sat up in bed; that’s all we need: a baby on our doorstep, with a pathetic little note pinned to its undershirt.
“Anastasia.” Her mother was at the foot of the stairs that led to Anastasia’s third-floor bedroom. “Wake up!”
“I’m awake,” Anastasia called. “What’s going on? What’s that crying?” She went to the top of the stairs, looked down through the dim light, and saw her mother standing there in the oversize Harvard sweatshirt she usually wore instead of a nightgown.
“That crying is your dog, remember?” her mother asked loudly. “Your dog that you are going to take care of, that you are going to get up with every morning, remember? You promised, Anastasia. You promised at least forty times before we agreed to take on this dog, and last night after dinner you promised once again!”
“Yeah.” Dog. Yes. Dog. Now she remembered.
“Today,” Mrs. Krupnik called, as the whining and crying became louder, “is the first day of the rest of your life.”
“I know! I’m coming!” Quickly, Anastasia reached for her glasses and a pair of sweatpants that were draped on a chair. She pulled them on over her pajamas, found some dirty socks on the floor, and pulled those on as well.
“Here I am!” She dashed down the stairs from her third-floor room. “I’m sorry. I didn’t hear him at first. Actually, I heard him, but I thought somebody had left a baby on our doorstep.”
“A baby, with a note saying ‘Please take care of me.’”
Her mother stared at her for a moment, and then shook her head. “I am going back to bed,” she announced wearily, and headed back toward the bedroom where Anastasia’s father was still asleep. Anastasia could see him there, a big mound under the blankets.
“What’s that scary noise?” Sam’s voice came from his bedroom. Anastasia poked her head through his half-opened door and said soothingly, “Shhh. Go back to sleep. It’s just the dog.”
Sam, who was sitting up in bed, lay back down, rolled over, and closed his eyes. Mrs. Krupnik had gone back into the master bedroom and closed the door. The mound that was Anastasia’s father hadn’t moved. Myron Krupnik slept through everything. He complained that he missed a lot of interesting stuff because of it. Just last month their neighbor, Mr. Fosburgh, who couldn’t seem to quit smoking even though he had tried about four hundred times, had set fire to his living room curtains and three fire engines had come with their sirens full blast. It was the most exciting event in their neighborhood in years, and Myron Krupnik had slept through the entire thing.
It was truly amazing, though, Anastasia thought, that Dad was sleeping through this. The dog was howling now, and he was scratching loudly at the door to the room where he was confined, the little unused room at the end of the second-floor hall.
When the Krupniks had moved to this house the year before, they had argued about that room.
“It’s a sewing room,” Anastasia’s father had said.
“Excuse me?” his wife replied. “A sewing room? Did you intend that I be enclosed up there, maybe stitching fine linen shirts by hand for my master, or darning his socks and underwear? Am I hearing you correctly?”
Myron Krupnik had backed off quickly. “No,” he said. “I lost my head. It is definitely not a sewing room.”
“Maybe it could be a workroom for Dad,” Anastasia suggested. “For his hobbies.”
Her parents had looked at her quizzically. Her father was an English professor. On the first floor of the house was a large bookcase-lined study, where her father sat often in the evenings, reading, correcting papers, listening to music.
“What hobbies?” her father had asked, with a very curious look.
“Ah, woodworking?” Anastasia suggested tentatively.
“Woodworking?” Mr. Krupnik didn’t sound irritated, just puzzled.
“Making birdhouses and stuff?”
“No, I guess not,” Anastasia admitted. He was right. Her dad was not a hobbies kind of guy.
“Maybe it could be a hideout room,” Sam had suggested.
They had all looked at him. “For if bad guys come,” Sam explained, “and need a hideout? We could put them in there, and they could shoot their guns out the window.” He aimed one of his fingers and made a few pft-pft shooting sounds.
No matter how often the entire family tried to deflect Sam’s interest in guns, tried to direct him to peaceful ways of resolving conflict, he always found a way back to Uzis and bazookas. “No hideout, Sam,” Mrs. Krupnik said firmly. “No bad guys. No guns.”
“Well,” Anastasia had proposed finally, “it would make a good room for a dog to sle—”
“No,” her mother had said.
“No,” her father had said.
“Rats,” Anastasia had said.
But that had been a year ago. And now they had a dog, and now the little room had become The Dog’s Room—?because the dog didn’t even have a name yet—?and Anastasia had promised faithfully that she would feed the dog, train the dog, clean up after the dog, and walk the dog regularly, even early in the morning, though she had not realized until this minute that “early in the morning” might mean dawn, for Pete’s sake.
She opened the door to The Dog’s Room. He leaped at her and licked her face.
“Hi,” Anastasia said, and scratched him behind the ear. She yawned, the dog yawned, which made her yawn again, and then he scampered ahead of her, down the stairs, and stood waiting by the front door.
Funny, she thought, how this dog had never been in...