For The Dog
Updated: Apr 26, 2019
This is a special one, mostly because it's a true story I adapted to fiction.
In 2008 I lived on the same street in Tel-Aviv as a friend of mine, and we were both aware of the old man sitting on the bench everyday.
One day my friend told me he actually lived next door to her and every Friday made her make him a cake, for the Sabbath, and how each time he brought a piece of garbage for the her dog.
This sounded like a great scenario for a short story I remember writing it the same day she told me about this.
I injected into it a bit of my relationship with my own grandfather, and I love this so much I even adopted it with another friend to short film.
For the Dog
By Oded Naaman
Dedicated to Adi – Even though I never got a cake on Friday…
At the beginning, I didn’t pay much attention to him.
Whenever I was walking with the dog, he was always sitting on the bench at the end of the street, talking to himself. I would pass by him every morning and afternoon and ignore.
As time passed his character was carved into my day to day scenery - old, wrinkled, a shiny bald head with just a few white hairs, a walking cane leaned next to him and always holding out of date crumpled bank statements, examining them carefully.
It took me at least a month since I moved to my new apartment that he lived next door to me, at the apartment across the hall.
It was by chance. I had to leave for work really early, and it was the first time I walked in my new building so early, before the sun was shining. I was locking my apartment’s door when I was startled by a noise behind me. His door opened and he walked out of it slowly.
It took me a moment to connect the dots and realize this is the old man from the bench.
“Good morning” I greeted him, but he just looked at me with a strange look and turned around to lock his door.
I walked down the stairs, trying to get another glance and make sure it was the man from the bench. There was no doubt, it was him.
Ever since that morning, each time I passed him on the street I said “hi” or “good morning” to him. Sometimes he would growl a greeting back, but most of the times all I got back was silence.
It was one Friday morning, about two months after I moved into the neighborhood, when he knocked on my door. It was 7pm and I was sound asleep. I woke up alarmed, both from the loud knocks on the door and the barks of the dog, who reacted to the aggressive noise.
I quickly put on a T-shirt and, and half asleep ran to the door, thinking the building is on fire, or maybe a group of terrorists took over.
He was alarmed when I opened door, almost surprised the noise he made actually worked, and brought someone to the door.
“Good morning?” I was still sleepy, and a bit upset, but I didn’t show it to him.
“I need a cake.” He said with a confident voice.
“Excuse me?” I wasn’t sure I heard right. Also I started to think maybe I was still dreaming.
“I need a cake. For the weekend. It’s Friday. So I need a cake.” He repeated himself.
“Ok…” I still didn’t understand what was going on.
Now he started to look irritated by my reactions.
“I need you to make a me a cake. For the weekend.” He said with determination.
“Well…” I started replying, but I ran out of words.
He stood there quietly for a moment. Then he said: “So? Will there be a cake?”
“Yes.” I wasn’t really thinking at that moment.
“Excellent.” He said, turned around and walked down the stairs.
I stood for another minute, next to the door, and then I closed it. I went back to bed, but I couldn’t go back to sleep. Only then it dawned on me what I agreed to do.
Bake a cake.
But I no longer had a choice. I promised. And he was an old man. I will make something simple and get it over with.
So I got out of bed, took the dog and went out for groceries.
On my way there I realized I had no idea what I actually need to make a cake, so I got back to the apartment, went online and got a recipe for a simple chocolate cake. One that will not take that much work to make.
I bought the ingredients, followed the recipe and at the end there was a cake. It looked like a child’s birthday cake, with the chocolate frosting on top, but without the tiny colored sprinkles. I regretted I didn’t get those.
For a moment there I wanted to take a slice and taste it, but then I figured it won’t be elegant to give him the cake with piece missing. Who knows, maybe he’ll offer me a piece, I thought to myself.
I went to his apartment and knocked on the door. There was no answer. I went back to my place, put the cake table. I stood there for a minute and then I took the dog and went downstairs to see if he was sitting on the bench. He wasn’t there as well.
So I sat in my living room and waited.
At 2pm he knocked on my door.
“Is there a cake?” He asked, shooting the questions with no delays.
I smiled and went to the kitchen and brought the cake.
He took it from my hands, examined it carefully from all sides.
“Good. Good.” He said, I assume to himself. Then the old man took out an old shoe out of his pocket.
“This is for the dog” He said and threw it towards my dog, who was standing beside me, turned around, and walked to his apartment. The door slammed behind him.
It all happened so fast and it took me a few seconds to realize that beside the fact he brought the dog the old shoe, he didn’t thank me for the cake. I took the shoe out of the dog’s mouth and threw it in the garbage.
During the coming week I went to work, met with friends and had a random date. A generally boring week. I did pass the old man sitting on the bench, looking through his papers and mattering to himself, but I really thought that Friday was the extent our relationship will go, and that weird occurrence will not repeat itself. As the week past I the event started to fade in my mind into an interesting anecdote.
But when on Friday morning, 7am, the knocks on the door woke me up again, it all came back to me.
I opened the door and there he was, staring at me and blinking.
“It’s Friday. I need a cake.” He said “Like last week. I’ll come by on 2pm to pick it up.”
And he turned and walked away.
I managed to go back to sleep, wake up, buy the ingredients (I even got the sprinkles this time…) and make the cake, all before 2pm. As I was mixing everything together in a bowl, I felt a kind of joy. True – I was aware I was being used, but the feeling I’m doing something good and important took over and left the negative perspective aside.
When he came to pick it up, I proudly presented it to him.
He looked at it with a disappointed face.
“Something wrong?” I asked, surprised to find out that there was a true concern hidden in my question.
“It’s the same cake as last time” He answered, “I wanted a different one.”
I didn’t know what to say.
“Nevermind. I’ll take this one.” And he yanked it from my hands, and started walking in the other direction.
Then he turned around.
“Almost forgot.” He took out the dirty head of an old doll and threw it to my dog “This is for the dog.”
When the following Friday arrived, I was prepared.
All week I went through recipes online, and chose apple cinnamon cake.
He even didn’t show up at 7am to remind me. At 2pm he knocked on my door and took the cake.
“Excellent. Excellent.” He was very pleased.
And of course he threw an old rag to the dog and added: “For the dog.”
A week after week past. Every Friday he showed up at my door to pick up the cake, and always leaving some piece of garbage for the dog. I would try and vary – each time finding a different recipe, but never too complicated, and it always made him happy.
During the week he would ignore my exitance completely, when I passed him by on the bench, or bumping to him in the stairwell.
One Thursday I had a very good date. I stayed at her place and in the morning we went for breakfast and we strolled around town together. It was really fun.
I got back home only around 1pm and I as I was walking into my kitchen I remembered I didn’t make a cake. I grabbed the dog I went to a small bakery down the street. I bought a nice chocolate cake and went back home, arriving just before the designated time.
When I opened the door for him and handed him the cake, he did not move. He just moved his eyes from the cake to me, and back to the cake again.
“You bought this.” He said dryly.
“I did. I just didn’t have time to make one today. It’s really good though.” I tried to apologize.
“It’s not good. Not good at all.” The old man turned around and walked away, leaving me there with the cake in my hands, confused.
I never made that mistake again, and always made sure I had a care ready for him on Friday. One that I made, never bought. When I couldn’t make it on Friday, I made time for it on Thursday. I even made sure a friend of mine made the cake when I had a really busy week one time.
Everything to make sure that cake will be there when he arrives.
It was a few months after it all started, in the middle of winter, when 2pm Friday arrived, but he didn’t.
Two hours later I knocked on his door, and when no one answered I walked down stairs to see if he’s sitting on the bench. He wasn’t.
I didn’t leave the house that day, hoping he’ll knock any minute, but as the hours past, I became more and more worried.
The following week I didn’t see him on the bench. I tried to see if he’s home once and while, but nothing.
It was closer to the end of the week when I saw the door to his apartment open.
I lightly knocked.
“Hello? Is there someone there?”
A man walked out towards me.
“Hello.” He said.
“Hi… I’m the neighbor from across the hall. Is something wrong?” I asked.
“No. It’s my dad’s apartment. I’m just here to organize a bit.” He answered.
“Ahh. Is something wrong with your dad? I mean, we kept in touch and I didn’t see him the past week at all…”
“His condition gotten worse. Alzheimer. We committed him to a home.” The son explained “Wait, what was the nature of your relationship?”
“I made him a cake every Friday.” Simple as that.
“Ohhh…. That explains a lot… We were wondering were those came from. They were not half bad.”
“Thanks.” I was actually proud of myself.
“You know – I think there’s something here for you…” he disappeared into the apartment.
I was curious. Why would there be anything there for me?
When he came back, he was holding a large carton box.
“He wrote on it ‘To the apartment across the hall’. I think that’s you… Some of this stuff were my mom’s.”
I took the box.
“She used to make a cake every Friday.” The son mentioned.
I just nodded back and turned towards my apartment.
Then I thought of something and turned back.
“Can you please let me know were he’s staying? I’d love to go an visit him someday.” I asked. He gave me the name and address. It was not far away.
When I was back inside my apartment, I opened the box. There were two bags inside. One was filled with cake and baking pans in all shapes and sizes. The other was filled with old shoes, old clothes and all kind of junk. It had a small post-it attached to it with a staple, and in a shaky and gentle handwriting the words ‘for the dog’ were written on it.
It took me a month before I went to visit him. I planed it so I will arrive there around 2pm on Friday, and I made a simple chocolate cake to take with me.
He was sitting on a wheelchair, among other like him, and stared in the air.
I sat next to him, but he didn’t look at me and did not say a word.
I waited there quietly for half an hour, then I started giving the people around me a piece of cake.
Only when I was about to leave, he grabbed my arm, looked into my eyes and said in a reassured voice: “You know – I used to have a dog once”. And then he let go of me and got back to staring at nothing.
A few months later, his son knocked on my door and told me his dad past away.
I kept making a cake every Friday. I wasn’t always very creative, and sometimes there was no one to eat it.
But each time, as I was mixing the ingredients, I always thought about one thing.
I never knew his name.