A handsome, heartthrob archaeologist flashes a million-dollar smile, flashes a lightning-quick whip, flashes well-tanned pectorals in the gap of his buttoned-down, white, safari-style, cotton shirt. Cutting through a band of shade cast by the brim of a brown fedora, his eyes sparkle with menace, with confidence, with sex appeal. Dashing, charismatic, and utterly fearless, he roams every corner of the globe, he crosses any conceivable terrain. He balks at nothing, stops at nothing to obtain the rarest and most valuable of artifacts. Indiana Jones is impervious to all but snakes and beautiful women.

“Snakes. Why did it have to be snakes?” Brad Milford quotes the iconic line to one his favorite films, impersonating his fictional hero through a soggy mouthful of Fruit Loops while gazing upward at his framed poster of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Like the storied adventurer who grins down upon him, Brad endeavors to take risks, acquire a name, a fortune, a figurative gem, a beautiful woman, any woman, find someone to share his life with, someone he can take to the cinema, brush hands with as they both reach into the bag of popcorn. For Brad, a wild caper doesn’t require a brush with death, a trip to some forbidden, jungle temple, a deep pit of venomous snakes. For Brad, adventure begins with company, someone to transfigure his lonely existence, to share a rich life of movie-going and home-cinema, someone to love him for who he is; a man who finds solace in the silver screen. 

For Brad, the world of online dating has been a puzzle, an age-worn book of hieroglyphics. Like the Rosetta Stone, it has its clues, its suggestive comparisons, its iffy translations. Understanding it all has been an uphill trek, an icy slope. The procedure has been teeming with malign booby traps, hopes baited with boobies, booties, and suggestive smiles. In many ways, it’s been an adventure. A misadventure. Its rare treasures, green flags and willing women, have been evasive, hard to find.

Yet tonight Brad studies the foreign symbols and pixelated cues of a complex, digital scroll and deciphers something that cannot be misjudged for anything but good fortune. “Rose, 29,” he reads aloud, then lightly fingers the screen over the promising icon of a golden heart. Brad knows, from online research, this means he has been “liked.” He studies the warm smile of a comely blonde, the golden treasure that awaits his attention.

Sweetened milk dribbles from Brad’s chin to dampen his collar. His spoon drops to clang against the edge of a ceramic bowl, it splashes to submerge beneath the clouded, pink, saccharine milk. It sinks to the bottom, out of sight, like the Titanic, like Rose’s necklace, like Leonardo DiCaprio. Dozens of lifesavers, unused and forgotten, bob and float upon the cold, pale surface, a colorful rainbow of zeros that tally up to nothing.

Days later, it’s date night, rare as any sunken treasure, any entombed sarcophagus filled with mummified pharaohs, jewel-encrusted scarabs and ancient, glittering baubles. Brad has suggested the Chili’s on the edge of town between Rose’s residence and his own. His choice was courteous, diplomatic, economic, but Rose thought it lacking pizzazz, a certain spice, despite its name after a hot pepper. She suggests a swanky, expensive place downtown. Brad winces, but knows good things are worth their weight in gold. He’ll spare the expense, brave the gridlock highways, the gauntlet of city-center parking.

He smartens himself up, smiles in the mirror, tilts down his brown fedora. Like Indie, he unbuttons his cotton shirt. Like Harrison Ford, he exposes his pectorals. He sees the gleaming white, the soft flesh, retreats, rebuttons. He brushes his teeth, winks at his reflection, and ventures forth with high hopes of discovering something valuable, claiming something priceless, like true love, a lady’s heart, a heart of gold.

On his way out, Brad passes a neat row of bobble-heads, collectibles of great worth. He grins at William Shatner, salutes Captain Kirk, flashes a picture of Rose on his phone with a sheepish, boyish glee. “To boldly go…” He winks. Kirk wobbles, geriatric, smiling at the memory of his own exploits, his bold enterprises with alien women, his galactic success.

At the door, a bodybuilder android designed for killing flashes a .45 Longslide with laser sighting, flashes red, electronic lights behind bold, dark sunglasses, flashes synthetic epidermal layers of well-built pectorals in the gap of an open leather jacket. His dead eyes reveal little but promises of death. Luckily for Brad, it is only a poster tacked over the inside of his front door. He bro-fists Schwarzenegger’s motorcycle-gloved knuckles. He clasps the robust shoulder of a Cyberdyne Systems Model 101, a T-800, the Terminator. He turns the door knob, swings the killer robot aside, and steps out into the open air. “I’ll be back,” he says through the door as he locks up his home. “Don’t wait up.”


*   *   *


“So what do you like to do?” Rose asks.

Brad wishes to tell her how he enjoys traveling the globe, unearthing secrets, stopping bad guys, exploring far-off planets, saving his own, that he routinely wins over the hearts of dazzling women. He is tempted to tell her that riveting car chases, armed bank robberies, magical enchantments, true love, warfare, Nazis, Vietnamese jungles, trenches and mustard gas, dysentery, torture, assassination, espionage, court cases, religious upheaval, run-ins with stampeding beasts, zombies, dinosaurs, and royalty are among his routine, almost daily encounters. He almost explains that wherever he goes, whatever he does, a heartfelt or stirring score fittingly occupies the otherwise empty sound waves, that orchestral cues accentuate his bold movements, his heroic actions, that he is a golden star among a sea of forgotten, faceless men.

“I like to watch movies,” he tells her.

“Sure,” his date concedes. “Who doesn’t?”

“Would you like to go to a movie with me tomorrow?”

“We’ve only just sat down,” she points out. “Let’s start with the basics. Let’s start with drinks.”

Several beers and a few cosmopolitans later, a tiny, exorbitant cut of meat with more garnish and decorative streaks of balsamic vinegar than calories, leave both Brad and his date sufficiently loose of tongue, unhindered by modesty.

“Do you like anything other than watching movies?” Rose asks, notably annoyed, possibly disgusted.

Brad has just concluded a long discourse on cinema through the ages. Unable to withhold his brimming enthusiasm, he has unabashedly walked down the many forked and spider-webbed avenues of tangent-ridden movie lore, from behind-the-scenes myths to actor and actresses’ off-screen exploits, mysterious, untimely deaths, to cinema props that have been auctioned for thousands, often millions. He has rattled off his favorites films, most beloved stars, put men and women on pedestals, turned them into gods, made immortal by their unforgettable performances, iconic moments branded into our collective culture.

Rose yawns and flags down a passing waiter. “Another cosmo,” she points to herself. “And the check,” then points to Brad.

“Do you have friends?” She slouches in her chair, disheveled and beautiful.

“I don’t really have much time to be social.”

“But you’ve just told me you spent last weekend watching an eight-movie Harry Potter marathon, that you intend to chip away at the ‘prodigious catalogue’ (as you put it) of Woody Allen films, from first to last, a ‘chronological masterpiece’ of ‘cinematic gold.’”

“Would you like to join me?” Brad asks, hopeful. “I have a love seat. Perfect for two.”

“So you’re not a people person,” Rose throws up her slender, bared arms. “I get it. But I am. You and I? This won’t work, Brock.”


“This won’t work, Brad.” She scoots back her chair, stumbles somewhat, intercepts the approaching waiter and snags her fifth cosmo. “But I have some parting words of wisdom for you. A suggestion.”

The waiter places the bill, face down, in front of Brad. He takes Rose’s empty glass, the contents of which she has upended in one gulp.

“Have you ever tried getting a pet? I think you should. Something to cuddle. Something to fill up the other cushion of that love seat. Something to nuzzle beside you, curl up and sleep through the out-of-date movies you watch.”

“A pet?”

“Why not?” Rose sways. “How about a cat? No. Better yet, a dog. Cats are independent. If you have a cat door to the outside world you won’t see them for days at a time. Cleaning their litter box will be the only thing to remind you that you have one.”

“So you think I should get a dog?”

“It would do you some good, Brian.”


“It would do you a world of good, Brad.” Rose takes off her heels and walks barefoot out into the urban night.

Brad sighs. He shifts uncomfortably in his seat. He turns over the bill and blanches to discover the small fortune he will leave behind. He leaves a tip and leaves the fancy restaurant. Starving, a little bit tipsy, he walks to a nearby Chili’s. In silence, alone, he buries his disappointment in countless layers of deep-fried onion.


*   *   *


The animal shelter is more or less like a prison. It’s like The Shawshank Redemption, only dogs are doing the whining, barking, howling from behind locked bars instead of men. Brad closes his eyes and can almost hear the warm narration of Morgan Freeman detailing the incarceration of Andy Dufresne. As the air con swivels his way, Brad hugs himself against the chill, listening to Freeman’s vocals from inside his head describe the agonizing trials of a colony of 3-and-a-half foot, 80 pound flightless birds over a long, brutal, sunless, Antarctic winter. Years ago, Brad saw March of the Penguins in a drafty cinema wearing only a tee shirt. By the end of the film he thought he may have had hypothermia, but as it turns out, he was just cold. It made the experience all the more visceral, almost real.

“May I help you,” a voice calls out from behind a counter, ripping Brad from his cinematic daydream. It is a woman’s voice, nasally and high; much less pleasant than Morgan Freeman’s. Even so, the lady behind the counter is polite, attentive, even pretty. The name tag over her left breast has a blue paw print on either side of “Mindy.” When Brad mentions his hope to adopt a dog, Mindy is quick to assist, eager to please, and leads him to a selection of dogs ready and waiting for a new and loving home, a kind benefactor with a big heart and a gentle hand.

The long row of cells are mostly full, occupied by canines of all shapes, sizes, ages, breeds and backgrounds. Despite the expansive variation between each animal, they all seem familiar to Brad, individually recognizable, almost as if he is being reacquainted rather than introduced.

In each dog, he feels a singular, personal connection, a unique bond. Perhaps some vestigial shred of a past life clings to his consciousness like a late-stage scab, an evolutionary trace of something that once was, a tailbone, for instance, or memories of a bygone hereditary cache embedded in the hippocampus of his frontal lobe, the residual, spectral inkling of countless generations side-by-side with feral wolves turned domesticated man’s-best-friend. Gazing through the iron bars at hopeful faces, sad eyes and lolling tongues, Brad is hit with a sucker punch of age-old days of yore. Centuries of domineering companionship crash down upon him like a tower of bricks, a pyramid of milk bones, as visions of shared cave dwellings and straw beds ignite some vague, ancestral recollection rooted in a dusty corner of his mind.

All at once, Brad’s head is flooded with rich, sensory reminiscence of affectionate scratching behind shaggy ears, curt, automatic commands and heavy-handed beatings, a vast timeline of prehistoric symbiosis. Brad shakes his head. He wills away the unwanted visitor of some caveman cousin discarding his lineal, secondhand memories. Brad awakens, present and clear-headed. Now he remembers. He’s seen it all in a movie.

Immediately to his right, a white and brown Jack Russell terrier wags its tail, overeager and notably distressed. It barks and barks and barks. Incessantly, it vocalizes — so much so, it continually interrupts its own fevered, bow-wow dialogue. Where a long muzzle and wet, black snout should appear, floppy ears and wide, adorable eyes ought to be on display, there is instead the displaced face of a well known New Yorker, a Hollywood veteran, an irritable, neurotic star. Brad stares, perplexed, at a breed of dog like no other. He stares at the unmistakable visage of Woody Allen, big, black-rimmed glasses and all.

“He sure is a cutey, isn’t he?” Mindy smiles as she gazes at the aberration.

Brad blinks several times, rubs his eyes, gawks, nods, accepts the strange reality before him. “Cute would not be my own choice of words.”

“No? Most folks melt over a Jack Russell.”

“What are your thoughts on Kurt Russell?” Brad considers how the dogs in The Thing are turned inside out, transmuted into spaghetti-limbed, tentacled monsters. Looking at the dog-bodied Woody Allen, he supposes things could be worse than an ornery, comic genius.

“I’m sorry?” Mindy may not be the avid moviegoer Brad is.

“Never mind.”

On to the next cell.

An American bulldog sags under the excessive gravity of a world gone mad. Despondent, lackadaisical, bored, yet somehow, beneath it all, charming, even handsome, the tired beast looks upward to command Brad’s undivided attention, his genuine respect. Humphrey Bogart’s lazy expression, his monotone drawl, perfectly matches his stout, lumpy dog body. “Here’s looking at you, kid.” Something tells Brad to move on, that despite a connection he and the bulldog share, this is not the dog destined for his future.

Mindy guides Brad down the concrete passage that echos with barking, yipping, howling, whining, high and low, rhythmic panting and fevered pacing. They pause at the next occupied cell and Brad studies what is clearly a fancy breed, a pedigree pooch. Besides having the head of Elizabeth Taylor, a diamond-studded collar around its neck, it looks like a fluffy cloud, a four-legged bleached Afro, a cheerleader’s snow-white pompom, an expanding wisp of pale cotton candy.

“What’s that? A Shit Zoo?” Brad knows that his choice of words are incorrect, but smiles, knowing “Shih Tzu” to more or less phonetically mirror what he has said.

“A bichon frise,” Mindy informs him. “A great lap dog.”

Brad cannot imagine Elizabeth Taylor giving a lap dance. She is far too refined, far too classy. The image is intriguing, but ultimately incorrect, more perverse, perhaps, than celebratory heads on the bodies of dogs. Looking into the enchanting blue eyes of a stately lady’s beautiful face joined by the puny, white-fluffed body of a thoroughbred pup, Brad frowns, shakes his head. “Something like this belongs in a circus,” he musses, “or better yet, a shit zoo.”

Next is a French mastiff, just like the dog in Turner in Hooch. And just like the actor in Turner and Hooch, the large dog bears Tom Hanks’ head. One cell over, Meg Ryan smiles and wags her tail. Slim, golden retriever legs carry her as close to Mr. Hanks as the bars between them allow. They seem drawn to each other, romantically charged. Side by side, they define romantic comedy. It’s no laughing matter, those dogs have chemistry.

Toward the end of the hallway a border collie strides back and forth, antsy and energetic. Brad smiles back at the mutt because the dog’s own grin is undeniably infectious. Tom Cruise laughs, happy as hell, perhaps over-caffeinated or on coke. Too excited for his own good, the joyful, manic dog loses the ability to control himself. At once, the room smells like hell, like Cerberus himself took a dump.

“Incontinent,” Mindy informs Brad. “Collies take a lot of care. They need a lot of exercise. If this is to be your first-time dog, I suggest another breed.”

Tom paces, hopeful to be chosen, slipping on the newspaper that lines his cage. His fast-moving strides stamp paw prints of black, loose stool across the real estate section and sports headlines. He’s a lovable dog but keeping the house clean would be mission impossible. Brad gestures to move on, and Mindy leads him to the very last dog at the end of the hall.

Here, Brad’s search comes to end. The choice is at once crystal clear. On the unaccustomed lean body of golden Labrador retriever sprouts Leonardo DiCaprio’s head. It is the handsome countenance of mid-career Leo. Older than What’s Eating Gilbert Grape Leo, older than Titanic Leo, older, perhaps, than The Beach Leo, but certainly younger than today’s Leo, the at-long-last, Academy Award winning best actor, the approaching-50-years-old Leo. This is Leo as Leo’s head is best suited for germinating out of a family dog’s body. The all-rounder of Hollywood, from drama, to comedy, to action. Never a letdown. Always a top-notch performer.

Brad turns to Mindy. “I’ll take this one.”

“Right,” Mindy smiles, and sets Leo free.


*   *   *


Life with Leo is a time of impeccable joy. The celebrity-headed Fido fills a giant hole in his master’s erstwhile lonely life. For Brad, his dog has been the missing piece, the cornerstone of a golden era in his otherwise tepid existence.

Leo provides companionship, a warm body to fill the vacancy of the adjacent cushion of the love seat in Brad’s movie room. He is well and truly man’s best friend, namely, Brad’s best friend — someone with which to binge watch week-long movie marathons, the collective works of Steven Spielberg, the decorated, Bruce Willis canon (or Leonardo DiCaprio for that matter).

Leo and Brad are inseparable. Man and beast, attached at the hip, or in any event, by the man’s grip upon the leash that is fastened to the dog’s collar. They enjoy long walks, the occasional jog or bike ride, tossing a Frisbee across long, emerald stretches of lawn at public parks. One day, when the sidewalks were being repaved in his neighborhood, Brad took Leo to impress his paws upon the wet cement, stenciling in his dog’s name and the date with the end of a broken twig. There, forever more, Leo was immortalized in the public path; Brad’s own, little, local Forecourt of the Stars.

Brad enjoys taking Leo to designated dog parks, where women are easier to talk to, approachable, always happy to discuss their dog, its breed, age, and cute little tidbits about its character. Brad smiles, nods, listens, tallies the cute little tidbits of the women who go on and on about their dogs, collecting images of their kind eyes, their warm smiles, their blue, chipped nail polish or windblown, auburn hair. He stashes away pieces of them in his memory to later think about while playing with himself in the shower.

Within the playground of his mind, he makes love to the proud owner of that German shepherd with the limp, or the “mommy” of that brindled greyhound, fast as lightning and thin as Steve Buscemi. At the dog park, amid the pock-marked turf from buried bones and stashed-away, saliva-soaked tennis balls, Brad takes them, doggy-style, and howls at a porcelain, full moon.

Man-oh-man does Brad ever love his dog.


*   *   *


The seasons come and go as they always do. Time is relative, and life with a dog is relatively faster than life alone, so for Brad spring matures to summer rather quickly. Summer carries on for a spell, fades away, then autumn paints a pretty picture in the dog park canopies, a brief, warm collage before its canvas is stripped bare, branches like thin, meatless dog bones silhouetted against a bleak, winter sky. Snow falls to cake the sidewalk in sweet castor sugar. Side by side, man’s boots and Labrador’s paws stamp the progression of their morning walk on the frozen pavement.

Nighttime in winter is cold, as expected, but magical, alight with festivity. Brad has erected his Christmas tree. It stands, festooned in blinking, rainbow lights and bedecked with glass ornaments, shiny, reflective balls and small picture frames with photos of him and Leo in various happy poses. Leo swishes his tail, gazing outward through the frosted windows that distort the colorful neighborhood array of holiday lights. High up on a shelf in the closet kept warm by the water cylinder are Leo’s wrapped presents. Inside are dog treats, rawhide bones, squeak toys, and ropes. Brad has stashed them, well-hidden and out of reach, as a precaution against Leo sniffing out the edible goods contained within the poorly wrapped candy cane and star of Bethlehem wrapping paper. Leo’s nose is too good for his own good. Besides, it’s no fun when presents are opened out of turn.

Christmas time is a time for giving, for families to unite, to share and be merry and commemorate the birth of baby Jesus. So Brad has been told. Yet for him, Christmas is a time to focus on movies — Christmas movies, of course — and whittle away at the ever-growing compiled list of must-be-seen, holiday season films. On his coffee table, in front of a large home-theatre system, DVDS lie strewn in profusion. Christmas classics like It’s a Wonderful Life, The Muppet Christmas Carol, Die Hard, and of course, Home Alone. For Leo, Brad adds A Charlie Brown Christmas to the queue — Leo is crazy for Snoopy. For his hopeful, future girlfriend, Love Actually is added to the mix.

One late December night, as if his Christmas wish to find a non-dog, female, human soulmate just may come true, Brad’s wide eyes absorb the golden heart icon alighting the screen on the dating app he frequently uses with infrequent result. The meaning of this golden heart is not trivial. It means Brad has been liked.

Beside the pixelated golden heart, a symbol more valuable and rare than the mythical contents of the Sankara Stones in The Temple of Doom, a radiant woman offers a kind smile, a sparkling, affectionate gaze. Then, the holiest of holy grails, the pièce de résistance. In her profile, as if scripted for the next and greatest romance ever, the following sacrosanct message conveys oh-so-good tidings: “The only thing in this world I love more than dogs is watching movies.”


*   *   *


Brad’s date with Janet could not be going better. The local Chili’s was her idea, and the platter of deep fried onion has provided a buffer against the bottle of house red the two budding lovebirds have polished off. Brad orders another bottle and Janet giggles through her bad impression of Marlon Brando as the godfather. They shamelessly devour shrimp fajitas and exchange like-minded opinions on movies they cherish, actors they adore, Academy Awards winners they agree and disagree are deserving.

Janet reaches across her body to retrieve her wine glass, revealing an elegant, black cobra tattoo over her collarbone.

“Snakes. Why did it have to be snakes?” Brad giggles and winks across the table.

Janet takes a sip of her wine, hides some strange expression behind her glass as she drinks. She exhales into her beverage, maybe sighs, almost as if she hissing.

“So you like dogs?” Brad asks.

“I love them!”

“Me too!”

“What kind do you have?”

“A Lab,” Brad smiles, wistfully thinking of his lovely pooch keeping the love seat warm back at home. “His name is Leo.”

“Like Leonardo DiCaprio?”

“In more ways than you’d guess!” He thinks about his dog’s strange, human head, its uncanny resemblance, its exact, carbon-copied match, to the celebrated actor. “How about you?” Brad asks. “What kind of dog do you have?”

Janet frowns. “No dog, I’m afraid. The landlord forbids pets. But I’ve always wanted a Lab.”

“You’ll love Leo.”

“I will if he’s anything like the actor!”

“You won’t be disappointed.”

When the second bottle of wine is down to the dregs, Brad feels a bare foot caress his ankle, creep up to explore his calves from underneath the table. An effeminate leg entwines his own, advancing upward, inward, like a serpent ascending a fruit-laden branch. He has had too much wine. His head is swimming and the Chili’s decor wobbles from side to side, but he is sober enough to read the signs, even if this is new territory for him. He calls for a cab and books a room at the nearest motel, a dingy little place called the Happy Sack. In the back of his mind, Brad considers Leo, alone at home, but reasons that it is just for one night. The dog will fine, he assures himself, before entering the scuzzy bedroom hand-in-hand with a movie-mad lady.

Against better judgement, Brad agrees to Janet’s suggestion for more wine, and while he remembers his clothes coming off, he remembers little else. That night, as bedbugs make a meal of his soft flesh, Brad dreams of one of his favorite Christmas movies, Home Alone. In his odd, dream-version of the film, the little boy who is left home alone to fend off his household from home invaders has the adult head of Leonardo DiCaprio in place the traditional, kid-sized noggin of Kevin McCallister.

The usual stunts go well at first; homemade booby traps like paint cans swinging by ropes from upstairs banisters to collide with unsuspecting faces, pet tarantulas set free for opportune and unlikely, although inevitable timing to show up to deter the baddies right when things are getting hairy, and perhaps simplest of all, the deployment of fragile glass, Christmas ornaments placed upon the floor to obliterate the unprotected soles of creeping, bare feet. For a while, these devices keep the bad men at bay. But the dreamworld, like too much red wine, is fluid. Like grapes, sometimes things go sour.

In the end, as Brad tosses and turns in the shabby, sweat-stained sheets of a Motel Happy Sack bed, his dream concludes without a hopeful, happy ending. The bad guys catch the bratty kid who has avoided them for most of the length of a feature film. They do not marvel at his ungainly, out-of-place, adult head upon his child-bodied shoulders. They do not remark, or even give evidence to noticing, that the little boy they seize and manhandle bears the exact countenance of a famous actor. They do not recognize or care that he is the very spitting image of Leonardo DiCaprio.

The bad dream goes on. The marauders forcefully fasten little Leo with a studded collar. They muzzle him, muffling his complaints, his desperate screams, and tug him away on a short, tight leash. Cinematic music fades in to play a somber melody, a soul-crushing score to move viewers to tears. The image fades, the credits role, and each line of text reads the same thing, over and over again: wake up, wake up, wake up.

Brad wakes up and the bed is empty but for his own itchy, sore body. Janet is nowhere to be seen, her shoes and and clothes are missing. Brad finds his own clothes, but cannot find his wallet. But he does find a note written in lipstick on the bathroom mirror. “Here’s looking at you, kid.”

When Brad finally gets back home he discovers the front door to his house left ajar. He takes off his shoes in the foyer and calls out to his dog. “Leo!” He shouts out. “Leo!” He repeats without result, without response. He takes some hurried steps forward to investigate his home and steps on fragile, glass Christmas ornaments that have been scattered upon the floor. “What the hell,” Brad looks around, confused. Little crystal baubles dot the floorboards, rudimentary booby traps laid down with anticipation to maim. Beside them, coiled around the broken fragments, an odd, unpleasant tube-like appendage curlicues across the floor in a serpentine path. Brad inspects the torn flesh of the tender underside of his bare foot. He carefully picks out rainbow-colored fragments. He winces, cringes. Blood pools on the wooden floor beside the papery, sloughed off snakeskin.

He takes ginger steps deeper into his home. He treads carefully, wary of more traps and worried of what he will find — or won’t find. His strides leave a trail of blood-soaked footprints across the floorboards where the red pools collect in places to fill the little canyons that have been engraved by dog claws running over the soft wood. In the kitchen, the dog bowl is full to the brim with kibble. Leo’s meal has gone uneaten.

Around the corner, noise is coming from the home entertainment system, a constant, steady song. When Brad slowly enters the movie room he inspects the open DVD case that lies empty over all the other unwatched Christmas videos. He turns it over, studies the cover — All Dogs Go to Heaven — then stares, vision blurred with budding tears, at the menu screen that endlessly loops across the 65-inch, high-def screen.

In stunning technicolor, his dreams are shattered before him.