Friday, December 28, 2012

Dog story for not quite kids, but not grown-ups

I wrote a story. Really don't know if it's any good, but how I love the look of black inky squiggles on illuminated white screen. And how I love dogs. 

The Peculiar Case of the Extra Dog in the Yard

There’s nothing like watching a dog play in the glow of the afternoon sun. Nothing more relaxing and at the same time, nothing more exhilarating. My office window faced the fenced in backyard and my desk was shoved up as close to that window as I could manage without mashing Maryann’s drapes. Grey raw silk. Sure it was distracting, my eyes would inch their way toward the green turf and overgrown arborvitae when I should’ve been staring at the lines of code on the computer screen. Minutes would pass, portions of hours would pass as I watched the dogs on pleasant days. When I’d catch sight of the clock and realize how much time I’d just wasted, I’d grimace and make a quick mental promise that I wouldn’t be so lazy again. But again would revisit so very quickly.
I was an adult, I had a job, a computer full of numbers, a boss, rules, structured time. I had a mortgage, a girlfriend who more and more frequently brought up the fact that I should propose and I had two dogs with enormous appetites who ate enormous amounts of kibble costing enormous dollars and giving me nothing but enormous mounds of stinking turds in return. I shouldn’t be staring out the window and I knew it. But as Chevy would charge at an unseen, floating attacker, snap in the air, body torqueing unpredictably, I swear my breathing would change; my heart would speed to a gallop and it was like I was right there with him.
And I guess that’s where it all started.

Chapter 1

“Did you pay the American Express?” She asked while kicking the fridge door shut.
I nodded but Maryann didn’t see because she was already simultaneously opening a new bag of cereal, checking the charge on her phone and shifting the bowl and spoon assembly line for cereal creation down the kitchen counter toward the carton of milk final stop.
 “Brian.” She managed to infuse my name with exhaustion. “We go through this every month…” As I said, she never saw me nod, didn’t know I paid the bill and, completely justifiably, seeing that in our 2 year relationship I had never paid the bill- she assumed that the American Express guys still needed money.
  “If we don’t pay by the 3rd, then our bank balance isn’t accurate and flamingos grow nose hairs that have to be dealt with.” Well, I made up the last part. You see, I tend to fade out about ten words into any scolding and at this point, her voice was having to travel through great shovel sized spoonfuls of cocoa puff and milk mountain breakfast, so was garbled enough that I was having to guess anyway.
“Sweetie. I paid it.”
My toast popped and Maryann swiftly flipped it onto a plate and handed me the tub of butter. She grinned. For anyone that didn’t know her well, it would look like the classic human expression of happiness. The upward curving of her lips didn’t reach her blue eyes.
“Alright then. Well, I’m gonna be late.” And with that she rose from the table with her purse. She set both her bowl and my plate on the floor between the legs of bent wood kitchen chairs. There was a scramble of dog toenails on linoleum and the sighs of two big dogs unwinding themselves from a too-tight spot beneath a kitchen table and lunging for food morsels. Morsels was a generous word, there was a quarter drip of chocolatified milk spread like a film against the glaze of the bowl and a toast crumb on my plate that was immediately inhaled before Bongo’s tongue even touched porcelain.
Bongo coughed.
 “Down the wrong pipe, eh boy? You can’t snort when it’s just crumbs. You didn’t even eat that one, you just breathed it up.”
 Two thick tails thumped. Both dogs seemed to smile up at me.
“See you at 5,” Maryann hollered from the doorway and we exchanged blown-air kisses.
The door shut and both dogs seemed to smile wider. One, two, three, four, five. Car door slam and engine rev. I grinned back at my boys.
“Wanna go for a walk?”
And there- that moment- was the best part of my day.
            Eight legs would churn, getting nowhere but struggling for the wall where the leashes were kept. Snap, snap and the churning limbs would make a quarter turn for the door. I was always at the rear of the procession at this point and would have to push past stirring tails and heaving dog jowls to get the door open.
            The park was four blocks away. A citified oasis of nature in the midst of a small suburb in the midst of the Oregonian wilderness.  Washington Park, the copper sign proclaimed and I guessed it was named in homage to our first president, though the entire state of Oregon and Mr. Washington had never crossed paths. The park’s claim to fame was that it was designed by the same person who did Central Park in NYC. There were paved paths and shaped shrubs and tulip patches in the Spring and sculptures and benches and fountains, but best of all, and this was where we were heading, in the exact center was an off-leash dog park.
This was Oriander, Oregon. A tiny village 30 minutes outside of Bozeman with a population of just under 8,000. How such a spec on the map as this got a park designed by a famous person, I’ll never know, but the dog’s and I enjoyed it almost daily and didn’t ask questions.
            Bongo was always first off the leash. He was the oldest. Well, probably. He was an overfed golden retriever Maryann had adopted one year out of college. He was a Humane Society rescue and the vet there’s best guess was that our big boy was 8 years old. And that was two years ago. Bongo’s long hair was tinged red the entire length of his back and white along his eyebrows and muzzle.
            Chevy’s age was known: four. It was his genetic heritage that was a puzzle. Though he definitely looked canine, Maryann and I had strong suspicions that there was a diesel engine somewhere in his family tree. He was brown and furry and my best guess was that he was part Mastiff, part Bloodhound, and for the rest my guess changed from day to day. Some days I’d swear there was Chihuahua blood coursing within his veins when he’d cower at a squirrel chastising us through a window. Other days I’d guess decorated greyhound for how fast he’s manage to squirm through my arms, out the door and miles from home the very moment I removed his collar for a bath. And now you know why he smelled a bit riper than most indoor dogs. Chevy hated baths and I put off the events for the longest span that we could tolerate.
Maryann was an interior designer. She loved pretty fabrics and filled our cramped space with velvet and cotton and jackard and even chintz. She and the fabrics could tolerate a far shorter span of dirty Chevy than Bongo and I could.
Today, was bath day. My plan was simple: wear him out so that he put up less of a fight. I’d played football in my high school years and kept fit, Chevy and I were pretty evenly matched. But if we met for a challenge, me full of vim, vigor and coffee and him drained by a morning dog park frolic…well, then. I forsaw a victory in my future, a clean dog and a happy girlfriend.
            What I did when I wasn’t walking and washing dogs was review computer codes. I worked from home and it afforded me the freedom to set my own schedule. No commute, no shirt nor tie, no cubicle. That is, as long as I leashed myself to the black rolling chair in the office and assured the quality of just enough computer codes to turn my brain to mush. 
August was coming to a close and the normally lush lawns that marched against the sidewalk that wove us toward Washington Park sported highlights of gold and made the slightest crisping sound when the dog’s feet padded across their edges. In a rare move against public pastime, the mayor of Oriander had instituted odd/even watering restrictions. Odd numbered addresses could water on odd numbered dates, and the same for even numbered. The mostly aging residents of the usually moist town had yet to come up with a replacement for moving the hose around the yard, washing the cars, rinsing leaves from the driveway and spraying.
            Generally, when rain was scarce for more than a few days or when they themselves felt like chatting with neighbors, but didn’t want to appear like they did, the residents of Oriander would hand-spray their lawns. This summer had been unusually dry and the neighbors quickly ran out of clever things to say to each other. As dry spells linked together into a speckled summer of little rain, neighbors moved beyond small talk and began to learn more about the individuals they shared acreage with.
            The mayor couldn’t have picked a worse time to “start huggin’ trees” as his suddenly more social voting public liked to grumble. They would curse his name in mumbled tones as they cranked on their spigots once the sun set so they could feed their lawns emerald in twilight defiance. And so, for the first time since the inventory catalogue offered them, Rich Gahler, the owner of the mainstreet hardware store, had completely sold out of sprinklers. 
            “You can basically make one out of a hunk of PVC pipe. Just drill some holes in it and cap the ends. Use a connector like this to hook it to your hose,” a white-haired man was saying to a skeptical mother of two squirming toddlers. The squirmiest of which was just easing his head out from under the shoulder harness of his jogging stroller. A wiggle and a half more and the boy- much to the astonishment of his fellow prisoner- was free. His blond hair was static-y and waved like feathers in the barely there breeze of the store’s threshold as he climbed down the front tricycle wheel of his ride. His eyes, a moment ago, holding that look of one waiting to have a something heavy dropped upon his head, took on unbridled pride. He stood erect, to his full height of just over 24 inches tall, took a breath and dashed to the left off the sidewalk and without a pause, onto the black topped road of mainstreet. Here near the shops, where the road was narrow and parking was limited, cars were parallel parked along the curb. The boy was between the nose of a rusty Jeep and the tail of a shiny Volvo for only two steps before he dashed headlong into the path of an oncoming blur of metal.
I saw all this happening but didn’t realize the danger until that moment when I also realized that it was too late to do anything. I dropped the dog’s leashes and though I was much too far away to reach him in time, I ran toward the boy. A few things happened all at once. I heard screaming- my own. I was still a dozen feet away from the toddling blond head when the oncoming car buzzed past my hip not slowing. I reached for the car’s rear fender illogically thinking to slow it or maybe hoping the driver would see my frantic focus on the now- hidden head mere feet beyond its front bumper. Then a blur of brown streaked through my field of vision obscuring everything I had my eyes trained on.
There came a sound so similar to one I’d heard only minutes before, like toenails on linoleum but more metallic, as a large dog leapt into the path of the sedan, back legs nicking the headlamp, the screech of brakes and then, that sickening sound of a soft body hitting pavement too hard.

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