Friday, August 26, 2011

Story Time: Dog

Dog has Hi, or Hi has dog. Neither cared for a more concrete definition.

Dog's name is Dog. Sometimes Pooch. Sometimes Stinky. When it was raining and Dog was running around out in the year, or it was time to go to the vet, or there was a puddle on the floor next to the grandfather clock in the living room, Dog's name was Petey Pate, and Hi barked it out in the rudest of manners which caused Dog to slink every time under the bed and hope the dust wouldn't tickle his nose into a sneeze.

Dog preferred Dog, and frankly, so did Hi.

Hi is a man, stated so as to not confuse the easily befuddled reader. He has more than one name as well. Sometimes Hello and other times Howdy, which depended on what other type of creature he was addressing. Once and a while his name was Jerk or Moron, but those were only special pet names reserved for Hi by ticket-takers and enormous women who stepped on his feet at the shopping plaza.

Hi has even more names than that, humans apparently being more fickle and temperamental creatures than dogs. The mother-creature called him Harold when she called long distance from Hoboken. The old fat man who smelled of liverwurst sandwiches, the same old man who always lurked in the building's elevator, and thus startled Hi nearly every time the doors popped open to reveal his corpulent form, called Hi Sir, especially on the rare occasions where Hi slipped a shiny treat into the gloved palm of his hand.

But the creature Hi called Gloria, who tiptoed and whispered in the apartment across the hall, calls him Hi. Whispers it, almost prayerfully it seemed to Dog, as she shuffled past, fumbling with keys and struggling with dingy canvas grocery bags.

Man preferred Hi, and frankly, so did Dog.

And so, it seemed, did Gloria. But more from her later.

Dog and Hi got along quite well together, considering the inequalities in their relationship. Dog regarded Hi with the patient incomprehension and pity that most creatures hold for the struggling gangly members of the human race. For instance, humans, to Dog in particular, never seemed content with their colors. Hi changed his coat every day, sometimes more than once if Hi was chancing meeting Gloria in the park a few blocks down the street. He would begin the day with a nice brown, lacking only the blacking that would transform him into a Dog-like German Shepherd. Sometimes his bottom legs were that nice brown, sometimes a startling shade of blue. But then the top would be all wrong and white. Hi, for reasons Dog never quite understood, nearly always put on his leash every morning and wore it all day long, not thinking for an instant how much more comfortable it is to run without a rope dangling from one's neck. Hi didn't need the leash, Dog knew. He knew dogs needed one, since the humans with the spatula-shaped heads and perfect sticks for chasing strapped to their hips most emphatically informed Hi one day in the park that if Dog didn't want to be pounded, Hi had better put it (whatever this 'it' was) on a leash. That funny creature had called Hi Buster, and Dog growled his dissatisfaction with the new name as the odd human walked away, useless legs clasped behind its back.

Those extra legs, of the odd creature, of Gloria and of Hi, confused Dog. His confusion soon melted into a simple pity for these less-than fortunate creatures. When Dog ran in the park, bouncing and racing on his four perfect legs, Hi could only ape-lope behind him, rarely beating him to the stick they both chased. Small versions of humankind were sometimes quite capable of using all four of their ill-proportioned legs for locomotion, but Dog soon realized as four-legged creatures go, Hi's kind were woefully slow, and looked ridiculous to boot.

Besides, Dog reasoned, those extra legs had better uses. Pity though he felt for his friends, Dog was a bit jealous of the things Hi called fingers. When Dog wanted to retrieve a stick from the ground, he had to do so with his teeth, and more often than not he came up with a tongueful of dirt along with the stick. All Hi had to do was bend over and let those magic fingers do the work. hi rarely had to swallow a tongueful of dirt. Smart, those humans are.

Hi also used those fingers to scratch Dog's ears and pat his head, something Dog enjoyed a great deal. Fingers are apparently at their best when dry, for Dog discovered he could receive more pats by wetting the fingers with tongue or nose until Hi wiped the moisture off by giving Hi a few more pats and scratches.

Hi could throw. Dog could toss, by picking up a stick, a ball, a pine cone, in his teeth and whipping his head about and releasing the object at just the right moment, but Hi could throw.

But Dog could run.

So Hi could throw. Dog could run. Hi could pat and scratch. Dog could wet the fingers. Both were perfectly happy with the arrangements.

Hi sometimes read the Bible and talked to Gloria, as they shared a Coke on the living room sofa and Dog slept in the blissful heat of the dusty heat register. Most would think the Bible as incomprehensible to a Dog, but then most of us who think like that aren't dogs, and so have little experience in deciding what is or is not common canine knowledge.

Dog slept when Hi and Gloria discussed Job and the Pharisees and the Moabites, but he always listened, eyes closed but ears pricked up, when Hi spoke of Adam and Eve. For Dog knew that a long time ago, Dog and Man, along with other creatures, had lived together in some odd, magical garden full of sticks to gnaw and bushes to hide in and trees to sniff. Creatures shared everything but fear and hunger, for no one yet knew fear, and there was always water that flowed and fruit for eating.

But somehow the humans messed up in some odd problem that involved God and some special fruit, so Adam and Eve had to leave. Something else left, too, or rather many impish and bothersome things entered. Creatures learned to trust often lead to pain and death, even at the hands of the human creatures who had played with them and named them in the happy times that were before that fruit.

Sometimes that trust was buried deep within their minds and could be ferreted out, as was soon the case with the ancestors of Dog, Horse, Cat, and others. Man had to ferret out this trust as well, but as Man harbored more of the new impishness than did any other creature, most creatures who didn't know Man didn't know enough to recognize when the trust was bent.

Other creatures could hurt, and most all could now kill, but not many hurt or killed with the audacity of Man, and this Dog knew, even in these far-off times. Though he had been with Hi for most of his life, messages about twisted trust had been passed from father, and mother, and sibling, and the giver of instinct. He also knew from experience that some of Man had the ability to mask deeper cruelties each carried within with a smattering of the original trust.

Still, Dog had Faith in Man. Hi had almost always been kind, and nearly always understood what Dog wanted. Dog reciprocated the trust, learning to understand when to tease, when to comfort, and precisely when to cower underneath the dusty bed. Others were also accorded this trust, including several smaller versions of Man who lived in the building with Dog and Hi, the female creature who operated the butcher shop, and the elevator man who always smelled of liverwurst sandwiches of which he always offered bits to Dog. And even sometimes to Hi.

Dog was content with Hi, and Hi was content with Dog, but it was quickly becoming apparent that Gloria was deftly occupying the spot of Most Favored Creature in Hi's life.

It started slyly, if not subtly, that evening when Gloria dropped the box of chicken-flavored crackers out of her grocery bag and it burst open, spilling its wafery contents throughout the hallway. Dog picked up as many as he could, but under the delicate circumstances and steely glare from Hi, decided to suspend his chicken cracker spill cleanup efforts for a later date. Gloria didn't seem to mind, and absently swept into the box even the crackers Dog had taken a liking to. Dog noticed, with a bit of jealousy, that Hi's eyes had that glow in them, usually reserved for the fleeting moments when Dog managed to tree Mrs. Gruber's cat in the nest of hats and scarves hanging on the old woman's door. The cat was no where to be seen, and Dog knew full well after the cracker glare, this glow probably wasn't for him.

Dog saw the glow once again the next night, as Hi helped Gloria retrieve her room key from the heat register on the hallway floor. And the night after that when Gloria and Hi spent a few hours talking on the couch, Dog's couch, while the landlord looked for the spider Gloria had seen in her bathroom. Soon Hi did not need even the auspices of another Gloria-oriented crisis to have an excuse to spend time with the new creature.

At first, Dog had tried to play along with the new threesome. As Hi and Gloria walked through the park, Dog would break free of the leash, splash through the creek to find a stick in the woods, and crash back over, spraying water hither and yon as he shook his head in anticipation of a lovely game of chase. He noticed Gloria smile the first time he did thus, but doubted her sincerity, as he had seen the same crazy look in the eyes of Mrs. Gruber's treed cat. Hi had been strict but diplomatic. He chastised Dog, offered Gloria his handkerchief, and tossed the stick halfheartedly a few times as they waited for Gloria to come out of the public restroom. She came out looking less like Gloria and more like a lovesick raccoon, and pouted the rest of the evening.

Hi had a talk with Dog at night, as Hi ate his Ramen and Dog snuggled over the heat register.

"I like Gloria a lot," Hi said, slurping his noodles.

Dog sighed, raised an eyebrow.

"She's a pretty creature," Hi said, still slurping.

The heat came on again. Dog lowered his ears and closed his eyes.

"I'm not getting any younger, you know. Even Mrs. Gruber says that." Ate a small onion floating in the broth.

Dog smelled the onion. Decided the heat was more valuable.

"This place is big enough for two, eh Dog?"

Dog opened his eyes at the mention of his name. Hi rubbed Dog's back with a socked foot. Dog knew Gloria's place was the same size. And why not for three?

"Why not for three?" Hi asked, putting his bowl (half-filled with fatty broth) down on the floor. "I mean, my parents had a kid, and he didn't turn out all that bad." And chuckled.

Dog poked Hi's foot, and got another back rub. The heat blew through his fur and through Hi's sock, polluting the fragrancy of the broth in the bowl. Sighed.

"I bought a ring this afternoon, Dog. And Gloria's coming over in an hour. We'll get pizza, I think. Is that elegant enough?"

The heat shut off. Dog sighed once again, pricked up his ears at the word pizza and raised his head.

Hi scooted the bowl of broth over with his smelly foot, then fidgeted with a small velvet box he held in his hands.

Dog slurped at the broth, more quietly than Hi had done. Hi fidgeted with the box. Opened it. Closed it. Opened it again, and caught his finger as the strong metal hinge snapped shut. Hi had left Dog an onion and two bits of beef. More than usual, but then Hi was a bit distracted as he sat, now flipping through channels, watching the clock, more channels, the clock, a ball game, the clock. Hi put his foot down in the empty bowl, sending the spoon clattering across the hardwood floor. Another onion rolled out of the bowl and came to rest next to the evening paper. Dog left the register to slurp it up before Hi stepped on it, as he was now pacing the floor, facing the grandfather clock to the right, then the digital on the microwave to the left.

A while later, the doorbell rang. The heat was on again, so Dog dozed. Pricked up his ears and opened his eyes, but lay magnetized to the friendly heat billowing up from below. Gloria. At the door. Hi. On his knees. Handing Gloria the keychain she'd dropped. Gloria walking in the apartment. Hi following, still on his knees. Gloria laughs. Hi crawls to the couch, where he's left the small velvet box. Back to Gloria, who's sitting in the rocking chair.

A gasp of air, then: "Oh Harold! Oh Harold!" Hi's funny grin, tears on his cheeks. Gloria jumping across the room. Hi still on his knees. "Yes, Harold, oh yes! I will! I will!" Slurping. Quieter than with the broth.

Gloria's things moving in, and still grains of rice blowing out of the heat register where Dog sleeps. What did Gloria see in the fussy coatrack that replaced the green faded easy chair? Dog eyed the bunny slippers. Pots and pans. Things cooking. On the stove. A new television. Crock pot. Fondue set. Huge hunks of wedding cake in the freezer. A bit in his dish. Next to the empty one reserved for water.
More names. Sweetie for Hi. Milkshake for Gloria. Mutt for Dog. When 'Sweetie' wasn't around. Two days, and still no water. A blue tongue from the bathroom water that had changed color when Gloria moved in. Fuzzy towels. A bath mat. One on the toilet as well.

Three days since Gloria came, and still no water. Chased out of the bathroom as Gloria screeched in the shower. One morning, Hi gone to work, Gloria preparing to catch her bus. A few milk bones in the dish. Toilet seat left up.

Door slams. Gloria gone.

But forgiven, because she fixed him water. Not in the dish, but in a small protected bowl on the octagon end table. Tasted a bit murky, but after three days of blue water, Dog was not about to be picky. Lapped and lapped. Murkier at the bottom, but still going. Small bowl. Big Dog.

Satisfied Dog licked his chops, ambled over to the heat register that had just begun to sing. Closed his eyes and said a prayer of thanks for Gloria. Did not notice the flopping goldfish in the bottom of the murky water-bowl.

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