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Writing Fiction - Chapter 11
Here's where Chapter 10 left you...
After I heaved a deep sigh or two, I grabbed a few old towels from the bathroom closet and a cardboard box out of the spare bedroom. I threw my jacket back on and snatched up the car keys.
It took me a little while to find the bench on the street, beside the park I’d never heard of before, and when I finally found it, the dog wasn’t there.
I got out of the car and went over to the bench to see if maybe he was just afraid and hiding. Sitting in the shivery night air, I waited a long time. Finally, I’d figured he wasn’t going to show. I turned to go back to the car, realizing I’d need to make a donation to a Humane Society to offset my guilt, when I saw what looked to be some old rags lying on the ground beside the overgrown bushes. I took a step closer. It was him. The mangiest, scroungiest, dirtiest, ugliest, smelly little dog I had ever seen was lying there, perfectly still.
“Uh oh, Pearl,” I had told myself, “It’s gonna take more than a donation to help with this guilt.”
AND NOW, CHAPTER 11...
I had stood there, frozen in place, unsure what to do for a few long moments.
“C’mon you mangy mutt! Move!” I muttered. Then I clapped my hands together and whistled a little bit. OK, technically, it was supposed to be a whistle, but I’d never managed to master that particular skill, so it probably sounded more like a wheezy exhale. I thought maybe it wasn’t loud enough for the little dog to hear. I tried again, this time clapping my hands even more determinedly and saying, “Here boy! Here boy!” in a sugary voice. Nothing. Nada. Zip.
Then, taking a few steps closer, I tried it all again. The wheezy whistling, the hand clapping, the name calling…all to no avail. I felt the stinging sensation at the back of my nose that meant copious tears would soon be flowing. “Pearl, you did this,” I told myself, “It’s your fault this sweet, little, adorable dog has gone to the ‘happy hunting ground in the sky’.”
I hadn’t been sure what to do next. Should I just leave it laying there? Should I try to put it in the cardboard box so I could take it to…hmm..where? Where do you take a dog who had ‘abandoned his doghouse’?
The stinging in my nose became stronger and, just as the torrent of tears started to flow, the dog opened one eye. And looked up at me. Then it rolled over onto its back, which probably wasn’t a good thing. The matted and mangy back fur I’d shuddered over, didn’t begin to compete with the dog’s scroungy, filthy under-carriage. I would ‘ve liked to put on my reading glasses to see if there were things crawling around in that nasty fur. I was definitely having third, fourth and fifth second thoughts about my rescue attempt. Had I packed plastic gloves? Had I remembered a hazmat suit?
But before I could ‘cupcake out’ I’d walked slowly over to it, and just as I got about a foot away, it jumped up, barked at me and started wagging its tale as if it was a hyperactive metronome.
“OK, Pearl. So far,so good,” I encouraged myself as I got the cardboard box and towels out of the backseat of the car. The dog watched intently as I put a towel carefully inside the box and then it leaped up through the open back door of the car and settled onto the seat. I mean, right onto the seat! It’s filthy, mangy dog butt was in full and total contact with the pristine surface of my car seat. Accckkk!
“Here dog, doggie, dog boy!” I coaxed, but it was having nothing to do with the idea of a cardboard box as a means of transportation.
I cursed myself for not thinking to bring a bribe. Digging through my purse, I found a linty piece of gum at the very bottom, but judging by the disdainful look the mutt gave me, apparently even starving dogs don’t think linty gum is appealing.
My plan had been to put the little dog in the box, fasten the seatbelt around it and drive carefully home, but that was as far as I had gotten developing the whole ridiculous rescue project. Now, even those three simple ideas had already gone awry.
I was totally and completely in over my head AND I was exhausted, so I decided I’d just shoo the little flea-fest out of my car and drive home. No harm, no foul. Only the flea-fest part of the idea was unwilling to participate with this change in arrangements. He’d hunkered down stubbornly on the once pristine leather back seat of my car. I tried nudging him out with a towel with no success. I tried kneeling by the car with the linty gum and smacking my lips without victory.
In frustration, I revamped my plan and decided to drop Mr. Mange off at the humane society. Aren’t those places open 24 hours? I felt confident that at 3:14 am there would be smiling volunteers willing to happily great Mr. Odiferous with open arms. “OK! No seat belt for you my flea-filled friend,” I told the dog as I closed the door carefully and went around the car, but when I’d opened the driver’s door to get in I screamed! There, in my front seat, dirty dog butt sitting comfortably on the beautiful leather, was the animal. I swear it was ‘smiling’ at me…or maybe ‘smirking’ at me would have been a better word. Whatever it was doing, it wasn’t cute.
“OK, my friend,” I told it in that ‘you are disgusting but I’m trying to be a good person voice’ I sometimes use when I am in an uncomfortable situation with a smelly or scary person. “We’re going on a little ride here and then everything is going to be okay. I’m going to go home and take a shower with bleach and you are going to get a bath and have a good meal.”
He didn’t care. Comforted perhaps by the warm air circulating through the car, he’d fallen asleep, scruffy whitish ears falling over tightly closed eyes. The way his little head rested on his paws was sort of cute, in a disgusting, nasty-looking-dog kind of way.
I shook my head against the allure of perceived cuteness, and continued across town to the Humane Society. Which was dark. Where was the smiling volunteer who was supposed to rescue the mutt and me all at the same time? I drove slowly down the side of the wire mesh fence edging the parking lot and I could see no lights on anywhere. I rolled down the window and listened. I thought I heard a dog bark and a few lonely whimpers but I’m sure that was just my imagination.
“Now what?” I wondered. My smelly passenger had no advice. He just continued to lie quietly on the front seat.
On the rest of the drive home, I tried summoning my ‘flat lined’ husband for guidance. None was forthcoming. I toyed with the idea of calling my daughter, but realized it would just enforce her vision of me as being inept.
“Aaaarrrggghhh!” I shouted into the warm cocoon of the car’s interior, “Why does everything have to be so freakin’ complicated?!?” The dog didn’t even lift his head. “A fat lot of help you are Mr. Stinko,” I told him. He didn’t care. At all. My ranting didn’t even warrant a raised eyelid.
When I pulled into the garage a few minutes later, I realized I didn’t have the faintest clue what to do next. I had thought about just putting “Fido” in the garage and waiting until morning, but it was cold out and I’m pretty sure he had to be hungry. I’d wondered to myself if it would be cruel to just put layers of newspaper on the floor and trap him in the laundry room.
When I shut off the engine and opened my car door, though, he streaked across my lap, leaped out of the car and ran to the back door with his snarly monstrosity of a tail wagging like crazy. In that exact moment, I think I finally grasped that once I crossed the threshold with him, there would be no turning back.
Before we went inside, I pointed at the grass and using my firmest voice told him to go potty, and he listened!
I waited for him to finish before opening the door. He quickly scooted inside and waited expectantly on the mat right inside the warm and cozy kitchen.
I hung up my jacket, threw my keys into the crockery bowl, and tried to figure out what I had that a dog would like to eat.
Opening the fridge and all the cupboard doors, I realized it was going to have to be something simple like warmed up milk and some torn up pieces of bread. While that was heating a bit in the microwave, I got out an old dish towel and put a small bowl of water on it. The dog wasn’t very interested in that particular beverage but when I placed the bowl of warmed milk and mushy bread down he perked right up and almost attacked it. He ate quickly, glancing over his shoulder repeatedly as if he was afraid I was going to take it away from him.
My heart began to soften, but then I reminded myself and him, “Don’t get too comfy! You’re going to the pound tomorrow, Mutt.” He just lapped up the last of the food, had a big slurpy drink of water and then came and sat by my feet.
Darn. Darn, darn, darn! I supposed it would be okay to try to get him cleaned up. Maybe the Humane Society would like it better if I took in a clean stray dog, right?
So we headed upstairs and I tried to quiet the little voice in my head that was wondering how much getting the whole house treated for fleas was going to cost.
Mr. Mangy followed politely right behind my right heel all the way up the stairs and then he ran into the bathroom just like he knew what was about to happen.
I grabbed a bunch of towels, and the vanilla scented shampoo and conditioner my husband had disliked. You know, the one that he said made me smell like a cookie? I figured a mangy, scroungy, little mutt of a dog smelling like a cookie would be a good thing. While the water had filled the tub, the little fella stood, trembling, right beside my leg, but he let me lift him up and put him into the warm water without a whimper or a complaint.
I poured water all over his back and he yawned. With a big handful of shampoo and a lot of suds and I began to work gently, trying to unsnarl his fur. Around his neck I felt a small, metal disc tangled in the knots, but my slippery hands and the fear he’d leap out of the tub made it difficult to look at. I just set it aside and continued to scrub until he was creamy gold all over. It took two changes of bathwater and I tried to not look too closely at the little bits of icky-ness floating on top of the brown water as it drained. After the third scrubbing, the water was finally clear and I applied conditioner all over his squirmy little body. He wasn’t very big and he was really, really skinny.
I’d gathered him into a fluffy towel and dried him. I thought about cleaning his ears, but I wasn’t sure if dogs liked Q-tips. Then I tried brushing him with an old hair brush, but his fur was kind of wiry so that didn’t work very well.
The bathroom was filled with steam and a wonderful vanilla cookie scent; I decided to take a quick shower too. Opening the door to let out some of the steam, I turned the shower water on, very hot, and proceeded to use the vanilla cookie shampoo all over. As the hot water poured over my drenched head, I realized I hadn’t thought of my husband for at least an hour.
I dried myself off, put on cookie scented lotion and realized I was alone in the bathroom. Completely. There hadn’t been any ghosts in the room telling me I wasn’t washing the little dog right and, since we’d never had a dog, there were no memories casting their sepia melancholy over the evening’s canine adventure. And there was no canine in the bathroom with me. When I walked into the bedroom, though, there he was, doing a wonderful impersonation of a capital letter “C”, curled up right on top of my husband’s pillow.
To be continued, Tuesday, November 23rd.
(c) 2010 Jennifer R. Matlock
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