Authors: W. Bruce Cameron
“Ethan had a dog then, too, a wonderful golden retriever named Bailey. That was his doodle dog.”
I wagged at hearing the name Bailey and “doodle dog.” Whenever Ethan called me doodle dog his heart would be full of love and he would hug me and I would kiss his face. I missed Ethan more powerfully in that moment than I had in a long time—and I could feel Hannah missing him, too. I kissed the hand petting me, and Hannah lowered her eyes and smiled at my head in her lap.
“You’re a good dog, too, Buddy,” Hannah said. I wagged some more at being called a good dog. It seemed very possible that this whole conversation could lead to cookies after all.
“Anyway, we went our separate ways. I met Matthew, we were married, and I had Rachel and Cindy, and, of course, Henry.”
Gloria made a small noise, but I didn’t look at her. Hannah was still stroking my head and I didn’t want her to stop.
“After Matthew died I decided I missed my kids and I moved back to town. And one day, when Buddy was probably a year old, he was in the dog park and he followed Rachel home. He had a tag on his collar, and when I looked at it—well, I was pretty surprised to see Ethan’s name on it. But not half as surprised as Ethan was when I phoned him! I had been thinking of dropping by to see him, but probably wasn’t ever going to do it. Silly, but things hadn’t ended well between us and even though it was a long time ago, I felt … I don’t know, shy, maybe.”
“Tell me about bad breakups. I’ve had plenty of those, for sure.” Gloria snorted.
“Yes, I’m sure,” Hannah said. She looked down in her lap and smiled at me. “When I saw Ethan, after all those years, it was as if we had never been apart. We belonged together. I wouldn’t say this to my kids, of course, but Ethan was my one, my soul mate. And yet if it hadn’t been for Buddy, we might never have even met again.”
I loved hearing my name and Ethan’s name spoken out loud, and I felt Hannah’s love and her sadness as she smiled at me.
“Oh, look at the time,” Hannah said then. She stood and handed Clarity to Gloria. The baby stirred, poking a tiny fist in the air and yawning. With a clatter the cookies came out of the hot oven and there was a wave of delicious smell, but Hannah didn’t give me any.
As far as I was concerned, having cookies so tantalizingly close to my nose without being given a treat of any kind was the big tragedy of the day.
“I’ll be gone for maybe an hour and a half,” Hannah told Gloria. She reached up to where she kept some toys called keys and I heard the metallic jangling sound I associated with riding in the car. I watched alertly, torn between my desire for a car ride and my duty to stay by the cookies.
“You stay here, Buddy,” Hannah said. “Oh, and Gloria, keep the door to the cellar closed. Clarity loves to climb down any set of stairs she can find and I had to put some rat poison out down there.”
“Rats? There are rats?” Gloria said sharply. Clarity was fully awake now, struggling in her mother’s arms.
“Yes. This is a farm. Sometimes we get rats. It’s okay, Gloria. Just keep the door closed.” I picked up a little anger in Hannah and watched her anxiously for signs of what was going on. As was typical in situations like this, though, the strong emotions I sensed were never explained—people are like that; they have complex feelings that are just too difficult for a dog to comprehend.
When she left, I followed Hannah out to her car. “No, you stay here, Buddy,” she said. Her meaning was clear, particularly when she slid inside the car and shut the door on me, her keys clinking. I wagged, hoping she might change her mind, but once the car was headed down the driveway I knew there would be no car ride for me that day.
I slipped back inside through the dog door. Clarity was in her special chair, the one with the tray in front of it. Gloria was hunched over, trying to spoon some food into Clarity’s mouth, and Clarity was mostly spitting it back out. I’d tasted Clarity’s food and didn’t blame her one bit. Often Clarity was allowed to put small bits of food into her mouth with her own hands, but when it came to the really bad stuff her mother and Hannah still had to force it on her with a spoon.
“Bubby!” Clarity gurgled, slapping her hands against the tray in happiness. Some of the food splattered on Gloria’s face and she stood up abruptly, making a harsh noise. She wiped her face with a towel and then glared at me. I lowered my eyes.
“I can’t believe she just lets you wander around like you own the place,” she muttered.
I never had any hope that Gloria would ever give me a cookie.
“Well, not while I’m in charge,” she said. She regarded me silently for several seconds and then sniffed. “Okay. Come here!” she ordered.
I obediently followed her over to the cellar door. She opened it. “In you go. Go!”
I figured out what she wanted and went through the doorway. A small carpeted area at the top of the stairs was just big enough for me to turn around and look at her.
“You stay,” she said, shutting the door. Instantly it was much darker.
The steps that led down were wooden and made a squeaking noise as I descended. I wasn’t down in the cellar very often and could smell new and interesting things down there that I wanted to explore. Explore and maybe eat.
Though the light in the cellar was very dim, the walls and corners were rich with thick, damp odors. Wooden shelves held musty bottles, and a cardboard box, gone soft in the sides, was filled with clothing that held a marvelous jumble of smells from the many children who had been on the Farm over the years. I inhaled deeply, remembering running through summer grasses and plunging through winter snows.
Despite the wonderful scents, though, there was nothing I was interested in eating.
After a time, I heard the easily identifiable sound of Hannah’s car coming up the driveway. With a click, the door at the top of the cellar stairs opened.
“Buddy! Come here right now!” Gloria snapped at me.
I hastily made for the stairs, but I stumbled in the gloom and a pain hit my left rear leg, sharp and deep. I stopped, looking up at Gloria, who was framed in the light in the open doorway. I wanted her to tell me that whatever had just hurt me, it was okay.
“I said come!” she said more loudly.
I whimpered a little as I took my first step, but I knew I had to do what she said. I kept the weight off the leg and that seemed to help.
“Would you come on?” Gloria took two steps down, reaching for me.
I didn’t crave having Gloria’s hand on my fur and I knew she was mad at me for something, so I tried to shy away from her.
“Hello?” Hannah called, her voice echoing upstairs. I put more speed into my gait now, and the leg felt a little better. Gloria turned and she and I entered the kitchen together.
“Gloria?” Hannah said. She put down her paper bags and I went over to her, wagging. “Where’s Clarity?”
“I finally got her down for a nap.”
“What were you doing down in the cellar?”
“I was, I was looking for some wine.”
“You were? Downstairs?” Hannah put her hand down and I sniffed it, smelling something sweet. I was so glad she was home.
“Well, I thought, wine
“Oh. Well, no, I think we have some and it’s in the cabinet under the toaster.” Hannah was looking at me and I wagged. “Buddy? Are you limping?”
I sat. Hannah took a few steps back and called me and I went over to her.
“Does he look like he’s limping to you?” Hannah asked.
“How would I know?” Gloria said. “My expertise is children, not dogs.”
“Buddy? Did you hurt your leg?” I wagged with the sheer pleasure of her attention. Hannah leaned down and kissed me between the eyes and I gave her a lick right back. She went over to the kitchen counter.
“Oh, you didn’t want any cookies?” she asked.
“I can’t have
” Gloria said scornfully.
I had never before heard the word “cookies” said so negatively.
Hannah didn’t say anything, but I heard her give a tiny sigh as she began to put away the things she’d brought home in her sacks. Sometimes she’d have a bone when she came home, but I could smell that today she hadn’t been able to find any. I watched her alertly, though, just in case I was wrong.
“I don’t want Clarity to have any, either,” Gloria said after a minute. “She’s chubby enough.”
Hannah laughed, then stopped. “You’re serious.”
“Of course I’m serious.”
After a moment, Hannah turned back to the grocery sacks. “Okay, Gloria,” she said quietly.
A few days later Gloria was sitting in the sun in the front yard with her knees drawn up close to her chest. She had small balls of fur between her toes and was touching them with a tiny stick coated with an eye-watering chemical. Each toe was darker after she was done with it.
The smell was so powerful it overcame the strange taste in my mouth, which otherwise had become stronger and more persistent with each passing day.
Clarity had been playing with a toy but was on her feet and tottering away. I looked over at Gloria, who had her eyes narrowed at her toes and the very tip of her tongue sticking out of her mouth.
“Clarity, don’t wander off,” Gloria said absently.
In the several days that Clarity had been on the Farm she had gone from having a slow, wobbling walk that dropped down to all fours every so often to being able to take off at a near run. She was headed purposefully toward the barn and I followed right behind her, wondering what I should do.
The horse named Troy was in the barn. When Ethan was alive he sometimes rode Troy, which I didn’t approve of very much because horses are not reliable like dogs. One time when he was young Ethan fell off of a horse—nobody ever fell off a dog. Hannah didn’t ever ride Troy.
We went into the barn, Clarity and I, and I heard Troy snort at our presence. The air was filled with the smell of hay and horse. Clarity marched right over to the kennel where Troy stayed when he was in the barn. Troy moved his head up and down in a quick jerk and snorted again. Clarity reached the bars of the gate and gripped them in her tiny hands. “Horsey,” she said excitedly. Her little knees were pumping up and down with glee.
I could feel a rising tension coming off of Troy. The horse didn’t care for me much, and I had noticed from previous visits that when I was in the barn it made him nervous. Clarity reached her hand through the bars to try and pet Troy, who shied away.
I went up to Clarity and touched my nose to her to let her know that if she wanted to pet something there was nothing better than a dog. Her eyes were wide and bright and her mouth was open and she was panting excitedly, her eyes not leaving Troy.
A loop of chain kept the gate shut, but as Clarity leaned against the bars the slack in the loop made for a gap and I knew what she was going to do before she did it. Making happy noises, she slid sideways along the gate up to the gap and then pressed her way through it.
Right into Troy’s kennel.
Troy was pacing now, back and forth, swinging his head and snorting. His eyes were wide open and his hooves seemed to be hitting the ground harder and harder. I could smell his agitation; it popped to the surface of his skin, like sweat.
“Horsey,” Clarity said.
I put my head into the gap and pushed hard, trying to squeeze through. As I did I felt the pain in my left rear leg again, but I ignored it and concentrated on getting my shoulders through, and then my hips. Panting, I made it into the kennel as Clarity started forward, her hands raised up at Troy, who was stamping and snorting. I could see he was going to step on the baby.
I was afraid of the horse. He was big and powerful and I knew that if he hit me with one of his hooves it would hurt me. My instincts were telling me to back up, to get out of there, but Clarity was in danger and I had to do something, something
I swallowed my fear and barked at that horse with all the fury I possessed. I tightened my lips, showing my teeth, and lunged forward, putting myself between Clarity and Troy. Troy was making a harsh screaming sound, lifting his front hooves briefly off the ground. I backed up, still barking, pushing Clarity into the corner with my hips. Troy’s pacing was more frantic and his hooves were striking the ground close to my face and I kept snarling and snapping my teeth at him.
“Buddy? Buddy!” I could hear Hannah calling frantically from outside the barn. Behind me, I felt Clarity’s little hands dig into my fur to keep me from knocking her over. The horse might strike me, but I was going to stay between him and the baby. A hoof whistled past my ear and I bit at it.
And then Hannah was rushing in. “Troy!” She unfastened the loop of chain and swung the gate open and the horse bolted past her and through the big double doors and out into the big yard.
I could feel the fear and anger in Hannah now. She reached down and scooped up Clarity in her arms. “Oh, honey, you’re okay, you’re okay,” she said.
Clarity clapped her hands together, grinning. “Horsey!” she exclaimed happily.
Hannah’s other hand came down and touched me and I was relieved to know I wasn’t in any trouble.
“Yes, a big horsey, you’re right, honey! But you shouldn’t be in here.”
When we were back outside, Gloria came up to us. She was walking strangely, taking steps as if her feet hurt her.
“What happened?” she asked.
“Clarity went into Troy’s stall. She could have been … It was terrifying.”
“Oh no! Oh, Clarity, that was so bad!” Gloria reached out and grabbed Clarity, hugging the baby to her chest. “Oh, you must never, ever frighten Mommy like that again, do you understand?”
Hannah folded her arms. “I’m not sure how she got up here without you knowing.”
“She must have followed the dog.”
“I see.” Hannah still felt angry to me, and I lowered my head a little, reflexively feeling remorseful.
“Would you take her?” Gloria asked, holding Clarity out at arm’s length.
The pain in my hip stayed with me, after that, not so bad that I was hobbled, but a dull ache that never left. There was nothing wrong with the leg, though, nothing to lick.