Authors: W. Bruce Cameron
Soon Jennifer returned. “Okay, time to take care of you. You want to go first? Okay,” she said, picking up my brother and carrying him off.
I was alone in the box. I lay down and tried not to think about the empty ache in my stomach. It was easier to ignore my hunger with my brother off with Jennifer. I wondered if maybe I was supposed to take care of my brother but dismissed the thought. Dogs don’t take care of dogs; people take care of dogs. As long as we had Jennifer, we would be fine.
I fell asleep and didn’t wake up until I felt Jennifer lifting me up into the air. She stared into my face. “Well, that didn’t go as well as I had hoped,” she said. “Let’s hope it goes more quickly with you.”
I wagged my tiny tail.
Jennifer and I went upstairs. There was no sign of my brother, though I could smell him in the air. Still holding me, she sat down on her couch, rolling me onto my back in the cradle of her arm. “Okay, okay now,” Jennifer said. “Nice and still.”
She reached over and picked something up, an odd-shaped thing that she slowly lowered toward my face. What was she doing? I squirmed a little.
“You need to be still now, puppy. This will go okay if you don’t fight it,” Jennifer said.
Her voice was soothing, but I still didn’t know what was going on. But then I caught the delicious scent of warm milk—the thing she was holding was oozing food. The tip of it was soft and when she probed my lips with it I seized it and sucked and was rewarded with a warm, sweet meal.
In a way, it was like being nursed by my mother, except that I was on my back and the thing in my mouth was very large. The milk was quite different, too, more sweet and light, but I wasn’t complaining. I sucked and that wonderful warm liquid erased away the ache in my belly.
When I was full I was drowsy and Jennifer held me and patted me on my back and I burped a little. Then she took me down the hall to a soft bed, where the big dog with the huge ears was sleeping, my brother nuzzled up against him.
“Here’s another one, Barney,” Jennifer whispered.
The big dog groaned, but he wagged his tail and didn’t move when I nestled up against him. Though he was a male, his tummy was warm and comforting, just like Mother’s.
My brother squeaked out a greeting and then went right back to sleep.
From that point forward, Jennifer fed us in her lap several times a day. I grew to love the feedings and the way Jennifer would talk to me as she cuddled me. It would be easy to love someone like Jennifer.
My brother was distressed when I was fed before he was, and I think Jennifer decided it made more sense to have me go second than to feed me with my brother crying the whole time.
I think I had known it all along, but one day while I was squatting and smelled my urine it occurred to me that we weren’t brothers but brother and sister. I was a female dog!
I wondered briefly what had happened to our mother and to my other siblings, but it seemed as if I couldn’t really even remember them anymore. We lived here now, my brother and I, a family of two puppies and a lazy dog named Barney. I would have to get used to being a female and being in this odd living situation.
I decided that there were times when all a dog could do was wait and see what would happen next, what choices people would make that would change everything or make it more of the same. In the meantime, my brother and I put our efforts into tugging on Barney’s soft, floppy ears.
Jennifer called my brother Rocky and me Molly. As we grew stronger, Barney wanted to have less and less to do with us, becoming impatient with us chewing on his body parts. That was okay, though, because a big gray dog named Che came to stay with us at the house. Che loved to run around the backyard, where the grass was just starting to pop up in the warming spring sun. He was very fast and Rocky and I could not hope to catch up to him, but he wanted us to chase him and when we would give up he would dart over and bow down to get us to play again. And then there was a stocky dog named Mr. Churchill. He was a bit like Barney in size except that he was heavier, and his ears were very short. Mr. Churchill wheezed and waddled when he walked—he was the exact opposite of Che. I am not sure he even
run. And after eating he smelled pretty bad.
Jennifer’s house, with all the dogs, was just about the most wonderful place imaginable. I sometimes missed the Farm, of course, but being at Jennifer’s was like living full-time at a dog park.
A woman came to see Che after a few days and took him with her when she left. “It’s wonderful, what you do. I think if I tried to foster dogs I’d wind up keeping all of them,” said the woman who took Che.
Che was going to have a new life with a new person, I realized, and I was happy for him, though Rocky appeared completely mystified as to what was going on.
“That’s called ‘foster failure.’” Jennifer laughed. “It’s how I came to have Barney. He was my first foster. I realized, though, that if I didn’t get control of myself I’d adopt a few dogs and then that’d be it and I wouldn’t be able to help any others.”
One day some people came over to Jennifer’s house to play with us—a man and a woman and two girls.
“We’re pretty sure we want a male,” the man said.
The girls were that wonderful age where they couldn’t run much faster than a puppy and were always giggling. They picked us up and kissed us and put us down and played with us.
“You said poodle and what, again?” the man asked.
Jennifer said, “Nobody knows. Spaniel? Terrier?”
I knew what was happening: they were here to take either Rocky or me home with them. I wondered why we had to leave this place—if anyone should go it should be Mr. Churchill, who mostly just stood there emitting odors or, when Rocky goaded him into it, would chase us and knock us over with his chest. But I also knew that people were in charge—they decided dogs’ fates, and I would have to go where they sent me.
In the end, though, Rocky and I stayed. I was relieved not to lose Rocky and happy not to have to say good-bye to the other dogs, but I didn’t understand it, why people would come play with me and then not want to take me with them.
And then one day, I did understand.
Rocky and I were in the backyard with a new brown dog named Daisy. Daisy was very timid around Jennifer—she wouldn’t come when called and whenever Jennifer reached down to pet her Daisy would shy away from her hand. Daisy was very thin and had light brown eyes. She would play with Rocky and me, though, and even though she was much larger, she would let us pin her when we were wrestling.
I heard car doors slamming and then a few minutes later the screen door at the back of the house slid open. Rocky and I trotted over to investigate as Jennifer and a boy and a girl came out into the yard, while Daisy slunk over to a place behind a picnic table where she seemed to feel safe.
“Oh my God, they are so cute!” The girl laughed. She was about the age that Ethan had been when he started driving a car. She dropped to her knees and spread her arms wide. Rocky and I obediently ran over to her. She gathered us into an embrace and her scent flowed from her and that’s when I made an astounding discovery.
It was Clarity.
I went wild, climbing on her and kissing her and smelling her skin. I was leaping and spinning with joy. Clarity!
Never before had it occurred to me that she might come look for me, that she would know I had been reborn and would find me. But humans drive the cars and decide when dogs eat and where dogs live and clearly this was something else in their power—they could find their dogs when they needed them.
That must be why the family with the little girls left without us. They were searching for their dogs, and Rocky and I weren’t them.
I could not get enough of Clarity. My little tail beating the air, I licked her hands, making her laugh. When the boy ran around in the yard Rocky ran with him, but I stayed right with Clarity.
“What do you think, Trent?” Clarity called.
“He’s great,” the boy replied.
“Molly seems pretty smitten with you,” Jennifer said to Clarity. “I’ll be right back.” Jennifer went back inside her house.
“Oh, you are so cute,” Clarity said, smoothing my ears back. I kissed her fingers. “But my mom won’t let me have a dog. We’re here for Trent.”
It was all clear to me now: my purpose was as I had supposed, which was to continue to watch over Clarity. It’s what Ethan would have wanted. That’s why I was a puppy again—I still had work to do.
And I would. I would watch over Clarity and keep her safe. I would be a good dog.
The boy came over carrying Rocky. “See his paws? He’s going to be bigger than Molly.”
Clarity stood and I stretched my forepaws up as high as I could on her legs until she picked me up. Rocky struggled to get down from the boy’s arms, but I held still, gazing into Clarity’s eyes.
“I want him,” the boy said. “Rocky, you want to come home with me?” He gently dropped my brother, who jumped on a rubber toy and shook it.
“This is so exciting!” Clarity said. She set me down and I stayed by her heels as she went over to where Rocky was chewing on his toy. When she tried to pet Rocky I thrust my head under her hand and she laughed.
“Molly likes you, CJ,” the boy said.
I glanced over at the boy because he’d said my name, but then went back to cuddling with Clarity.
“I know. But Gloria, she’d lose it and start foaming at the mouth. I can just hear her. ‘They
’ Like our house is so spotless.”
“Wouldn’t it be fun, though? We’d have a brother and sister.”
I felt a wistful sadness coming from Clarity as she held my face in her hands. “Yes, it would be fun,” she said quietly. “Oh, Molly, I’m sorry, girl.”
Jennifer came back out. “So, are there like papers to fill out?” the boy asked.
“No. I’m not affiliated with any rescue organization or anything. I’m just the neighborhood lady who everybody knows will take in strays and find homes for them. Rocky and Molly are here because a little boy’s asthma was aggravated by them.”
“You said free to a good home, but could I pay something at least?” the boy asked.
“I accept donations, if you like. And please, if for any reason it’s not working out, bring him back.”
The boy handed Jennifer something and then reached down and hoisted Rocky up into his arms. “Okay, Rocky,” he said. “Ready to go to your new home?”
“You let me know if you have any questions,” Jennifer said.
I looked expectantly up at Clarity, but she didn’t pick me up. “Oh, look at her,” Clarity said. She knelt down and stroked my fur. “It’s like she knows I’m leaving without her.”
“Let’s go, CJ.”
We all went to the back door together. Jennifer opened it and the boy went through, still carrying Rocky, and then Clarity, but when I made to follow, Jennifer blocked me with her foot.
“No, Molly,” she said, sliding the screen shut, so that I was left behind in the backyard.
I sat down and stared at Clarity, who stared back through the screen. I did not understand.
When they all turned away, I yipped, frustrated that my voice was so tiny. I cried and yipped and put my paws on the door and scratched at it, trying to claw my way through. Was Clarity leaving me? No, that couldn’t be! I had to go with her!
Clarity and the boy and Rocky went out through the front door of the house, closing it behind them.
“It’s okay, Molly,” Jennifer said. She moved into the kitchen.
Clarity was gone. Rocky was gone.
I barked and barked with my useless little puppy voice, grieving, feeling alone in the world.
Daisy, the big, timid dog, came out from her hiding place behind the picnic table and stood and sniffed me as I barked. She could sense my distress but obviously couldn’t understand it.
The back door was getting me nowhere. I went around to the side of the house, but the wooden gate was firmly shut, the knob far out of reach of my tiny teeth. I barked again and again. This yard, which had been so gloriously fun, now seemed a prison. I ran over to Barney and we touched noses, but the slow wag of his tail did nothing to help. I felt desperate. What was happening? How could this be?
I turned and there was Clarity. She dropped to her knees and I ran to her and threw myself into her arms, licking her face, relieved that I had misunderstood—I thought for a moment she was planning to leave me!
Jennifer and Trent were standing behind her. “She chose me, so what could I do? Molly chose me,” Clarity insisted.
I was happy to be Molly and I was happy to be with Clarity and go with her out to her car. Trent drove and she climbed in the backseat with Rocky and me. Rocky greeted me as if we’d been apart for days and days, and then we went about the business of wrestling with Clarity in the backseat.
your mother going to say?” Trent asked. Rocky had seized Clarity’s long hair in his teeth and was pulling on it as if he thought it would come off, setting his legs and growling. Clarity was laughing. I jumped on Rocky to get him to cut it out.
Rocky and I were climbing all over Clarity, squirming. She struggled to sit upright. “God, I don’t know.”
“Will she let you keep her?”
“Well, what am I supposed to do? You saw what happened. It’s like Molly and I were meant to be together. It’s fate. Karma.”
“It’s not like you can hide a dog in your house,” Trent said.
Clarity was looking down and seemed unhappy, so I put my paws on her chest and tried to lick her face. In my experience, being licked by a dog can cheer up just about anybody.
“CJ? You seriously think you can
hide a dog in your house
?” Trent said.
“I could hide a pack of wolves in the house if I wanted. She never looks at anything but the mirror.”
“Okay, sure. So for the next ten years you’re going to have a dog and somehow your mother won’t find out.”
“You know what, Trent? Sometimes things aren’t practical, but you just do them because it’s the right thing.”