Authors: W. Bruce Cameron
Clarity was smiling at me now. We played tug-on-a-towel and she wasn’t pulling very hard.
“That can’t be right,” Gloria said.
“They have very sensitive noses! I’m going to try to scare it out of the house and down the street,” Clarity said.
“Are you sure it’s a fox? A fox, as in, the animal?”
“I know what a fox looks like. It’s a little one.”
“We should call the police.”
“Like cops would come for a fox. I’m just going to shoo it outside. Stay back in case it makes a run for the stairs.”
I heard Gloria gasp and slam the door at the top of the stairs. Clarity picked me up and ran out the back door and into the cool night. She took me right out the gate and didn’t set me down until we were around the corner.
I didn’t understand the game we were playing, but after shaking and squatting I was ready to keep going. Clarity paced with me up and down the street and then a car came around the corner and stopped. The window rolled down and I smelled Rocky! I put my feet on the metal side of the car and tried to peer in. I smelled Trent then, too.
“Thanks for doing this, Trent,” Clarity said.
“It’s okay,” Trent said.
Clarity picked me up and handed me through the window. I crawled across Trent’s chest, licking him in greeting, and then sniffed along the seat. Rocky wasn’t in the car, but he had been. We were both front-seat dogs.
I went home with Trent that night and Clarity did not come with us. I was distressed when we drove off, and I whimpered, wondering where Clarity was, but when we arrived at Trent’s house Rocky was there! We were overjoyed to see each other and he and I wrestled in the living room and in the backyard and in Trent’s bedroom. Trent had a younger sister named Carolina who played with us and Trent played with us and even his parents played with us. I fell asleep in the middle of it all, suddenly so fatigued I simply had to lie down even though Rocky was chewing my face.
As soon as Rocky and I awoke the next morning we recommenced the play. He was a little bigger than I was and obviously very attached to Trent, because sometimes he’d break off wrestling and run over to Trent to be stroked and praised. It made me miss Clarity, but every time it occurred to me that I should be worried about her Rocky would climb on me and we’d be back at it. I comforted myself that she had to come back to get me, and eventually she did.
Later the back gate clanged and Rocky and I tore over to see who it might be, and there she was. We both jumped up on her and I finally growled at Rocky for acting as if he was as important to her as I was.
Clarity and Trent stood in the backyard to watch me play with my brother. I tried to show her I could pin Rocky when I wanted to, but he wouldn’t cooperate.
“She gone yet?” Trent asked.
“Not yet. Her flight isn’t until one o’clock. I told her I had to leave early for school.”
you going to school?”
“CJ, you can’t keep skipping school.”
“Molly needs me.”
I froze at the sound of my name and Rocky jumped on my back.
“You’ve had Molly for three days. What about the other times?”
“I just don’t feel like school is relevant in my life.”
“You’re a high school student,” he said. “School
“I’ll go Monday,” Clarity told him. “I just want to spend time this week with Molly, while Gloria’s gone.”
“And when Gloria gets back, what’s the plan then?”
“I don’t know, Trent! Sometimes people don’t plan everything, it just happens, okay?”
Clarity and I went for a car ride and I sat in the front seat. We went to a park that had a lot of grass but just one dog in it, an unfriendly brown canine who was only interested in walking with his owner on a path. Then we went home and, thankfully, I wasn’t shoved back into the tiny place under the stairs but had the run of the house. I could smell Gloria, but she was not around.
I slept in Clarity’s bed. I was so excited I kept waking up and licking her face. She would bat my nose away, but there was no heat in the gesture. Finally she was content to just let me gnaw gently on her fingers when I felt the need, and that’s how we spent the night.
The next day it rained and we played inside, only going out for me to do my business in the wet grass. “Molly! Come here!” CJ called to me at one point. I trotted down the hall, Gloria’s smells getting stronger and stronger. CJ was grinning and nodding at me, and I watched her curiously. She pushed open a door and Gloria’s overpowering odors flooded out.
“See the dog in the mirror?” CJ asked.
I heard the word “dog” and figured she wanted me to go through the door. I walked in and immediately stopped dead: there was a dog in there! It looked like Rocky. I bounded forward, then pulled back in surprise as it jumped aggressively at me. It was not Rocky—in fact, it didn’t smell like any dog at all. I wagged my tail and it wagged. I bowed down and it bowed down at the same time.
It was so strange, I barked. It looked like it was barking, too, but it didn’t make a noise.
“Say hi, Molly! Get the dog!” CJ said.
I barked some more, then approached, sniffing. There was no dog, just something that looked like a dog. It was very strange.
“You see the dog, Molly? See the dog?”
Whatever was going on, it wasn’t very interesting. I turned away, smelling under the bed, where there were dusty shoes.
“Good dog, Molly!” CJ said. I liked being praised, but I was glad when we left the room. There was something a bit disquieting about the dog-thing with no smell.
The morning after that, everything was moist and deliciously fragrant and I sniffed at several worms but didn’t eat any because after you’ve done that a few times you learn they’re never going to taste any better than they smell.
We had just gotten home when the doorbell rang. I ran to the front door and barked. I could see a shadow on the other side of the glass in the door.
“Look out, Molly. Stay back,” Clarity said. She opened the door a crack.
“Are you Clarity Mahoney?” the woman on the other side of the door asked. I pushed my face to the crack and tried to squeeze out, but Clarity kept me inside. I wagged my tail so the person would know I wasn’t serious about all the barking; I was just doing my job.
“I go by ‘CJ,’” Clarity said.
“CJ. I’m Officer Llewellyn. I’m a truant officer. Why aren’t you in school today?”
“I’m sick.” CJ turned her head and coughed. The woman outside looked down at me and I wagged harder. Why didn’t we all go outdoors and play?
“Where’s your mother?”
“She’s out shopping. For my prescription,” CJ said.
They just stood there for a long moment. I yawned.
“We’ve left several messages for her and she hasn’t called back,” the woman said.
“She’s very busy. She sells real estate.”
“Well, okay. I want you to give her this, okay?” The woman handed Clarity a piece of paper. “You’ve missed a lot of school, CJ. People are worried about you.”
“I’ve been sick a lot, I guess.”
“Give that to your mother. I’ll be expecting her call. Tell her she can call anytime, leave me a message if I’m not there. Understand?”
Clarity closed the door. She seemed afraid and angry. She went into the kitchen and put some things on the table. “Molly, we need ice-cream bars,” she told me. She put a cold, deliciously sweet treat in a bowl for me.
Clarity sat at the table and ate and ate. I sat, too, staring at her intently, but she didn’t give me any more treats. When she was done she put some papers in a tub under the sink and I could smell the same sweet smell on them and couldn’t understand why she didn’t set them down to lick. People are like that; they discard the most delicious things.
A little while later Clarity went into her bathroom and stood on a small, flat, square box, bigger than a dog bowl but not as high off the ground. “Two point six pounds? God! I’m such an idiot!” she hissed unhappily. I picked up on her anguish, but she didn’t seem to notice me trying to comfort her.
She made a ragged sound and then knelt down in front of the water bowl and vomited. I paced behind her, distressed because I could feel her pain and upset. I could smell the sweet scent from the treats she’d eaten earlier, and then she pulled the handle and the smell went away with a whoosh. I wagged my tail as hard as I could, trying to climb on her and lick her, and after a while it seemed to do some good, though she was still a little upset.
A couple of days later we settled into a routine. Every morning Clarity would leave me alone in the basement for hours at a time, blocked into the little space under the stairs. She would come home and play with me and clean up any messes and feed me for a short time in the middle of the day and would run down the stairs calling, “Molly!” in the afternoon and then stay home until the next morning. She was, I decided, doing school. My boy, Ethan, had done school, too. I didn’t like it any better with her doing it.
Clarity and I played a game every night: She would block me in the space using the boxes but would stay outside where I could sense her. If I cried or barked, she would slide the boxes and say, “No!” very harshly. If I sat quietly, she’d slide the boxes back and give me a treat. We’d go longer and longer periods of time with me sitting quietly, and every time I got a treat. I came to understand that when I was under the stairs she wanted me to be quiet as long as she was on just the other side of the boxes.
I didn’t like being alone in there and could think of a lot of other games that were much more fun to play.
When I had to be there all night I was pretty sure it was a mistake, especially when I heard Clarity go upstairs. Every time I barked, though, Clarity came down and said, “No!” And when I finally just gave up and lay down, she woke me up and gave me a treat. I wasn’t sure what to make of any of it.
Then one day Clarity said, “Okay, here she comes. Let’s do this, Molly.” She led me down and put me under the stairs. I sat quietly. Then I heard voices and footsteps and knew that Gloria had come home.
I sat quietly.
Clarity gave me a big treat and took me for a long walk. I smelled a rabbit!
When it was dark Clarity put me in the space and I lay down with a heavy sigh. I was quiet, though, and got a big treat and a walk in the early morning.
“You be good. Stay quiet. I love you, Molly. I love you,” Clarity said. Then she left. I napped for a bit, and then I heard Gloria walking around upstairs. I didn’t know if Gloria knew I was supposed to be fed treats for being quiet.
Clarity hadn’t shoved the boxes all the way across the space and, when I put my nose to it, I found I could move the bottom box just enough to stick my head through. I wriggled and pushed and strained and then I was through!
Though I was big enough to climb stairs, it was not easy work to get to the top. The door there was open and just as I reached the highest step the doorbell rang. I heard Gloria move across the floor to open the front door.
I trotted into the living room, stopping to sniff at a suitcase on the floor that hadn’t been there before.
“Yes?” Gloria said, standing in the doorway. Air flowing in from outside brought the scent of wonderful grasses and trees but also the strong flowery smell that was Gloria, so overpowering it threatened to choke off everything else.
“Miss Mahoney? I’m Officer Llewellyn. I’m the truant officer in charge of CJ’s case. Did she give you the citation?”
I trotted over to say hi to Gloria. The officer on the porch glanced at me as I approached.
“Citation. Clarity? What are you talking about?”
“I’m sorry. I need to talk to you. Your daughter has been absent from school too many times this semester.”
Gloria was just standing there, even though I was right by her side. I put a paw on her leg.
She looked down at me and screamed.
Gloria jumped out onto the porch and I followed her, wagging my tail at both women.
“That’s not a fox!” Gloria yelled.
The woman bent down and petted me. She had warm, gentle hands that smelled of soap and also nuts of some kind. “A fox? Of course not, it’s a puppy.”
“What’s it doing in my house?”
The woman stood. “I can’t answer that, ma’am; it’s
house. The dog was here when I saw your daughter last week.”
“Well … look,” the woman said, “here’s another copy of the citation, along with a notice to appear.” She handed Gloria some papers. “You’ll need to come to court with your daughter. Understand? Because she’s a minor, you are legally liable.”
“What about the dog?”
I sat at the word “dog.” Gloria seemed upset about something, but I thought the nice lady might be good for a treat. I liked nuts of all kinds, even the salty ones that burned my tongue.
“Take the dog with you,” Gloria said.
“I can’t do that, ma’am.”
“So you mean to tell me you’re more concerned about a high school student skipping a few classes than a woman trapped by a dog?”
“That’s … yes, that’s right.”
“That’s the stupidest thing I ever heard of. What kind of police officer are you?”
“I’m a truant officer, Miss Mahoney.”
“I’m going to file a formal complaint with the police commissioner.”
“You do that. Meanwhile, I’ll see you in court.” The woman turned and walked away, so no treats.
“What do I do about the dog?” Gloria yelled at her.
“Call Animal Control, ma’am; that’s what they do.”
“All right, I will,” Gloria said. I made to follow her back into the house but cringed when she yelled, “No!” at me. She slammed the door, shutting me out.
I wandered out into the front yard. It was another nice day. Maybe that rabbit would be outside looking for me. I trotted down the sidewalk, sniffing at the bushes.
The front yards of the houses on the street reminded me of the home Ethan lived in before he moved to the Farm: they were big enough to play in and often were bordered by shrubs. The air was full of the sweet smell of flowers and all of the growth was lush and full. I smelled dogs and cats and people but no ducks or goats. An occasional car cruised past, stirring the air and adding its metallic and oily odors to the riot of scents.