I’ve been looking through some of my work and came across this little story that I fixed up a little, thinking it might be a good little piece to post here.
I’ve been trying to get out of my “2020 Funk” and write more. One part of that is revising some of the starts I’ve made in the past, and one part is creating new stories. Maybe it’s the excitement over the new year approaching that shakes my ennui (one of the vocabulary words I learned when I used to do crossword puzzles with my Grandma) and says, “Enough! It’s time to do those things again that bring you joy!”
Creating things brings me happiness, and I hope you find something to enjoy in “Dog Days.”
The day Spotty got run over by a truck was the day Mr. Schultz laid down the law, “No more dogs.”
They had tried to keep Spotty controlled, leashed, confined, but he was born a free spirit, and in spite of everything they tried, he died the same way—a free spirit, with the wind in his ears, a bark in his throat, and that itchy excitement of chasing something big and powerful.
“No more dogs. That’s it.”
Mr. Schultz had spoken.
Mike and Timmy lay in their bunk beds talking again about Spotty.
“Do you think that guy knew he killed our dog?” Timmy asked.
“Of course he did.” Mike said. “He probably went home and painted another little dog on the side of his truck, like they do on those airplanes when they shoot down the enemy.”
Twelve-year old Mike had answered his little brother’s question more times than he could remember. Sometimes a random universe seemed more scary than the alternative.
The boys were quiet for a few minutes.
“I want to get another dog,” said Timmy.
‘Dad said no dogs, remember?” said Mike.
“Maybe he changed his mind.”
“I don’t think so. I asked him yesterday and he still said no.” Mike paused a moment.
“I think Mom’s going to get a cat.”
“A cat! She can’t!” Timmy was alarmed and raised his voice.
“You kids! Quiet in there. Go to sleep!” Dad banged on the wall, and the boys fell silent, thinking of a cat roaming around Spotty’s old home, a dainty, fussy little thing taking the place of a happy, sloppy animal who ate anything, including some of their table leftovers they needed to hide from Mrs. Schultz.
“I think she said a house cat,” Mike whispered.
“Nooo!” Timmy breathed. “It would sneak around everywhere. It would come in our room!”
Mike had saved the best for last. “I heard her say a Persian. The kind with the long hair and squished face. A white one.”
The siblings thought on that with shared dread.
“If I had a dog, it would chase that cat!” Timmy exclaimed.
“Yeah, dogs chase cats, and if Mom gets that cat, we can never get a dog,” Mike said.
“We have to do something!”
“Give me some time, I’m thinking,” Mike replied, but Timmy was already drifting off to sleep. Mike’s mind slid and explored, daydreaming and plotting, until the night took over and he fell asleep too.
The next morning, while Timmy was only on his second bowl of Sugar Flakes, Mike slipped in through the kitchen door.
“Where have you been?” Timmy asked, dribbling milk down his chin.
“Shhh!” Mike peered around the edge of the door into the dining room. “Where’s Mom and Dad?
“Dad’s at golf, Mom’s in the garden. What’s wrong with your stomach?”
Mike was holding his arms across his stomach in a protective sort of way. He slowly opened his sweatshirt to show a hairy, wriggling head with a moist nose and two black shiny eyes.
“It’s a puppy. Mr. Sanders’ dog had them a couple months ago. He said I could have one.” Mike set the puppy down on the floor. Spiky tufts of black and brown hair pointed in all directions, giving the little terrier-mix an unkempt appearance. He trotted around sniffing into corners. Timmy set his bowl of flakes down on the floor, and the puppy immediately buried his nose in it, knocking it around.
Timmy laughed. “He likes it! Let’s call him ‘Hairy.’”
“That’s good! Hi, Hairy!” Mike ruffled his head. “We’ll keep him in our room. We’ll turn up the radio in case he barks, and hide him when Mom comes in to get the laundry.
“What about…well, the other stuff?”
“We’ll use newspapers and flush what we have to.” Mike was confident. “Remember, don’t say a word!”
It was not easy. They dug money out from the couch cushions and bought a box of puppy kibbles and “Baco-Treets” at Pop’s Mini Mart. They cleaned up the puddles until Hairy learned to go on the Times-Democrat. They spent hours in their room, cuddling and romping with the puppy, and when the coast was clear, the brothers smuggled him out to the park to play outdoors.
But Mike had not realized how much puppies barked.
“What in the world is going on up there?” Dad yelled. Thud! Clunk! The sounds of his recliner folding up reached the boys.
Mike and Timmy shoved Hairy into his box and gave him a smoked pig’s ear.
“What do we do?”
“Bark!” Mike whispered urgently. “Bark like Hairy!”
“Ruh! Ruh!” Dad swung open the door. Timmy bounded over on all fours to greet him, sniffing at his shoes and panting.
“Yap! Yap! Ruh!”
“What the…” Dad backed off.
“I’ve been meaning to tell you, Dad,” Mike made his eyes worried, and frowned. “Timmy’s been acting kind of strange lately. He acts like he thinks he’s a dog. He’ll be a boy, and then, Bam! He’ll be a dog, and he won’t talk or get up off his hands and knees.” He said, with a catch in his voice, “I think he misses having a dog. I’m worried about him.”
“He’s been doing this?”
“Yes, more and more.”
And Mike, sensing an opportunity, pulled out his dad’s leather glove he had hidden in his shirt drawer. It had accidentally come into their room with a load of laundry and Hairy had made short work of it, chewing off the thumb and making the fingers ragged. In horror, the boys had hidden it, not knowing how to get rid of the evidence. Now Mike displayed it to his dad, with a doleful expression. “Timmy,” he said.
“Timmy did that?” Mike’s dad reached for the mangled glove, but Timmy growled and nipped the glove from Mike’s hand.
“Grrr! Grrr!” Timmy shook the glove from side to side in his mouth as he had seen Hairy do, tossing it up into the air and catching it, biting it, killing it.
Mike’s dad snatched back the glove. Timmy whined.
“Stop that! Be quiet!”
“You do it like this, Dad. Nice doggie, nice Timmy,” Mike patted Timmy on the head. “It calms him down, you see.”
Dad had an irritated but slightly worried look on his face when he left the room, closing the door behind him.
Mike gave Timmy a high five.
Timmy brought Hairy out of hiding and passed around the Baco-Treets to celebrate. “You’ll see, Hairy,” Timmy crooned to the animal, “Dad would rather have a real dog instead of a dog-boy, wouldn’t he, Mike?”
“Hey Hairy! Who’s your daddy, who’s your daddy?” Mike roughhoused with Hairy while Timmy pulled out the last Baco-Treet to split with the puppy.
The next few days were very strange in the Schultz household. Timmy wore out the knees in his jeans scampering about the living room. When Mrs. Schultz tried to eat a caramel peanut cluster in peace, he whined and looked mournful until she had to break off a chunk and give it to him. To say thank you, he licked her fingers. When the phone rang, he barked. When the oven timer went off, he barked. When he was tired, he turned around three times and lay down on Mr. Schultz’s feet to take a nap. Although there were benefits, such as Timmy’s eagerness to fetch his dad’s slippers, Mr. Schultz finally reached his limit.
“I’ve had enough of this!” he roared. “I’m ready for you to be a boy again! Mike, talk to your brother!”
Mike sighed and knelt down by the dog-boy.
“Hey, boy. Hey there, Timmy. Are you ready to be a boy again?”
Timmy cocked his head, whined, and began licking Mike’s hand.
“I think he likes being a dog. And, well, I kind of like it too. It sort of makes up for losing Spotty.” Mike let his voice tremble a bit. He looked down and scuffed his shoe, like he had seen kids do on TV shows when they are sad and want something.
Mr. Schultz made an exasperated sound. “Get on up to your rooms. It’s bedtime.”
Gratefully, they dashed off, Mike swiping the Times-Democrat on his way up. Their stock was getting low.
“I’m going to play our last card tomorrow,” Mike whispered to his brother that night as they lay in bed, Hairy snuggled under his chin. “We’ll either get to keep Hairy, or else you’ll have to stay dog-boy and chase a rotten cat all around the house!”
When Mr. Schultz came home from work the next day, he was quite discombobulated. Mike was sitting on the couch with a small strange creature perched beside him. It was hard to see what it was because it was so hairy, and because it was wearing some of Timmy’s clothes. A faded green ball cap hung off one perky ear, and Timmy’s Mickey Mouse sunglasses that he had gotten at Disneyland last year were on its moist nose. “Yip!” the animal said.
“What the heck is that?” Mr. Schultz exclaimed, advancing slowly.
Mike answered. “I have a dog here who thinks he is a boy.”
“Now isn’t that a coincidence!” Mr. Schultz waited to hear more.
“Yes,” Mike sighed. “It’s not easy being around a boy-dog. They always want to share your candy bar, and they never, ever pick up their clothes. I’ve told him to just quit and be a dog again, but he pretends he doesn’t understand me.”
“Maybe Timmy can talk to him. He seems to have a knack for the language.” Mr. Schultz tried to hide his smile behind his pipe, as he settled into his recliner.
Mike whistled twice. “Timmy! Here, boy! Come!” Timmy bounded down the stairs, panting and wriggling his rear end. “Slow down now! Timmy, Dad wants you to ask this boy-dog if he would please go back to being a dog again.” Timmy jumped up onto the couch and yipped and whined at the animal. Hairy said “Ruh!” Then Timmy turned back to Mike and yipped and whined.
Mike translated. “Timmy thinks he might go for it, but they want to be alone for a little while. I think we should go into the kitchen for a minute.”
While they were waiting, Mike sat at the counter while Mr. Schultz made him a glass of chocolate milk. “You boys wanted a dog pretty bad, didn’t you?”
“Mm hmm,” Mike nodded.
From the living room, Timmy called, “You can come back in now!” He was a boy again, and he was hugging Hairy, who was now a dog again. Hairy’s clothes were scattered across the rug.
“He said he would be a dog again if I would be a boy again, so I said yes. I also promised that we would keep him. I can’t break a promise, can I?”
“Is he housebroken?”
Mike held up a used sheet of the Times-Democrat as proof.
“Ok, Ok! You can throw that away now. Hmm.” A long pause followed.
“You can keep him. I can’t have you breaking a promise, now. He might change his mind and go back to being a boy.” Mr. Schultz chuckled as the boys whooped and hollered and danced around with Hairy. “Besides,” he said to himself. “I never was that fond of cats anyway!”