Game Time

“We’re playing a game,” Little Legs shouted from another room.

The sound of running feet and paws and laughter followed.

Suddenly, the dog raced into the living room, took a flying leap and landed cattywampus on the chair next to me. It was no wonder how she hurt her leg just a week ago. She was miraculously healed, it appeared.

Little Legs ran after her with outstretched arms.

“We’re still playing our game,” he explained.

He grabbed her pink collar and tugged, trying to pull her off the chair.

“Come on, Coco,” he said.

“How does the game work?” I asked.

“I lock her up in her cage and then she breaks out and she bites me.”

“That sounds like an interesting game,” I said endorsing an activity that was certain to win a mother of the year award.

 “I’m going to go get Baby Brother now,” he said with a serious expression.

“He can play, too.”

Somehow, I sensed that Baby Brother was about to switch places with the dog and decided creative game time was over.  

Savage Life

The boys are in the kitchen eating cereal and toast. Carbs with carbs, just the way I was raised. Baby Brother is standing on a two-tier stool to reach the counter and Little Legs is perched dangerously on a backless bar stool.

Usually, we eat at the table, but the Wildings surrounded me and demanded breakfast before I could think straight enough to get them to properly sit and patiently wait. The thought of the boys being proper and/or patient is a bit of a joke. I had to throw gummy fruit snacks down the hallway to distract them long enough to make a dash for the toaster.    

Little Legs hops down from his stool to retrieve a Matchbox car that is essential to his breakfast process. And during his brief absence, the dog takes the opportunity to grab the unguarded toast in her mouth and swallows it with one gulp.  

There is no hesitation, chewing or remorse involved. Carpe Diem, Seize the Toast.

Little Legs turns around as the slightly burned, mostly uneaten bread disappears whole, like a mouse down the throat of a snake. Little Legs throws his hands up in the air and screams the worst insult he can muster with the limited vocabulary of a three-year-old.

“You a toast eater! You a bad dog, you toast eater!”

It is a dog-eat-toast life here in Tennessee.

Savages, all around.

The Freedom Run

The boys were securely fastened into the stroller, happily slurping down the melting juice from their popsicles.

We looked left and right before crossing the busy road to enter the quiet neighborhood where we liked to walk in the evenings.  

It was the first, and often the only time, we had to talk about the day without someone *ahem* (Baby Brother) crying because someone else *ahem* (Little Legs) stole his toy or pushed him down or bit him or was in the process of doing something dangerous that required immediate intervention.

The sky was dark with heavy clouds and wind that whipped through the Bradford pear trees in the neighbor’s yard. I cringed as I watched the tops of their trees bend and shake, remembering last year’s wind gusts that snapped several of the pear trees in half.

“All done,” Little Legs held out a red-stained wooden stick and waved it back and forth.

There was an implied threat, if the popsicle stick was not grabbed quickly, the litter bug would toss it onto the ground. He was teaching Baby Brother to do the same; monkey see, monkey do.

“Got it,” I said, snatching it from his fingers and falling back in-step with Daddy Longlegs.

“Come hold my gooey hand,” Little Legs requested, holding a small, sticky hand to me.

“Mommy and Daddy are talking right now,” I politely declined his request.

“Please,” he begged, “hold my gooey hand.”  

Daddy Longlegs and I laughed; it was easy to decide not to hold his gooey hand.

Little Legs gave us a mean look with a harrumph, turned forward, and settled in for the ride; while Baby Brother hung one arm over the side of his stroller seat and watched the passing scenery, still thoughtfully working on his frozen treat.  

We walked on in companionable quiet, breathing in the cool fall and smelling wet leaves, when we heard a familiar jingle of two metal dog tags knocking against one another. We heard paws pounding the pavement and the clattering of gravel as a spray of tiny rocks was sent out from either side of the running animal.

It was our naughty dog, escaping down the road after us, a blur of black fur and slobber. She was oblivious to the busy road she just blindly crossed or the invisible fence that was supposed to be keeping her safe. She smiled with all of her sharp, white teeth as she ran towards us, thrilled with the reward of her risk in making a run for it.

Little Legs shouted, “Coco! Its Coco!”

Baby Brother yelled, “Dog, dog, dog.”

They were like sailors on a ship, wildly pointing and waving, spotting a whale for the first time, instead of two little boys seeing the same dog they just left behind eight minutes earlier. As for Coco, she grinned from floppy ear to floppy ear at being with her her gang, again.

Her freedom run was worth it, to be with her furever family, fur now, anyways.    

From Coyote to Corona

coyoteThere is a coyote stalking small prey in the backyard.  The animal’s fur is a combination of grey, white, brown and black, perfect camouflage to blend into the shadows.  Except it isn’t trying very hard to remain undetected, perhaps from hunger or disease, it lets us see him watch us through the window. 

Little Legs thinks it’s a dog and barks at it and bangs on the glass with a toy car.

“Daw… daw…daw…” he chants.

He would like to have a pet, but this is not the right one, with its possible case of rabies, baby-biting tendencies, and definite infestation of fleas.  By the looks of the mangy mutt, the coyote wouldn’t mind carrying off my sweet boy to snack on like a meaty Now and Later.  Something about the way that it stares at us is off with the same level of derangement as an escaped convict, and then I see it lick its lips, or at least I think that I do.  Staying home day after day may be impacting my cognition, or plain and simple, the coyote wants to eat us. 

“Well, we aren’t going out there today,” I declare knowing that we will still go outside after lunch.  

Mentally, I go through several scenarios of Little Legs luring the coyote close enough to touch when my back is turned and me chasing it off with a stick or going into hand-to-paw combat with it or running after it with Little Legs on its back like a circus performer riding a lion.  I set my resolve to get a weapon to protect us during the day, wanting a bb gun for the first time in my life.

“A bb gun?”

My husband is incredulous when I tell him what is needed on his next trip to town and the reason why.  I show him the picture that I took as proof of the problem and to support my request.  A part of me expects him to ask me to fill out a requisition form and send it to the finance department for processing…so Amazon, it is.    

“You don’t need a bb gun, you need a shot gun and we can load it with buck shot; you don’t have to be accurate that way.”

I don’t take offense at this because he is obviously unaware of my sharp shooting days from a past life and that this is not something that I just want.  It is something that I need at a time when it feels like we are under attack from all angles with the corona virus wreaking havoc on multiple fronts of our world, living under quarantine and now a coyote in our backyard.

What I want and need is a sense of safety for my little boy and the one on the way.  I need to feel secure taking them out to swing or to play in the dirt or to gather dandelions and not worry that a coyote is watching us and waiting for his dinner opportunity.  With wild things all around us that threaten harm, I want to feel some control in protecting the ones I love, but it doesn’t seem like any amount of waiting, money or weaponry can provide the kind of security that I need.  

Aside from hand sanitizer.  And a bb gun.

The Search for Sugar

It’s been about a week since Sugar’s visit.  We remain under a shelter-in-place order which gives us ample time to observe the comings and goings of the neighbors.  Sadly, our favorite neighbor has yet to return to her rightful place in the backyard across the street barking at birds and digging in the mud.

When Sugar came to visit, we thought it was a part of a short-lived tour de freedom instead of what now appears to have been the kick off to a much longer and possibly permanent trip away from the backyard.   

We still take walks through the neighborhood, while cautiously respecting the social distancing imperative, and peek into her fenced area.  I am hopeful that we somehow missed her homecoming and will find her there one day, smiling and barking and as dirty, as ever.  

Little Legs also looks for her.  He strains his neck trying to see her through the fence and raises his hands in question when only untrampled grass meets his gaze. 

This is the only loss that he has felt during quarantine.  He doesn’t miss playdates or enriching field trips to museums or hands-on discovery centers, he doesn’t care that all of our meals are eaten at home or that he hasn’t seen his grandparents this Spring.  He just knows that his friend, Sugar, is missing.

As a new parent, I didn’t anticipate the need to deal with issues of loss or grief this early on in our journey. However, we take the challenges as they come, fast and unexpected.  It’s a lot of improvising and fly-by-the-seat of one’s pants work to meet the needs of our curious and sweet little boy.

So, the last time he threw his hands up in question about Sugar, I gave the best explanation I could.

“Sugar is on vacation for a while, probably at the beach, and we don’t know when she’ll be back.”

He accepted this without question and toddled down the road, picking up rocks and worms, happy to know the truth, at last.

Sugar

A pair of dark eyes surrounded by a face full of white fur peered into the window and gave a friendly bark, not too deep, not too loud, but a bark that was just right to get the attention of a little boy playing on the other side of the room.

“Uh, babe, what is that?”

It was shocking to see this large creature looking in at us like a spectator at a zoo, curious and anxious for interaction.  In fact, so suddenly did it appear that my husband was unable to register the nature of the drooling visitor.  However, I knew exactly where the fluffy voyeur was from, further confirmed as it continued to peer into our living room, waiting to be acknowledged by someone who was still making his way to the window. 

The animal’s name was Sugar, she lived across the street, and was most often found covered in mud, racing around the perimeter of the yard barking at birds.  We learned her name just a few days ago, but had visited her through the winter and spring.  She was a living landmark on our walks, a touch-point during our travels that indicated a successful road crossing.

It appeared that she was simply returning the favor in her first moments of freedom.  We were her touch-point from a successful road crossing in the opposite direction.  

“She came to find Little Legs.”

At last, Little Legs made it to the window and shrieked in delight.  He dropped his Tonka truck which landed on my foot with a crash and a cry of pain, from me, as it was an old hand-me-down toy that was on the verge of being unsafe with metal and hard, moveable plastic bits.  Little Legs grabbed onto the window ledge with a grin that was made of the same combination of drool, teeth, and a hanging tongue as his visitor and pointed at the door.

He was ready to go out and see his friend without a window or gate between the two.  Sadly, it was a desire that was not meant to be for these two besties.  An invisible breeze blew the scent of something too juicy to ignore past the dog’s wet nose.  Sugar sniffed the air, gave another bark and took off at a full gallop, determined to spend the rest of its freedom doing dog-things from its to-do list, now one item shorter.

It is nice to have friends, isn’t it Little Legs?

The Cost of Freedom

dog

After the rain stopped, a dog appeared from an alley.  It zig-zagged up the sidewalk, sniffed at a door with green paint that curled up in half-peels and then stopped to lap at a puddle of dirty water.

The dog was caramel colored with medium length hair that was darker in some areas where it gathered into mats between raw, bald spots. A frayed rope hung from its leather collar, a dangling reminder of the jail from which the dog had just escaped.

The dog moved with a heavy slowness, dragging the invisible weight of a broken spirit.  It had been too hungry, cold, and neglected for too long to start to heal in a day or two out of the yard.  In fact, freedom wasn’t so different from incarceration in the backyard where it had lived tied to a tractor tire for the past few years.  Either way, there wasn’t any food, clean water or anyone to give a damn if it lived or died.

He reflected the people living in the abandoned and dilapidated buildings along the cracked sidewalk.  They lumbered through life with their heads down, too sad, lonely and hopeless for too long.

No one came after the dog as it wandered into the distance, further from the yard and ever closer to an tenuous future that was certain to end with Animal Control or crumpled in an alleyway.  Still, freedom was worth it.

Double Take

witch

A tall man with a hooked beak for a nose and heavy eyebrows stared over the wooden slats of the fence.  He wore grey sweat pants pulled up over his hips and a thin long sleeve t-shirt that outlined sharp shoulder blades and bony shoulders. Thin wrists and long, pale hands stuck out from the ends of the sleeves.  He was like a scarecrow hanging onto the fence, scaring off the birds and small rodents.

“Mike, what are you doing?” a woman asked from behind him, suddenly arriving, and seemingly appearing from out of thin air.   She had shiny, black hair and wore a pair of neon green tennis shoes and a matching athletic top.  

He gasped and tried to step back.  He stumbled, finding he was already against the fence without any additional room for his long legs to stretch.  Then he realized several things; it was just Lani and she must have walked over, she therefore did not appear from out of thin air and in conclusion, he decided that witchcraft was likely not involved.  He felt relieved and relaxed back into his original watch over the fence.  

“Hey…” he gave a sheepish greeting at his exaggerated reaction.

Lani narrowed her eyes as she tried to understand what he was doing staring over the fence.  It was not lost on her that his neighbor, Shelly, was young, single, and often sunbathed in a very itty, bitty polka dot bikini.  Lani’s heart rate increased as she felt an anger rise from her gut into her chest as she watched him continue to peer over the fence without shame or remorse.

The sound of a wail, presumably Shelly, broke her chain of thoughts. 

“Princess,” she cried out.

Mike waved her forward and motioned with his heavy eyebrows to look over the fence. 

Lani crept up to the fence and saw that Shelly was not the target of the man’s attention.  Rather, it was a lump of fur that lay on its side in the grass. 

“Something’s wrong with Princess,” Mike whispered in an astute observation.

“Help!” Shelly called, perhaps sensing a nearby audience, “someone help me with Princess.”

Shelly knelt down next to the dog as Mike and Lani made their way around the fence, leaving one yard to enter another. 

“She just got back from the groomer and I let her out and the next thing I know she’s on her side breathing like that.”

The dog was on the smallish size but not so small to fit in a purse.  Its fur was longish but not long enough to get knotted, and it wore a bedazzled pink collar, not bedazzled enough for Dolly Parton, but bedazzled enough to suit a dog named Princess.

Princess lay on her side, she drew in ragged gasps of air.  Her side rose and fell as she stared straight ahead with unseeing, dull brown eyes.  

“This is not good,” Lani surmised as she knelt next to Shelly and the animal.

“What happened? What’s wrong, Princess?” Shelly asked, not believing the scene as it unfolded in front of her. 

The dog slowly breathed in and out and then gave one last puff of air.  Its side did not rise again as Shelly and Lani kneeled next to the animal and Mike towered above the gathering.

“Princess, princess, can you hear me? Hang in there with me.  Princess?” Shelly ran her hand along the dog’s side and held her head in her hand.  

“She needs CPR. Chest compressions.  Step back, Shelly.”

Lani crossed her index and middle fingers on the dog’s chest and pumped to the beat of “Stayin’ Alive” by the BeeGees, just like she learned for an infant in Beginner’s CPR.

“This isn’t working, I have to get her to the vet,” Shelly whimpered. “I’m going to get the car. Will you bring her out to the drive way?”  

Lani exchanged glances with Mike.

A vet was not going to help Princess, there was nothing shy of a water-into-wine, roll away the stone type of a miracle that would bring that dog back to life.  It wouldn’t be long before she started to stiffen up with rigor mortis, hopefully, the vet could break the news about the miracle shortage before that happened. 

After the car peeled out with the dead dog stowed away into the backseat, Lani turned to Mike.

“What happened back there, really?”

“Princess was barking and I was picking up twigs in the yard.  She barked and barked and barked and wouldn’t stop and I stood up and looked at her.  That’s all I did, I swear, and she just sort of stopped and fell over onto her side,” he raised one hand and placed the other over his heart in a solemn oath of truth.

“You killed Princess?” Lani asked.

Her tone changed and she narrowed her eyes for the second time and started walking backwards towards the road, away from this yard and this man and this clear case of evil intent.  She repeated herself but this time, there was no question about it.  It was a fact and a statement, “You killed Princess.”

 

The Cucumbers are Multiplying

cucs

The air has a chill to it this morning and the sun has yet to break through the darkness of night.  Fall is coming, slow and gentle, like it does every year to ease us into the misery of winter.  Soon it will be time to put away tank tops and shorts, swimsuits and flip flops in exchange for corduroys, sweaters and waterproof boots.

It is a problem that Midwesterners understand all too well, how to maintain two totally different wardrobes with only undergarments being seasonally interchangeable.  Residents of Hawaii, California and Florida, you have no idea what you are missing out on.  Unless of course, you escaped the weather of your home state after declaring to anyone who will listen, “This life of grey skies, chapped hands, and constant scarf wearing is no longer tolerable.”

I am nearing that state as my tolerance diminishes with each year.

Yet, I stay and dream of escape and an ocean breeze to cool my sun-kissed face, not ready for the change that a move would require.  And I work, like the rest of the sheeple that I know.  I work to pay utility bills and a mortgage, to buy food for my cats, husband, and self, and sometimes, I work just to get through to another season with the promise of better days.

As an offshoot of this working, I recently found myself as a defacto dog-sitter.

It started out as a one-time only situation, out of sheer necessity, and has since turned into a routine as natural as picking up the mail from the mailbox after work or taking out the trash on a Thursday night.  Whenever the owner of the hound leaves, he stops by the office with a leash and a bag of snacks.

“These are just in case she gets hungry.”

Gee, I thought they were a present for me.  I nod and wave the man off, I know the deal.  Take her out for a walk when she whines at the door, give her treat whenever she asks for one.  Easy.

The dog entrusted to my care is a mixture between Rottweiler and German shepherd and woe to the fool who messes with her.  Actually, she can’t be left alone without howling and trying to escape by hurling all seventy pounds or so repeatedly against the door which is how I ended up as her temporary custodian.  In summary, she is an emotionally dependent, fatty girl with missing teeth and bad breath, loyal to bacon strips and strangers who might be carriers of her beloved bacon strips.

Not that I mind her company.  After she gets dropped off, she flops herself down at my feet and patiently waits for a treat or for her owner to return.   The former always occurs before the latter.  When her owner does finally return for the beast, it is always with a generous payment in hand and gratitude.

Lately, I have been paid in cucumbers. Extraordinarily large, garden fresh cucumbers.

A worthy payment for services rendered and in the customary Hoosier spirit, he has given me more than I could ever eat.

Generosity: it’s one of the good problems that Midwesterners are all too familiar with, right after mastering the fine art of small talk about the weather.
Learning

The Path of Least Resistance

trailer

The severe weather warning sounded on my phone. I turned it off without looking down. Distractions were not appreciated as the sky turned dark and heavy rain started to pelt the windshield. I was heading to the safest place in Indiana under the predicted conditions; a trailer nestled in a park with many other trailers.

This was a visit that needed to be done before my vacation. I didn’t have time to wait out the storm or to reschedule for the next week. There was a quote about taking the path of least resistance that came to mind but I couldn’t remember the last part of it.

Anyways, if a tornado were to hit, there wouldn’t be any pesky foundation to stop us from going airborne. So taking the path of least resistance must be a good thing- I imagined if we were in the way of a tornado, we would be lifted up, swirled around and set back down. No bigs, right?

I arrived just as the sky turned an eerie green and the wind died leaving the trailer park silent. The tornado warning siren cut through the air, deafening all of the ears within hearing range.

On further consideration, this home visit was probably not going to have a great ending.

A ferocious honey colored dog greeted me at the screen door, snarling. Its teeth were barred and the fur between its shoulders stood straight up, stegosaurus style. My can of pepper spray was in the car where it could be most helpful to me in an attack/assault type of situation.  I sighed, this was really not going to end well.

Then a woman emerged from within the dwelling with a lit cigarette dangling from her thin lips. She grabbed the dog’s metal choke collar and pulled back with a yank.

She said, “Queenie, this is a good friend. Stop it.”

We had somehow completely skipped the acquaintance stage and gone straight to friends.  At that rate, we would be family by next week and the holidays were about to get very complicated.

“C’mon in and don’t mind our mess.”

Whenever someone says that, I know it means the home is either immaculate or a disaster zone. There is never a happy medium type of situation to back up that statement.

Once again, this proved to be true. I walked in cautiously and looked for a clear space to sit. We had paperwork to complete but the table was covered with Arby’s roastbeef sandwiches, foil, fries, and stacks of papers.

“You caught us in the middle of lunch,” she said stubbing out her smoke.

She picked up a half eaten sandwich to resume where she had last left off. Queenie growled at me from a rug by the door.

“Don’t worry about her. She takes a while to warm up to strangers,” the woman explained which did little to reassure me that Queenie wasn’t about to lunge for my throat.

The possibilities of this visit were endless, a dog bite, tornado ride, COPD/lung cancer, and then a new threat ran at top speed into the living room.

A small, dirty, shirtless boy with spikey hair charged out from a backroom with plastic Hulk hands on yelling, “Hulk smash!” as he ran towards a dozing woman sitting on a stained plaid couch.

He jumped onto the cushion next to the woman and started punching her with the gloves.  Surprisingly enough, the woman did not resist the Hulk inspired blows.  In a flat voice, she said, “No, don’t,” and weakly tried to defend herself.

What strange reality is this, I wondered.

An hour later, I left with the paperwork finished and about six Marlboro Red cigarettes smoked secondhand, completely unsure of the number of people who were there as different faces continued to appear and disappear from the backroom.

I was a cloud of smoke as I made my way back to my car, never so grateful for the fresh air.

In the meantime, the storm cleared and I remembered the rest of the quote.

The path of least resistance leads to crooked rivers and crooked men.

Or in this case, just a trailer full of smoke.