The Kindness of Strangers

The house was blissfully quiet aside from the gentle hum of the air conditioner. I peeked outside to check on Coco, the dog.

Minutes earlier, she was dozing on the front porch, her black head resting on her paws. Now, there was a brown magnolia leaf, a desiccated spider, and a pile of sand (a hallmark of the boys) but definitely and absolutely no dog.

She wasn’t around the back or in the grass, hiding behind a tree or romping in the woods. I called and whistled and shouted, all with a growing dread in the pit of my stomach.

It was still nap time. I couldn’t leave and I didn’t want to wake up the boys early. So I waited and paced around the house, checking the front door and then the back porch.

I ticked off the list of things we would need to do if she didn’t reappear within the next few hours: create a flyer, make copies, post flyer and wait.  

“Boys, we have to find Coco,” I explained when they woke up. “She ran away, again.”

They took matters into their own small hands, went outside and began shouting in squeaky voices for their beloved dog to return. Pleas that went unanswered.

Little Legs held his pointer finger up in the air, Einstein style, and said, “I have an idea.”

“I’m listening,” I said with the keys in my hand.

“We should get in the car to look for Coco,” he said.

“Great idea! Let’s do it, guys.”

We were off on a Coco rescue mission to the tune of Mission Impossible, with a fully rested squad and three quarters of a tank of gas, we were set.

After driving up and down side-streets for an hour, yelling out the windows, we had to call it and accept that we might not find her.

“Coco’s gone,” Little Legs told his brother.

Baby Brother said, “Car go, Coco,” unwilling to end the search.

“Who wants cartoons and a snack?” I asked and was answered with unanimous support.

It took Daddy Longlegs, after a long day at work solving other people’s problems, to say, “Did you check on the nextdoor app?”

And there she was, in all her floppy eared, tongue hanging-out glory, never lost at all, just passing time in a neighbor’s garage, eating milkbones (which later would wreck havoc on her GI system).

The post said, “Here until the owner claims her.”   

In spite of every trash bag and diaper ripped open, toy destroyed, mud tracked in the house, she is a good dog. She guards the yard from nothing and steals the boys’ snacks, through it all, she is ours, home and officially reclaimed.     

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.

But what about a little brother?

For two days straight, rain fell without stopping from a dark, grey sky.  We couldn’t even get out to splash in puddles or go for a walk through the neighborhood because of the constant rain.  By the third day, we had to get out.  The saying, come hell or high water, finally made sense.  We. Had. To. Get. Out.

An obvious destination was the grocery store as we were getting low on milk and puffs, but running through the pouring rain with Mr. Baby on one hip just to get through the parking lot did not appeal to any part of me.  I had to find a location with covered parking or a spot close enough to the door to run through the raindrops and limit the drenching.

We ended up at the Humane Society with front row parking and a few seconds long jog to the door.

I told Mr. Baby, “Its just like the zoo, but we can take these animals home.” 

He was more interested in the way our umbrella turned the wet, grey sky into a beautiful, dry red with the push of a button as we left the car for the shelter’s door.

We cautiously strolled past cages of barking, snarling, cowering, shivering and apathetic dogs that were sausage shaped, bony, three legged, one eyed, and scruffy.  All of the animals shared one trait in common, they were ready for their furever homes.  Unfortunately, with no creature catching our attention to melt our hearts and to start the adoption application, we headed back towards the door. 

Rain pounded the parking lot, hitting so hard that the water bounced up from the ground as though it was falling upside down.  That’s a definite no, I thought, and redirected our tour towards a stack of cages behind a glass wall filled with scroungy cats.  

And there in the bottom corner of the stack was the heart-melter, the animal just waiting to join our family, the pet we never knew we needed, a huge, white guinea pig.

“Excuse me,” I asked an older woman with a volunteer tag around her neck.  “Could you help us with this guinea pig?”

“We have guinea pigs?” she drawled in the typical, slow Tennessee accent.

Much to her surprise, she followed where Mr. Baby’s finger pointed and peered through the glass.

“Well, look there, it is a guinea pig.  Go sit in one of the viewing rooms and I’ll bring him into see you.”

What a serendipitous day this was shaping up to be, we were going to be guinea pig owners.  My mind leapt to the supplies that the animal would need and where it would sleep, followed by a concern with how my husband would feel about our new roommate. 

“We have to be gentle with the guinea pig, ok?” I coached Mr. Baby while we waited for the volunteer.

He didn’t agree or disagree, rather, he just looked inside of my purse and started pawing through it in search of snacks.

Mr. Baby was thrilled when the guinea pig was delivered.  He squealed in the animal’s face and poked its nose, then he raised both hands in a maneuver that he usually reserved to smash oranges.  I scooped the terrified creature up into my hands, and in that instant, I knew he wasn’t ready for a guinea pig.

 

Nine Lives

soul mates

Her left eye doesn’t close all the way anymore, stuck in the instant before a wink, and her tongue slips out past the tiny front teeth that never fully developed and hangs from her petite mouth.  There is a patch of white fur missing from her back and as of most recently one ear remains parallel with the ground at all times.  Her sweet face is a mish-mash of teasing expressions that when put together are no laughing matter.  

I am describing my angel, JB Cat.  She has been with us since the beginning, rescued from a cat jail in Small Town, Indiana.  She came as a complete package with ear mites, worms and an extreme stranger danger anxiety that kept her curled up and hissing in a ball for the first three months. 

When she finally uncurled and moved out from underneath of the bed, we were still naïve enough to try and keep houseplants and a cat at the same time.  JB quickly assessed the situation, found the plants to be enemies, and set out to destroy them with various plots such as knocking them over and pulling them from the dirt.  Once free from the houseplant threat, JB settled in for a very long stay.

Over the past decade, she moved with us from apartment to apartment, always packed up in a carrier with the last load of most important belongings, and then finally to a house where she caught her first spricket (a beastly combination of a spider and a cricket). 

She terrorized every family member who ever stayed with us for the first few years, sneaking into their room and watching them sleep either from their pillow or chest.  On the day before our wedding, she went missing and almost caused a complete mental breakdown and then casually emerged from the recesses of the sofa when we came back to pick up our bags for the honeymoon.  Of the three times she escaped, she was always found mewing from under a pile of leaves, frozen by the overstimulation of nature and unfamiliarity of the world.  

Most days, she spends her time sleeping on top of furniture and waiting for food.  She rarely complains and purrs when pet.  JB Cat has personality, history, opinions and plans.  After being together for so long, she has a human family, and although, she isn’t liked by all, she is loved (perhaps only by me?).  Its hard to imagine life without her hiding from friends, stalking family in the night, or purring on my chest in the evening.  Yet, it seems that it’s an approaching reality, one that grows closer with each new ailment from which she never quite recovers.  While she is still living and wheezing on the couch behind me, her lifeforce grows dimmer and my sadness grows greater.

This world was never made for one as beautiful as you, JB Cat.  

As Above, So Below

as above

The screen door slowly opened with a squeak.  The hinges were reddish-brown with rust and curls of white paint peeled away from the wooden door.  A pink noise poked out and sniffed at the air; the nose was followed by the black and white body of a small dog.  The animal slipped the rest of the way out of the house and the door slammed behind it with a bang.

Scents of all kinds bombarded the tiny but powerful nostrils of the dog.  It looked left and then right, orienting to its new surroundings.  A squirrel watched from the branch of an oak tree in the front yard, holding a nut in its claws and waited to see what the domesticated creature would do next.

The dog took off in a beeline towards the edge of the yard, running with muscular strides, quickly drawing away from the house.

“Beanie!” a boy yelled as he pushed through the screen door.  He wore jean shorts and striped tank top; dark hair fell over his forehead and hit the top of his ears, in a perfect bowl cut.

He yelled over his shoulder, “Beanie’s out, again!”

A girl followed the boy through the door, letting the door slam behind her.  Bangs obstructed her view and she pushed heavy locks away from her nearsighted eyes.  She wore a faded pair of jeans, rolled up at the bottoms with a thin t-shirt.

With bare feet, the pair raced after the dog, leaving mashed grass and flowers in their wake.

“Beanie! Beanie! Come back!” they yelled in unison.

Suddenly the dog stopped and looked back, it waited for the kids to catch up.  Its sides heaved in and out and its tongue fell from its mouth as it rested for a second and then it took off again like a shot.

Chase me, shiny eyes begged as it risked a quick glance back at its pursuers.

The siblings laughed and resumed the chase after the dog.

An engine revved over the hill and a car appeared trailing a cloud of dust from the gravel road as it sped towards them. Screaming, the girl grabbed the boy with both arms, pulling him back from the road as the car flew past them.

The car intersected with the escaping dog.  They watched its body hit the front of the car and shoot off to the side of the road.  The girl’s heart pounded in her chest, she was still screaming.  The car sped on, never once hitting its brakes as the dog lay still on its side. Its life whiffed out in the same moment as the fleeting innocence of childhood.

Once gone, always gone.

 

Initiation

dogs_backside
Apology

“Were we invited to this party?”

There were no cars parked outside or people milling around the front door.  We were at the end of a cul-de-sac, standing where the GPS led us and there were no signs of life.  A trash can lay on its side at the end of a drive; all of the windows were closed up tight and the blinds were drawn in each of the identical houses.  It was not an encouraging scene.

No one responded when my party date/husband texted the friend-of-a-friend to whose house we waited outside like census takers double checking the address and comparing notes.  The only things missing were the signature clip boards and name badges.

Instead we carried a bag of chips, salsa and a bottle of wine and escalated our communication efforts by calling this friend-of-a-friend.

It’s the new age way of things, text and then call.  Calling is a last resort, when all else fails.  Like come on, just text us back, I thought impatiently as my inner teenager started to show.

Suddenly, an event more exciting than a New Message coming across one’s iphone screen. A real person emerged from the house and it was our friend.  We both rushed towards him like two lost souls towards the promise of salvation.

“How long have you guys been out here?  You should have just come on in.”

He was blissfully unaware that in some neighborhoods not far from this one, walking into a stranger’s house without permission was more than enough to enact the Castle Doctrine.

Now properly invited inside, we followed Friend through the doorway where a sea of strange faces awaited us.  They suspended pretzels and cheese stuffed bread balls in mid-air, conversations went on hold indefinitely, all activity ceased until our acceptability could be determined.

“Hi, I’m Puney,” I said with a slow and non-threatening wave.  It is sometimes best to not make any sudden movements around strangers.

“I’m Neb,” the tall handsome man next to me introduced himself, confident and unafraid of making sudden movements around strangers, breaking my stranger rule #1 within the first sixty seconds.  He darted around the counter and dropped off our offerings and grabbed a plate, ready to dig into the beanie weenies, cookies, and chips.

A shaggy with dog with a low swaying belly ran out from underneath of the cluster of legs.

It smelled my toes and wiggled its chubby back end where a tail might have been at one time, perhaps delighted by the smell of JibberJabber, my cat, that patiently waited for our return at home.

“That’s Cooper, he won’t bite,” a faceless female voice from the still watching and silent crowd explained.

I reached down to pet Cooper and instead of receiving the pets, it turned around and sat down right on top of my feet.  It looked up at me with an excited doggy smile as a hot whoosh of gas escaped from its rear end and whirled around my bare toes.

It got up and ran off, disappearing back into the cluster of legs.

My face must have shown my disbelief.  Was I just the victim of chemical warfare?

“I think that dog just farted on my feet.”

The faceless female voice emerged with a real face and body, laughing and unapologetic.

“Looks like you just got initiated.”

Abuse of Power

Nightmare
mice

Earlier in the day, a call was placed that concluded with a general agreement on the need for traps with better bait and bigger snaps. We had an ongoing pest problem that strangely existed in one unit, in spite of our best pest control and extermination efforts.

It could only be assumed that the biggest and brightest of the mice had formed a gang and randomly set up headquarters. While the gang prepared for an all-out war/building take-over, they had to first increase their numbers and somehow co-exist with the original tenant.

“Lars, we know about the mice in your apartment. We aren’t mad, although, I’m not sure why you didn’t tell us there were so many.  Not to worry, we will take care of it for you.  The maintenance man will be setting traps tonight.”

Lars did not respond; he clutched the sides of his chair with both hands. His heart fell from his chest and splashed into his stomach.  Bile rose into his throat, displaced by his heart crashing into the sea of his organs.  He swallowed hard, forcing the acidic juices back to their original reservoirs.

“Are you ok?” I asked.

It appeared that Lars was a second away from throwing up or passing out; he swayed back and forth in his chair, pale and still silent.

“Why are you doing this?”

Lars pleaded with dark eyes to forget about the mouse droppings on the table, countertops and stove. Ignore the Tupperware dishes on his bed with a half-eaten hotdog left behind, with very tiny nibble bites taken from both ends.

“The mice are going to take-over if we don’t intervene. Did you know they have figured out those sticky traps and the “special snacks” we set out in your unit?  I don’t know how, but I think they are actually getting bigger.”

He proudly nodded his head in agreement, “Yes, they are getting bigger.”

“Right… and that’s the problem so we are going to use bigger traps and better bait, starting tonight.”

He thoughtfully considered this for a minute and counter-offered, as though this was a business deal on the table with negotiable fees and contingencies.

“I need a week to make arrangements.”

“For what?”

As soon as the words left my mouth, and I knew it was for the mice.   Clearly, he was their accomplice and advocate.  How else would they be able to not only outsmart the traps, avoid the poison but also to grow, be fruitful and multiply?

“Lars, they cannot be pets. They are pests.”

I hoped that he was not harboring these fugitives but knew that he was doing more than just allowing them to take up residency with him. I imagined the late night dinner parties with Lars surrounded by at least 57 very fat and happy mice eating ice cream and potato chips. I envisioned him sleeping with a mouse on either side of his pillow and a few around his feet.  I could see them watching tv, lined up on the couch, shaking their heads at the evening news.

He shook his head, these terms were unacceptable. He tried to explain that the mice were his friends and so on and such forth.

“Just another week and I will have them taken care of,” he begged for time, practically on his knees.

“No deal. The traps are going out tonight.”

A job well done

Guest
cat at w

“Do you need anything else?” I asked sweetly of our visitor.

I had just dropped off a towel, washcloth, and still boxed bar of soap. The sheets were clean and there was a working ceiling fan. Just shy of a little piece of chocolate on the pillow and the offer of a happy ending, the set-up was pretty luxurious for being free.

A cat sat on either side of me as I stood facing the man, their white whiskers twitched with mischief as they silently watched.

“No, thanks for everything. I should be fine for the night.”

A sly smile tugged at the side of my mouth knowing the terrors of the dark that he had yet to face. It was unlikely that he would “fine” by morning.  No matter, I bid him goodnight and shut the door.

It was not long after all of the lights were off and everyone was tucked into bed that the cats went to work. They started out as they do every night, with a song of their people, meowing back and forth between one another and sometimes all at once.  Occasionally, they harmonized but mostly tried to outdo each other with creative riffs and scats.

Once satisfied with the beautiful music that they created, they left to greet the newcomer. They knocked politely on the door with a soft paw and then more forcefully with both paws.  Perhaps they feared that he hadn’t heard their knocking as they started mewing demands to be allowed entry in addition to banging at the door.

I believe they stand on their hind legs to gain more leverage in their pummeling of doors.   This goes unconfirmed since I have only been on the receiving end of the knocks, on the side of the door to which they desperately wanted without really knowing why.

Like most of us, the cats are pushed and pulled by a current of life towards unknown destinies without any understanding other than this simple truth, there is no other way.

The next morning, our visitor appeared with dark circles under his eyes and his bags were already packed and waiting by the door.

“Leaving so soon?”

“Turns out I have things to take care of back home that just can’t wait.”

We waved goodbye from the door, while the cats supervised the departure from the window with pink noses pressed to the glass, most pleased with their night of work.

Jibber-Jabber Cat

Connected
wc

While I’m writing, my precious cat, Jibber-Jabber, insists on draping herself over my shoulder or stretching out across my lap.  It doesn’t matter if I’m actively using a pen, she simply rolls and knocks it out of my hand and covers the pad of paper with her furry, white body.  Once she’s in place, she reaches her paw out to encourage a quick tummy rub.  Not too much or too long, she lovingly bites my arm to let me know when she’s had enough.  She purrs to show her satisfaction at achieving ultimate control.    

Clearly, she’s the boss of couch time and Sunday mornings in our house which makes her quite happy.  It’s hard to get anything done with Jibber-Jabber always lounging about and waiting for her opportunity to snuggle.  She left for a minute, likely to get a drink of water.  She’s always thirsty these days.   

She’s already on her way back  so I better write fast.

Jibber-Jabber and I have come a long way from the time she took up residency in our home.  I remember walking into our shabby one room apartment after class when an emaciated, greasy white flash streaked past me. It ran at top cheetah speed across the room and dove under the couch.  

I screamed, “What is that?”

Huge yellow eyes stared out at me from the safety of the couch.

“That is our new cat, babe.  She’s a Siamese.  Isn’t she great?  The pet store lady said she is practically still a kitten, a little shy but very special,” my life-partner then/husband now responded.

Jibber-Jabber remained under the bed or burrowed into the couch for the next month, coming out only for food and water.  I questioned how great she was after discovering she had ear mites, worms, and fleas and a thing for biting feet as they walked past her hiding spots. 

After six months, she started to gain weight and confidence and we realized she was not a Siamese cat.  She grew into a massive housecat, average in every way aside from her insatiable appetite.  After nine years, we knew for certain she was not shy, just riddled with unbearable anxiety.   While the pet store lady might have been wrong about the cat’s age and temperament, but she was right about one thing.

My once-little, now old and yellow-toothed Jibber-Jabber is special, really special, so I let her stay on my shoulder or in my lap and write around her.

The Great Pet Expo

llama

Can I take just a few minutes of your time to tell you about The Great Pet Expo?

The parking lot was full when I arrived, which is usually a good sign with these types of events.  I was going to meet my brother-in-law, sis-in-law and their darling children.  Correction: one is a darling; the other is a tiny blond demon who escaped from the depths of hell about three years ago. I’m sure the Devil is still searching for her.

As I walked through the expo hall, I passed by booths of adoptable dogs and kenneled cats, tables of animal clothing and accessories, shelves of animal knick-knacks and bowls of handmade bones and cookies.  Instinctively, I knew where to find them and kept walking towards the back of the building.

Sure enough, I spotted them snacking on soft pretzels in the café area.  The little demon must have sensed my approach as she turned around and launched off like a rocket, running towards me.

“Auntie!” she shrieked, as she collided with my legs.

She took a step back, and held out her fist, tightly closed over a secret treasure that she had collected from the day.  Leaning closer, she whispered, “I have something to show you.”

Turning her fist over, she slowly opened her hand, one tiny finger at a time. The look on her face was of pure anticipatory job in sharing her secret.  She smiled in excitement, showing her tiny white teeth as she watched my face.

“Look,” she demanded.

My jaw dropped in shock, “Baby girl, where did you get that?”

Locks of long grey hair spread over her palm, mashed down where she had been clutching the entire mound.

“I took it from a llama,” she answered simply, and took off running and disappeared into a crowd of people and their pets.

The rest of the day was spent chasing the demon as she streaked about to pet dogs and unzip cat carriers to free the animals.  When I caught up with her one time out of many to bring her back to her exhausted parents, she blankly glanced at me and began to cry, “Where is my daddy?  Where is my mommy?”

As she wailed, I wanted to explain to the concerned patrons of the Pet Expo that it’s actually ok, she may be a demon from Hell, but I’m her aunt and I love her anyways.  However, I didn’t have time for such a luxury and had to chase her down again to explain that I was going to take her back to her mommy and daddy, also known as, damned brother-in-law and sister-in-law who left me to chase their wild animal child.

The very instant that the wild child saw her daddy she was instantly soothed and transitioned into the potty dance, hopping from one foot to the other and pulling her jumper up.  Her daddy recognized this intricate dance and knew its urgent meaning.  He acted fast and handed me the demon’s infant sister and said, “trade you” as he whisked the demon off to the restroom.

Once he disappeared into the restroom, the baby began to shriek, fully exercising her lungs.  Her daddy ran back out shortly after the shrieking began and laughed, “I didn’t think she would go banshee on you.”

Clearly, this had happened before since this behavior was aptly named ‘going banshee’.

It was right at about this time that you-know-who took off, yet again.

That was my Sunday, spent chasing a blond little girl still holding a fistful of llama fur, as she ran carefree, secure, and trusting of her adults to give her enough room to run and still keep her safe.  Yes, the pets were out and on full display at the Great Pet Expo.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Llama

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demon