My son was crying when he came upstairs to tell me the long-legged, beagle-howling, slut puppy, sister hounds had run away. Again. I pulled him onto my lap and used my shirt sleeve to wipe the snot from under his nose.
"They'll come back, honey," I said, into his hair. "They always do."
"I hope so, Mommy. 'Cause I don't want 'em to get hit by a car and have to be scraped off the street with a splatula."
I turned his face around so I could look in his eyes. "What in the world are you talking about?"
"That's what Daddy said would happen to 'em someday."
"Did he really? Well, why don't you pray right now that the dogs will come home by supper?"
My little guy bowed his head and clasped his hands. "Dear God," he said.
I peeked at him through my lashes. His eyes were squinched shut and his little boy forehead was wrinkled with effort. I felt like a bike tire pump was attached to my heart, swelling it with little gusts of air.
"Please bring Daisy and Little Paint home, sooner than now. Please don't let them get squished by a car. I think if I had to look at the blood and guts spot on the road where they got killed, it'd make me barf every time until the rain washed it away."
I bit my lip.
"We love 'em so much, God. They're so soft and nice. They let me lay on them like they're a couch. Please bring 'em home soon. Thank you, God. Hey-men."
"That was quite a prayer, sweetie," I said. "I bet the dogs are on their way home right now. Let's go down and see."
We went downstairs and opened the back door. No dogs. We whistled and promised treats. Nothin.'
That night, I looked on the front and back porches before I went to bed. Nada. They weren't there in the morning either. Uh oh.
This time it looked like they weren't coming back. They'd never been gone this long. One night came and went. Then two.
Each day, our middle child came home from school and asked, "Did the dogs come back? Did anyone call?"
I'd tell her no and no. She'd call the animal shelter and ask if they'd picked up a tan, Beagle-looking, long-legged dog and a white and tan, Beagle-looking, long-legged dog. It got to the point where the guy at the pound said, "Look, kid. Don't call us. We'll call you."
The kids talked to the mailman. He loved the dogs. Brought 'em Milk Bones every day. He said he'd keep an eye out for 'em.
The dogs had been gone three days now. At dinner time, the kids prayed for the dogs to come home. At bedtime, they prayed again.
The next day, they made fliers and posted 'em on just about every telephone pole within a mile of our house. They organized a search party with neighborhood kids.
"I'll give whoever finds 'em, two dollars," Middle Child said. "One for each dog."
On the fifth day, all three kids cornered me. "Do something, Mommy!"
They stepped into my personal space bubble. "Like . . . something!"
I called the newspaper and put a missing dogs ad in the Saturday and Sunday papers. The Dominion Post is real nice. They'll run a missing pet ad for a few days, for free.
Even so, no one called. Night number six and night number seven came and went.
"Do you think they'll come back?" I asked my husband on the seventh night.
He shrugged. "I seriously doubt it. They've never been gone this long," he said. "As fast as they run, they're probably in another state by now. And if that's the case, I don't know that they can find their way back."
I pulled the covers up to my chin and sighed. "You're probably right. No one's called. I bet they lost their collars. Or their i.d. tags fell off."
I vented to a friend on email the next morning. I'm so mad at those darn dogs! We give 'em food. We give 'em water. We give 'em treats. The kids love 'em. I like 'em, most of the time. We give 'em everything and this is how they repay us? By running away? They're sluts, I tell you! I feel so betrayed.
My friend emailed me back. Hmmmm . . . . maybe you should rename them--Gomer number one and Gomer number two.
I had no idea what she was talking about. What does Gomer Pyle have to do with our dogs? Send.
From the Bible, my friend typed back. Look it up.
I huffed as I got out my big study Bible. I looked up Gomer in the concordance in the back. Oh, that Gomer. Gomer, the prostitute turned wife, who was always running away from her husband, Hosea, who was a real good man. That girl didn't have a lick of sense. Hosea, I feel your pain, man.
Later that day I called the vet and cancelled their well doggy visit. Of course they asked why and I had to tell them that the dang dogs had skipped town.
"We love your dogs," the clinic receptionist said. "Bring us a flier and we'll put it up."
My husband grumbled when I handed him a flier to take to the vet's office. "You know I don't want them to come back, don't you?" I nodded. I know.
"Are you praying for them to come back, Daddy?" our middle child asked my husband at dinner that night. He glared at her. She turned to me.
"Are you praying for the dogs to come back, Mommy?"
I didn't look up from my pork chop. "Sort of."
"Sort of?" The kids echoed.
"What kind of answer is 'sort of''?" Middle Child said.
I took my time answering. "You know how God knows everything?"
The kids nodded.
"Well, I reckon he knows that part of me is worn out. Worn down. Doesn't necessarily wanna keep doing this forever. If I pray for them to come back, it's kinda like a lie, so why bother?"
Middle Child's eyes were shiny, her voice all quivery. "You really don't want 'em to come back?"
A tear dropped off one of her tarantula leg eyelashes. "How can you say that? What if they get hit by a car? What if they get picked up by some weirdo, freaky animal testing lab that wants to try out hair dye on 'em?"
I huffed. "Oh, the drama of it all! I'm just bein' honest here! You know what I'd like? I'd like 'em to be found by someone with a big ole farm where they could run all day, every day. That's what I'm thinking . . . hoping."
Middle Child Drama Girl slapped the table with both her hands. We all jumped.
"I've got it!" she said. She stabbed her chest with her pointer finger a couple of times. "I'm going to fast!"
My mouth fell open. My husband's too. Drama Girl nodded, her eyes wide. "Fasting is what people did in the Bible when they really wanted to get God's attention, so that's what I'm gonna do."
My husband's fork clanked as it hit the glass table top. He picked it up and pointed at her with it. "You, little missy, are too young and too small to fast. Who knows how long they'll be gone? What if they never come back? You could starve."
Drama Girl crossed her arms and blew air out her nose. "I'm not going to fast eating, Daddy," she said. "I'm going to fast tv. I'm not going to watch another show until the dogs come back. So there."
That night she stayed in her room reading while the rest of us watched, "High School Musical" on the Disney channel.
I laid in bed that night, looking at the ceiling. "God, you know my heart. You know I'm so tired of those long-legged, Beagle howling, slut puppies and their gosh darn running away. You are fully aware that I'd only be a little sad if I never saw them again."
I sighed before I went on. "But the kids, God . . . The kids want them to come home. For the kids' sake . . . Please bring the doggies back. Please? Amen."
After school the next day, the kids and all their neighborhood buddies combed the nearby streets and yards. They came home after an hour.
"Any luck?" I said, as I put out a bowl of pretzels and cups of lemonade.
They all shook their heads and looked at their laps.
A little while later, the kids were putting on their jackets to leave when one of the oldest kids looked out the kitchen door window.
"Hey! Hey, you guys! Little Paint's back! She's on your back porch."
I opened the back door and there she was. What was left of her anyway. The once stout and strong brown dog looked fifteen pounds less. Her fur looked like someone had blown their nose in it. She was panting, her tongue hanging out like a strip of raw bacon. Her tail wagging made her body sway side to side.
When I opened the screen door, she stumbled in. When she plopped down on her blanket, she was instantly covered with almost a dozen kids. A dog pile, for real.
"Careful," I said, wrinkling my nose. "She might have rolled in cow poo."
They didn't care. They petted and kissed and stroked every bit of her.
I called my husband at work. "You're never gonna guess what just happened."
"One of 'em did."
"Way," I said. "Guess Drama Girl's fasting got God's attention after all."
The next morning, Daisy was on the back porch. Curled in a tight ball, nose under her tail. I drummed my fingers on the window. She looked up at me and blinked real slow. Her tail started thumping. Slow at first, then faster.
When I opened the door, she stepped in gingerly.
"Did the pavement shred your paw pads?" I asked, only a little bit mean.
I leaned over the baby gate that kept the dogs in the kitchen at night. "Kids!" I said, loud enough to reach the third floor. "The other prodigal pup has returned."
The kids thundered down flights of stairs, making the artwork on the walls tremble. They flopped on Daisy, as they had sprawled on Little Paint the day before. Daisy didn't look quite as bad. I figured she was only five pounds lighter.
Little Paint glared at the welcome home party from across the kitchen. Seemed she kinda liked being an only dog. A few minutes later though, she made her way to the blanket. She growled at Daisy for a bit before I pointed a finger at her and told her to hush.
I poured a splash of my good olive oil into a small bowl and handed it to the kids. "Rub this on their paw pads." I didn't miss the snide look little Miss Drama Girl gave me 'neath her substantial lashes.
Both dogs rolled onto their backs, their legs stiff in the air, as if to offer their paws up for pampering.
My son put his head on Little Paint's ribcage, like it was a pillow. "You were right, Mommy."
"'Bout what, sweetie?"
"They came back. Just like you said they would."
"Yep," I said. "Seems like they always do. They're like cats, these two. They seem to have nine lives. I'm just worried that one of these days, they're gonna run out of lives."