Friday, April 27, 2012

*Fast Dogs* Part V

My eyes watered and bulged as the attractive young veterinarian gave me and my husband the run down on Little Paint's surgery.
            "She lost a tooth and a toe, and I can't tell you how many stitches that chest wound took."
            I groaned. Shut my eyes and pressed my palms into my eye sockets.
            "Look on the bright side," the vet said. "Her chest doesn't fall open like an oven door now."
            I crouched and inspected Little Paint inside her post-op crate.
            "But I can still see pink stuff," I said. "Looks like chicken meat. Raw. In between the stitches."
            The vet nodded and smiled. "That's healthy muscle tissue," she said. "Over the next month, that'll granulate. Take on the appearance of pink cobblestone. And the skin'll close up."
            I grimaced and crossed my arms. My eyes prickled with the threat of tears. 
            "Promise?" I said. "'Cause if she'd be better off dead, if the best thing would be to—"
            The vet pressed her pointer finger against her lips. "Ssh. She's going to be fine. Really."

Over the weekend, Little Paint received liberal amounts of hugs and drugs from the Paw Prints staff. They massaged her ears and tempted her with treats. Hosed her chest wound every day. Renamed her Wonder Dog.
            "Do you pray?" the girl vet asked on Monday when I came to visit.
            "Uh hunh. Why?”
            She didn't take her eyes off Little Paint. "Pray we don't find necrotic tissue."
             I wrinkled my nose. "Necrotic?"
            "Means dead," the pretty vet said. "If the tissue around the edges of that chest incision dies, we'll have to put her under again. Trim it off and sew her back together, even tighter. Like a Hollywood actress."
            I gulped. "Anything else?"
            "Can you get her to eat?" the vet said. "'Cause she won't eat for us. Not even wet food. She's losing weight, and that's not good."
            I thought a minute. "Carrot juice."
            The vet tilted her head. "Excuse me?"
            "I read in a natural pet care book that some guy brought his Dalmatian back from the brink of death by giving her carrot juice."
            "Give it a try," she said. "Might want to add some raw hamburger too. For protein."
A week later, I was begging the fresh-faced girl vet to keep Little Paint Lou just one more day.
            "You'll do fine," she said. "She'll be much happier at home, and you won't have to run her homemade food up here every day."
            She pressed discharge papers and a bag of meds at me.
            "Now, remember," she said. "It's Memorial Day weekend. We'll be closed until Tuesday morning. If anything goes wrong, not that it will, or if you have questions, call the emergency vet clinic in Fairmont."

I slept with Little Paint Lou that night. Me on a 40 year-old sleeping bag, her on a pile of soft blankets. Sometime in the night, she crept onto my sleeping bag. Tucked herself behind my legs.
            Daisy May was upstairs having a sleepover with the middle child. The white long-legged slut puppy had decided she hated Little Paint when she came home from a week at the vet's. Well, she didn't exactly hate her. She just wanted to eat her.
           When my husband set Little Paint on the ground beside the car, Daisy held her head low to the ground. A soft but gravelly growl rumbled out between her bared teeth. Little Paint tried to look fierce too, but her patchwork of shaved parts and stick out ribs made her a liar.

We made it thirty six hours before we sped to the emergency vet clinic with Painty Lou on the back seat. Her stitches were popping open left and right giving her chest the appearance of Swiss cheese over deli ham.
            "Be really sure you can't handle it any more before you take her to the Fairmont clinic," a friend said the next day when I called her about the Swiss cheese chest crisis. "It's a hundred fifty bucks just to walk in the door."
            "What's a hundred and fifty when you've already spent twenty five hundred plus?" my husband said as he hoisted Little Paint into the car.

If Little Paint Lou was Wonder Dog, the emergency vet clinic doctor was Boy Wonder. In the reception area, my husband and I both fit in his shadow. While he examined Paint, my gaze vacillated between his strong jaw and the strain of his quadriceps against his scrub pants.
            "I'm going to put your dog back together," he said. "But I’m warning you, she's gonna look like Franken Dog afterwards."
            I nibbled my lip.
            "I'll use whatever it takes to hold her together," he said as he fondled Little Paint's ears inside the humongous plastic lampshade.
            He yanked a tissue out of the box on the counter. Handed it to me.
            "Aw, don’t worry,” he said. “She made it this far. She'll be just fine. I'll do the procedure around midnight tonight. You all can pick her up at eleven tomorrow."
Boy Wonder grinned as he led Little Paint into the waiting room the next morning.
            "Sit, girl," he said.
            She sat.
            He waved us closer. "Lean down here."           
            We leaned.
            "No way," my husband said.
            "Buttons?" I said. My stomach heaved. I cupped my hand beneath my mouth. Just in case.
            Boy Wonder smiled and nodded. "Yep. Six of them," he said. "I cut them off a coat from the lost and found box. Sewed the buttons into her chest, then wrapped the suture around them. It takes the pressure off the tissue. Works every time."
            He patted Little Paint's head. "You ready to go home, girl?"
            She gazed up at him with adoring, pumpkin-colored eyes. Her tail brushed his leg over and over.
            My husband stood and shook Boy Wonder's hand. "Thank you so much,” he said. “Is there a tip jar around here?"
            Boy Wonder chuckled. "No tip required,” he said. “It was my pleasure. You've got a great dog there."

Two weeks later, the Paw Prints clinic was abuzz. I heard the whispers and yells into the back.
            "Wonder Dog's here!”
            Pretty Young Vet sat crisscross-applesauce on the floor and fingered Little Paint's buttons, one by one.
            "Amazing," she said. She smiled up at me. "We've been trying to recruit that guy for years."
            “You should marry him,” I said. “If you don’t have a husband, that is.”
            Vet techs and vets lined up to examine Boy Wonder's handiwork. Little Paint decided her chest was getting too much attention and her head not enough, so she deposited a pineapple-sized poo pile on the floor.
            The girl vet grinned and scooped up the mess with an inside out Ziplock bag. She flipped the bag right side out, zipped it, and tossed it in a corner. After she washed her hands, she crouched in front of Little Paint, cradled her face, and kissed her on the nose.
            "You're going to be just fine, Wonder Dog," she said. "No way you'd be better off dead."

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

*Fast Dogs* Part IV

It was 11:39 a.m. when I answered the door. I remember. A 50-ish woman stood on the porch. Her eyes were kind. A young boy, about six, with butter-colored hair seemed velcroed to her side. He wouldn't look at me. A thought flitted through my mind:  He's afraid of me.
            I cracked the screen door and smiled. "Yes?"
            The woman fiddled with her hands before she spoke. "Do you have a long-legged brown dog?"
            My smile grew. I stepped out on the porch. "Yes, I do," I said. "Do you have her?"
            She winced. The little boy disappeared behind her.
            "No. We just saw her get hit by a truck."
            I sagged against the door frame. It felt like a Shop-Vac was stealing my breath.
            "You what? No! Where?"
            "I followed her here," the woman said.
            I glanced left, then right.
            The woman pointed behind me. "I'm thinking she's on your back porch."
            I stepped back inside. "Y'all go around," I said through the screen door. "I'll meet you."

Our middle child, the drama queen, turned thirteen the day our brown, long-legged, beagle-howling, slut puppy sister hound waged war with a celery-colored Ford pick-up truck. Little Paint had gotten away from me when I went to put her in the dog run that morning. For fifteen minutes I'd searched the neighborhood calling her name.
            "She'll come back," I told Daisy as I brought her back in the house after a bit. "She always does."

There she was. On the back porch. Lying down, sides heaving. She doesn't look so bad, I thought. She's just resting. I let my breath go.
            I stepped out onto the porch. Little Paint didn't look up.
            Kind Woman appeared around the side of the house. She approached slowly. Hands extended. Palms up.
            "Easy, girl."
            "Thank God she's okay," I said.
            "I don't know," the woman said. "Look at the contusion on this side of her face."
            I had to step over Little Paint to see. A gaspy squeak escaped me. It was like a racquetball was inside her upper lip. She didn't blink. Her gaze went past me, or through me.
            Kind Woman didn't take her eyes off Little Paint. "I saw blood around her rectum. I don't know if she has a laceration back there or not. Could be internal bleeding."
            The Shop-Vac stole more air.
            "And her chest," the woman said. "It's the worst."
            I whimpered. Caught the reflection of my eyes in the storm door. They looked like Little Paint's. Dull. Shocky.
            I clenched the screen door handle. "Can you watch her a minute? So I can call my husband?"
            Kind Woman nodded. Before I went in, I glanced out in the yard.  The blonde boy stood about ten feet away from us. He was staring at me. It was like he thought I might self-destruct and he didn't want anything to get on him.
            "Call Pawprints," my husband said. "Tell 'em you're coming. See if the woman will help you get Paint in the car."
            I nodded, as if he could see me. I phoned Pawprints. Shut my eyes and groaned when I heard, "Anh! Anh! Anh!"
            I stepped out on the porch and knelt down. I gently pressed three tiny white pellets inside Little Paint's mouth. The woman's eyes narrowed.
            "It's Arnica, a homeopathic remedy for trauma to tissue."
            She nodded. Her shoulders lowered.
            I stood. A blob of blood caught my eye. It was there on the hem of my shirt. That's when my brain seemed to register everything. I searched the yard again. Before I choked out a word, before the first tear fell, I noticed the blonde boy step back and cover his ears.
            "I looked for her. But it's my daughter's thirteenth birthday. So I came back in. To get ready. She wants an Oreo cheesecake."
            I put my hands over my nose and mouth and smeared snot and tears across my cheeks and into my hair. I held my sticky hands in front of my face. They shook, like I'd had way too much coffee.
            "She always comes back," I said, between sobby hiccups. "Or someone calls and I go get her. Daisy too. That's her sister. They usually escape together."
            The woman's mouth pulled to one side. The boy was in my neighbor's yard now. The kind eyes followed my gaze.           
            "That's my grandson, Owen," she said.
            I snorted snot and waved. "Hi, Owen."
            He squinted at me. Crossed his arms. Shut his eyes. Didn't open them back up.
            I turned back to the woman. "Can you help get her in my car?"
            "Sure. If she'll let me. Sometimes hurt animals—"
            "Yeah. I know,” I looked past her. "Larry!"
            The woman's forehead furrowed. I pointed to the yard where Owen was. My neighbor, Larry, a pastor, had walked out on his back porch.
            I took a couple steps toward him, my hand on my chest. "Little Paint just got hit."
            I saw his lips move, but I couldn't hear what he said. Couldn't tell if it was serrated or not. Maybe he was praying.
            I inhaled little raggedy breaths. "Can you help get her in the car?"
            Larry came quickly. In his socks.
            I fetched my keys and beeped the car. Ran to open the back door for them. Larry and Kind Lady grabbed the front and back of the porch rug Little Paint had collapsed on. She didn't growl. Didn't budge. She looked high.
            I got in the car and murmured to Little Paint as they settled her on the back seat.  Larry shut the door. He and Kind Woman waved as I drove up the alley. Owen peeked around his grandmother's side.
            "Thank you!" I said, as I glanced at them in the rearview mirror. "Thank you so much!"

"Please don't die, Little Paint," I said as I turned from alley to road.
            I peered through the blue at the top of the windshield. "God, please. Keep her alive 'til we get to Pawprints."
            "How much is that doggy in the window?" I sang. "Do you like that, Sweetie?” I looked back at her when I stopped at the intersection of Grand and Wilson. Her tail rose and fell. Once.
            "Where, oh where has my little dog gone?" I chanted the rest of the song as I drove the rollercoaster road between Sabraton and the Mileground.
            When I was stopped at the traffic light before 705, I heard a long, low moan. I clenched my teeth before I turned back. The Shop Vac seemed to have gotten a hold of Little Paint's breath too. I reached in back and waved my arm around.
            "Please don't die, baby. We're almost there."
            I pointed to the right. "See? There's Exotic Jungle. That's where I get your pig ears.”
            I wiped my nose on my sleeve and looked out at the sky.
            "Have mercy. Please. On Little Paint. On me. Pretty please?"
            I swerved into the turn lane and waited for a break in the line of oncoming cars. I glanced in the back seat again. Little Paint opened her eyes for a second. They were more white than brown. I heard my sinus drainage go down my throat.
            I pressed the gas and we jerked in front of the approaching traffic. A car horn cussed me out.
            "Stay with me!" I said to Little Paint. I caught a glimpse of my face in the rearview mirror. I looked like a rained-on sidewalk chalk portrait.
            "Stay awake, girl. See? We're here. It won't be long now!"
            I found the last spot in the parking lot. Shoved the gearshift into park. Jumped out. Didn't bother to close my door. I flung the clinic door open and leaned against it.
            "Someone please help! My dog just got hit by a car!"
            The receptionist sprang up and leaned across the counter. Searched the floor. I pointed outside. With one hand she gave me a box of tissues. With the other, she pressed the intercom button.
            "All available staff to the front. Stat!"

Friday, April 20, 2012

*Fast Dogs* Part III

"Are you praying for them to come home, Daddy?" Middle Child asked my husband at dinner that night. He glared at her. She twisted in her chair to face me.
            "Are you praying for the dogs to come back, Mommy?"
            I didn't look up from my pork chop. "Sort of."
            All three kids gawked at me. "Sort of?”  
            “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 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 being honest here! You know what I'd like? I'd love for them 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 hands. We all jumped.
            "I've got it!" she said. She stabbed her chest with her pointer finger. "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 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 lay in bed that night, squinting 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 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 their sake, could you 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 returned after an hour.
            "Any luck?" I said, as I arranged a bowl of pretzels and cups of lemonade on the kitchen table.
            They all shook their heads and looked at their laps.
            A little while later, the kids were donning their jackets to leave when one of the oldest kids peeked out the kitchen door window.
            "Hey! Hey, you guys! Little Paint's home! She's on your back porch.”
            I cracked the back door and there she was, what was left of her anyway. The once stout and strong brown dog seemed to have lost at least fifteen pounds. 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.  As soon as she plopped down on her blanket, she was covered with almost a dozen kids—a dog pile, for real.
            "Careful," I said, wrinkling my nose. "She may have rolled in cow poo."
            They didn't care. They petted and kissed and stroked every inch of her.
            I phoned my husband at work. "You're never gonna guess what just happened."
.           "They didn't."
            "Little Paint did."
            "No way."
            "Way," I said. "Guess Drama Girl's fasting got God's attention after all."
            "Guess so," my husband said. "Wonder what happened to Daisy May?"

The next morning, I discovered Daisy on the back porch. Curled in a tight ball, nose under her tail. I drummed my fingers on the window. She looked up and blinked a couple times. 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 two 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 kind of 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 gave her the evil eye 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 said. I didn't miss the snide look little Miss Drama Girl gave me beneath her substantial lashes.
            Both dogs rolled onto their backs, their legs stiff in the air, as if to offer their paws for pampering.
            My son laid 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. "They always do. They're like cats, these two. They seem to have nine lives. I'm just worried one of these days their lives are gonna run out."


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

*Fast Dogs* Part II

My son was a mucous mess when he crawled upstairs to inform me the long-legged, beagle-howling, slut puppy sister hounds had run away. Again. I drew him onto my lap and used my shirt sleeve to dab at the snot beneath his nose.
            "They'll come back, honey," I said into his damp curls. "They always do."
            "I hope so, Mommy. 'Cause I don't want 'em to get smooshed by a car and have to be scraped off the street with a splatula."
            I cupped his chin and rotated his face. "What in the world are you talking about?"         
            "That's what Daddy said would happen someday."
            "Did he really? Well, why don't you pray right now the dogs will come home by supper?"
            My little guy bowed his head and clenched his hands together.
            "Dear God," he said.
            I peeked through my lashes. His eyes were squinched shut and his little boy forehead was lined with effort. I felt like a bike tire pump was attached to my heart, swelling it with little gusts of honeysuckle-scented air.
            "Please bring Daisy and Little Paint home sooner than now. And please don't let them get squished by a car. I think if I had to look at their blood and guts 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 them so much, God. They're so soft and nice. They let me lay on them like a couch. Please bring 'em home soon. Please? Thank you. 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."
             In the foyer we opened the front door. No dogs. On the back porch we whistled and promised treats. Nothing.
            That night, I peeked out at the porches one more time before I went to bed. Nada. They weren't there in the morning either.

At lunch I spoke into my yogurt cup. “They’ve never been gone longer than a few hours. Maybe they’re not coming back this time.”
            I glanced up at the ceiling. And waited. To see if my heart would feel happy or sad.
            When our middle child came home from school that afternoon, she flung her jean jacket to one side of the foyer and her backpack to the other.
            "Are the dogs back? Did anyone call?”
            As I bent to pick up her scatterings, I told her no and no. She phoned the animal shelter and asked if they'd found a tan, Beagle-looking, long-legged girl dog and a white and tan, Beagle-looking, long-legged girl dog. Tears streaked her face as she nestled the phone back in its base.
            When she phoned the shelter the next day, the guy at the pound said, "Look, miss. Don't call us anymore. We'll call you. If we find them."
            Middle Child sprang up from the settee, her pointer finger in the air.
            “The mailman,” she said as she darted out the front door.
            Not a bad thought. Our mail carrier loved the dogs. Brought them Milk Bones every day. Called Daisy and Little Paint his girlfriends.
            “He promised he'd keep an eye out for them,” Middle Child said when she returned.
            At supper, the kids prayed for the dogs to come home. At bedtime, they beseeched God yet again.

The next day, the kids created fliers and posted them on every telephone pole within a mile of our house. They organized a search party with neighborhood kids.
            "I'll give whoever finds them, two dollars," Middle Child said. "One for each dog."

On the fifth day, all three kids cornered me. "Do something, Mommy!”
            "Like what?"
            They crowded into my personal space bubble, eyes huge and shiny, hands flailing.     
            "Like . . . something!"
            I phoned the newspaper and placed a missing dogs ad in the Saturday and Sunday papers.
            “No charge,” the lady said. “And don't worry. This’ll work. I got my cat back the day I ran an ad.”
            She was wrong. No one called. Days number six and seven came and went.
            "Do you think they'll ever come back?" I asked my husband as I pasted my toothbrush that 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 if they can find their way back."
            I sipped water and swished and spat. Then sighed. "You're probably right. No one's called from the paper. I bet they lost their collars. Or their i.d. tags fell off."

The next day I phoned the vet and cancelled the dogs' upcoming check-up. When the gal asked why, I confessed the dogs had skipped town.
            "Daisy and Little Paint? No way!" the clinic receptionist said. "Bring us a flier and we'll hang it up on our bulletin board. We’ll get your doggy daughters back."
            My husband grumbled when I handed him a sign to deliver to the vet's office.
            "You know I don't want them back, don't you?”
            I nodded. I knew.

Friday, April 13, 2012

*Fast Dogs*

 (Part I)
When our long-legged, beagle-howling, slut puppy sister hounds run away, my husband always says a prayer. "I pray they never come back."
            I'm telling you what, they were so cute when we got them at the Manteo Island Animal Shelter thirteen years ago. I loved the way their silky ears were bigger than their heads. I stuck my nose in their mouths to sniff their milky baby breath. Thing is, puppies are like kids. They almost always outgrow their initial cuteness.
            No one at the shelter knew the pups' birth date so I decided it would be April Fool's Day. It seems I was waxing prophetic. Only question was, who was the fool? Us or the dogs?
            It was Friday of our vacation week and it was raining to beat all. At the beach. It'd poured more days than not that week. We'd done all the indoor things that could be done—the lame mall, the Rugrats Movie, the sea shell shops.
            We weren't in the market for a pet right then. In fact, we were on the tail end of the mourning period for our seven year-old pure-bred Beagle. Lacy June Bug Lulu Bell, daughter of Happy Time Barbie and Happy Time Ken, had succombed to an overdose of feminine protection products. Man, was the house quiet without her strident hunting howl. Boy, did I miss the way she'd sneak one paw, then another, then all of her, into my lap while I was watching ER.
            The plan had been to spend the rainy morning at the animal shelter, petting puppies and kittens. An hour after arriving though, I was writing a check and signing a paper. Swearing we'd be awesome animal owners when we returned to West Virginia. The shelter staff even phoned our vet back home, Dr. Doom. He testified that we were excellent pet owners and promised the pups would get shot and spayed at the appropriate times.

The invisible fence that worked most of the time for Lacy worked none of the time for Daisy and Little Paint. That's what I named them. Actually, that's what I renamed them. I refused to step out on our back porch and yell, "Here, Sea Shell. Here, Suntan Lotion.” Those were the girls' names for the pups.
            "Nuh-unh," I said. "This one'll be Daisy, 'cause she's white and yellow. That one'll be Little Paint, 'cause it looks like someone dipped her tail in a bucket of black paint."
            At first it was like a game, them running over the buried shock wire. When they were real small, they'd let out a pitiful yelp as the black box with shiny spikes punished their tender throats. Pretty soon though, they seemed to figure out the pain was lessened, or shortened at least, with speed. They'd fold their long, young legs under their deep ribcages and explode. Zero to fifteen miles per hour, just like that.
            My husband fixed them. He and his dad built a 5' x 40' dog run on one side of our property. Attached it to the neighbors' chain link fence. For a week or two, the girl pups seem to have been divested of their joie de vivre. Whenever my daughters called me outside to push them on the swings, the dogs'd stare at me through the fence with their big, Milk Dud-looking eyes. I wasn't a dog whisperer, but I was pretty sure I knew what they were thinking. Just like Cindy Lou Who in Dr. Suess's, The Grinch, they were begging to know one thing—why?
            Wasn't long before Daisy and Little Paint fixed us. They started climbing over, digging under, or chewing through their dog run. If they were in the kitchen and the back door was ajar, they knew it and carpe diemed. If there was nothing but a toddler between them and a screen door, the child was sacrificed for the greater good—the wild blue yonder.
            Scrapes, contusions and high-pitched wails of "No, doggies! No!" were ignored. Sometimes the dogs'd stop smack dab in the middle of the street and glance back at us. Daring us to try to catch them. Their blue-black, rick rack gums flapped. Their tongues hung to one side like strips of warm, strawberry taffy. Their eyes seemed to smile. Seemed to say, "Looky! Looky! Look at me! I'm a doggy that's now free!"

The same scene stuttered the same way, over and over. Never changing. Once a week for months it seemed. Then once a month for years. Wore me out. Wore me down.
            I'd have an hour or two before the phone rang. "Is this Daisy and Little Paint's mom?" 
            I perceived a serrated tone in every caller's voice. I pictured one hand on   his or her hip, the pointer finger on their other hand wagging. 
            "I have your dogs. Can you come and get them please? Like, right now 'cause I'm fixin’ to go to the mall any minute. And another thing, you shouldn't . . .” Fuss. Fuss. Fuss.
            I never defended myself. Never blamed my kids or the dogs. I'd just drive down the hill, or one neighborhood over, and say, "Thank you so much! I was very worried. I've been driving around for an hour.” Even if I wasn't. Even if I hadn't been. Even if I'd been praying that prayer of my husband's.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Three for the Price of One

At the end of the day I recline on a wide and silver raft, bobbing in the ocean’s surf. Content. Occasionally I open an eye to admire the rainbow sherbet sky. It would be perfect if only—
            I scramble up on my elbows. Survey all around me. Who spoke?
            A cup of Chick-Fil-A lemonade appears in my hand. What the—
            “Are you comfortable?” The raft inflates slightly.
            “Do you feel safe?”
            Eyes wide, heartbeat nudging my bathing suit top, I nod.
            “Look. Someone’s waving at you from the beach.”

He’s in a creamy linen suit, a soft blue shirt underneath, heading my way. The surf mist stirs the hair that frames his face, coaxes it to curl. He reaches for my hand. I scoot to the edge of the raft and pinch at his fingertips. He pulls me to standing. Walks through the ocean froth beside me. To the shore.
            There’s a low table set for two on a jewel-toned tapestry. He kneels and dusts off my feet before I step onto the carpet.
            “Care for a glass of wine? Some bread?”
            “Will it taste like . . . Like your—”
            He smiles. “Don’t worry. It’s wonderful.”
            After we eat, drink, he reaches for me again. “Shall we dance?”
            And we do. He holds me close. The smell of him is clean sweat and ocean air. I enjoy the feel of his strong palm in the curve of my back. Notice the knots of scar tissue. In the center of both hands.
            “May I dip you?”
            His eyes. What in the world color are they? Every.
            “Yes. Please.”
            Twirl. Sway. Dip.
            I rest my head in the valley of his chest. Mouth I love you
            I sneak a peek at his face. His gaze is serious.
            “Don’t just love me. Be in love with me.”
            When we spin, all of me buzzes.
            “There’s someone I want you to meet,” he says into my hair.
“There are many things I do,” the Spirit says as I stoop to pick up a pretty shell. “Teach, convict, comfort. But most of what I do could be considered revelation. What would you like for me to reveal, my child? Anything but that thought you just had.”
            The cross. I had asked to see Calvary. Needed to.
            “Beloved, you hold up your hand to shield from your vision dead animals by the side of the road. Cover your head with a blanket when a lion stalks a gazelle on television.”
            I whimper. And nod. “I know. But just give me a glimpse, five seconds maybe. That’s all I need.”
            “All you need for what?”
            I brush my fingers over my collarbone. It feels a tad sunburned. And then it doesn't.
            “You know,” I said. Of course he does. He’s God. One of the trio. Nothing escapes their comprehension.
            “Yes, but speak it anyway. Words are how you make sense of things. For yourself and others. Say it for you.”
            I squinch my face. “But it’s awful.”
            “Not to me.”
            I gaze down the beach to the left. No one. I look to the right. Everyone seems to have gone inside. I shiver.
            “Move into the water,” the Spirit says. “It’s warmer there.”
            I wade in up to my knees. Lower myself into the bathtub warmth of it. Beside me, the water stirs.
            “Have you ever seen a person die?” Spirit says.
            “And funerals frighten you.”
            I nod.
            Warmth and weight rest across my shoulders, a yoke.
            “You’re not Thomas, you know.”
            I turn toward where I think he is. Blink several times before my salt water drops into his.
            “But I am.” A breeze brushes my face and I’m sure he told it to. To dry my tears.
            “You believe," he says. "Without seeing. Without touching scars.”
            “Yes, but I want to believe more.” 
            “Ah. Then you are like the possessed boy’s father.”
            I huff. “I wish I was him,” I say. “Or one of the disciples. They witnessed everything. The healings, Lazarus emerging from his tomb, Calvary, the empty grave.”
            I face another direction, unsure of where the Spirit is now.
            “After all they saw, they weren’t afraid. Ever again. They told everyone. About Jesus. I don’t. Not like I should. I’m a scaredy cat.”
            Ripples are everywhere now. “I heard something once,” Spirit says, “that you may find useful. ‘Comparison is the thief of joy.’”
            I think on that as my eyes take in the peach-colored seam of light on the horizon.
            “Some think you very brave,” the Spirit says. His voice sounds like the wind now. “They believe your faith considerable.”
            I grind my wrist into my nose. Swish my hand in the sea foam.
            “They’re wrong. I don’t have a mustard seed, probably not even a mustard atom.”
            “Child, words are powerful, spoken or written. Consider how mine have endured.”
            I splash water onto my shoulders. Walk my hands back along the ocean floor until my hair floats behind me and the sea kisses my chin.
            “Hold your breath,” the Spirit says.
            I puff my cheeks out and am pressed under the waves then quickly buoyed up. I grin. Wipe water from my cheeks.
            “Look there,” the Spirit says. “Above you.”
            A bird flies overhead, not a seagull or pelican though. I squint. Is that a . . . The evening’s waning light outlines the dove in silver. I follow her flight as she traces a circle in the sky.
            Inside my head Spirit’s voice is soft, personal. “This is my daughter, whom I love; with her I am well pleased, no matter what she thinks.”
            I search the water’s surface for the place I’d last seen ripples. I spin, seeking. The sea is smooth now everywhere I look. Like a page. I feel suddenly lonely so I dogpaddle toward the shore. When my knees scrape bottom, I stand. Shudder at the chill of the night air. I race to my beach towel. It’s neatly folded even though I’m sure I left it in disarray. I wrap myself in its embrace. It’s warm, very. Like someone was inside it, just a moment ago.

(I'm not sure I love-love this piece so I am providing an alternative below.)

He is risen!


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