Stay Keeper's Story Page 3

Seeking solace, I tried to write an ode to Mother but found I could not finish. Everything I composed ended with the word alone, and the only rhyme I could think of was bone. The more I thought of bone, the less I thought about Mother. I realized, as my attention turned to urgent needs, that I was very hungry. My nose twitched. Suddenly I sniffed, from some unexplored place around the corner, something that might well be breakfast.

Unbidden, new poetry came to me: Upright, my tail! Forward, my legs!

I think I smell some ham and biscuits!

No, of course, it had to be eggs! I began to see how poetry worked. I said the couplet again to myself with satisfaction and new energy. It sounded like an anthem or a marching song. It cheered me. Orphaned now, but not overwhelmed, I turned my back on my past and set forth.

Stay!: Keeper's Story

Stay!: Keeper's Story

Chapter 3

AT THE CORNER OF THE ALLEY I stopped. Ahead of me lay a busy street, not at all like the quiet, neglected place that had been my home for all of my previous life. In the way of dogs, I sniffed cautiously. I erected my ears to their maximum alertness and tilted my head to listen.

Mother had taught us each scrupulously about the use of senses. "Nose, ears, eyes," she had said again and again, so that we would memorize the correct order of importance. Nose, ears, eyes. It sounds easy. But my less bright brothers had tended to look and leap without stopping to sniff and listen. Mother had reminded them with increasing impatience. I could almost hear her voice reminding me now.

Nose. I could smell gasoline exhaust: great gagging bursts from the back of a large bus that moved away from the curb to my right. I caught a whiff of newsprint quite nearby, and turned my head to see a folded paper in the entrance of a building to my left. As I assessed the paper, congratulating my nose a bit, I sniffed Male Human, and indeed was able to congratulate my accuracy again as a man opened a door, stepped outside, and leaned down to pick up the folded newspaper.

The scent of his stale tobacco-tinged breath was familiar to me from the dishwashers who often smoked beside the restaurant's back door. I brought my ears into play, aimed them toward the man, and heard the scratch and flare of a match as he lit up and drew deeply on the cigarette. Then he took himself, his scent, and the aroma of newspaper and cigarette back into the building and behind its closed door. A slight odor remained, but the freshness, the sharp pungency, was gone.

Breakfast. The scents that had attracted me were still there, drifting in from a distance, and I was still very hungry. "Forward, legs ..." my poetic voice was still saying.

But I knew I should be wary. A dogs life is fraught with potential danger: from Car, from Cat, from Man, from Hostile Dog, and from all the frightening subcategories therein.

So I proceeded with utmost caution. Sniffing, listening, and watching in all directions, I ventured forth around the corner and along the sidewalk that bordered the busy street.

Inching my way carefully past a wheeled vehicle containing a baby, I was startled when a sticky hand reached out and grabbed my left ear. It was my first experience of being touched by a human, and I did not like it very much. Of course it was a subhuman, being only an infant; nonetheless, its grab hurt. An ear is a very delicate thing.

Stay!: Keeper's Story

I confess that I yipped.

"Max!" its mother shrieked, and removed its hand from me in an alarmed fashion. I was not surprised. It was an alarming event, the possible damage to my ear. In addition, the baby's hand was not at all clean. It was filled with half-chewed cookie.

"Never, never touch a dog!" the mother said in a firm, frightened voice.

I liked that mother. She understood the grave potential danger to my ear.

The baby waved its hands about, paying no attention what-soever to its mother. It behaved in much the same manner as my brothers, frisking about and not listening to instructions. My heart went out to that wonderful mother, trying so nobly to explain to her child the rules of kindness to dogs.

"Max?" the mother said sternly. "Are you listening to me?"

Pay attention, Max, I commanded under my breath. She is teaching you valuable lessons about the importance of being both gentle and generous to dogs. Listen.

The baby stared at his mother. He had rather bulbous eyes, and there was dried mucus, nostril in origin, encrusted on his upper lip. He was not well groomed. His fingernails were dirty, and he was arranging his right index finger into a pointing position, clearly planning to poke me some place exquisitely painful on my face.

"Dogs are filthy creatures, Max!" the mother said, to my astonishment. "They're nasty! They carry diseases! And they bite!" she added untruthfully.

I hardly knew how to react to such glaring deceit. Finally I decided that the only dignified response would be to walk away.

First, though, since he was still waving his hand about, I bent over, took Max's half-eaten cookie in my mouth, and consumed it in one gulp. Then I flipped my young but already glorious tail to one side with disdain and continued on without looking back.

The smell of breakfast was coming from a fast-food place down the street. Eagerly I made my way along the sidewalk, around humans carrying packages. There were no other babies, for which I was grateful, having learned how ruthless they are, and the humans I passed ignored me. They seemed busy, hurried, and distracted.

Each human I passed emitted a variety of scents. The basic scent that said Human was primary and strongest, of course, and overlaid with the secondary scent of Male or Female. But these were covered superficially by a medley of soaps, perfumes, powders, cosmetics, shampoos, and the remains of many different breakfasts. Some were new and foreign to me. But I recognized others, taught to me by my mom: butter, for example, which had so often coated her lips after she had dined by the French restaurant's back door.

Cream, too, was familiar, as was coffee, which I did not like. I recognized bacon and bread, and soap was not new to me either. The hands of the dishwashers, the very hands that had carried away my puppy brothers and sister, were permeated with the fragrant, antiseptic odor of soap.

Perfume was unpleasant, and I wondered why females used it. In the dog world, there is no more pleasing scent to a male than the natural and undiminished bouquet of a female. Some, of course, are more appealing than others. Female poodles are not particularly appetizing, except perhaps to male poodles; I do not know why.

Most small breeds—Yorkie, Maltese, and the Dandie Dinmont—tend to have a perky and amusing aroma. Golden retrievers have a wonderfully warm and earthy scent, and a Newfoundland smells of the sea. At the time of which I am telling, I had not yet encountered many breeds of dog; those days, those meetings, were yet to come. But I did notice, setting forth on my first day as an independent, newly motherless being, the quite overwhelming fragrances with which humans tried to disguise their natural scents. No self-respecting dog would use perfume, I thought with a somewhat superior toss of my head as I trotted through the pungent crowd. Upright, my tail! Forward, my feet!

Prepare, teeth! We approach hamburger!

Of course I realized instantly that the second line should conclude with the word meat. Feeling that I was maturing as a poet, I repeated the verse in its revised, rhyming version as I approached the shop from which the smells were drifting. I ignored the humans lined up in front of the counter, where people wearing odd paper hats were taking their orders, and made my way craftily toward the back door. My mother had taught me well, especially about the location and acquisition of food. The back rooms of restaurants, populated by somewhat bored and often good-natured employees, had back doors, which were frequently open.

It was at such an open door that a needy dog should sit. I made my way there, reciting my poem to myself, rehearsing in my mind the sort of polite, wistful posture and expression I would use: the slight cock to the head, the wide eyes. I would not unless absolutely necessary raise my paws to a begging position. Mother had found such a pose demeaning—though on occasion she had been forced to use it—and I wanted to honor her memory.

Following the aroma of cooking and the cries of "Egg McMuffin!" and "Black coffee coming up!" I approached the back door. Indeed, as I had hoped, it was open.

Unfortunately, a terrifying rival had gotten there first. The flat-faced dog I confronted was well muscled and broad of chest; his short white fur was mottled with dirt. His eyes were red-rimmed, and a thick scar, jagged but well healed, on the side of his face pulled his lip askew, giving him the appearance of a perpetual snarl.

Upright my fur! Be brave, O pup! I said nervously to myself, feeling the hairs on my back bristle in apprehension, and failing to finish the poem. Mother had told me about Hostile Dogs; she had listed them among Things to Be Feared.

She was right. I feared him a lot. He was large, determined, and defiant. By contrast, I was small, uncertain, and fearful.

But we were both hungry.

His scent—possessive and alert—said that it was his restaurant door. His eyes glittered, watching me as I tiptoed very slowly forward. His tail (a stump, quite unattractive), resting behind him on the ground, moved slowly from one side to the other: not a friendly wag at all, but a symbol of antagonism and threat.

I bowed a bit, acknowledging his superior size and the fact that he was first in line. But I did not retreat. I was too hungry to retreat.

Stay!: Keeper's Story

His upper lip moved slightly, exposing his teeth. They were rather good teeth for a dog: even and sharp, nicely yellowed and worn, with long fangs on either side.

I still had my pointed baby teeth, quite new little biters that had served me well, and thought he might like to know that. So I raised my lip at him.

Scar (for I had named him, in my mind) stood before me in a pose of unrelenting threat, and his growl was steady.

We faced each other, and I feel that I was brave in my stance. But it was no contest. He was much larger and more experienced than I. Finally I retreated, moving backward slowly.

Staring at him in my retreat, I memorized his face and knew that someday I would see it again. He was not the sort of enemy who would disappear. I resolved that our next meeting would have a different outcome.

But for now I was the loser. When I had backed far enough to be out of his immediate realm, I turned around, still in a humiliated, beaten posture. But as I left the back of the restaurant and the passageway that led to it and its wealth of discarded food, I gathered my courage long enough to give one last flippant gesture. I raised my right leg and made my mark against the wall that defined his space.

Then I tossed my head and trotted hungrily away, knowing at least that Scar would have to live with my scent for a long time. Somehow that knowledge made my defeat more bearable.

Stay!: Keeper's Story

Stay!: Keeper's Story

Chapter 4


My mother had taught me that all puppies need children.

Adults are strict with their dogs, insisting that they eat designated food—usually not very tasty—from a particular bowl, often heavy and unattractive. Adults make their dogs sleep in not very cozy places: basements, garages, or wire cages (and they tell their human friends: "He loves his cage," which is not true, not one bit true), or sometimes on a flea-retardant dog bed stuffed with cedar shavings.

Source: www_Novel22_Net

Prev Next