Or...? Could it possibly be? My mind raced.
I searched my recollections from those earliest days, so long ago. I recreated visually the scenes from the alley: our cozy home behind the trash cans, our little litter cuddled there together. There I could see Wispy in my memory, the smallest among us, struggling always to find her place. She had looked so undernourished, so bedraggled, so appealing in her homeliness, with her fur unkempt and her tail not quite straight.
Suddenly I remembered with certainty and recognition the small patch of discolored fur on Wispy's left hip.
In disbelief I rushed over to the television set as if I could will the commercial to run again. But the screen was blank, the set dark and silent. Emily's mother had left the room. The only sounds in the farmhouse kitchen were the faint hum of the refrigerator, the snores of the two Siamese cats, and the rain falling against the windows.
I tried desperately to think what to do.
Stay!: Keeper's Story
OH, IF ONLY A DOG COULD CONVERSE in human speech! Life would be so much easier. If we could write letters, send e-mail, pick up a telephone and communicate! Instead, when told, "Speak!" we put forth an abbreviated "Woof," which garners us a pat on the head and a biscuit.
I needed no praise or biscuits now. I needed information.
Pretending to be napping on the rug, I spent most of the day trying to figure out a way to find Wispy. I was quite certain it had been she in the commercial. No other dog in the world could be so much like me in mannerisms and yet at the same time have that familiar patch of discolored fur, that particular bend to the tail.
The only way was the one I did not want to undertake. I felt that by using my canine sense of direction, smell, and memory, I could very probably find my way back to the city where I had lived. It would take time, and I would have to make my way again through the woods, foraging, to reach the golf course from which I had fled. From there it would be even more difficult, but I know there have been cases where lesser dogs than I have followed car routes for many miles.
In the city, I could make my way to the photographer again. I knew that in his keeping I would find my sister, though how she had achieved the role as my replacement was beyond my powers of imagination.
But to make such a journey would mean leaving the little farmhouse and the family—even the cats—that I had come to love and call mine. What kind of Keeper would I be if I abandoned those dear ones who had taken me in?
There were moral questions involved.
I tossed and turned on the rug, groaning aloud as I wrestled with my options. What is the answer? What is the way?
To leave? Remain? To go? To ...
I was torn not only with indecision but with the frustrations of a poet looking for the right word. Abide didn't rhyme at all, though it had the right meaning. Being a poet is so difficult.
Bert and Ernie, watching me from the windowsill, finally expressed their impatience with my moral and literary struggles, even though they didn't know the cause of my agony.
"Geeeez," they whined in unison. "How can we sleeeep, with you making so much noise?" Finally they rose, looked at me in disgust, and went back upstairs to their alternative napping place.
When Emily came home from school, she knelt beside the place where I still lay on the rug. "You didn't meet me on the road," she said in concern. "What's the matter, Keeper?"
I lifted my head and looked into her solemn, trusting eyes. Poor child! She had no idea that I was wrestling with the idea of leaving her. The realization made me groan anew.
"Mom!" Emily called. "Something's wrong with Keeper! He's groaning! I think he's sick!" Her voice was worried, and she stroked my head gently.
Her mother hurried into the kitchen and knelt beside Emily. It was a lovely moment, lying there surrounded by humans who cared for me. My eyes actually filled with tears at the sweetness of it.
Stay!: Keeper's Story
"Maybe he just has a cold," Emily's mother said. "His eyes are running. And he did sneeze this morning when he came in from the rain."
"But I think his stomach hurts, too," Emily said. "He was groaning a minute ago."
A plan began to form suddenly in my mind. Yes! I began to perceive a way in which I could find a route to my sister, and I would not have to survive in the woods, eating rabbit! It was suddenly quite clear to me what I must do.
I whimpered a little and rested my head uncomfortably on the bare floor.
Emily's mother rose and went to the refrigerator. "Let's see if he'll eat something," she suggested to Emily. "What does he like best? What would tempt him?"
"Not dogfood," Emily said. "He hates dogfood. Do we have any leftover macaroni and cheese? He loves macaroni and cheese."
Her mother looked at her suspiciously. "How do you know that?"
Emily blushed. "I fed him some, under the table," she confessed. "He really loved it."
Her mother sighed. But I could see, even from my reclining position with my half-closed, moist eyes, that she was removing the covered baking dish from the refrigerator.
"Should I put some in the microwave, do you think?" she asked Emily.
I groaned in reply. A dog doesn't need his food warmed. Cold macaroni and cheese was the finest treat I could imagine. I lifted my head and upped my ears slightly. I allowed my tail to thump pathetically against the floor.
"I don't think he cares," Emily said. "Just give it to him cold. See? He's looking better already."
I watched alertly while her mother scooped a lavish helping of macaroni and cheese into the bowl marked FIDO.
But as she set the bowl beside me, I remembered the plan that had come to me just a moment before. I remembered my sister. I knew that everything depended on my ability to withstand temptation at this moment.
It was excruciating. But with the bowl of macaroni within six inches of my mouth, with the smell of macaroni, and especially the smell of cheddar cheese, and a hint of Parmesan, permeating my nostrils, with wild desire palpitating in my very soul, I forced myself to turn away. It was perhaps my finest moment of renunciation. I groaned loudly, writhed a little, and placed my head miserably on the floor.
"That does it," said Emily's mother, and I could hear her lift the bowl and place it on the table. "He is sick. Put your raincoat back on, Emily. We're taking him to the vet."
She carried me to the car. I lay limp in her arms, as good an actor, I thought, as Lassie or Rin-Tin-Tin. I did feel a little guilty, deceiving them, but it was part of the plan that I hoped would serve us all well in the end.
Stay!: Keeper's Story
Stay!: Keeper's Story
EMILY'S MOTHER, LOOKING CONCERNED, lifted me gently to the familiar stainless steel table and laid my unresponsive body on the cold metal. Emily stood nearby, her nose level with the tabletop, watching me, her face worried. I remained limp, feigning serious illness. Feebly, I opened my eyes in order to ascertain that the veterinarian leaning over me was the same one who had treated me so long ago in my previous life as Pal. Sure enough, he was the same overweight, jolly man with rimless glasses that I remembered from the earlier days.
So it was time to act. I jostled the doctor's arm and the stethoscope aside and scrambled to an upright position. Quickly, before he could restrain me, I assumed the posture that I had affected in so many magazine photographs and television commercials: the studied, casual pose, head tilted, looking bored and above it all. Then slowly I lifted my upper lip. Majestically, I sneered.
Emily squealed in surprise. "It's the dog on the TV!"
Her mother, staring at me, said, "Keeper?"
But I did not resume my Keeper persona, not yet. I continued to sneer.
The veterinarian looked at me closely. He put his stethoscope down. "Where did you get this dog?" he asked Emily and her mother.
"Why, ah, he just—"
Emily interrupted. "He followed me home from school! And he didn't have a collar, so we couldn't..."
I dropped my sneer and listened intently. My ears were erect, and I'm certain that my eyes had an intelligent, querying look.
Thoughtfully, the doctor rubbed my fur. "He's not sick," he said, stating the obvious. "But he looks very familiar."
"Well, no wonder he looks familiar," Emily's mother said impatiently. "We brought him in here for his shots just last spring."
"No, no, of course I remember that. But he looks familiar in another way."
I sighed. Still on the table, I stood, repeating to myself what had become a sort of mantra of self-display.
Upright, my tail! Forward, my paws!
I tried to shed any remnant of the placid household pet and to show them that I had had a previous existence as a star. Of course I couldn't strut forward, or I would have fallen off the table onto the tile floor, defeating my purpose and destroying my own dignity. And the steel table made it difficult to stand properly, because there was no traction for my claws. But I posed the way I often had in my days as a supermodel: eyes forward, expression one of profound aloofness and disdain.
"Pal?" the veterinarian said suddenly. I turned my head in his direction and felt that we were on our way to revelation.
"Keeper?" Emily said in a puzzled voice. I turned my head to her, too. She raised her hand toward me and I licked it gently. It tasted of sweat and pocket fuzz, not a great combination. But it tasted of Emilyness, too.
The veterinarian went to his filing cabinet, the same cabinet from which he had, just a few minutes before, removed the medical records of a dog named Keeper. This time he rummaged until he found those of Pal. Carefully he compared the weight and description, glancing over at me from time to time as he studied the chart.
"He can't be that dog on the TV," Emily's mother said, "because just this morning I saw that dog in an ad for yogurt!"
"They run those ads over and over, Mom," Emily pointed out. Her voice was very glum. "Probably he made the yogurt ad months ago."
She could, of course, have been correct. But she wasn't. I had never made a yogurt commercial in my life. One does have one's standards.
"Will we have to give him back?" Emily asked in a small voice, and I could see that there were tears in her eyes.
The veterinarian, with Pal's chart and its information in his hand, went to the telephone and began to dial.
We drove home, back to the little ivy-covered farmhouse, and fed the cats, both of them wild with curiosity though they pretended to be blasé. Instead of the usual conversation at dinner between Emily and her mother, there was only the sound of forks against the plates. Occasionally someone said something about the weather, the way humans do when they are overwhelmed by situations. I sat before my bowl, that silly thing with FIDO painted on its side, and nibbled halfheartedly at my food. Gloom filled the kitchen.
In the morning all of us were silent in the car as we proceeded to the city. Each of us, I'm certain, was remembering with dismay the photographer's response to the veterinarian's phone call. He had been overjoyed to hear that I had been found. Yes, he had explained, he had found a substitute dog—a female, he said, confirming what I had known, that it was Wispy—but just think! Now he would have a pair of them! Picture the excitement in the world of advertising!