Stay Keeper's Story

Page 13

Emily sat in the back seat with me, and I placed my head in her lap so that she could stroke behind my ears. Gazing up at her, I saw that she was crying, preparing herself sadly to relinquish her beloved pet.

It was not what I had wanted, not at all what my intention had been. I had no desire to return to the photographer and my glamorous city life; those things were what I had run away from months before.

All I had wanted was to see my sister! But I had no way of telling anyone.

As we approached the familiar neighborhood, I lifted myself up and pressed my face against the window of the car. I confess that I gave an extra little lick to the glass, trying to leave as much of myself as possible behind with my family, even in the form of smeared spit. I was gratified to notice that there was dog hair on the seat as well, and a half-chewed rawhide bone lying forgotten on the floor.

I watched Toujours Cuisine slide by as we turned a corner, and I whimpered, recognizing my birthplace there behind it, in the alley. How long ago it all seemed.

Not far away, Emilys mother, checking the written directions she'd been given, parked the car in front of the photographer's apartment building. He still lived in the same luxurious building; I could see that my family was impressed. Sighing, Emily clipped a newly purchased leash to my newly purchased collar. Thankfully, both were tasteful black leather, nothing with rhinestones or a monogram; still, they were a leash and a collar, and I had lived for so long now a free, unfettered country life. It made me sad. It made me inspired to compose. Leash and collar, collar and leash

Make a dog look nouveau riche.

Oh, the irony of it! That under these most unfortunate and worrying circumstances I had put together, with no effort at all, what might have been one of my better poems! The reversed repetition in the first line, the incorporation of the second language, and the clever, clever rhyme—

But I had no time to ponder it further. My brave, beloved Emily held the end of the leash as we ascended in the elevator to the familiar eighth floor, and it was she who patted my head reassuringly as we waited for the photographer to respond to our knock on the door of 8-E.

But it was dear Wispy who, standing at the photographer's side, first looked at me, startled, then sniffed, and finally leaped in joyful recognition and yelped in delight at my return.

"What's going on?" the photographer asked as he and Emily and Emily's mother watched my sister and me roll ecstatically together on the floor. "I thought she'd be territorial and aggressive. I thought he'd be upset at seeing another dog here in his place."

"I thought he'd be frightened," Emily's mother said. "He seemed very nervous in the car."

"He wasn't nervous," Emily corrected. "He was depressed."

Wispy and I lay panting, side by side, our tails thumping rhythmically on the rug. I glanced over and saw that her tail, though it had improved substantially since her early days when it was so inadequate, was still considerably less magnificent than mine. I was a little relieved by that. A little guilty about my feeling of relief, I licked Wispy's face in apology.

She licked me back, and with Emily beside us, we lay happily together on the rug, talking of the past, while the adult humans shared some coffee and discussed the future.

Stay!: Keeper's Story

Stay!: Keeper's Story

Chapter 16

"I WAS PEEKING OUT," I confessed to my sister, "when they took you away. I was under a piece of cardboard. And then I wanted to go, too, but by the time I ran after you, the door to the restaurant had closed and you were gone."

"You were brave to run after me," Wispy said.

"No," I confessed miserably, "I wasn't brave at all. I was a coward! I was hiding because I was frightened. But then I heard them say that you would go to a shelter and be put to sleep. I thought you'd have a nice raggedy blanket and a place next to a warm stove."

Wispy shook her head. "No," she said. "I had to stay in a cage. I got fleas. And the food was terrible."

"My food wasn't very good either," I said sympathetically. I told her about my time with Jack, how we foraged for food in dumpsters and trash cans. I told her about the rats, and saw her recoil in horror.

"I had fleas, too," I admitted, embarrassed.

The photographer had taken Emily's mother into the kitchen for coffee. In the background I could hear them talking. Emily lay on the floor with Wispy and me, her arms around us both. It was as if she could understand our conversation, though surely it must have been no more than grunts and whimpers to her human hearing.

"I didn't mind it there at the shelter," Wispy went on, "but it always made me sad when people came and took the other dogs away. Our brothers both got homes and families. The cook from the restaurant took Tug, and his friend was going to take Tussle, but he changed his mind. So they dropped both of us off at the shelter, and just a few days later someone came and picked Tussle as a birthday gift for his little boy. So Tussle got a family, too. But no one ever chose me." Her lip quivered a little.

She described how the spaniels, terriers, and shepherds in surrounding cages were admired and adopted, one by one. Shy as she was, it took Wispy a long time to make friends; and then, at the shelter, just as soon as she felt comfortable with a new companion, that one too would be chosen and taken away.

"Even cats," Wispy said in amazement. "Imagine that! People came and chose cats! They chose cats!"

What a humiliation it must have been for my sister. I groaned in sympathy.

"My time was almost up," she described. "You know, they only keep you at the shelter for a limited period. Then you have to be destroyed."

I yelped. "Destroyed?"

Wispy nodded sadly. "It happens," she said.

I was shocked. I had not known. We stopped talking briefly, our heads bowed, and we shared a moment of silence in honor of all unwanted dogs. Well, cats, too.

"What saved you?" I asked.

"The man who ran the shelter. I think he was fond of me. I never complained about the food—I always ate nicely. I didn't bark much. And I tried to keep my cage as neat as possible. So after a while, he decided to let me stay. I think, actually, he was breaking the rules.

"And then one day the photographer came to the shelter. He was frantic. He said that he'd lost his very valuable dog..."

I sighed, savoring the word valuable. Wispy paused.

"Go on," I told her. "How did he describe me?"

"Well, I heard him say that you were a full-grown male, highly intelligent—"

"Did he actually say highly?"

"Yes, I'm certain he did. Highly intelligent, and well trained—"

"Did he mention my appearance in particular?"

"Yes, because he was asking the man who ran the shelter if perhaps someone had turned you in there. He said he was looking for a medium-sized, long-haired—"

"Just long-haired? He didn't say anything about the quality of the hair itself? He might have used the word luxuriant, perhaps?"

"Well, he might have, I suppose," said Wispy. "I don't remember all the details, exactly."

"Did he specify anything about the tail, by chance?" I asked, swishing my magnificent one from side to side as it lay on the rug.

Wispy swished hers in response. "Yes," she said. "I remember that particularly, because when the man in charge showed him around, he looked into all the cages, and he was so excited when he saw me! He cried out, 'My goodness! It's not the same dog, but they're so similar! Look at that tail!'"

Stay!: Keeper's Story

I glanced back at hers as she was talking. Certainly it had improved greatly from the inadequacy of her puppy days. But it was still rather sparse, and it did have that bent end.

"Do you mean to say," I asked Wispy, trying to phrase the question tactfully, "that he compared your tail to mine?"

"Yes," she said cheerfully. "He was amazed at the similarity."

Oh, dear. I could feel that we might be on the verge of a very immature quarrel. I didn't want that to happen.

"Your tail," I said, "is, ah, certainly a very pleasing one. But in all honesty, I do feel that mine is more, shall we say, well endowed."

"Mine has character, though, don't you think?" she asked, very sweetly.

Well, I could certainly concede that. "Yes," I told her. "Yours has definite character."

Quarrel averted, she continued. The story was quite simple. The photographer had taken Wispy home. He had trained and groomed her to be my successor.

To my surprise, Wispy said she enjoyed the work as a model. She didn't mind the long hours, the constant combing, the bright lights that tended to dry one's fur (of course, hers had never been terribly luxuriant anyway). Their life together, hers and the photographer's, had been successful and congenial. It would have continued unchanged had I not appeared at their front door.

"Here's what Christopher and I have decided!" The voice interrupted our pleasant little conversation on the rug. Wispy and I looked up at Emily's mother. Emily did, too.

Christopher? I thought. Then I realized that must be the photographer's name.

"We'll take Keeper back home with us," she said, and Emily's face lit up. I suppose mine did, too. It was what I really wanted, to be back in the farmhouse with my family, now that I knew Wispy was safe and well cared for.

"That's my name—Keeper," I whispered to my sister.

"Mine's Sal," she whispered back, giggling with embarrassment.

"But when Christopher needs him for a special assignment with two dogs, he can borrow him," Emily's mother went on.

The photographer had come to stand beside her and was listening. "And on weekends," he added, "when Sal and I aren't working, we'll come out to the country to get some fresh air and so that the dogs can play together, since they appear to be such good friends."

Wispy (I will never bring myself to call her Sal) looked at me in delight. She nuzzled my neck affectionately, and I licked her ear.

Stay!: Keeper's Story

Stay!: Keeper's Story

Chapter 17

IT DOES SOUND LIKE A SATISFYING ENDING, doesn't it? The long-lost brother and sister are reunited. The little girl keeps her much-loved pet. The deserving mother meets an attractive and well-to-do man. Plans are made for the future. People smile. Tails wag.

But those with a literary bent and a keen eye for plot (and I must count myself among them, expanding now as I am from the world of poetry into the broader, more demanding realm of narrative) will have perceived an unresolved thread.

As we prepared to leave the photographer's apartment, Wispy (I will never call her Sal) whined, and the photographer reached for her leash, which was hanging from a hook in the kitchen.

"She needs to go out," he said. "I'll walk you down to your car."

"Keeper?" Emily asked, looking at me, "do you want to go out, too?"

Going out, I should explain, is a euphemism for taking care of bodily functions.

I wagged my tail and looked eager.

"Well," Emily's mother suggested, "why don't we walk the dogs before we start back? It's a long drive."

So for the first time in many months, I found myself walking the streets of my old neighborhood at the end of a leash. The difference was that now it was my beloved Emily at the other end instead of a minimally talented, unemployed actor from Madison, Wisconsin.

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