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tearing the rag off the bush again
Man and Dog PDF E-mail

The dog and the man stared at one another as the light of the sun through their living room window turned orange and then pink. Finally it became dim enough for the man to have to rise from his chair and turn on one of the main lamps.
    “So what are we going to do?” asked the dog, widening his eyes.
    “Well,” said the man. “I think -- there’s a flea on your ear,” he interrupted himself.
    “Thanks,” said the dog and scratched.
    “Well, said the man again.
    “You can go,” said the dog, as though it was a privilege.
    “I can go?” asked the man.
    “Well – I mean,” said the dog.
    “I think we should just flip for it,” said the man.
    “I mean-“ said the dog. “If you want—“
    “It’s not worth it,” the man interjected.
    “What’s not worth it?” asked the dog.
    “Just forget it,” said the man.
    “Let’s flip for it and forget about what the right thing is and just go on luck,” suggested the man.
    “I always liked that about you,” said the dog.
    “I know,” said the man.
The dog turned around three times in the living room as though he were about to lie down, but then remembered that the man had agreed to let him have the bed for a few nights, while the man would sleep on the couch. Not long after they’d both settled down in their respective places, the man heard his dog softly whimpering and whining.
    The next morning the man ate breakfast alone, until the dog passed through the kitchen on his way to the yard.
    “Going to the yard?” asked the man, thought he knew perfectly well his soon to be former dog was going to the yard.
    “Yeah, a lot to sniff since the temperature rose—I have to get out there early today,” said the dog.
    “Right,” said the man, studying how the dog did not look at him, did not meet his eyes that day.
    “Do you want—“ started the man, but the dog had already passed through his doggy door.
    Later that day, against his better judgment, the man looked out the window. He watched the dog sniff here and there, scratching dirt in places. The man sighed.
    “Always so thorough,” he said to himself.
    Later, when the dog came in, the man was making dinner.
    “I made you dinner,” he said to the dog. The dog raised his nose to take a whiff.
    “Liver?” asked the dog.
    “Yes,” said the man.
    “That’s my favorite,” said the dog with surprise. He went to his bowl and ate. “You didn’t’ have to do that,” the dog said between mouthfuls. “But I’m glad that you did.”    
    There was no more discussion of the house that evening. At eleven the man turned on The Daily Show and the dog stretched out on the floor, and then the dog fell asleep. When the man felt he was ready to go to bed, he nudged the dog’s right front paw.
    “George,” he said. “You’re asleep in the living room. Don’t you want the bed, George?”
    George finally lifted his head.
    “Oh,” he said sleepily. “Sure.” The dog stumbled into the bedroom and the man moved from the chair to the couch. There was no whimpering that night but the man could not sleep; a certain conversation haunted him. He remembered the dog weeping  and saying, “I tried—always I tried to be a good dog.”
    “I know,” the man had said. “And you are a good dog—I just don’t know if I want or need a dog right now and if I did need a dog, what kind of dog it should be.”
    “But I’m your dog,” the dog had wailed.
    The man had never felt so guilty in his life. He remembered the day they had met – how it had been a chance meeting in the woods and how thrilling it had all seemed.    
    “I’m your dog,” the dog liked to say when he was happy and getting his ears scratched.
    “Yes,” the man would say. “The only dog for me.”
    They, like all dogs and owners, went on walks and outings together, sometimes meeting other dogs and owners along the way. But it seemed to the man, that whenever they met another dog and man, George became strange, not like the dog that he knew. First he barked at the other dog excessively, and encouraged the other dog to bark. As soon as the other dog started barking he would bark aggressively at the other owner, and then he barked aggressively at the man, and then he would hide behind the man’s legs for a minute before resuming his barking.
    The man usually found an excuse to get going at that point. Sometimes it looked like rain.  Once, according to what the man said, they had a sick grandmother to take care of.
    “Your grandmother is four states away and I don’t have one!” the dog said when they were alone.
    The man had simply ignored him. It wasn’t as though he and the dog were going to go to therapy or dog training classes. The man felt their relationship was unique and wouldn’t benefit from outside probing and arranging. The dog however, would have done anything possible to stay; it was as though he had taken a vow. He had watched Lassie and Benji  and The Incredible Journey to find out what good dogs did. He had watched Old Yeller, after which he cried and trembled for a few hours at the thought of getting rabies.
    “I’m endangering you,” he had sniffled to the man. “Please take me to get a rabies shot.” The man had complied, of course, but after that the dog seemed to bask in the security of not being able to get rabies. He completely neglected sociability, the man decided. And although George wasn’t an old dog, the man felt he was beyond new tricks and they’d both be better off alone or finding new companions.
    “A dog is a man’s best friend,” the dog had said resolutely. “Home is where the dog is.”
    “Heart,” said the man.
    “That’s what I said, the dog is where the heart is.”
    “You’re not getting it,” the man had told him as the dog turned to lick his hindquarters. “You’ll never get it,” he had sighed.
    “Maybe I never will!” the dog had snapped and then immediately whimpered in shame and jumped up to lick the man’s hands. The man petted him then, as the dog then blithely assumed that he always would.
    After the dog had left the man’s house – he had decided that he would rather not take over the mortgage – he wasn’t sure what to do, so he stopped at the gas station on the corner for some attention. He walked back and forth in the parking lot and sniffed the ground until he was sure he was being watched. He went to the front of the gas station looked inside and wagged his tail. A man came to the window.
    “Hey, Buddy,” the dog heard him say through the glass. A minute later the door opened and the man came out. The dog did what people expect and want from a strange dog, he wagged his tail and smiled and approached but not all the way. The man took a step forward and the dog hastened his wagging. The man put out his hand with the fingers enclosed and the dog sniffed.
    “Hey, Buddy, where’s your collar. Do you have a tag?” the dog shook his head and the address tag he’d been unable to remove jingled against his rabies tag.
    “1115 Parlange,” said the man as he read the tag. “Let me get you some water, Buddy, and then we’ll call your owner.”
    The dog shook his head again.
    “I’ll take the water,” he whispered. “But do you have beef jerky in there?”
    The man did not hear him or understand, it seemed, but went to get the water all the same.
    He came out and set a silver dog bowl before the dog.
    “I used to have a dog,” he explained. “He sat with me here everyday. He was a nice dog, just like you,” the man said as he scratched the dog’s ears. The dog smiled and bent his head to slurp from the bowl.
    The man was a very nice man, so much so that the dog almost thought about trying to adopt him. He knew, however, that the man was going to try to return him to his original man, which would just be awkward, so after he had finished drinking the dog kissed the man’s hands and then turned and started running. He ran as fast as he could; he knew well-meaning people would try to capture nice, lost-seeming dogs if they could catch them. And George had other plans.
    After he had run ten or twelve blocks George heard someone calling him.
    “Hey! Hey!” squeaked a dog voice.
    There was a Pomeranian behind a chain-link fence.
    “Hey!” it squeaked again.
    “Hi,” said George, now standing in front of the fence.
    “Do you know Sammy?” asked the Pomeranian.
    “I don’t think so,” said George. “Who’s Sammy?”
    “He’s my friend,” said the Pomeranian. “He looks like you. But much smaller and a different color. Do you live in this neighborhood?”
    “Not yet,” said George.
    “Are you in a dog pack?” asked the Pomeranian.
    “Not yet,” answered George. “I used to live in that other neighborhood,” he said and pointed with his nose. “Across the big street.”
    “Are you on a walk?” asked the Pomeranian, looking up the street and down the street for George’s owner.
    “No,” said George.
    “Are you escaped?” asked the Pomeranian. “I was escaped once.”
    “No,” said George. “I left my owner.”
    “Did he not feed you?” asked the Pomeranian.
    “No,” said George.
    “Why did you leave?” asked the Pomeranian.
    “It’s complicated,” said George.
    “Oh,” said the Pomeranian. “I’m Megan.”
    “George,” said George.
    “Just so you know, George. I’m fixed.”
    “Huh?” said George.
    “Never mind,” said the Pomeranian. “If you don’t know, I’m not telling you. Are you looking for the dog-pack?”
    “Is there one in this neighborhood?” asked George. That was precisely what he was looking for.
    “They live in the abandoned house. They have steak for dinner every night,” said the Pomeranian, drooling. “They steal it from somewhere. They all take turns and they’re all stealth. I wish I were one of them,” she squeaked. “If you join, I could be your partner. You could protect me and I could warn you about things.”
    “Sure,” said Megan. “But I’d only be part-time. I like my owner too much to leave.”
    “I’ll think about it,” said George. “Where’s the abandoned house?”
    “You go down that way,” said the Pomeranian with her nose to her left. “About five blocks then you turn right. Not too far. We’re on the edge; that’s what my owner Randy says. My owner Randy,” said Megan a little gushily. “Has a certain way of—well, of everything.”
    “Uh-huh,” said George. “Okay, well-“
    “Are you leaving?” asked Megan
    “Yes,” said George and nodded his head at her.
    “Bye,” said Megan.
    “Bye,” breathed George as he turned to go.
    “Bye!” called Megan when George was about halfway down the block.
 He did not call back; he was in a different area already and one in which he didn’t know the rules; there could have been, for example, a no barking ordinance passed by old dogs, or maybe there was a neighborhood kid somewhere who liked to catch lost dogs. George knew that as a dog he had to carefully measure each place he went with his nose and ears, and then figure out what to do. He could smell traces of other dogs already. He was sure he was going toward the abandoned house where the dog pack lived.
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