the true stories
Innocence and wisdom. Cats and dogs. The Trail of Tears had them both in ample measure. Every day was a Greek tragedy and a comic Italian opera rolled into one piquant satisfying smoke. Sometimes I was a player and sometimes I served as the audience. Some of the actors went about their rounds on two legs and some on four.
The day I speak of was a wonderful Spring morning after a sloppy winter that had long outstayed its welcome. Buds were bursting, flowers were shooting through soil and the squirrels were deep into their rut. Robins were calling incessantly to one another as they chose nesting sights. People began letting their larger quadrupeds out for adventures. It was a time for mailmen to keep a weather eye.
About twenty minutes into my walk I heard a pattering sound abaft my starboard beam. A gorgeous golden Labrador puppy trotted up for a good petting session. He was still very young but on the verge of being the equivalent of a seven year old boy. He washed my legs and face and hands with his tongue and wagged his tail til I thought it might fall off.
The boy had no collar, tattooed ear or other identifying marks. I told him to go home and waited to see if that would ring any bells. I hadn't seen which yard he had issued forth from and had never seen him before in the neighborhood. At the mention of the word, “home” he sat, still wagging his tail like a velvet weed-eater on the dew-covered grass.
I decided that he could ship with me for a while and maybe we would come across his own yard in the course of the next ten kilometers. He would recognize the comforting smells and dash away with stories to dream of after lunch. This decided, off we went.
Domesticated breeds of dogs love to work. Same with humans. They are both miserable when faced with open ended unstructured time. This fellow, I called him Jasper, was no exception. He followed for the first two or three houses til he grasped the routine. The deal was to walk up to the door of every single house and back out to the sidewalk. Piece of cake.
I could see the look of joy on his countenance when the light went off in his head. Now, he shot forward like a highly trained mine-sniffing canine corpsman. Always one house ahead and sometimes two. He would approach the door, sniff for any danger and head back out after making eye contact with me and check out the next place.
Presently we came to Mr. G.'s place. It was a big corner house with a mighty clothes-line dominating the front yard. The front door was open as usual and the retired Mr. G. was standing on the stoop. He was a big man of Ukrainian extraction. He had owned a large construction company and talked often of his sons. One was a professional football player in the USA.
He had thick pure white hair and a deep, loud baritone voice. His wife was a bit smaller but just as tough. There was a couple of distinctive things about the G. residence. One was that on any given day the clothes-line was strung with five spotlessly bleached pairs of jockey shorts, five equally clean tank tops, five pristine pairs of massive pink panties draped like popped bubble-gum bubbles over the wire and five pairs of new looking white sports socks to complete the ensemble.
This was the array everyday that was below freezing. Mrs. G. was always standing on her tip-toes fussing with the pegs. I never figured out how they accomplished this on a Monday or a Wednesday or a Friday all in the same week. Another thing was Mr. G.'s music. He was always on the stoop with the door open, regardless of the weather. In his fist was a monogrammed glass of Scotch whiskey and Sinatra was on the stereo. Today was the same.
Jasper got a pat or two and a nod of approval from Mrs. G. Her husband went inside to change the record and freshen up his drink while I rolled a smoke. After he returned and had a few sips, he gave the Sinatra talk. It was spell-binding and Jasper listened with as much interest as I did. I had heard it often but it was Jasper's first time.
“Mike, think about it, eh. The music today. I mean, come on. It's CRAP. It's just plain SICK, now is'n Tit? I feel sorry for these god-damned kids today, now don't I? I mean, this Madonna broad for example, now come on. That's just CRAP, now is'n Tit? Sure it is. It's just SICK, now is'n Tit?”
Raising his glass he gestured back toward the stereo. “Now,” he glanced at Jasper and I to make sure we were paying him attention, “SIN-ATRA. SI-NATRA. There's a GOD-DAMNED singer, eh?”
He bent his ear door-wards like a man stricken with love at the sight of a maiden. Sinatra belted out My Way. We all stood straining to gather in the beneficent essence of the song. When it was over. Mr. G. spoke.
“Sinatra. Mike... Jasper... Eh? He doesn't sing FOR you. He doesn't sing AT you. He sings THROUGH you! Is'n TIT?”
We both nodded our heads, looked behind us and took our leave with a promise to stop by again next day. The day had started good. After a couple of hours, the little fellow started to get tuckered out. I found him some water from a garden hose and had some myself. This was before people carried water unless they were on an expedition across the Sahara.
Jasper began to fall back and settled in about one house behind me. He had pluck and it was clear to me that he intended to see the shift through to its completion. I admired the little wolf in guide dog's clothing.
In the afternoon, when it had grown quite warm, I came to a house with a set of eight concrete steps. At the top was a cat. It was big and having a delicious nap on the welcome mat. It cocked an ear when I was forty feet away and opened one eye. I came up the path and it opened both eyes, half-way. It took notice of Jasper coming from the yard next door.
I could all but see the wheels of feline cunning and experience whirring inside its regal head. Jasper made it to the yard, tongue lolling out like a red shoe-shine rag that had been carelessly hung from the side of his jaw. Jasper saw the cat and his tongue retracted. His step quickened.
The cat glanced over to his right where the iron railing stood. Beyond that was a drop of four feet to the yard. There was a five foot high wooden fence around the house and it fronted right beside the porch so that the top of it was a mere foot away from where the kitty lay. I stood motionless in the middle of the stairs.
Like a faux jaded hipster reading Karl Marx and Camus, sipping espresso while getting his ass tattooed on daddy's coin before cashing his welfare cheque, the cat took in the situation and reckoned it had another three seconds before humiliating the dumb dog. He'd use the tried and true plan B escape route. One leap and it was going to be sayonara, baby. To rub it in, the cat lay back its head as if still asleep.
With the precise timing of German automobile engine the cat made its move when Jasper reached the path. It sprang up soundlessly like coiled steel and collided with the iron railing. It caught its noggin just right of centre and the rail vibrated like a gong in a Tibetan Monastery at prayer time. This startled Jasper for an instant on the lower steps. The cat sprawled on the mat like boxer down for the count. He shook his head like a man does after splashing himself with ice-water. He staggered to his feet and wobbled off the porch and landed in the grass four feet below.
Jasper turned on a dime and headed back down the stairs and around the side. From where I was doubled over convulsing, I could see Jasper getting his bicuspids flossed by the cat's tail just before it sailed over the fence in one epic adrenaline fueled leap.
After that, Jasper decided to go it alone. He quickly headed through the back yard of the house next door. I never saw him or the cat again.
Copyright © 2019 by Michael A. Hawes. All Rights Reserved.
Michael Hawes was born in Texas, raised in Louisiana and lives in British Columbia.