Tug

Bathing dog was a fight.  Scratching, plunging, slipping.  Kneeling and squirming.  Attempts to escape or drown. After the fight the dog had run under the bed.  Hopefully he was dry enough.  Soaking wet and cold the man strips down, flips the toggle and warm water pours out from where the shower-head should be.  The head had been there yesterday; clogged, sputtering and crunchy with minerals–but there.  Having showered under a garden hose he wasn’t put off and he climbs in, ducks under stream and soaks himself from head to foot.  Stepping back he feels something under his foot and, as the dog barks in surprise he nearly falls on it.  Stumbling and naked he feels stupid and lucky as he manages not to grab the curtain and pull it down.

What the hell? He snaps at the dog.

Dog sits and wags his stubby little tail; please don’t be mad. Sitting there on the porcelain of the tub it looks like a tiny scrub-brush swishing away.  It’s impossible to stay angry.  Just wanted to be close by, says the dog.  This was true.  The dog had been alone a long time.  No scraps.  No warm spot to sit in when the person leaves or plates set on the floor to be cleaned.  All the good things of people had been gone.  All the bad was gone too.  No shouting or hitting or being thrown.  He had napped on a pillow.  A pillow and no one yelled or threw things.

And there was food.  Food had arrived and the only price tag was a frisky lap in the tub.  This could be good.  This is a set up was worth pursuing.  So he had jumped into the tub to keep an eye on his new benefactor.

Hey, says the man, my eyes are up here, quit staring at my junk.  Modestly he turn his back to the dog.  The man is careful as he soaps and rinses.  Bathing with a hose allowed you to move the water around to rinse all the tough to reach places.  With the fixed shower he had to move himself around to direct the water.  In a twisted limbo he tries not to step on the dog as he contorts to get the water to the right crease or fold.  Taking up space in the tub dog worries about getting smashed.  The man teeters and hops, using cupped hands to deflect and carry water to different parts of his body.

People are funny.   The water stops running and the man squeegees water off his arms and legs.  Why don’t people shake it off like dogs?  Dog shakes a shake that starts from his nose and ends with his tail.  Looks at the man.  Easy!  See?  The man just looks at dog. No clue.  Wagging his tail dog just looks at the man.  Seriously, says the man, quit looking at my junk.  He continues as he rubs himself dry with a towel, seriously, you’re creeping me out.

Dog follows the man into the room and watches him sit on the bed to get dressed.  Bored dog picks up a discarded sock, drops to the ground looking like sphinx and after pinning the sock under his front paws starts to pull on the sock with his teeth.  There is no malice.  He’s not practicing skinning a squirrel.  Pulling just feels good in his mouth.  His teeth like it.  The weave slips and grips the enamel and his teeth torque in their sockets.  Pull, chew, pull, chew, pull.

Hey, said the man.  Hey.  Knock that shit off.  Dog stares and his eyes say, why?  Pausing he waits for anger and seeing none he looks down and starts working on the sock again.

You know what? The man asks.  I’m going to give you a name.  Your name is Tug.  Got it?  Tug wasn’t listening and kept working on the sock.

Not so Fast, Said the Dog

You probably need a drink, says the man gently setting him down and going into the bathroom.  Coming out with an awkwardly narrow glass full of the water he asks, wash it down pal; and still holding it for stability offers water.  No tadpoles or mosquito larvae.  No oil or scum.  Just water.  Just water.  Water water water.  Too fast but who cares?  The man can barely keep the glass from getting knocked over.  More, asks the man?  Sitting down patiently the dog says, yes please.  Looking down the man sees the dog is getting a little dog woody.  Put that chapstick back in the tube, he says and reaches into the bathroom.  The water flows violently for a second and the glass is back on the floor before the bubbles can all rise to the top.

He lets the dog drink its fill; not with pity but brotherhood.

Thanks, says the dog as it sits down.

You need to pee now don’t you?  The man slides open the patio door and the dog prances out onto the back lawn of the motel and searches from tree to bush for the right place.  Finding a small maple that smells right the dog hitches up a leg and lets it go.  Relief he didn’t know he needed.  Habit forces him to scratch the earth and flick tiny bits of dirt, leaves and grass.  Teach that tree a lesson says the man from the patio.  He clicks his tongue twice, the way you’d talk to a horse.  Coming, says the dog and dropping his head he kicks it down a gear and runs hard to the man.

Smart boy.  Good dog.  It going to piss you off I take a picture?  The man asks.

No, says the dog, sitting.  Just don’t steal my soul–I’m still using it.  The man scratches and folds the dog’s ears.  Wag, wag, wagging says his tail.  It’s embarrassing sometimes. It just happens.  He can’t control it.  Neither can the man.  He starts to baby-talk and work the dog’s skull over; scratching, rubbing, massaging.  Stopping he brings his hand to his nose.  The dog knows what the man smells, the individual scents bear a map of where and what, a nasal history of the last few months.

Woof, says the man. You need a bath.  Not so fast, said the dog.

Dammit and Cool at the Same Time

The door had slowly swung open slow, like it had when he pushed it and snuck in.  Jumping off the bed he crept over to see if it was the man.  It wasn’t.  Back on the bed he is curled on the pillow.  It smells good.  Like hair and sweat and oil.  Like people.  And soap.  Soft, he sank down into it and, divot-ed in he liked how it kept him warm.  The open door let in smells and sounds he has heard before.  Road, people, birds, planes, leaves…outside sounds.  Grass, cars, smoke, fresh cut wood, oil, diesel…outside smells.  Under the bed he had caught whiffs of food, mold and blood.  If the man doesn’t come back soon maybe he’d go out and pee on something.  A soft breeze pushed the door and it flexes open before gently swinging back; a wind-driven sigh.

His ears perk as he hears the sound of the motorcycle coming closer.  The bike coughs a backfire and his head comes off the pillow and he uncurls to sit sphinx-like on tense haunches.  Loose gravel crunches as it pulls up to the door.  A hard rev and then it shuts down.  A metal creak as the kickstand stretches it’s return spring and a thump as it hits the stop.  Boots. The right sound for the man.  His tag wags.  He doesn’t want it to but it just does…like when he’d piddle with excitement as a puppy.  The people go angry but it just happened.

Outside the door the man stops.   The dog can hear him putting keys in his pocket.  Waiting now.  The man is right there.  He smells right there now too.  A meat.  The man smell, the meat smell.  The wag, wag, wag smells.

You in here? Says the man.

Right here, says the dog, jumping off the bed and turning the corner around the door.  Right here.  Sitting. Wagging.

The man’s face says, dammit and cool at the same time.  A hamburger says, I’m in the bag.  His tail says, wagging like I really mean it.  Mouth watering he sits.  Looking good.  Steady and ready.

Wow, says the man.  What a mooch.  Reaching into the bag he retrieves a cooked hamburger in a wax wrapper.

No bun?  No bun!  The dog fidgets.  No bun.  All meat.  Best day ever.

Karrera with the gray hair since high school had looked at him like he was nuts when he ordered a hamburger “hold everything but the patty”.  She was cute when she was confused, wrinkled her nose like something smelled odd.  It was the hot engine look riders got when they smelled oil or coolant or hot electrics.  As metaphor a fire under your ass was great, but as a reality it was frightening.  Nobody wants that much heat that close to their gonads.

Hello?  Says the dog.  Whimper.  He doesn’t want to whimper but this was dammit and cool at the same time.  Drop the meat already!

Stepping fully into the room the man tears off a small piece of ground beef with his right hand.  He lowers the patty and holds out the chunk of meat.  This what you want, he asks and holds the small piece too high to reach.

Dummy, says the dog.  Jumping up he grabs a hold of the whole patty out of the man’s other hand.

Shit! Says the man.  He manages to hold on to half the patty.

I win, says the dog disappearing under the bed.  Now under the bed smells like hamburger, mold and blood.  The hamburger is juicy and after he finishes gulping it down he licks his paws a moment to get every drop of grease.

The dog stays under the bed.  You there? Asks the man after a moment.  Licking his chops the dog sticks just his head out from under the bed.

Am I in trouble? Asks the dog.

No, says the man as he squats and offers another chunk of burger.  Careful and slow the dog takes the meat.  Two gnashes of his molars and the meat is gone. Gulp.

The man asks, when was the last time you ate?  Chin on the ground and straining not to grab at the remaining hamburger the dog softly paws at the ground, crawling forward.  The man drops all the way down to his knees and slides back to give the dog room to get out from under the bed.

Right here buddy, he’s patting his thighs.

I’m in, answers the dog, jumping up.

Thinking dammit and cool at the same time he pets and loves on the dog feeding him the rest of the patty.

Been There. Done That.

Trepidation was in her as she shot an eye check to the old men.  They were worn. Time has slicked their surfaces and hidden their edges and corners.  You couldn’t get purchase on them–they were no longer individuals but things–all the special about them had been sanded off and they were just angry, opinionated old men now.  Different once, they must have been different once but no longer because they had embraced the cliche’ and burrowed into the accepting safety of prejudice and broken hearts.

Was there a worse death?  Occasionally they gently leer at her.  She knows this. No touching, they know this too.  Once a quintet they are now a quartet because Billy the Knife had heard about number 5.  Words collided in the parking lot.  Billy said everything without saying anything.  Tone, volume, and word choice; so perfect and menacing and so innocent, The Knife was an artist with food and with words.  Been there, done that, he had said to her.  Won’t let anyone get away with that shit.  No one, he said with a true hardness in his eyes.  Somewhere back there someone had failed him.  She could tell.  The Knife was sharp and ready.  Been there.  Done that.

I’m a Regular

Keeping it simple he headed to the Riverside, lines be damned.  It looked like a grinder he could drop the dog into and someone would know someone who knew someone.  Gray Ponytail is plugged in somehow.  You can’t have that many fogies in one place and not have an orgy of gossip going on.  Grab a cinnamon roll, coffee, drop a hook, back for dinner to check the bait.  It was a damn well trained mutt.  It was somebody’s.  Morning crush gone, the restaurant was about half empty.  Walking directly to yesterday’s table he sits down.  Gray Ponytail is working another table with a foursome of older gentlemen.    After a flourish with her pen she comes toward him.  He watches her walk.  The floor is a trampoline and she bounces with each step, ponytail bobbing.  “Same-same?” She asks.

“Yup, and a large OJ.”

Nodding, she is gone, leaving only a hole in the air.   Gray hair.  Odd.  Got to ask about that.  Maybe it was a political statement.  Or…well there was a reason somewhere.  First things first.  The dog.  Hey, anyone you know missing a dog?  Nope. I was wondering if you knew anyone missing a…nope, nope, nope.  How do you start a conversation about finding somebody’s dog?  Maybe just drop it in like an ‘oh yes, this happened’.  Looking up at her made him feel small and out of control.  Nobody talks up to somebody about stuff.  You stand eye to eye.  Maybe he should stand up.  Or he could wait until he was leaving and then they would be eye to eye.  Could go over and talk to to the tea party guys but they were discussing healthcare or medicare or something and sounded like they were getting pissed off.

A small coaster skims across the table and a glass of orange juice lands on it.  “Rest will be out in a minute,” turning to leave she starts away.

“Hey,” he says.  She stops.  “I found a dog.”  Out of ammo he lets it hang there; nothing more to say.

“Good for you.”  Staring.  “Were you looking for one?”  Faint smile.

“No, no.  I just..it..”  His brain skipped teeth on his speech sprocket.  “It just wandered into my motel room.”

Head tilt.  Ponytail swings.  “You just leave your door open and let things wander in?”

Dammit. “The door won’t always latch and I went back and there was this dog in my room.”  Silence.  She was sharp.  Speak now or get spoken to.  “He’s a little rat terrier or something.  About 10 pounds.  White and brown.”

“Sounds nice.”  A step backward and away.

“No, wait!  It just showed up and I think it’s somebody’s and I need to have you ask around.”

Pause.  “You got a picture of it?”  He looks stumped, stupid.

Exasperation.  “Like on your phone?  Did you take a picture with your phone?”

Shit. “Nope.”  He is hoping the dog is gone when he gets back to room, that the problem is solved by the math that caused it.  “I’ll get one.  Maybe you could Facebook it or Snapchat it around.”

“Sure.”  Eyes darting to the four old guys, then locking on his, “Anything for a regular. You are a regular right?”

“Yes.  Sure. Of course.  I’m a regular–now.”