Sunday, January 22, 2017

DOG EAT DOG ROMANCE - a short story

Dog Eat Dog Romance

By Roy L. Pickering Jr.  (Author of Patches of Grey)

This short story is dedicated to the newest member of my household. Rescued on a cold December day from the unforgiving streets of NYC. Tough as a rattlesnake, cuddly as a newborn bunny, feisty as barrel of monkeys, affectionate as Nana greeting her grandbabies, squirrel obsessed, not quite fully house trained but we'll get there, the best Christmas give ever - the one and only SHADOW.

“It’s perfect.  Absolutely perfect.”

“I know.”

“We could look for a million years and not find another place half as nice as this in our price range.  Hardwood floors, beautiful moldings, floor to ceiling windows, a river view, a backyard, a fireplace even.  And look at all this space.”

“I know,” I repeat, for what else is there to say?  Claire is right.  This place is perfect for us.

“Are you sure they wouldn’t be willing to bend their rule about …”

“I’m positive, Claire.”

“So we either give him up to move in here, or else we keep looking.”

“That about sums it up.”

“Would you willing to find another home for him, Adam?”

“I was about to ask you the same question.”

“It’s easier to ask than to answer, isn’t it?”

“Maybe we should flip a coin,” I suggest.

“Over something as important as this?”

“A coin is the fairest judge there is, Claire. No matter how big or small the issue is.”

“Okay, let’s do it.”

I pull a quarter from the change pocket of my jeans.  

“Heads we give him up and move in here, tails we find a place that will let us keep Max Two.”

I toss the quarter into the air.  My eyes widen along with Claire's as we watch it rotate – George Washington’s head on top, then the eagle spreading its majestic wings, back to gorgeous George’s profile, the stoic bird of freedom once more.  The quarter hits the floor, bounces up and does its final spin, then settles in place.  We crouch to learn what our decision will be.

The sequence of events leading up to this moment began nearly a year ago.  That was when my best friend Leon went away for the weekend on a business trip.  While out of town, he needed someone to feed and walk his dog, Max.   

By no means was I what you would call a dog person.  As a kid I’d once been chased by a particularly nasty Nazi Shepard for half a block before making a narrow escape from his salivating clutches.  Also, a deceptively timid looking Chihuahua once bit me on the toe, proving that his bite was much bigger than his bark.  I had not been especially fond of dogs or open toed sandals ever since.

I'd spent enough time around him to know Max was well behaved, but this did not make me relish the idea of picking up after him when he did his business on the sidewalk.  Leon loved to go on about how smart his dog was, but if Max was truly intelligent, why couldn’t he be toilet trained?  Him flipping down the lid and flushing his waste away would have impressed me considerably more than his ability to sit, fetch, roll over, play dead, and bark on command.

Yet I agreed to be Max’ caretaker.  My motivation was not exactly selfless.  Leon lived in a one bedroom apartment on the upper west side of Manhattan while I resided in a studio apartment in the middle of a nondescript neighborhood way out on the outer edges of Queens.  Although I would have preferred not to have a furry four-legged roommate, I was looking forward to spending a weekend in the city.  I was still two or three pay raises away from being able to afford rent on an apartment in a desirable part of Manhattan.  Every penny I could get my hands on was being saved for the glamorous future I envisioned for myself.  It dumbfounded me that Leon was actually moving out the following weekend.  He had bought a condo in Westchester that his longtime girlfriend would also be moving into.  Leon had reached a stage where being with Iris seven days a week, cozily nestled in a suburban neighborhood, was more appealing to him than having a bachelor pad in the heart of the greatest city on earth.  To each his own.  My own stage of life was far less advanced.  I didn’t even have a girlfriend, much less plans to cohabitate.

There was a park just two blocks from Leon’s apartment with a fenced in area where people let their dogs run free.  Saturday turned out to be beautiful, sunny and warm without being oppressively humid as August days in New York can be.  I was a little hung over from Friday night revelry with a group of friends I knew from college.  Just like back in our years as undergrads, the pitchers of beers and failed attempts to charm girls too sober for our own good had been plentiful.  Time outside to let the remnants of alcohol in my system evaporate in unobstructed sunlight would do me good.

When I arrived at the dog’s private section of park, there were maybe a dozen people there and roughly the same amount of canines.  But from the moment I took notice of those sea green eyes, her taut showcased abdomen, hip hugging shorts over the shapeliest bronze legs designed by a most benevolent Creator, I only had eyes for Claire.  As luck would have it, Max got all excited over the mutt attached to the leash in Claire’s hand.  Soon our leashes were entangled, giving me a tailor made opportunity to start up a conversation.  I learned her name, that her smile could light up one’s life, and that her laughter was the catchiest tune you ever did hear.  I really liked this girl.  The feeling was instant and irrevocable.  But she was short on time.  She had to go.  Precious minutes after making her acquaintance, Claire was gone.  I had not mustered the courage to ask for her phone number.  Everything had moved too quickly for decisive action on my part.  One minute I’m being tugged down the street by my friend’s dog, the next I behold a vision, hyper dogs knot us to each other, while untangling we speak inconsequential words at a volume not much louder than my pounding heart, and then I am watching her walk away, tragically aware that in all likelihood I will never see her again.

As the days passed I figured I would forget about Claire.  Instead she grew increasingly vivid in my mind’s eye.  I had to see her again.  If we could somehow run into each other and take up where we’d left off, I’d know soon enough if the spark I’d sensed between us had the strength to burst into flame. For sure, I was not the smoothest talking guy.  More often than not, the presence of a beautiful girl would act as Novocaine injected into my tongue.  Somewhere between expressing how I felt and trying to play it cool, my thoughts and words would trip over themselves.  The more I longed to impress, the worse of an impression I made. 

But talking to Claire had been different, easy as getting wet in the rain.  If we spoke a second time, I knew I’d say the right things.  I’d get her number, and I’d call her, and I would take her out, and from there the most wonderful of things would become possible and plausible.  In a city of millions of strangers in countless nooks and crannies, there was only one place I could think of to run into Claire again.

My plan was impetuously drawn up.  I would ask to borrow Max for a while the following weekend and show up with him at the dog park.  No, scratch that.  I remembered that Leon was moving to Westchester in a couple days.  By Saturday he and Max would no longer reside in the city.  I could show up without a dog in tow, but that would make me look a little desperate, make that a lot desperate, stalker-like even.  There was only one reasonable reason for me to show up in that dog park.  I needed to have a dog by my side.  And not just any dog.  I remembered that when Claire had commented on how cute Max was, I grinned and agreed without bothering to explain that he was not in fact mine.  She seemed attracted to the notion that I was a dog owner, so why dispel it?  When she commented that “they really do grow on you”, I moronically responded that “my Max is almost like a son to me, a son with really bad breath.”  This succeeded in making Claire laugh while further perpetuating my little white lie.  I had to have Max with me, or a close enough facsimile. 

The next day I strode into a pet store in my neighborhood, my fourth pet store visit of the day, and walked out after spending a ridiculous amount of money with a carbon copy of Max.  Two days after that …

“Hi, Claire.”

“Hi, Adam.  Hey, Max.”

Max Two strained at his leash, anxious to romp with the other pooches.         

“I was hoping I’d run into you again,” I said.

“Me too.”

Things were going extremely well so far.

“Sit up and beg, Max,” Claire requested.  Max and I had showed off a couple of his tricks to impress her the prior weekend.  Max Two didn’t have a single one in his repertoire, of course.  Not unless I counted peeing throughout my apartment and chewing my Air Jordans to shreds as tricks. 

“Max was performing all morning,” I said.  “He’s tricked out for the day.”  A lame excuse, but the best I could come up with on the fly.  Claire ran her fingers through his thick mane.  I could not have been more jealous of him.

“He’s so cute.  I love Chows.”

“Yeah, Chows are the best.  I’m thinking of getting a second one.”

“No actually, that’s a Chow,” said Claire while pointing at a dog sauntering past us.  “Max is a Keeshond.  I always mix those two breeds up.”  She then looked at me curiously, understandably so, no doubt wondering just how low my IQ was.  “Why did you agree with me when I mistook him for a Chow?” she asked.

“Uh.”  I realized that more than one incoherent syllable would be required here, but a multitude of alternatives were not rushing to occur to me.  “I didn’t realize you were talking about Max.  I thought you said ‘I love cows’.”  Clearly I was not the world’s quickest thinker on my feet.


“I’m just being silly.  Thought maybe I could earn another one of your lovely smiles.” 

Against all odds my predicament was salvaged as Claire granted my wish.

I undid Max Two’s leash to let him join his fellow beasts before Claire figured out that he was an impostor, much like his new master.  Max Two had tested the limits of my patience during his brief time in my care.  I knew nothing at all about house training a dog, much less getting one to sit up and beg or roll over and play dead.  But Max Two was certainly expert at finding trouble to get into, and at putting me into a state of panic every twenty minutes or so.  And man could he shed.  On every dark item of clothing and piece of furniture I owned was evidence that I was now a pet owner.  Within hours of bringing him home I was convinced that I’d made a huge mistake.  This feeling persisted until I saw Claire again she said “me too” and the genius of my plan was confirmed.

“So where’s Daisy today?”  Daisy was Claire’s Pomeranian.

“Oh, didn’t I tell you?  Daisy is my friend’s dog.  I was only watching her for the afternoon last weekend.”

So there I stood, new owner of faux Max, solely to impress a girl who for all I knew cared about man’s best friend as little as I did.

Then a logical question occurred to me.  If Claire did not own a dog and was not even watching one today, what was she doing here in the dog park?  This is just what I asked her, to which she replied – “Like I said, I was hoping to run into you again.”

We’ve been together ever since.

One year later Claire and I stand in an amazing rent controlled apartment, staring down at the head of a quarter.  In case you don’t recall, heads means we’re going to take the apartment.  It’s been a month since we decided to move in together.  A big step, but one we’re both ecstatic to be making.  She still lives with her parents and my place is much too small for two people.  So this is where we’ve decided to hang our hats, a great steal thanks to an inside tip from my friend the realtor, who currently lives in Westchester with his girlfriend and their dog, Max.  I'm not getting out of Queens, but with Claire agreeing to move into it with me this is a non-issue. 

As for Max Two, he’s out of luck.  No pets allowed in this palace.  Claire and I turn towards one another and it’s immediately clear what we must do.  Max Two has grown on both of us over this past year, not to mention that he is largely responsible for getting us together in the first place. 

I revealed to Claire long ago that Max Two was a look-alike of the real deal.  Since then I’ve managed to mostly house train him, failed in all attempts to teach him any tricks, and have been through multiple pairs of sneakers, Max Two’s favorite chew toy.  I’ve also embarked on the greatest love affair of my life.

“Two out of three?” I ask.

Claire replies – “Two out of three.”

Free on Amazon from February 1st to 5th of 2017: Kindle edition of MATTERS OF CONVENIENCE

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