I'd had the Yorkie a full week before a single “Puppy Lost” sign was posted on the community bulletin board at the Country Mart. I'd been checking daily because I really couldn't afford to care for a dog not yet housebroken—the tags, the shots, the chow, the gnawed slippers and ruined slobbered-upon sandals.
I pulled both staples out of the corkboard, accidentally removing a chunk of cork with my fingernails, and took the photocopied sign down to hold it under a brighter light; the better to scrutinize the color photograph above the description, telephone number with our 573 area code, and the caption: “Haf you scene my dog?” Not a day tripper from St. Louis touring the local wineries as I'd imagined in my primary scenario, too tanked up on slushy wine-a-ritas to realize her doggie hadn't hopped into the hatchback; I'd thought all sorts of things. Now I wondered—non-English speaker?
In the picture there were welts on Miranda's head between her ears, bright red ones that had healed under my care, squeezing the gel out of the aloe frond and applying it with a Q-tip, feeling her coat for ticks, chiggers, fleas (there were plenty of those), and I knew it was the very same dog. She was posed on a bale of hay, sleeping in the sun, a weathered red barn behind her. Could be anywhere: Highway D, Highway H, Highway Double O, or maybe out 32 a ways. Over yonder, as some of the locals might say.
I had named her Miranda from The Tempest because I'd found her cowering from a lightning storm in my garage; the dinged metal door's a hassle to raise and lower, so I leave it open unless we have a severe storm warning in the area; and there she was between the mulcher and my John Deere riding mower when I got home from work. At the first crash of thunder she had leapt into my arms and buried her little face in my neck, her wet nose poking under my collar, trying not to whimper. Innocence presuming protection. Lala it said her name was. Why not name her Missing A Good Long While or Gone A Whole Fucking Week, since that had been her destiny? I called the number, got a recording and left a message.
I had listened attentively to the outgoing message to discern what I could from the tone and timbre of the speaker's voice. Would I hear kindliness, a smiling voice, or a space cadet? (To lose a puppy! And one as loving, playful and sweet-tempered as Miranda.) But a penchant for passive neglect is undetectable to the ear, at least in such a perfunctory collection of words, at the tone, please leave a message. Maybe ever.
I tried as best I could to filter out the annoyance I was feeling toward this lackadaisical stranger, when I left my own number adding that I might have found her dog. My voice slanted italics on that might. Hours went by before she called back, evening into night; it was going on ten o'clock and, was I ever pissed off that she didn't have her phone on her hip, alert for a call on the first day the signs were posted, a full 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 days after her dog had gone missing? What is the matter with these people? What did I mean by that—these people—masters of dog? losers of dogs? narcissist lunatics?
I took down her address and directions, a few miles out of town, something about a creek and concrete culvert (my moat she had laughingly said) and told her she'd have her dog back in the morning; I could drop her off, unless she wanted to come get her now. No, the morning would be fine. Really? I would have exerted myself for you, I told this other woman's puppy; I would've hit the road in my pj's to get you back. Maybe she's crippled, suffers from night blindness; maybe there's a good reason, I softened, not wanting to perturb Miranda with my disgust.
We made the best of it, Miranda and I, our last night together. We tugged and tussled with a tassled throw pillow, I watched her ecstatically chew an old washcloth, we had extra treats; her, homemade dog biscuits I'd picked up at the Wednesday afternoon Farmer's Market at the VFW, and me a mookie bought there too. A mookie's basically an oversized oatmeal cookie, more scone than muffin, and once you have one, well...
I walked with her one last time down my gravel lane in the fizzling moonlight, both of us swiping at but not catching June bugs by the scores. Catch them for what? Though I'd been strict the whole week, this night I left my bedroom door ajar–private quarters, I had called out every time before she had yelped and scratched at the door, even in the middle of the night when she heard the toilet flush. But tonight we would snuggle, if you call her lying in the crook of my ankles, snuggling. Me, enjoying the scant weight of her, her warmth, breath, beating heart, giggling when she took to licking my toes while I wiggled and squirmed with abandon. It's not love yet, I thought (mistakenly), but another night of this toe-licking routine and it soon would be.
It was her first time in the car and I let her sit on my lap; it wouldn't be a long ride and the roads here are smooth, well-surfaced, straight, easy to travel. Not a crazy risk, to keep her so close. I saw the barn back from the road, the one in the picture, turned in the long driveway and thought, Miranda's home now, and I'm glad for her; but where am I? Where? Morning, the mistress of the house said as she approached the car, it was subtle but it sounded like mourning. Hi, I answered, wishing I were. This was going to be harder than I suspected.
Aiyee, LaLa, lalalalalalalala, puppy, baby, where did you go? To this nice lady's house for a visit? Now you come back to me; that's a good puppy dog. Come, do you have time for a Nescafé ? I'll show you my garden. You'll take whatever you want; I won't insult you with cash, unless you want cash. Do you? Rich bitch. No. Let's just get it over with. Miranda, poor thing, wasn't sure who to follow, whose feet to trod along under. Just go with her, I thought. Make the break. Go with the old lady, the craven one who cannot spell, the one who names you after a note, a syllable on the diatonic scale, third from last.
Flowers! I love flowers as you can see! We were in the midst of what they were calling on the news a Missouri flash drought, but soaker hoses were irrigating her flower beds, row after row. Take what you want, my garden is your garden. It sounded like guard on in her pronunciation. En garde, I thought, my hand twitching, missing my rapier in its grip.
The sprinkler was rotating, the cool droplets falling on the beds like a soft shower. These are my day lilies she said, improbably pointing to leafy red-stemmed vines. There are my nasturtium, another row exactly the same. I have tons of sunflowers, the birds eat the seeds—the chickadees, the whippoorwills. Is she blind, I wondered, putting on an act of sight? Unaware that all the beds contained but the same oily plant, more a weed to be precise, dangerous, unwanted?
If it's three, let it be, I called back to her, sprinting for my car, starting the engine and revving it for effect. Miranda, let's blow, I incanted under my breath because in America it would be wrong to say it out loud, the dog being her personal property. Let the puppy follow me home again anyway, I sang to the tune of a sea shanty, haul away from the crazy lady who makes nosegays for her family, and tiaras for her pets, from her low bed of ivy, her very poison ivy. Mi-randa!