God Has One, Too
by Edna C. Horning
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3,
4, 5, 6, 7, 8
Cricket, age 17, lives with her Aunt Lucy and Uncle Sulo to finish high school while her parents are on an extended trip abroad. Cricket is devastated when she learns that her aunt and uncle intend to do away with her beloved dog, Smidge. She and Smidge set out on foot to seek refuge with her Aunt Vera, who lives a hundred miles away. Smidge will have an influence and effect that no one could have expected.
Part 6: Vera and Sonny
When Vera first beheld the two weary mudlarks on her stoop that warm April afternoon, her outer aplomb belied inner shock, and Vera DeShazo was not a woman easily shaken. And Smidge, as much as Cricket, was the source of her consternation.
Smidge was the spitting, the dead spitting image, of Sonofabitch. Same size and shape, same hilarious ears, same haw-eyed, mixed-hound, lazy-as-sin look. Even the brown and white markings were remarkably similar. Smidge probably weighed in at a pound or two lighter, but no doubt that was due to his road trip. A few good meals, and he’d be adequate again.
Sooner or later for most rural residents, homeless, starving dogs are a sad fact of existence, and so it was with Vera. She had had other strays show up in her life, frequently poor unfortunates dumped in the countryside by uncaring owners. She took the dogs to a privately-owned, no-kill shelter for which she had made a provision in her will.
But she had not done so with Sonofabitch. Something had stayed her hand, and that something, whatever it was, had gotten it right. Sonny turned out to be, as the saying goes, in a class by himself.
The circumstances of his arrival made him not exactly a stray; more of a walk-in. He had materialized in her yard one spring afternoon, his body language hesitant but his expression curious. Vera had lured him inside with food, and the rest, as yet another saying goes, was history.
She suspected — but never bothered to verify — that he had originally belonged to a nearby family, slackers for whom her contempt increased with every passing hour. That one day, tired of being treated like a lawn ornament, he had decided it was time to seek his fortune and, knowing a jackpot when he saw one, did not have to seek far.
If his previous owners wanted him back, they gave no evidence of it; Vera kept an eye peeled for missing-dog notices published in the paper or taped to signs but never saw any. After taking him into her household, made no secret of his presence there. She openly took him for walks up and down the lane where the slackers lived and, when her back yard was temporarily unavailable for a space of several weeks, kept him confined to her picket-fenced front yard for all to see.
No one ever challenged her but, had they done so, she would have gone toe to toe in a flash.
* * *
Sonny’s innate sense of humor was not long in making itself known. Vera did all her paperwork — bill paying, checkbook balancing, lease reviewing, letter writing, and much more — at an enormous rolltop desk in the side room, originally a porch she had had enclosed. It was there she opened her mail each day with a brass envelope opener that was at least a hundred years old and had belonged to her father and his father before that.
About a week after Sonny had established residency, Vera had shuffled through the day’s delivery while walking in from the mailbox and, after seating herself, had reached for the opener only to find it missing from its appointed spot. Assuming she had misplaced it in a moment of carelessness, she looked in every room without success and, baffled, gave up for the nonce.
The next day, however, Vera’s foot felt a bump under the small area rug inside the front door. Peeling back the edge, she was astonished to find the opener and was at a loss as to how it got there. But a few days afterward the opener once again disappeared and, once again, she found it shoved under the rug. Item in hand, she sought out Sonny and said, “Your idea of a joke? You had me thinking I was in the early stages of dementia. So don’t you forget you’re a guest in this house. Or else.”
Yet both knew she didn’t mean a word of it, and the occasional hiding of the opener along with other objects became an entrenched comic ritual between the two.
* * *
And scant weeks after, there was that incident at the country club.
Rich folks from the city, ever demanding of more and better facilities for their pursuits, had built Rice Creek Meadows, a golf, tennis and social club charging astronomically high dues not two miles from the farthermost edge of Vera’s acreage. Naturally interested in an enterprise so near her own homestead, Vera had charted its progress from proposal to completion. Easy enough to do: the newspapers covered it for months.
Not long after it opened, Vera received a phone call one bright, exceedingly beautiful Saturday morning around 11:00. Reading from the tag on Sonny’s collar, a clipped, male, almost-British voice at the other end of the line inquired if she were the owner of a brown and white dog, forty pounds give or take.
After Vera confirmed that she was indeed, the voice requested politely but firmly that she remove the pup from their premises instanter. The club was hosting a prestigious tournament, and the dog was, he deeply regretted to inform, “making a nuisance of himself.”
Ever the responsible neighbor, Vera climbed without delay into her battered blue pickup and drove to and through the ornate brick and wrought-iron entrance to the steps of the clubhouse where she was met by the assistant golf pro holding Sonny on a length of twine.
They chatted briefly, and as Vera made moves to leave after profuse apologies for her pet’s lack of manners, the assistant drily commented, “Oh, I should mention you won’t need to give him breakfast. He’s eaten.”
Perplexed, she’d asked what he meant. For an answer, he had silently led the two of them around to the rear of the building where an abundance of crumbled, half-eaten, slobbered-over remains of Danish pastry, iced doughnuts, blondies, lemon squares and assorted other refreshments intended for the golfers between their first and second rounds were strewn about, some on the grass, others still atop the linen-clothed tables.
This largesse Sonny had accessed by means of a chair conveniently or inconveniently — depending which faction one pulled for — placed. Together they eyed the shambles until the assistant reiterated, “Like I said, he’s eaten.”
Vera rummaged in her purse for her checkbook and said, “How much do I owe you?” A sum was agreed upon, and they parted on reasonably pleasant terms.
During the drive home, Vera scolded, “You oughta be covered with shame,” but whether or not he took this to heart was difficult to determine because, upon arrival, Sonny proceeded to stretch out on his large burgundy pillow and sleep like one dead for two hours, his actual live state betrayed only by the periodic belch.
* * *
When it came to sports, tetherball was Sonny’s game. Upon witnessing the delight that a neighbor’s dog had shown for it — “the kids don’t play anymore, but we kept it for Archie” — Vera had provided a similar setup for Sonny.
A freestyler, Sonny would rear back, front paws off the ground, and charge. He kept his mouth open as though to bite the ball, and he never missed. Vera would sit in a lawn chair with magazine and iced tea while Sonny showed off. He leapt, he soared, he scored, and when finally bored of this one-sided exuberance, he would position himself directly in front of Vera and begin barking.
Knowing it useless to resist, she would, after a token delay, set aside her reading to join him. They would alternate bops, although Sonny’s impaired sense of fair play did not always allow Vera to get in her due share. Regardless of whose side it was on, he considered the ball his and went for it, and more than once Vera’s hand had sustained unpleasant if unintentional contact with his teeth.
His accurate reading of Vera’s day-to-day moods was of no special note; any companion animal worthy of the title manages that. But there was more. Before long, and much against her will, she was obliged to accept that Sonny knew her thoughts. And had she not experienced it for herself, she would never have believed it.
The first sign was his knowledge — his foreknowledge — of her goings and comings. Once Sonny had assumed the mantle of constant chum, a role typically reserved for lap dogs, he was continually at Vera’s feet in the house or yard or, whenever safe for him and practical for her, patiently waiting in the truck.
When stops at the bank, the post office, the drugstore, the feed’n seed and other such mundane venues were on the day’s to-do list, quick in-and-out tasks that posed no dangers or delays, he was allowed to go. And he always knew. Before she reached for her purse, Sonny would be waiting at the door, tail wagging furiously at the delight ahead.
However, on days when a more time-consuming agenda commanded Vera’s attention — visits to the doctor or the dentist or to her attorney or property manager or the tax auditor — Sonny remained on the floor, still, head down, glumly resigned to his fate. There was no pattern, no rhyme or reason to which days she did what. All was random, but Sonny invariably knew, and he knew in advance.
* * *
And there was the evidence from her editing endeavors. The exact opposite of a hoarder, Vera religiously kept her house and grounds free of clutter. Inside she regularly culled her shelves, closets, cabinets, and drawers and outside her yards, barn, tool shed, stable, corn crib, chicken coop and pump house of all but essentials, and was tacitly acknowledged by all to have the neatest spread on Sweet Potato Road. And it was a very long road.
The one exception — and, as it developed, a significant one — was correspondence. Vera had amassed not only about every personal letter she had ever received but copies of many she’d sent, and rounding it out was another cache generations-old inherited from family members.
When she casually mentioned this fact to Ada, she was surprised by her friend’s immediate interest. A mover and shaker in the county historical society, Ada all but dictated that Vera organize and edit the trove for inclusion in the files of the society and quite possibly for publication.
So Vera had bought and learned to use a PC, and it had been love at first sight. To her own astonishment, she, who still split kindling with a hand axe for the wood-burning stove she kept as backup to the Hotpoint range, mastered word processing practically overnight, and began transcribing as though a sacred duty. Whenever she stationed herself at the desk, Sonny did likewise, resting near her feet or a little further distant.
Regardless of whether she remained on task for thirty minutes or three hours, Sonny knew when she was about to stop, exactly as he knew when he could and could not accompany her to town. As soon as she formed the conscious thought, “Enough of this for today,” Sonny would simultaneously rouse himself, though Vera was certain her body language had not divulged her intent. She had not yawned or stretched or sighed or leaned back in the chair or by any other indication given a sign. But he knew anyway.
* * *
Another talent that further secured Sonny’s status was his ability to say a few words, a skill initially revealed and developed by his love of ham. Vera had fed her dogs commercial pet food laced with table scraps, and she noticed that while Sonny consumed with equanimity those containing beef and poultry, he positively inhaled anything with ham.
“Want some ham?” she’d query. “Does my boy want some ham?” And she’d go to the refrigerator and shear off a slice for him.
So one relaxed Sunday morning while reading the paper and sipping coffee. Vera, unawares, posed a slightly different question, “What does my boy want?” and was stunned all but speechless when he tersely answered, “Ham.” It had actually sounded closer to “Hum,” but Vera wasn’t about to hold one letter against him.
After that she tried teaching him lists of words, but all that stuck were love, yard, truck, mama, me, and elevator. The appeal of first five she could understand; they were part and parcel of his daily existence. but elevator? What muse imparted that?
Oh, yeah. Sonny was one of a kind. Unique. Never to be duplicated.
* * *
Copyright © 2017 by Edna C. Horning