P U P P Y   L O V E

By

Cole Parker

 

 

~  1  ~

 

Kerry stood at the top looking down, seeing mostly shades of black and grey, a chiaroscuro of stark shadows across the sweeping, brilliantly moon-lit patches of white.  The wind whipped at him, but he didn’t notice.  His anger, seething and rebellious, acid and all-encompassing, kept all rational considerations at bay.

 

He gritted his teeth, plunged the tips of his poles into the snow and pushed himself forward, defiantly starting down.  A part of him, a very small part, knew how dangerous this was.  Skiing in the dark, skiing on a steep hill, dodging through the trees, bushes and rocks that abutted his path and frustrated his intended speed — it was beyond reckless.  He crouched into his tuck, picking up speed, heading for his usual route which took him off the main slope and into the trees.  They loomed ahead, dark gray blurs because of the darkness and his speed.  He only found the point of entry to his trail because the way was so familiar.  Skiing at night, skiing full speed, throwing caution to the wind and counting on his instincts — this was madness.  But he was raging inside, too angry to care.  He had to release this, this fury; if he killed himself, well, at this point, such thoughts were academic.  And at his age, thoughts of serious accident, thoughts of dying, simply didn’t occur.

 

The slope started out relatively gentle, but it steepened.  The few trees standing tall against the winds at the top turned into several, and then he was in the heaviest section of wooded hillside.  He entered an area dense with spruce, aspens, lodgepole pines and junipers.

 

He knew the hill by heart.  He needed to know it to do what he was so recklessly attempting.  He needed speed to overwhelm his emotions, to settle him down.  He wanted to think of something other than his mother’s voice, and something other than his father.  What could be better than this, feeling the snow beneath his skis, feeling the raw air scraping his face, but mostly feeling the adrenalin coming from that fear and exuberance of racing pell-mell down a slope through obstacles only barely visible, obstacles passing him by almost before he could see them?

 

“Yaaaaaaaaa!” he screamed as he barely avoided a low-growing chokeberry bush that had suddenly appeared in front of him, avoided it the only way he could: in less than an instant by bending his knees and then pulling up sharply and jumping over it.

 

He was curving between trees now, making quick stem christies that his muscles knew were coming in advance.  He skied this hill often enough to know what was coming, which was the only reason he’d made it to the halfway point still on his feet.

 

He was coming to a sharp right-left combination turn, right to avoid a proud ponderosa pine with a thick trunk, then left to avoid a grove of closely packed aspens.  He felt the turn before actually seeing it.  Had he waited, he’d never have cleared the Ponderosa.

 

The trail he was following widened at this point as he came out of the area of densest trees, but the hill itself grew steeper.  He only had one concern now.  He had to lose some of his speed.  He didn’t want to; his spirits, so black at the top of the hill, had been rejuvenated by his reckless plunge downward.  He wanted to keep going.  But the road was coming up, and he was still going very fast.  With his peripheral vision he caught a glimpse of the lights on at Doc’s house and then forced himself to focus on the rapidly approaching road.

 

If he crossed the road it was unlikely he’d hit anything driving past, or be hit by it.  The road was never busy, and at night?  Lucky if three or four cars drove it after dark.  And as he thought that, he saw taillights in the distance.  That car made the presence of another passing even more unlikely.  But there was a ditch on both sides to carry rain water away and keep the road itself from flooding.  On his side — the side where the water streaming down the hill would be heaviest — the ditch was deep and broad.  However, at his current speed, he could jump it.  The problem was, what then?  Leaping the first ditch would land him on the road, and it was probably free of snow.  Landing at high speed on the surface of a non-slippery dirt and gravel road… that would be begging disaster.  No, he had to stop before reaching the road, and he knew it.

 

But he was going too fast!  He’d left it too late, probably because he was still thinking too much of his mother’s words, or because of his adrenalin pumping from this downhill high.  Didn’t much matter what, but it had affected his judgment.  He knew he was in trouble now. 

 

He had to bail out, and had but a second to decide the best, the least risky way to do that.  He really didn’t have a choice.  He leaned to his right and went down, raising his legs so his skis wouldn’t catch the ground and spin him.  He slid on his thigh and butt, aiming at a high pile of snow the plow had left alongside the road, hoping against hope that it was fresh, that it hadn’t had time to freeze.  Hitting a frozen pile of snow would be like hitting a brick wall.  And he was moving at least 25 mph.

 

He saw the pile rushing toward him and at the last moment closed his eyes.  Then he slammed into the snow bank.  In the blink of an eye he went from shooting down a hill with the wind in his face and it roaring in his ears to a dead stop and dead silence in utter darkness. 

 

He was in the middle of the snow pile.  Somewhat to his surprise, he was still conscious and nothing seemed to be hurting.  “Damn!” he said, aloud.  Which was uncommon for him.   He almost never cursed.

 

He took a deep breath and discovered there was air.  Maybe he’d brought it in with him, he thought.  He lay still for a moment or two, just getting his bearings, just realizing how stupid he’d been, and how good it was still to be alive and in one piece.

 

Kerry grinned.  Screw her, he thought, but his anger was gone.  He knew he could resurrect it easily enough.  He did so almost daily.  She did, too.  It was how they lived now, engaged in an endless civil war because both of them needed an outlet for their emotions.  All they had was each other, and so each was the enemy.  They barked and snarled at each other frequently, rarely existing in  harmony.  Lately, it had gotten even worse.  But lying in darkness — cold, wet darkness, not sure which way was up, checking arms and legs and hands and feet and neck to see they all moved — anger gave way to thoughts more immediate than fighting with mother.  He needed to dig his way out of this icy straitjacket that was imprisoning him.

 

He tried to move his arms and found if he struggled hard enough, he could force them through the snow, make them go where he wanted them.  The snow was soft enough that he hadn’t been injured hitting it and was soft enough to enable him to wriggle and stretch, reposition his arms and legs, and little by little, work his way back out the way he’d come in.

 

When he was out and could see the sky, he just lay still for a while, letting his breathing slow down, resting.  His thoughts were all over the place but settled on his mother.  He thought of the look of malice on her face as he’d grabbed his coat.  “You’re not going anywhere!” she’d screamed.  “Try to stop me,” he’d shouted back and was out the door before she could move.  He’d grabbed his skis and begun hiking up the hill, headed for the top.  They lived halfway up.  The Doc lived with his family at the bottom on the main road.  They lived on a secondary road running off it.  They and one other family that had a cabin on the other side of the hill were the only ones living on the road.

 

As he stormed off, he looked back and saw her in the window.  She wasn’t coming after him; she’d given that up a year ago; she was just watching.

 

He’d caused the fight this time.  He knew it.  He was as bad as she was.  And he was smart enough to have figured out why they were like they were.

 

Kerry loved his father, loved him like he was the whole world.  They did everything together.  That had started when he was four.  That was when his dad had started taking him for walks in the woods.  Before that, he’d stayed home with his mother.  She’d loved him then, he supposed, but when his father had started paying attention to him, that’s when it seemed a bright light began to shine on his life. 

 

His dad took him into the woods around their cabin, and there his world expanded.  His dad had grown up here in Colorado, skiing country, and he seemed to know everything that was important.  He showed it all to his son.  The names of trees and shrubs.  Which animals left which spoor.  Taught him how to fish.  How to clean the fish, although he wasn’t allowed to use the knife by himself till he was almost seven and not as clumsy as before.

 

He didn’t teach him how to hunt.  He said he didn’t like killing animals like deer and elk and moose or even wolves and cougars.  Even rabbits.  Fish were fine.

 

That was in the summer.  When winter came, Kerry, then five, was afraid the walks, the closeness, would end.  He quickly learned differently.

 

His dad worked at the lodge.  He didn’t teach the visitors to ski.  He was the head of the ski instructors and gave them lessons.  They all reported to him.  And one reason he had no trouble with his staff was that he could ski rings around all of them.

 

When winter came, and the snows with it, he taught his son to ski.  Five-year-olds aren’t the most coordinated people on the planet, but his dad was a great teacher with endless patience; he loved his son, and the boy was a natural.  As good a teacher as his father was, that wasn’t really necessary.  Kerry took to skis like peanut butter does to jelly. 

 

Once he started skiing, his dad would take Kerry to the lodge every day when he went to work.  The ladies who worked there loved him, but he wasn’t interested in staying inside and being cuddled and petted.  He wanted to be outside, skiing and hanging with the instructors, listening to them talk about skiing and the slopes and how they saved this guy and prevented an accident with another.  He was quiet and listened, and every day his skiing got a little better. 

 

When he started getting cocky, as kids do when they get to be good at something, his dad sat him down and talked to him.  Told him how dangerous skiing could be.  How he had to think of dangers ahead, anticipate them, and avoid them.  To Kerry, his father’s skiing looked fearless, and this talk surprised him.  But his dad said he wasn’t fearless, he was safe, and was able to look as he did on skis because everything he did he knew he was capable of doing.  He told his son he didn’t risk the things he wasn’t good at that might get him in trouble.  He taught Kerry to weigh his danger, to take risks only when he needed to, and to know how much he was risking when he did so.

 

Which made tonight’s adventure silly and immature and something he wasn’t proud of.  But Kerry just got so mad!  And, after all, how many 13-year-olds could really control their tempers, anyway?

 

He got his temper from his mother.  She had a hair trigger on hers, and he’d inherited that from her as well. 

 

He started to feel the cold oozing through his coat.  He rolled over and stood up.  He’d have to find his skis and poles.  He’d skidded into the snow bank feet first and the binding releases had worked as soon as the skis touched the pile.  He’d lost the poles when he’d gone down on his thigh.  He began trudging through the snow.  Looking.

 

He found the skis first, both down in the ditch.  He knew he’d find the poles as he plodded back up the slope, going home.  He’d slid a long way after dropping them; they were probably back close to where he’d gone down; he could see where he’d started his slide from the gouge he’d left.  He took a deep breath, told himself he should come back and find them tomorrow when it was daylight, then rejected that as simply being lazy.  He’d taken two steps, uphill steps, when he heard a sound.

 

It was very faint, and Kerry almost ignored it.  Later, when asked, he had a hard time describing it.  But he did hear it, and he didn’t ignore it.  He stopped to listen.  The ever-present wind was rattling what leaves were left on the aspens and occasionally, when it gusted, made a howling sound, but this was different.  It sounded like, well, he wasn’t sure.  His first thought was a cat, but any cats he’d ever known were smart enough to be in a house or a barn, curled up in the warmest place they could find, licking themselves thoroughly and looking superior if anyone glanced their way.  No, he didn’t think it was a cat.

 

He was about to walk off in search of his poles when he heard it again.  He turned around, looking back at his personal snow pile again, and then pulled his head back in surprise.  He thought he saw, and then did see, a small, furry face poking out of the snow just to the side of where he himself had been buried. 

 

Kerry stared at it, expecting it to be some wild creature who would quickly pull its head back in on realizing it’d been spotted.  What happened instead was just the opposite.  The face shoved further out of the snow, and the noise, for this, this thing was certainly the source of it, suddenly came clearer now that it no longer emanated from deep in the snow, and Kerry was able to identify it.  It was a mewl.  And the creature, whatever it was, was singing it.

 

Kerry turned and walked back.  Whatever this was, it was still mostly buried in snow and was valiantly doing its best to dig itself out.  Carefully, Kerry scooped the snow away from it, then picked it up.  It was shivering with cold but seemed delighted to see him.  It was about the size of a half-loaf of bread and perhaps weighed a pound and some.  It fit easily in his two hands.  It was a puppy, and a young one at that.  Not more than two months, and probably less.  Its eyes were open and bright, but the thing was shivering dreadfully.

 

“Where in the world did you come from?” Kerry asked.  “And why are you buried in the snow?”  The dog hadn’t answered the first question, and with the second, it cocked its head to the side and tried to wag its tail.  The shivering, however, seemed to be taking most of its energy.

 

“We need to get you warm,” Kerry stated, and, unzipping his jacket and then unbuttoning the flannel shirt he wore inside it, he first brushed what snow he could from the animal’s fur and then slipped it in against his body.  “Yikes!” he said, feeling the cold body touch his warm chest. 

 

He re-buttoned and re-zipped so only the dog’s nose was issuing forth from his coat.

 

He started back up the hill, deep in thought.  There was no way his mother would accept a dog in the house.  She might have a hundred reasons he couldn’t keep the dog; a thousand.  But the main one, the one that wouldn't be mentioned, was that she’d be able to punish him for walking off tonight when she’d told him not to.  That would be her reason, and for her it would be good enough.  Because of that, she would say no.

 

He thought about pretending not to want to keep the dog, pretending he didn’t want the work of taking care of it, thinking that might make her take the opposite side of the argument, but no, she might be mad at him, they might fight a lot, but she wasn’t stupid.  It simply wouldn’t work to do that.  She’d see right through him.

 

Holding the dog to his chest, feeling the shivering ease up and finally stop, he realized that he really did want to keep it.  He also knew his mother would say no.  That left only one option he could see. 

 

The dog had been abandoned.  Maybe by the people in that car whose taillights he’d seen just before he slid into the snow bank.  Who’d do that, drop off a puppy and leave it to freeze to death?  There were some really bad people in the world.  He already knew that; did he really have to keep learning it over and over.  Really?

 

The dog had been abandoned.  Just like he had by his father.  Just like his mother had by her husband.  Not that the man had done so intentionally, but the fact was he was gone; the reason wasn’t that important.  

 

When his dad was no longer there, that’s when the great war with his mother had started.  Both of them were hurting, and grieving, although his mother wouldn’t admit it.  But he could see her grief because it looked like his.  He didn’t bother to hide his, which helped start the war, and kept fueling it.  But they both needed a place to expunge their grief, and each was an easy foil.

 

He missed his father, and he felt abandoned; he knew the dog was in the same place: abandoned.  It wouldn’t have lived another hour had Kerry not found it.  And he was going to save it.  And keep it, and his mother could go to hell.

 

He was thinking all this through so hard, he almost forgot to pick up his ski poles as he passed them on the hill.