P U P P Y   L O V E

by

Cole Parker

 

 

~  2  ~

 

Most young boys would have been panting by the time they had climbed to the path that led from the ski slope to the house, especially at that elevation, but Kerry had made the climb often enough that his breathing was hardly affected.  He approached the house cautiously.  It wouldn’t do to walk in and find his mother waiting for him.  That wasn’t likely.  She’d be in her room.  She’d also be waiting to hear him come in, but after that, she’d turn off her light and go to sleep.  She had to be up early. 

 

It always made him wonder, why did she stay up at all?  She acted like he was of no concern of hers.  But she waited up.  She also cooked him dinner and did his laundry.  And some of her fussing at him showed she cared about some things.  He hadn’t quite figured out how all that worked with a woman who was yelling at him about as often as she was talking.  He’d heard adult men talking scornfully about women, and they usually ended the conversation saying no one understood women.  Well, he thought, me too!  He had no use for women or girls, anyway.  He was a man living in a man’s world, and women and girls were just a distraction.

 

He looked through the front window of the cabin.  He could see all the way into the kitchen from there and his mother wasn’t in sight.  He walked to the other end of the house and saw from the splash of light on the snow that the lamp in her room was on. 

 

He walked to the front door, then petted the puppy’s head.  It seemed to have fallen asleep.  The shivering had stopped pretty quickly after he’d re-zipped his coat at the bottom of the hill.  Now, he gently worked the pup’s head inside his jacket and zipped it all the way up.   Then he opened the door and stepped inside.

 

He didn’t call out that he was home.  When he left in a huff, the protocol he’d developed was to simply come home when he was ready and lock the front door behind him without speaking.  The two of them battled often enough that a format for establishing rapprochement had developed.  It was delicate and unstable; they’d both found it best to follow the procedures that had worked in the past.  One of them was not to speak until after the nastiness of the blow-up had been allowed to settle.  So, his mother didn’t call out to him, either, and instead he saw the light go out in her room.

 

It was unlikely she’d arise and come out to confront him, but he wasn’t taking chances.  He walked quickly to his bedroom, entered and closed the door behind him.  Then he opened his jacket and took it off before carefully extracting the still sleeping puppy from his shirt.

 

He thought he should try to feed it, but waking it up didn’t make much sense.  He looked it over and it didn’t look skinny.  He wasn’t sure how old it was, but to him it appeared to be a normal, healthy puppy, if a still very young one.

 

He made a decision.  He’d get a bowl of water and a bowl of milk and set them on the floor on a towel — he didn’t know if this animal was old enough to drink from a bowl or not, but figured if it was, it would probably be sloppy, and so the towel might help.  Then he’d make a nest with an extra blanket, lay the nest on the end of his bed and put the puppy in it.  Then it could sleep there, and if it was thirsty, it could hop down and get a drink.

 

He thought about that, looked at the arrangement once he’d made the nest, and thought that was an awful long way down from the bed to the floor.  So he pulled his desk chair over, then a foot stool, and positioned them so the puppy could work its way down if it wanted to. 

 

Then he used the bathroom, brushed his teeth, got the two bowls half filled and took them to his room, set the dog in the nest without waking it, and went to bed.

 

Kerry was an active boy.  He skied when he could, he went to school during the day when school was in session, and he had homework at night those days, more than he thought was fair, did some chores at home, skied some more, and as a result slept deeply and soundly without turning or thrashing.  That night was no exception.  He slept like a log, without a twitch or a wiggle, and when he woke, he stretched and yawned, fluttered his eyes open, and saw the empty nest on the end of his bed.  He started to sit up, then realized he wasn’t alone in the bed.  Nestled up against his chest under the covers was the dog — still sleeping soundly.

 

Kerry felt a warm glow expand within him.  He watched the puppy breathe, its tongue just pushing to where it could be seen, its lips seeming to pulsate.  Kerry smiled, then felt the need to get up.  As gently as he could, he moved the pup off his chest and stood up.  The puppy cracked an eye open, then wagged its tail as it stretched.  The combination was too much for it and it fell over on the bed.

 

Kerry laughed.  “You’re just a bit of thing, aren’t you?  Well, we’ll have to see about getting you something to eat.  I have an idea.  You’re going to have to wait a sec or two.  Why don’t we see if you need to pee, first.”

 

He picked up the pup and held it against his chest as he walked through the house and out onto the deck through the kitchen entry.  He looked over the back yard which was blanketed with thick, white, mostly-virgin snow.  “That doesn’t look good for you, does it?” Kerry asked.  “You’d probably sink in over your head.”

 

What to do?  Kerry didn’t want to teach the animal that weeing on the porch was acceptable behavior.  Kerry thought, then said out loud, “I know.”  He carried the dog back into the house and set it down just long enough to put his boots on.  Then he slipped on his coat, picked up the pup and went back outside.  There was a snow shovel on the deck; he grabbed it and walked down the steps to the yard.  There, he shoveled a small area down to the grass.  Then he set the dog down on the frozen grass.  The next bit was of no moment at all for Kerry.  He was a boy who spent many hours outdoors.  Peeing outside was something he’d done all his life.  True, he usually found a tree or bush to hide him and never had moistened his own backyard next to the house before, but he knew his mother was at work at the lodge by now and there were no neighbors to worry about.  So, he had his morning tinkle in the yard with the dog watching, hoping it would catch on to what the program was. 

 

The puppy sniffed, ran around in a circle, then squatted.

 

“Success!” shouted Kerry, and wondered briefly if this was what a proud papa felt.  He picked up the dog, then used the snow shovel and threw some snow over the spot they’d used.

 

Feeding the pup wasn’t as easy.  First he tried a bowl of milk; that got him an inquisitive look and nothing else.  Next came some tuna fish, day-old pot roast that he cut up very fine, then some peanut butter.  The way the dog was looking at him by then, Kerry figured it thought he was loony.

 

“OK,” he muttered.  “Let’s see if what I thought of in bed works.”

 

There was an attic above the house.  Kerry didn’t like it much because it was filled with fiberglass insulation against the cold winters and the stuff seemed to get in his nose and on his skin and wherever it could find a place to touch.  The storage part of the attic was just a few pieces of 4’ x 8’ plywood laid across the ceiling rafters.  But Kerry had explored the attic, as a boy will do, and knew there was an old box of baby stuff.

 

He climbed down a few minutes later, brushing at his arms, neck and face in case any attack regiments from the fiberglass base camp had led a raid on him, then took the baby bottle and nipple out to the kitchen.  He used a paring knife to connect the two small holes in the end, then filled the bottle half full of milk he heated to just warm.

 

“Let’s see how you like this,” Kerry told the puppy who was sitting watching him intently.  He picked the beast up, cradled it in his arms, then offered the nipple.  The dog looked at it, then at Kerry.  Kerry frowned, then shook the bottle so some of the milk splashed out.  That got the dog’s attention.  He sniffed it, then licked it, then attached himself to the nipple like a vacuum cleaner hose.  Kerry laughed, watching him.  Within a few minutes the bottle was empty, and the dog was asleep in his arms.

 

Now what?  Kerry didn’t know much of anything about puppies, but had decided this one was pretty special.  He wasn’t sure how he’d hide it from his mother, but that was his plan.  But, if he was going to take care of this creature, he realized he needed some advice.  If he was going to be responsible for the upbringing of this dog, he wanted to do it right.

 

He dressed for skiing, then put a towel in his school backpack, slipped the puppy into it and strapped it on his back.  He trudged his way through some fresh overnight snow back to the ski slope and took off and did so at a much gentler pace than the night before.  His mood was in a much different place, too.

 

He veered off the slope before reaching the road, and drifted along using his downhill speed to the front gate of the doc’s house.  He stopped, kicked out of his skis, put them and his poles up against the front of the house, and rang the doorbell.  It was opened shortly by a girl his age.

 

“Hi, Maryann.  Is Doc here?”

 

“Hi, Kerry-O.”  He grimaced.  She was the only one who called him that.  He had no idea why she did it.  He’d told her twenty times from Sunday that he didn’t like it, that his name was Kerry.  Damn girls, anyway!

 

She was staring at him.  For some reason — it had to be a girl reason because a boy would never stare at another boy the way she always stared at him — she seemed fascinated by his very being, and not necessarily in a good way.  Whenever she was around, when he’d catch a glimpse of her, she was staring at him.  Gee, get a life, he thought.   

 

He waited patiently, and finally, finally, she said, “He’s in the clinic.  Go around to the back.”

 

“Thanks,” he said, and walked around the outside of the house till he came to the door.  He knocked and entered.

 

The doc was sitting behind a counter that crossed the small anteroom.  There were bright fluorescent lights above and linoleum floor tiles down below.  Doc was reading a paper, and he finished his paragraph before looking up.

 

Kerry grinned at him.  The doc was an eccentric.  He was a vet, and a good one, but he didn’t get along with a lot of people, ruffling their feathers with his straight from the shoulder talk and no nonsense way.  His practice was not a busy one which was just the way he liked it.  He worked out of his house which was located well outside town, giving him the peace and quiet and privacy he liked.  If most people didn’t care for his manner, fine.  He didn’t care a whit.

 

The exception to that rule was Kerry.  Kerry was something of a loner himself.  He liked skiing, walking in the woods, and he was very comfortable doing those things by himself.  Perhaps he and the doc saw something of themselves in the other; whatever the reason, they got along well.

 

When Kerry’s father had died in a car accident, crashed into by a drunk guest staying at the lodge, Doc was about the only one who could console Kerry.  His mother was as devastated as he was and not much help.  Kerry took to his skis in an effort to work past his grief, and Doc would see him time after time, running the dangerous trail through the woods and ending up near his house.  He didn’t know the boy, had never spoken to him, but knew who he was, and that his father had just been killed.  One day soon after that, when he saw the boy making one of his daily ski runs down the hill and then beginning the long climb back up, he realized the boy was exhausted.  Even so, he had a look of determination on his face, and he didn’t pause before beginning back up the hill. 

 

The doc had stepped out his clinic’s door, and shouted at him.

 

“Hey, boy, come here!”  The shout hadn’t been a request but an order.  Kerry looked over at the man, panting from just finishing his run.  Kerry didn’t take orders well.  Still, the man had a commanding presence, and Kerry was tired. 

 

Surprising himself, he turned and poled himself over to where the doc was standing.  

  

“Come on inside,” Doc said.  “You’re exhausted and need to stop for a while.  Come on, now.  I’ve got some hot chocolate.  And we need to talk.”

 

Kerry didn’t like the sound of that.  He was so tired of adults telling him how sad they were, and what a nice man his father had been.  Those comments didn’t help at all.  Well, nothing helped at all, but feeling sorry for him and petting him on the arm seemed to make it all worse, somehow.  So, talking?  He made to turn around, but with skis on, that wasn’t that easy.

 

The doc saw his intention and figured the reason.  “No, not talk like that.  Come on in, and hear what I have to say.”

 

With that, he turned and walked back inside.  Kerry could have left.  But he didn’t.  He kicked off his skis and followed the man.

 

“Sit there,” said Doc, pointing to a chair next to a space heater that was churning out enough warmth to keep the room comfortable.  “Better shed that jacket, too.  You don’t want to be sweating when you go back outside.”

 

Kerry frowned at him.  “I know.  I do live here, you know.”  But he was in the process of taking off his coat as he was grumbling.

 

The doc was busy at a crude gas stove and simply grunted.  Kerry, coat off, sank down in the chair.  He hadn’t realized how spent he was.  He sighed inadvertently, then wished he hadn’t.  He hated to show adults any weakness at all.  They mostly treated him like a little kid, and he hated that.  He was 13, and could take care of himself.

 

The doc brought them both steaming mugs of hot chocolate, then took a chair next to Kerry.  He sat back into it and inhaled the steam off the mug.  When the doc didn’t speak right away, Kerry felt himself relaxing.  He hadn’t realized he had stiffened up when he’d sat down, stiffened as though to defend himself from what was coming.

 

“Your name’s Kerry, isn’t it?  Maryann told me that.  Seen you ski past here lots of times,” the doc said eventually.  “Damn good for a kid.”

 

He saw Kerry’s shoulders tighten, and lifted his eyes to meet Kerry’s, then held them.  “Hey!” he said.  “You won’t hear bullshit from me.  I called you a kid.  You’re a kid.  You can be offended by reality, or you can accept it.  Better to fight battles you have a chance of winning, and you don’t get far fighting against the truth.  Waste of time to challenge what is.”

 

Kerry held the man’s eyes, then finally looked away.

 

Doc was quiet then, and Kerry looked him over.  He appeared to be older than his dad had been, which was 41.  He also hadn’t shaved today, or maybe yesterday, either.  Kerry didn’t know what to make of that.  His dad had shaved every day, and that was what he was used to.

 

Without preamble, the doc was suddenly speaking again.  “You know my daughter, Maryann.  Heard her speak of you occasionally.  You like her OK?”

 

What in the world was this all about, Kerry wondered?  “She’s OK I guess.  I don’t have much time for girls.”  What he meant was he had no interest in them. Or most boys for that matter.  Only ones that could ski well, and there weren’t all that many of those.

 

Doc gave him a short laugh.  “I didn’t either at your age.  They do grow on you some when you get older.”

 

He paused again, and Kerry drained the last of his chocolate.  Doc saw that and said, “More in the pot on the stove.  You want any, help yourself.”

 

Kerry wouldn’t have minded another cup, but suddenly felt too exhausted to get up and get it.  So he merely shook his head.

 

Doc watched him in silence for a few moments.  Then he said something that Kerry didn’t understand.  “Boy, we haven’t met, but I know you.  I hear things.  When I’m at the lodge occasionally for breakfast or lunch, I hear people talking.  I talk to Maryann, too.  I know what’s going on around here.  And from what I hear, you got some strength in you.  You don’t take crap from any of the other boys, you stick to yourself, mostly, and you’re a terrific skier.  What you don’t have right now is a father.  Well, lots of boys don’t have fathers.  Some of them get by.  Some have some problems.  From what I think, and’ve seen, you’ll do all right by yourself.  You still got your mother, and that’ll help.  But what I wanted to say to you is this.  This is important, so listen to me now.”

 

He stopped and waited till Kerry raised his eyes to meet his own.  “If you’re like what I think you might be, sort of like I was at your age, you probably think you can do it all on your own.  And who knows; maybe you can.  But the path you’ll be walking will get bumpy sometimes.  Does for all of us.  I want you to know.  You ever need a hand with anything, you ever need a man to talk things out with, you just want someone you can sit comfortably with and have a cup of chocolate without any conversation at all, I’ll be here.”

 

He stopped then, and got up to get himself another cup of chocolate.  Poured one for Kerry, too, without him asking.  When he was returning the pot to the stove, with his back still turned to Kerry, he said, “Sometimes the hardest thing is asking for help, or even a hand.  Some of us have too much pride.  Think it makes us weak, needing some.  It doesn’t, Kerry.  It makes us human.”

 

Kerry didn’t say anything, so Doc put the pot down and turned around.  Kerry was sound asleep in his chair.  Doc never did learn how much of what he’d said the boy had heard.

 

But from that time on, Kerry had taken to dropping in on Doc.  They became friends.  Both had dry senses of humor, and loved sarcasm.  At first, Kerry had been tentative about teasing an adult who looked to be over 50.  But Doc was sarcastic towards him enough that Kerry finally snapped back at him in like manner, and the Doc had roared with laughter.  From then on, they behaved like equals.  Just the way Doc liked it.

 

So today, Kerry wasn’t a bit surprised to see Doc finish reading his paragraph before looking up at him.  Some people would have thought that rude.  Kerry took it to mean he was welcome here and Doc was comfortable enough with him to finish what he was doing before acknowledging his existence.

 

The doc did finish the paragraph, and did finally put down the paper.  “Hey, Kid.  How’s Christmas vacation treating you?  School begins next week, according to Maryann.”

 

Kerry smiled.  Doc persisted in calling him ‘Kid’.  Kerry thought he knew why.  Doc loved his image of being gruff and unfeeling.  The opposite was true, but he’d hate for anyone to know that.  Calling him ‘Kid’ was part of the image he was trying to maintain, one lacking affection or closeness.

 

“Yeah, got to go back I guess.  But that’s not why I’m here, to chew the fat and entertain you.  I need to talk to you about this.”  So saying, he slipped his backpack off his shoulders and took the puppy out of it. 

 

“I found it down by the road last night.”  He went on to tell Doc everything that had happened, even the parts about being angry and skiing dangerously, and about wanting to keep the dog and not letting his mother know about his having it.  Kerry didn’t have any secrets from Doc.  He found life easier this way.  The doc was entirely unlike his mother, who’d rant and rave about everything he did, every decision he made.  The doc rarely gave him unsolicited advice.  He’d listen, but unless Kerry asked for an opinion, he wouldn’t get one.  He’d never asked the old man how to get his mother off his back.  That was between him and his mother.

 

The doc listened to the story about the dog while checking it over.  When Kerry was done, the doc put down his stethoscope and said, “Kerry, this is one lucky pup.  You’re right — she would have frozen to death very quickly.  Let me tell you about her.  First, do you know what kind of a dog she is?”

 

“Nope.  No idea.”

 

“She’s a Golden Retriever, and she’s about five weeks old, and I doubt she’s been weaned.  You know what that means?”

 

“Probably that she was still taking milk from her mother?  I figured that was why she wouldn’t eat except from the bottle I gave her.” eJHH H

 

 

Doc laughed. “No grass growing under you, Kid.  That’s right.  But, puppies don’t do well on cow’s milk.  Since you’re going to keep her, I’ll give you a couple of bottles of puppy replacement milk.  What you need to do is start weaning her, unless you want to spend all your time giving her a bottle.  Besides which, the milk gets expensive.”

 

Kerry was holding the pup again by now.  He rubbed her head and said, “It is kind a neat to bottle-feed her.”

 

“Yeah, but like most things, it gets old pretty quick when you have to do it.  No, what you should do is mix the replacement milk with a good quality puppy chow, then run it through your blender and make a mush.  She’ll start eating that right away.  She’s plenty old enough.  And pretty soon, she’ll be able to eat it without the milk mixed with it.”

 

Doc went on to tell Kerry other things he needed to do to raise a healthy puppy, and even found a couple of pamphlets for Kerry.  Then he asked a question.   “How you going to pay for all this?”

 

Kerry looked him in the eye.  “Well, I just thought you’d take care of that.”

 

Doc pulled back, wondering if he meant that, and then Kerry laughed.  “Gotcha!” he said.  When the doc laughed, Kerry continued with, “I got some money from my lessons saved up.  It’s mine and I can spend it how I want.  If you’ll stock the food and vitamins and stuff I need, I’ll buy it from you.”

 

Kerry had been giving skiing lessons for the last year.  He’d started doing it just before his dad died.  The lodge, where his mother worked, was happy to send kids who wanted private lessons to Kerry, who then got paid directly by the kids’ parents.  The lessons weren’t affiliated with the lodge at all, saving problems with insurance and work permits.

 

When Kerry was ready to leave, he got permission to drop the pup off to be babysat if it was necessary, but only until he could make a permanent arrangement.  He thanked the doc, saying “I couldn’t do this without your help.  And you gave me a name for her, too.”

“Oh, I did?  What is it?”

 

“Lucky.”  Then he stopped and frowned.  “But that sounds too much like a boy dog’s name.”

 

“Tell you what,” Doc said.  “Lots of dogs have fancy handles, but then are called something else, something simpler.  If you want a suitable girl’s name for her, and still want to call her Lucky, how about Lucky Lucy?  That could be her official name.  To you, though she’d still be Lucky.  How’s that sound?”

 

“Lucky Lucy.  I like that.”

 

Kerry left Doc’s animal clinic feeling pretty good, until he walked around the corner to collect his skis.  Maryann was there.  He waved to her without stopping or speaking, and she waved back.  Then he saw her watching him without saying a word till he was out of sight.