This is the latest chapter of the book I've been writing. Just thought I would post it here to get your comments and feedback. The story is not about dogs, but one is introduced into the story here. I guess since Molly has been so much on my mind, it would inevitably come out in the writing. Hope you like it!
It was a beautiful night, one of those mid April Spring evenings before the pollen had come, before the winds had cast a dewy yellow film over the earth. Percy had found some khaki shorts knotted up in his chest of drawers along with a UVA tee shirt. He dug out the flip flops from the back of his closet, and within minutes had a steak cooking on the grill on the back deck. He poured himself a beer and listened to the sizzle of the meat on the low gas flame. There was a bird, loud and rhythmic singing from the top of one of the huge pines in the back yard.
He was alone, and trying to come to grips with being alone. Although he no longer longed for her, he still missed Beth, missed the friend that she had become, missed having someone to care for. He had taken the time to reconnect with some friends from the church that he had been a member of for most of his life. It was more accurate to say that it was his parent’s church, but it was also his, if in a less consuming way. He had stopped going when he was married to accommodate Beth, and honestly hadn’t missed it much, although it had cost him some friendships, friendships that he had started to rebuild by going every other Sunday or so, and playing on the softball team. It was strangely uncomfortable at first, but after a while it actually felt nice to be a part of something again, the softball team more so than the church. Pastor Riggs looked 100 years old. He had stood in that same pulpit practically every Sunday for 40 years, and as Percy sat and listened to his first sermon in over a decade it occurred to him how difficult it must be to come up with something interesting to say after 1800 sermons. For Pastor Riggs it had turned out to be impossible. It was as if Percy had never left, like Riggs just started up where he had left off when Percy had walked away, with some boring story about the children of Israel being disobedient about some such thing and God sending down thunderous judgment upon them. But Riggs was a good man, a kind and loving man, and in the end, that’s what the members of Fairview Baptist wanted. They wanted a man who would care for them, who would marry them, bury them, and visit them when they were sick, a man without spiritual ambitions. When Percy lay in the hospital after trying to kill himself, Riggs had been there… for his parents. The first words that he had spoken to Percy after he had regained consciousness had been to say how he had missed seeing him in church on Sundays. It was what the world was about for Albert Riggs; it was about who was there and who wasn’t there, and it was his job to keep score.
The steak was delicious, tasted like the outdoors. After dinner it began to get dark, and Percy sat on the sliding swing looking out over the expansive yard. The clothesline was still strung tightly between two rusted metal T-shaped poles that Gilbert had pounded into the ground with a ten pound hammer a hundred years ago. There were the mammoth pine trees, at least four feet in diameter that rimmed the property line in the back, the wild, out of control forsythia bushes blazing in bright yellow that separated Gilbert’s yard from the neighbors. Soon the crickets would start to sing, and if Percy closed his eyes it would be like he was seventeen again.
He saw him limp out from the forsythias, favoring his left front paw. He didn’t recognize the dog from the neighborhood. He looked thin and rough the way dogs do when they spend all of their time outdoors roaming around. The dog held his head high, the smell of meat in the air, then saw Percy on the deck. He cocked his head to one side as if to get a better look then began trotting painfully towards the deck. Percy smiled and walked down the steps to get a closer look himself. He looked like some sort of mix, probably some lab in him. His coat was blond, short haired and filthy. No leash, something wrong with one of its ears, like he might have lost part of it in a fight. But despite his pitiful condition, the dog was not afraid or shy, and limped straight up to Percy with bright eyes and what looked like a delirious smile, and laid down right at his feet.
“Well, hello.” Percy knelt down and looked more closely to make sure the dog didn’t have mange. “What’s your name boy?” The dog sat up and extended his wounded left paw to Percy. “Paw giving you trouble boy? Got something stuck in there? Let’s take a look.” A dime sized burr had lodged itself into his paw pad. When he tried to remove it, he pricked his own thumb and blood bubbled up quickly. “Damn! No wonder you’re limping boy.” Percy ran into the house, found some pliers and a couple of dish rags that he soaked under some warm water from the faucet. When he returned to the deck, the dog had jumped up somehow onto the sliding swing and had his left paw extended out, waiting patiently. One firm tug with the pliers removed the burr, and the dog had let out a small yelp, but then had jumped down from the swing and walked over towards the grill, nose high and sniffing.
“You look like you could use a meal, boy, but let’s clean you up first.”
Percy spent the rest of the night reclaiming the dog from neglect. There were scratches all over his legs, his coat infested with ticks. Percy went to the tool shed and found a metal wash tub, filled it with warm water from the kitchen and gave the dog a bath with his Old Spice body wash. The dog didn’t fight the attention, and seemed to be overjoyed with the suds. At some point during the bath Percy found himself calling the dog “Sam”. It seemed right, seemed to fit the irrepressible spirit of this abused animal. After spraying him off and toweling him down, Percy noticed how thin he was, his ribs tracing curved arches along his sides. “You hungry, Sam?”
Sam raced up on the deck and stood looking through the screen door, tail wagging, at Percy scrounging through the refrigerator looking for something that would serve as dog food. Percy looked back over his shoulder at the dog’s grateful face, then reached for the remaining New York Strip. He placed it on the cutting board and sliced it carefully into small squares, then placed them on a plate and sprinkled some grated cheddar cheese on top. He ran some cold water into a large cereal bowl, and returned to the deck.
“Sam, I’m not sure if this is the best thing to be feeding a starving dog, but it’s either this or frozen pizza.”
Percy placed the food and water on the ground in front of Sam, then sat down on the swing expecting a vociferous display of bad eating manners, but Sam looked down at the food, backed up a step and looked back at Percy as if in disbelief. The dog had just been presented with a meal fit for a King, and he had hesitated, taken the time to stare at Percy with eyes wet with what looked like gratitude. “Go ahead and eat Sam. It’s for you boy.”
Sam then lunged at the plate and devoured every morsel, licked all the bloody juice clean, and drank the bowl dry. He then gave his new clean body a mighty shake and walked over to the swing and laid down, resting his head on Percy’s feet. Percy reached down and scratched the top of his head. “You’re a good boy, aren’t you Sam?”
Percy would have to ask around the neighborhood tomorrow, see if anyone knew the dog’s owner. But for tonight, he would sit on the deck and let this dog warm his toes against the cool breeze. They sat together for the better part of an hour, until it began to get chilly. Percy went inside and found an old blanket in the top of the linen closet, folded it into a three foot square then placed it beside the screen door under the green and white striped awning. “You can sleep here tonight Sam. That way if it rains, you’ll stay dry. Tomorrow, maybe we’ll see about getting you a collar and some real dog food, ok buddy?” Percy had already decided that Sam was his now. If he had a previous owner, he couldn’t be much of one to allow the dog to reach such a state. All night Percy lay in bed thinking of things to do for Sam. He would build him a dog house, or maybe even let him sleep inside. He would have to find a Vet, and get him checked out, of course. It had been years since Percy had had a dog, since high school. He would have to read up on the best dog foods, buy him some toys to play with. Maybe he would have to build a fence to keep him from running off; roaming around free might prove a hard habit to break. He had finally fallen asleep some time after midnight.
The next morning, his eyes opened and for a few minutes he lay awake feeling a strange expectation, an excited brightness, a surprising gratefulness for the day. It was Saturday, or maybe Sunday, whatever, he was going to spend it taking care of his dog, getting to know this amazing gift that had limped into his back yard, with the power to infuse his life with an almost electric sense of purpose. Percy bounded out of bed, skipped past the coffee maker to the screen door of the deck and threw it open. Sam was gone.