Tuesday, September 02, 2008
A dog by any other name
Will had wanted a dog for five years. For five years, he had stared mournfully at pet stores as they passed in his mother's truck. For five years, he had bit his lip and smiled when his classmates got puppies for Christmas and their birthdays. And for five years, he had stared at the end of his bed and envisioned a puppy licking his toes and chewing the end of his blanket.
For a eight year old boy, five years was a long time.
But no matter how often he asked, his parents always said no.
"Son, we got enough critters to feed," his dad would say, sweeping his hand out over their ranch.
"Darling, a puppy would just spook the horses," his mother would say as she brushed her horses until they shone.
Even his older brother Hank wouldn't get him a dog. "You'd get tired of it after one week," Hank would say in a weary voice only a twelve year old boy could have. "And then I'd have to take care of it. I've got football practice and school and work. I don't have time for a dog."
But Will did. He didn't just have time for a dog, he needed a dog. He needed a furry tail whipping against his leg every morning during breakfast. He needed someone to trot behind him while he did his chores. He needed to see a pair of excited eyes and furry grin when he came home from school.
Instead, his mother just made him clean out the horse stalls. "Darling, dreaming doesn't get you anywhere," she'd say, handing him a pitchfork and bucket. "When you grow up and get your own house, you can get a dog. Until then, you can take care of these horses."
"I hate horses," Will snarled. "They're stupid and ugly and poop all the time. I want a dog!"
"Watch your mouth!" his mother warned. "These horses put food on your table, boy. And don't you forget it."
Will didn't forget it. He just didn't like it. And as he shoveled and scraped all twenty stalls clean, he thought about a dog more and more.
One day, after Will's dad caught him trying to fashion a dog from mud and straw, Will was cleaning out the stalls as punishment. He stabbed the pitchfork into the hay and kicked over a bucket in frustration.
"Stupid horses," Will muttered, slamming a stall door shut and spooking a Thoroughbred. "Stupid parents. Stupid farm."
He threw open the next stall door and bustled inside. The occupant, a caramel colored mare, watched him with her large brown eyes. She flared her nostrils and stepped towards him, huffing loudly.
"What's your problem?" Will snarled, stepping towards her. "Scoot back, you stupid horse! I need to clean your stall!" The mare reared up and pawed the air, knocking Will down on his backside into the mud. Will cursed and looked at his filthy hands.
"Stupid horse," he growled, brushing his hands on his pants. He looked up and froze.
There was a baby horse in the stall.
"MOM!" he screeched at the top of his lungs. "Mom!!"
The baby horse wobbled towards him, carefully placing one hoof in front of the other. His mother ran up behind him and gasped, her hands flying over her mouth.
"I've got to call the vet," she cried, running back towards the barn office. Will lay still on the ground as the baby horse hobbled towards him. The mother horse watched his every move. Planting one unsteady hoof beside him, the foal leaned his head down and sniffed Will's face. Will sat perfectly smooth as the soft velvety head scraped against his cheek.
Then the horse licked him, plopped into his lap and waved his tail back and forth. When Will's mother came back, the horse and Will were playing chase around the barn.
The next day, the horse was waiting for Will on the front porch when he came home from school. He followed him from stall to stall as he did his chores and climbed in his lap while he was doing his homework. Will even managed to sneak him into his bed a few times, until his mother discovered the muddy footprints across her carpet. Every night, Will brushed his horse until it shone and fed it carrots, watching it swish it's long tail back and forth as it ate them.
One night during dinner, Will's dad set down his glass of water and looked at his son.
"Will, Mr. Johnson at the feed store has some basset hound puppies," he said. "I could pick you up one. You've been real good helping out around the farm. I think you're old enough for a dog now."
Will looked down at the horse nibbling his toes under his table and shook his head.
"No thanks, Dad," he said with a grin. "Patches is the best dog I've ever had."
Patches neighed in agreement.