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While trying to deal with the possibility that her parents will separate, ten-year-old Zanna becomes involved in working with a spirited sheep dog that belongs to the stroke patient her mother is...
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While trying to deal with the possibility that her parents will separate, ten-year-old Zanna becomes involved in working with a spirited sheep dog that belongs to the stroke patient her mother is helping to rehabilitate.
Zanna Wald and her sister, Rachel, sprawled on the cold concrete floor of the old cow barn with puppies tumbling all over them. Laurie Catherwood, who could play with the puppies any old time, stood waiting for Rachel to pick out her favorite.
Zanna thought they looked pretty much alike. Each one was mostly black with white on the face and chest and around the neck. The feet and tail tips were white, too.
Rachel was looking for the one with the most even white markings.
"This one!" she announced as she swept up a puppy and held it aloft. Its white-tipped tail beat the air like a stubby pendulum. Its pink tongue lapped at her.
"That one's a girl," Laurie told her. "All the girls are spoken for."
Rachel set the puppy down. "I bet all the best ones are," she returned. "All the classy-looking ones."
Laurie said, It's a good thing Grampa can't hear you. He says with Border Collies it's what they do, not what they look like, that counts."
Rachel pulled another puppy out of the heap. But when she saw that the white blaze on its face was dotted with black, she set it aside. Zanna understood that Rachel would never settle for anything that was less than perfect.
Without realizing it, Zanna raised her hand to her own face, as if to cover the freckles on and around her nose.
"So when will you talk to your mother?" Laurie asked Rachel.
"When she's in a better mood. Can't you get your parents to save one for me?"
Rachel ducked her head. One of the puppies leaped clumsily, grabbed a mouthful of hair, and began to tug. "Ow!" Rachel cried. She pried open the tiny jaws and then stood up. "I'll ask my dad the next time he calls. Tell your parents I'll get the money, all of it."
Laurie said, "Someone's coming today to look at the pups, someone that wants to see Meg and Moss work sheep, since they're the puppies' parents. Dad hates showing Moss to people." She glanced toward the end of the barn where a mostly black Border Collie lay chained to a ring in the wall.
"I don't blame him," Rachel responded. "Moss always looks so dirty."
Zanna gazed at Moss. As far as she could tell, he was always there like that. Just lying at the end of the chain. Something drew her toward him. The closer she came, the stranger she felt. She was used to Meg's prancing, joyful greeting, but with Moss she met utter disregard.
Crouching down, she spoke his name. His dark eyes shifted slightly. He certainly wasn't classy-looking. It didn't help knowing that the black spots on his white muzzle were natural markings. He did look dirty lying there with his chin on his mottled forepaws, not moving.
Just then Meg leaped the barrier at the other end of the cow barn and ran to her puppies. They swarmed around her, trying to nurse, but she stood for only a moment before wheeling away and soaring over the barrier again.
Moss had risen at Meg's entrance. Now he dropped to the floor again.
"Does Moss ever get out like Meg?" Zanna asked Laurie.
Laurie nodded. "First thing every morning. Before they get Grampa up. But they can't leave Moss loose for long, or hell get in trouble. He's always sneaking after the heifers or jumping thegate to work the sheep. And when Grampa's out in the wheelchair, Moss won't let him alone. So mostly he's chained up."
"Don't they like him?" Zanna pursued.
"Like?" Laurie was stumped by that question.
"Well, why keep him if he's just tied up all day?"
"I don't know," Laurie answered. "He's -- he was Grampa's special dog. Grampa thought he had the makings 'of a champion. He was just beginning to run him in open trials before he had the stroke."
Zanna didn't say anything more. Later she might ask her mother about Laurie's grandfather. Mom was Rob Catherwood's speech therapist. She also gave him physical therapy twice a day to help him recover some use of his right side, which was mostly paralyzed. Mom would know whether there was any hope for Rob to get back to working his dog again.
"Zanna!" Rachel called from the far side of the barrier. "Time to go home. We've got to figure out how to get the puppy."
The dog on the chain had eyes so dark they glinted almost green in the dimness of the barn. Zanna extended her hand. She could feel the warm breath on her fingertips. How could anything alive be so still? She spoke his name again: "Moss." Then she rose and waded out through the clamorous puppies.
Rachel was waiting for her in the barnyard, which was crammed with farm machinery. Zanna had learned to keep clear of the bad-tempered hen that nested beneath the rusted metal parts.
On the way home Rachel tried to get Zanna to figure out a plan for wheedling a puppy out of their mother. Rachel was counting on Zanna to promise to clean up after the puppy in the afternoons since she was always the first one home from school.
"But I thought you wanted a kitten," Zanna reminded her.
"I did. That was before these puppies got to be so cute."
As soon as Zanna tried to imagine having one, she found herself thinking about Moss instead. She wished she had touched him. She wished she had found a way to let him know that he wasn't entirely forgotten.Away to Me, Moss. Copyright © by Betty Levin. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Posted November 30, 2006