- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
Betsy Hearne has skillfully crafted twelve short stories highlighting the special relationships that humans and dogs can share. Varied in tone and setting, her collection will make readers smile, cry, and ...
Betsy Hearne has skillfully crafted twelve short stories highlighting the special relationships that humans and dogs can share. Varied in tone and setting, her collection will make readers smile, cry, and keep turning the pages to see what happens in each new miniworld of real and imagined encounters.
Twelve short stories that reflect the varied ways that dogs and humans relate.
I've got this great idea for a story about a laboratory where they experiment on Labrador retrievers, so the title is "Lab" -- what my dad would call a double entendre, meaning two things at once -- but unfortunately I don't ever get very far past the title. Every time I read about laboratories where they experiment on dogs, I get sick to my stomach. It doesn't bother me to read science books. I do that all the time, plus volunteering at the vet's, but veterinarians try to help animals. Anyway, the main character in this story is a kid named Will who gets a job in one of these labs and he's all excited because he wants to win a Nobel Prize for research someday, but then he gets attached to one of the dogs and it dies while they're doing surgery on it and he goes ballistic. You can see the point I'm trying to make here about labs and Labs but, like my dad says, the devil is in the details and I can't stomach the details of this story. I just want to make the point. My mother thinks that's my biggest problem, but she makes a lot of points herself.
We've never gotten along too well, my mother and I. My dad says it's because we're so much alike -- okay, we're both female -- and I'm the oldest, so she and I butt heads while the rest of the kids go their merry ways and do whatever they want. That's another problem, there are too many kids in this family. It's like my parents never heard of zero population growth. They claim to have wanted each and every one of us. There are a lot of unwanted kids in the world, I point out, and they could have adopted a couple of them. Then where would you be, asks my mother. She's pretty smartfor a plain ordinary housewife. You don't see too many of those anymore. They're like an endangered species. So treat her carefully, says my dad. On the other hand if she hadn't had five kids she could have taught school or run an orphanage or been the boss of something else besides us. She even bosses my dad. "Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth," says my dad, quoting the Bible, of course, which he does all the time, being a minister. My dad has earned a lot of earth. "Blessed are the peacemakers," blessed is this, blessed is that.
I seem to specialize in the unblessed. Or as my mother would say, the unwanted and the abnormal. And I say right back to her, you'd be abnormal too if you were unwanted. She glares at me and then at my black Labrador retriever, Sinbad, who was named by my father after Sinbad the sailor because Labs love water but also because Sinbad sins badly. Another one of those double entendres. Sinbad was a science laboratory reject, according to his previous three owners. I don't know what they did to him in that lab, or planned to do to him, but one thing is clear, he was never what dog people would call socialized. This is a hyperactive dog that eats not just shoes but also sofas and forgets commands before he learns them and pays no attention to human beings. The only creature he has ever responded to is a white duck named Lucy that one of my sisters won at an Easter egg hunt. Talk about unchristian -- it's thoughtless and cruel, handing out live animals as prizes. Some people would probably have just eaten the duck for dinner but this duck was lucky. We gave her a good home and even a best friend. At first we were afraid for Lucy's life since Labs are bred to swim out and retrieve ducks that have been shot, but she and Sinbad took to each other like a duck takes to water and became inseparable. Unfortunately Lucy is not housetrained, which means that Sinbad lives outside with her, which has involved fencing in the whole yard. Fortunately, I'm good with my hands, so I built the fence. But Sinbad barks at every delivery person, mailperson, and passing stranger. Rescuing the unwanted is a demanding activity.
Currently I am raising three kittens whose mother was hit by a car. The so-called neighbors who live two miles away left them in a box on our doorstep because my reputation for animal rescue has spread. They didn't know my brother saw them do it. He also found their dead cat in the road and figured out what had happened. After I gave the cat a decent burial it was either feed the kittens every two hours or deliver them to the gas chamber at the so-called Humane Society. My siblings are useless but I did get help from Millie. There's nothing more good-natured than a middle-aged part-golden retriever, even missing one eye (a story about her past life she has never been able to tell us). I figured that if wicked Sinbad could take to a duck, one-eyed Millie wouldn't mind a few kittens. So after every feeding, I curled them up together next to her warm stomach and they all went right to sleep, Millie included. I didn't get much sleep myself and my mom started clucking about it. At least if you're going to stay up all night nursing the entire animal kingdom, you need to eat some protein. My mom thinks a vegan diet is not enough to sustain a growing sixteen-year-old. Half the world is vegan, I say. Half the world has no choice, she says. You see the way we are. But I have to admit that it used to be worse.
What saved us -- I mean, not saved by the Lord as my father would say but saved by life -- was this Event. Before the Event my mother and I had gotten beyond arguing. We were not speaking at all. If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all. That's not from the Bible, but it's my mother's creed. She was pregnant with Number Five and I had reminded her once too often about the ethics of overpopulation. So my dad was translating some heavy silence whenever the other kids weren't jabbering away. He kept talking about what the Lord giveth and I had to ask if the Lord hadn't ever heard of birth control. My mother left the table. Unfortunately my father had to leave for Bible camp after that and he took the rest of the family with him. Talk about silence. My mother had stayed home to get ready for the blessed event and I had just taken in an old wolfhound that somebody found chained up near an abandoned farmhouse. Well, it was mostly wolfhound, plus or minus a few breeds. My mother objected to this adoption. A wolfhound standing on its back legs sees eye to eye with a medium-sized human, which can be scary. Mostly they stand on four legs but it's good to remember their potential for equality. Surely my mother of all people could see that every creature born into the world deserves a chance. It's true that the dog had a major appetite, but being big shouldn't disqualify you from life.
Anyway, my mother was down in the basement opening up boxes of old baby clothes which she happened to have saved just in case the Lord blessed us again, and I was out back in the pen I had to build for the wolfhound so he wouldn't eat Sinbad's duck, when this enormous storm blew in. You read about storms like this in all the stories where the climax just happens to coincide with thunder and lightning but I swear it happened this way. The weather had been hot. I think that's why my mother was hiding in the basement all day. The air was tight around your body, like you could hardly breathe, like it was waiting for a blow-up, and my mother and I had the same feeling, like if either one of us spoke a word we'd both blow up. And then this heavy black cloud falls over my head and wind sizzles in my ears and I have the good sense to put Wolfgang in the empty garage and Sinbad and Lucy in the toolshed. Then I run for the kitchen door.
That's when I hear this strangled little voice calling me from the basement. I go down there and my mother is lying on the floor, sweat running down her face.
Mom, what's the matter, I ask like a dumbbell.
I think I'm having this baby, she says to me.
No, Mom, I yell at her like she can't hear me, it's not due till next month.
Don't argue with me now, we don't have time. I've had four babies and this one's coming. Go call the doctor and tell him to get out here fast.
Running up the stairs I almost get knocked over by a blast of thunder like dynamite and the whole kitchen lights up a puke shade of green. I pick up the phone and of course it's dead, just like in the movies. So I go back downstairs and Mom is gasping on the floor with her legs drawn up, breathing, breathing, breathing, and sweating.
Mom, there's no phone. I mean, the storm knocked it out.
You're going to have to help me then.
I can't, I can't, Mom, I don't know what to do.
You can. Go get that old mattress from the storage room and cover it with a clean sheet.
Suddenly she catches her breath again and can't talk. I can't talk either because what's happening is way beyond words. I wrestle the mattress over to her and run upstairs for sheets. While I'm there I turn on the stove -- thank God for gas stoves -- and put water on to boil because that's what you read about. And I drop in a pair of scissors because when puppies get born the mother bites off the umbilical cord and I'm sure as heck not going to bite off this baby's umbilical cord. Plus I have to tie it off, right? That's what they show you in the medical books. I grab a spool of heavy thread from my mom's sewing basket and when I get back downstairs with the sheets and hot water and boiled scissors, my mother is grunting and yelling, and I start to cry while I sort of roll her over onto the mattress but then I stop because she's pushing and pushing and it feels like I'm pushing with her. Suddenly this little lump of wet head appears between her legs and out slips this sloppy little fish-thing right into my hands, which are covered with red blood and yellow cheesy stuff and tears dripping off my nose. Nobody told me that childbirth would be so damp. My mother's crying too now and pushing out the afterbirth and rain is pouring against the basement window. The whole world is wet and the baby's crying too because I clear out her mouth and turn her upside down and whack her just like I saw them do it on Emergency One and she burbles and breathes and lets out this tiny little wail. I cut some thread and tie the cord and cut the cord, just like they say you should, and then I wrap my baby sister in a sheet and put her on my mother's chest and the three of us just lie there holding each other, breathing.
Finally my mother tightens her arms around me and says in this real low voice right by my ear, I love you, Willa. And then, honest to God, there's this real low rumble of thunder like the storm is passing on and my mother puts my baby sister to her breast and starts nursing her.
Go see if the phone works yet, honey, she says to me, and I stumble up the stairs but the phone line is still dead and I'm not leaving my mother so I clean her and the baby up -- finally I figure out what the hot water is for. Little Fish turns out to have arms and legs and fingers and toes, just the right number except extremely small. She also has hair as black as Sinbad's and slate blue eyes. Holding her hand in my hand, I lose my heart. My mother dozes off and on while I take care of them with blankets and broth and baby-holding. After about six hours the electricity comes back on and the doctor shows up and says what a hero I am and what a great job I did and he couldn't have done it better himself, and my mother smiles at me like rainbows.
My dad comes home and says thank the Lord it was me here with her and not him because he would have passed out first thing, which is true. My dad is good with words but he turns gray and green at the sight of blood. My brother and sisters gather around the baby whooping and hollering and scaring her to death till I hush them all up and chase them out of the room. And all this time my mom is just smiling at me like I did something right for the first time in my life.
Ever since then, my mom and I have done better. She doesn't go on and on about Sinbad wrecking the garden and Wolfgang eating us out of house and home and the kittens crawling underfoot with half-blind Millie tagging along after them, bringing them back to their box one by one to clean them up with her patient pink tongue until they get out again.
But I can't finish this story, "Lab." The first few lines are okay but then I get stuck. The whole point of this story is the kid figuring out what's right and wrong. I don't know why I have so much trouble with it, maybe because I just don't know enough about science and stuff like that. Like they say, you have to write about what you know. I guess if I did that I'd have to write about my mom and me, and about Sinbad and Lucy and Wolfgang and Millie and the kittens. It couldn't be that interesting.
Copyright © 2003 by Betsy Hearne
a grave situation
fiona and tim
the canine connection
about the author