06
Dec
09

Dogwatch

The man in the blue suit stopped just outside the glass doors and scrubbed his sweaty hands on his pant legs. “You’re acting like a schoolboy on his first date,” he said. “Just go in there, tell them who you are and take her home.”

Flinging the door open, he walked to the desk just inside and announced, “I’m Howard Wallace and I’ve come for Mariah.” The woman behind the desk gathered her curly gray hair into a fist at the nape of her neck then pulled it so it was all back over her shoulders. Faint smile lines traced the sides of her mouth and her eyes twinkled even as she frowned at Howard from beneath straight brows.

“Howard Wallace,” she repeated. “Could I see some identification?”

“Is Mariah here?” Howard asked. “Can I see her?”

“First things first,” the woman said. “Some identification please.” Howard’s hands were damp again and he fumbled with his wallet. He opened it and handed it to the woman across from him. She glanced at it then nodded for him to put it away. He’d stirred up a small breeze and the woman’s soft perfume came to him along with enough disinfectant to make a lesser man swoon. “Mariah is here,” the woman said. “She was picked up this afternoon.” Seeing Howard’s shoulders sag in relief, she added, “But I’m not sure she’ll be leaving with you.”

“But why? I’m her owner.”

“Mr. Wallace, Mariah is very young and she needs someone looking after her.”

“I know. My neighbor was supposed to be watching her.”

“Mariah was found wandering in traffic four blocks from your home, Mr. Wallace. That’s a lot of ground for a small dog to cover all alone.”

“I know. I know. The girl let her out to do her business and then I don’t know what happened. I guess she forgot her. I’m not sure if her boyfriend came over or the phone rang or-”

“It doesn’t matter what happened or how it happened,” the woman said, waving a dismissive hand at Howard. “The fact is Mariah, who’s a beautiful little dog by the way, was alone and lost and could have been hurt or killed or caused someone else to be hurt or killed. That’s not responsible pet ownership and I just don’t feel comfortable releasing her to you.”

Howard took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He could hear the lost and homeless dogs barking in the next room and tried to hear which one was Mariah. He let his eyes roam the pastel walls and light for a second or two on each of the bright posters before he looked back at the slight woman behind the desk. “The thing is,” Howard began, “I’ve got to have Mariah back. She was a pre-retirement gift from my daughter and she’d kill me if anything happened to her.”

“Good thing it didn’t and a doubly good thing we reached you first then.”

“Yes,” Howard said. He looked at the poster behind the woman’s head again then back down at her face. “And there’s another reason too. I mean another reason it’s good nothing happened to her. I mean besides the obvious.”

“Which is?”

“Well… I love her. I love Mariah,” Howard said all in a rush. “I’m sure it’s hard for you to believe. It’s hard even for me to believe, I mean, when I’ve known her only two weeks. But somehow that little girl has worked her way into my heart. She’s the first thing I think about when I wake in the morning and the last thing I see before I close my eyes at night. I didn’t even know if I wanted a dog and now I’m counting the days till I’m retired and we can spend all our time together.”

“She’s a dog, Mr. Wallace. She’s not a person; she’s just a dog.”

“I hear you but you’re wrong,” Howard said. “She’s a dog to you. You see a lot of dogs every day so maybe they don’t mean much to you anymore. But Mariah isn’t just a dog to me. She’s my friend now and in two weeks she’ll be my sole traveling companion.”

“To where?”

“You’ll think it’s silly but I’ve always dreamed of sailing around the world. I know Mariah’s just a small dog but I’m going to teach her to swim and buy her a little life jacket so she’ll be safe. I’ve got a tether for her and a hammock for her to sleep in in case she doesn’t want to sleep on my berth. We’re going to take some short trips at first to see how we like it and then we’ll be man and dog against the elements on the high seas.” Howard chuckled at himself.

“That’s pretty ambitious for an old man and a small dog.”

“Maybe it’s being away from civilization for so long or maybe it’s the idea of spending so much time with me. I don’t know but I’ve spent years looking for a woman who’d like to make that kind of a trip with me. I never could find one. But now it doesn’t matter. See? I’ve got a girl to keep me company. She just happens to have four legs and a tail.” Howard laughed again then bent over and looked the woman straight in the eyes. “So you see, I’ve got to have Mariah back. She’s part of my dream now and I’m only two weeks away from it.”

“A little dog like Mariah could get into a lot of trouble in two weeks,” the woman said. “How long did it take before she was out in traffic this time?”

“I’ll find a good kennel,” Howard promised. “I’ll hire a professional dog-sitter. I’ll take her to doggy daycare.”

“Or she could stay here with me.”

“What? But I…”

“You’re right, Mr. Wallace, I do see a lot of dogs every day but if they didn’t mean something to me I wouldn’t be doing this job. We could keep Mariah here and try to find a better home for her but I don’t suppose we’d find someone as crazy about her as you are,” she smiled at Howard. “At the same time, she’s a very special little dog and I wouldn’t want to take another chance on something happening to her. Especially when you’re only two weeks away from your dream. So what if she stayed in the reception area with me while you’re working?”

“I don’t know. That seems like a lot of trouble for a man and dog you’ve just met.”

“Not really. I’m here from eight to five anyway Monday through Friday. I have to warn you though if you’re late she goes home with me.” The creases at the corners of the woman’s mouth deepened and an Orion’s belt of stars danced in her eyes as she waited for Howard to say “Yes.”

“Where do you live?” Howard asked. “In case I’m unavoidably delayed.”

“Don’t be,” the woman said, “but I live at North Cove Marina almost all the way to the end of F dock.” She smiled again at Howard’s look of surprise then motioned for him to follow her as she walked back to the dog room and opened the door. A young man dressed in colorful scrubs nodded to them as he walked past and took the place at the desk.

“Do you believe in love, Mrs. ummm?”

“Miss umm Grace Marshall,” the woman said. “And yes, I do believe in love. But first I believe in walking dogs and drinking coffee.”

“Forty-five minutes?”

“I’ll just be closing up,” Grace said. A young woman unlocked Mariah’s enclosure and Grace put her gently into Howard’s arms then escorted them to the front door. “Don’t be late,” she called as man and dog climbed into the car.

“You know,” said Howard as he pulled out of the lot, “We’re a pair of very lucky dogs.” Mariah yipped and licked Howard’s ear then curled up on the seat. Howard threw back his head and laughed, shedding the years like so much extra fur. He felt giddy and light as a boy with new sneakers and a secret.

Advertisements

0 Responses to “Dogwatch”



  1. Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: